Written and photographed by Haim Herzog (Korean Studies BA student) and the HUJAPAN Blog.


Korea and japan has a complicated and rich relationship through the years and we, the faculty and students of the Hebrew university, had the chance to examine it more carefully through this year’s East Asian studies travelling seminar. After we arrived to South Korea our first day started through experiencing and exploring the colorful Myong Dong district. This district is known for its commercial power and touristic appeal, showcasing a verity of shops. Before we finished enjoying our first evening in South Korea, we were fortunate to experience the main Catholic Church in Myong Dong, which acted as a sanctuary for students who fought for democracy. It was a great opening to our special seminar!

The first official, and full, day of our seminar started with a trip to Yonsei University where we met Dr. Jun Yoo who gave us a brief introduction about Korea – Japan relations through history. We continued to a meeting with Dr. Jun Yoo’s students and discussed about military service and gender issues. After that we walked to Ewah University and experienced the student life through an introduction by Jonathan Barkai, a Hebrew University graduate and currently a student at Yonsei University. Before leaving to the final attraction of the day, the Kyeongbok palace where we experienced the pre modern Korean history, we met with Uri Kaplan, who research Korean religious groups, and listened to his interesting knowledge about the matter. We are looking forward to continue and deepen our knowledge in Korean culture and history.

Our third day included visits to the Seodaemun prison museum as well as the Tongin Market, the Northeastern History Foundation and Namsan tower. In the prison museum we have learned about its colonial and more recent past and wondered about notions which are used to construct historical memory, not only in Korea but also with regards to our own country- Israel. We enjoyed a special lunch experience at Tongin market which offers many traditional dishes. At the foundation we discussed the thorny issue of Dokdo and Korea’s position towards it, Japan’s claims and what place does China and the USA hold. We visited the Dokdo museum and got a deeper understanding of the issue. Finally, we went up Namsan Tower where we took in the view of Seoul.

The main focus of our fourth day in South Korea was the DMZ, the current border between North Korea and South Korea, which is definitely one of the most interesting places in the world. Before arriving to the DMZ we asked ourselves how a nation can split to two enemy countries. But when we arrived to the DMZ, we started to realize that the situation was even more complex than we had thought. After visiting the DMZ we took the fast train to Pohang where we met father shin. It was interesting to hear about the history of the city and its importance during the colonial period. It was also interesting to hear about the city’s dependence upon the metal and shipyard industries.

The fifth day started by departing from Pohang and arriving to Uleung-do Island. The island is a beautiful monument to Korean nature and the complex history of this nation. Being inhabited since at least the 6th century we learned of Uleung-do’s inhabitants in the Chosun as well as the colonial and modern eras. It’s natural beauty, the kindness of its people and it relatively unknown attractions make this island so special in our minds. Taking in the scenery and its history we have visited a local museum and climbed to a vantage point of a former Japanese watch tower to take in the sunset as well as many strangely shaped rocks with various animal shapes. The clean air and clear sky (as well as the wonderful sea food we had for dinner!) made this day a memorable day of adventure.

The sixth day of the seminar was supposed to be our last on Uleung-do Island but thanks to weather conditions we were fortunate to explore the beauty of the peaceful Island another day. We visited the Island’s new Dokdo Museum, tried the local food in a Chinese style restaurant and were treated to coffee and a musical performance at a local coffee shop/museum. We finished our day with a discussion about the Dokdo issue and a lecture about homosexuality in Korea.

The seventh day begun with the rare opportunity of seeing the magnificent Dokdo Island from a far, due to high tides, but still the sight was incredible. After experiencing the marvelous ocean view of the island we visited the ‘Paradise farm’ of Nari and were hosted by Ms. Kim who owns a farm and grows therapeutically herbs. After lunch to challenge ourselves we proceeded to Nasojon tracking path. While exploring the beauty of nature it was announced that we will experience a traditional Korean BBQ and Karaoke. The experience was enjoyable and we felt the day was full of surprises which uncovered the charm of the island.

Our eight day opened with some good news, the whether cleared up and the ferry was on the way to Uleung-do Island. Before leaving the island we went out to eat handmade noodles at a Kalguksu restaurant, which were more than satisfying.  Afterwards we went back to rest for a while before leaving to the ferry, but before saying goodbye to the magnificent island we said farewell to our amazing hosts while sharing some Korean pizza. The ride on the ferry almost felt surreal, after experiencing the peace of the island for a couple of days, we went back to Pohang and straight to Busan to rest before flying to Japan!

On the ninth day we finally left to Japan and landed on Fukuoka located in Kyushu. After taking a bus to Hakata we went on the Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train, and arrived to Nagasaki. Excited we left our luggage at the guest house and went straight to experience the artificial Dejima Island. This island, which was formed by digging a canal through a small peninsula, remained as the single place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period. Afterwards we travelled through china town, a small part of the city decorated with Chinese influences and full of different shops and Chinese cuisine. Finally we experienced the breath taking view of the city from Mt. Inasa.

We started our tenth day at the peace park in Nagasaki that symbolizes world peace. After watching a touching ceremony by elementary school students and being in awe by the respect and order in which they acted on site we moved to the Atomic Bomb Museum. The Museum had many artifacts and was designed to show the life in Nagasaki before, during and after the bombing.  After the emotional visit we made our way to the lively Kagoshima and had an amazing time at an Izakaya restaurant.

The eleventh day began at Chiran’s “Peace Museum” that is dedicated to the suicidal Japanese soldiers from WW2, the Kamikaze. The museum shares mainly the stories of the soldiers, their last letters to the families, their thoughts and feelings. After the museum we went strolling at the city’s ancient samurai village from the Edo period. In the evening, we went to experience a unique Onsen (hot springs), where you get buried in hot and mineral sand. It was truly amazing and relaxing experience to end the day.

The twelfth day started by visiting Saigo Takamori and his Warriors’ graveyard. There we talked about the Meiji Restoration, in which Saigo had an important part, and the Satsuma rebellion that eventually led to his death. we also talked about Japanese burial and funeral ceremonies and noticed the Buddhist characteristics one might expect to find in a Japanese cemetery  as well as the Shinto elements which were more surprising in that setting. We then visited the Reimeikan Museum and learned about the history of Satsuma prefecture and Shimazu clan, its long time ruler. We finished by learning about the unique features of Japanese gardens and then made our way back to Fukuoka.

On our thirteenth day, we had the pleasure to meet Miyoshi Noboru from Kyushu University and discuss about the education system in Japan and the changes that are planned in the future. We also visited Kushida shrine and learned from Hadas about some Japanese folklore. Next we headed towards Fukuoka Tower, but first we stopped to experience Canal city (a large shopping and entertainment complex in Fukuoka) and play with some cute robots in a robot expo on the way. After leaving the expo, we went to Fukuoka Tower’s 5th floor, which is as high as 123 meters, and enjoyed the beautiful view of the city.

The journey to Shimonoseky started on the fourteenth day where we learned about the importance of this area both financially and strategically. It was an important resistance center to fight off intruders from the west during the Meiji period. After visiting a museum’ garden and gravestone dedicated to Takasugi Shinsaku, the founder of the Kiheytai, we made our way to the bus station through an amazing countryside. When we arrived to Shin Yamaguchi we were greeted by a bus and Kayoko-san, a representative of the Hagi municipality, and made our way to our Hotel in Hagi.

We started our first day in Hagi, and our fifteenth day of the seminar, at Hagi’s City Museum and an interesting educational meeting with Hagi’s mayor. After we learned about Hagi’s fascinating history in the museum we set off to experience it in tokoji, the Mori’s family graves. One of the most beautiful and enchanting places we have been to during the seminar.  Finally, we attended a feast with Hagi’s mayor and friends to experience one of the most important social activities in Japan.

We began our final day in the shrine of Yoshida Shoin, one of the most important teachers in the Japanese history. Although his students were in his school for a short period, a year and one month, the most influential leaders associated with the Meiji restoration were his students. His influence as a teacher, thus, affected the whole Japanese nation, and was a crucial mile stone in Japan’s way towards modernization. Another exciting part of our day was a meeting with “Kehilat Beit Shalom Japan”, a “pause” that made us miss home. We got a worm welcome by the community members, and discussed our Jewish history with Hadas sharing her personal family story. The day ended in the Tsuruhashi area in Osaka. This district is known for its Zainichi population, Korean origin Japanese that are one of the known traces of the colonial period during which many population moved freely from Korea to Japan and vice versa. The special foods, scents and atmosphere of this place were electrifying: this is where Japan “meets” Korea until this day.

The last day of our seminar was definitely the most exciting one, we couldn’t help but feeling a strong notion of closer. After two marvelous weeks in Korea and Japan we finally connected the dots, gaining a wider perspective on the relations between Japan and Korea.