Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

In the last 2 to 3 years Korea has changed their immigration process for those who want to make the Japanese visa run. If you are applying for your E-2 visa in Canada this step is not necessary. If however, you are applying for your visa while inside Korea and intend to visit the Korean Consulate in Japan you must have an additional piece of paper. You need a background check done by Korean Education. These normally take 2-3 weeks to process.

When you are applying for your issuance number from Korean immigration if they know you are inside the country it is possible that they will flag the application. If they assume you are still in your home country you won’t find this out until you get to the Korean Consulate in Japan and they reject your visa.

I have never seen this on any of the websites that I’ve looked at. It was not on the Korean consulate website, nor did immigration offer up the information when we were getting the issuance number. Your school may or may not know about this detail, depends on how proactive they are.

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A few weeks ago I had to renew my tourist visa so that I could stay longer in South Korea.  My tourist visa was due to expire and I need to stay for another few months yet.  The easiest way to extend your stay is to leave the country and come back.  I shopped around for the quickest and easiest way to leave South Korea and get back and decided that the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka was the best value.  As a Canadian citizen I can enter Japan visa free for 90 days or less.  I can stay in South Korea for six months at a time.

It was nice to go to Japan and notice the differences between South Korea and Japan.  Japan is a little closer to what we’re used to in North America.  The country is clean and efficient.  The people are friendly and open-minded when it comes to foreigners.  The biggest drawback is the cost.  Japan is very expensive, especially compared to South Korea.  I have traveled in Tokyo and in Fukuoka and can say that Fukuoka was even more expensive than Tokyo.  I was there for less than 24 hours and I was being as frugal as possible but still ended up spending 8,000 Yen (~$85 CDN) just getting around the town and eating two meals.  Fukuoka is a popular tourist destination for South Korea – 80% of tourists in Fukuoka come from South Korea.  You will notice that the Japanese are not as kind to the South Korean tourists as they will be to Western tourists.


Booking the ferry is a bit of a challenge since the information is primarily written in Korean or Japanese and the booking agents speak mostly Korean in Busan or Japanese in Fukuoka.  You can find the ferry website and book online or you can call the terminal (051-441-8200) and try to book that way.  This is where it is handy to have a Korean (or Japanese) friend.  I had someone from my school call to set up the booking.  When I had someone else call I got a discounted rate of 190,000 Won (~$180 CDN) for a return ticket as long as I paid in advance.  I’m not sure if this was a sale or whether it is standard practice but I’ll take a discount any way I can get one.

Busan Terminal

Getting to and from the ferry terminal is quite simple.  Just make your way to Busan and find the subway.  The Busan subway lines are well-marked and easy to navigate.  The instructions on the subway are in English and Korean thanks to the 2002 Soccer World Cup.  Get yourself on the yellow line (Line 1) and the ferry terminal stop is Jungang-dong (Exit 12).  The stop is clearly marked with a picture of a ferry.  When you exit the station you can’t see the ferry terminal right away but it is only a short walk (5 min.).  To get there just walk toward the water.  Once you arrive at the terminal you need to check in on the second floor at the KOBEE check-in counter.  You should arrive one hour before departure and remember you will need to pay 10,700 Won (~$10 CDN) for your departure tax.


I was a little confused about the difference between hydrofoil and hydroplane when I made the booking.  On the website you see a nice big ship that sits high out of the water and looks like it comes from the future.  In reality this is basically a normal boat with nice seats.  The ferry runs quite fast (3 hour crossing) but don’t assume that you will be getting a nice smooth ride.  My experience on the way to Japan was something like three hours of airplane turbulence.  The ride back was a little smoother but you still know you’re on a boat in the open sea.  There is no meal service on board.  It’s up to you to figure out if you want to eat before you get on the boat or wait until you can settle your stomach on land.  They will play a movie on the ferry but there is no sound and the subtitles are not in English – charge your iPod.

Japanese Customs and Immigration

When you arrive in Japan you will need to clear customs and immigration.  This is an efficient system – especially if you hold a Japanese passport.  There will be two kinds of lines.  At first, most of the lines will be for Japanese passports only with a few lines remaining for all other passports.  There will be someone there to direct you to the right line if you happen to get in the wrong line.  When all the Japanese nationals pass through the other lines will open to serve the rest of the other passports.

When your turn comes be ready to answer a few easy questions.  They will want to know where you are staying and for how long.  They will understand that if you are a teacher coming from South Korea you are likely on a ‘visa run’ and that will be about all you will have to tell them.  Keep in mind that you will have to give your fingerprints and a facial photograph.  They have machines set up to digitally take what they need.

Fukuoka Terminal

The Fukuoka terminal is also easy to navigate.  The best access to and from the Fukuoka ferry terminal is from the Hakata train Station.  That bus ride will cost you 250 Yen (~$2.50 CDN) and there are change machines on each bus.  Hakata Station is central to hotels and walking distance from most attractions.  You can take the bus lines 11, 19, or 50.  These bus lines use the international ferry terminal as a terminal point.  You can get on or off the buses directly in front of the ferry terminal.  The check in counter for KOBEE is on the first floor.  You should arrive one hour before departure and remember that you will need to pay 1,000 Yen (~$10 CDN) departure tax.  You will pay 500 Yen (~$5 CDN) at the check in counter and another 500 Yen (~$5 CDN) at a kiosk before heading upstairs for departure.


I only had to spend one night to renew my tourist visa so I didn’t plan on too much.  If you are going to Fukuoka for a South Korean E2 visa you should probably plan on spending at least two days.  Your school will give you all the information you need to get to the consulate.  They will also help you prepare your documents. *Check this out if you are planning on doing an E2 visa run*

Fukuoka is not a large city.  There are a couple of things you can do to kill some time.  I started out by checking in to my hostel (Khaosan Fukuoka) to get rid of my bag.  The hostel was walking distance (15 min.) from Hakata station and the directions from the website are precise.  It was nice, clean, quiet and only cost me 2400 Yen (~$26 CDN).  I would highly recommend this hostel to anyone heading to Fukuoka.  From there I got directions (and maps) from the staff to the other destinations.  It turns out that almost everything I wanted to see was within walking distance.  From the hostel I walked to Canal City (30 min.).  From Canal City I walked to the food stalls (5 min.).  From the food stalls I walked to the Fukuoka Castle Ruins to view the spring cherry blossoms (25 min.).  From the Fukuoka Castle Ruins I walked to Ohori Park (5 min.).  After Ohori Park I decided that I would rather not walk anymore and hopped on the ‘Green Bus’.  The ‘Green Bus’ runs in a loop around the city and allows tourists to hop on and off at the attractions.  The ‘Green Bus’ will cost you 250 Yen (~$2.50 CDN) per ride or you can get a day pass for 700 Yen (~$7.50 CDN).  An audio/video presentation introduces and announces the stops in English, Korean, and Japanese.  I took the bus to the Momochi Seaside Park and explored there for a while before hopping back on the bus to take me back to Canal City.

South Korean Customs and Immigration

When you get back to South Korea you will need to clear customs and immigration.  This system is not nearly as efficient as the Japanese system.  Again, there will be two kinds of lines.  At first, most of the lines will be for South Korean passports only with a few lines remaining for all other passports.  There will be no one there to direct you to the right line if you happen to get in the wrong line.  In fact, the lines don’t really matter much at all – just hop into the shortest one and wait it out.  Be aggressive to hold on to your spot in the queue.

When your turn comes be ready to run through without much conversation.  If you want to avoid any hassle be sure not to say that you are a teacher – just mark student.  You can cover purpose of visit and place to stay by saying that you’re visiting friends.  They may give you a quick glance before finding an empty spot to stamp your passport and set you loose.  This will likely be your fastest immigration experience.  When I had to go through the metal detectors there was no time to take my keys and coins out of my pockets.  I set off the alarm and walked through anyway.  I tried to stop for a re-scan but got scolded and told to “GO! GO!”.  I imagine the experience is pretty similar if you are returning with a proper South Korean E2 teacher’s visa as well.

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I wish I was from Tokyo.

I say this not just because it would mean that I’d get to have perfect silky black hair, or long skinny cellulite free legs. And not because it would mean I would have high cheekbones and lovely skin but because it would mean I’m from an efficient, clean, friendly, intelligent, bright city. A city where there is more hustle and bustle and people then I thought possible and simultaneously more calm, quiet, tranquil green spaces and parks. I had high expectations for Tokyo. I had expectations on what it would look like, what the people would be like, how efficient and clean it would be – and it surpassed all of them.

12 million people live in Tokyo and it was hands down the cleanest place I’ve ever been. There was no litter; there was no visible pollution. The entire city sorts their garbage both in their homes and in the city. And maybe it was because I’m coming from one of the dirtiest places I’ve ever been that the cleanliness was so obvious but I don’t think so. I wouldn’t have hesitated to sit down on the floor of the subway or the sidewalk. I think actually it might have been cleaner than my apartment floor.

It was also very quiet. I don’t just mean in the lovely parks, shrines and temples scattered about the city, but on the subway or in a restaurant. Tokyoites seem to be very conscious of the fact that there are a lot of them and make a special effort to allow everyone their own quiet and space. They don’t use their phones on the subway – there are signs posted everywhere asking them not to. If it does happen that their phone rings while they are riding on the subway they talk quietly with their hands over the mouth piece so as not to disturb the person sleeping next to them on their commute.

There are 10 times as many people in Tokyo as there are in Ulsan and I was not bumped into or pushed once while I was there. I did however get stabbed by someone’s umbrella for which they bowed and apologized profusely. People are aware of their space and move around you. They don’t barrel you over trying to get on or off the subway. People queue outside of the train on the left side (they drive on the left side of the road) and wait until everyone has exited on the right side before they walk in and take their seat. No one is running for trains. They just wait for the next one.

The city was friendly and easy to get around. There was English everywhere and maps on about every second corner. We only got lost on the subway once and it’s because we went in the wrong station and bought the wrong kind of ticket. However, when we realized our mistake, we told the agent working the turnstiles and he told us in perfect english that it was not a problem and gave us our money back. If we were sitting on the subway people would move so that Jacob and I could sit together.

In all the ways that Tokyo surprised me, it also lived up to all my preconceived notions. You can buy any electronic device and paraphernalia ever made. I’m sure of it. They have huge (10+ floor) stores filled with nothing but electronics. And it’s cheap. We bought a 16GB SD card for our camera for about $30CDN. We also picked up a 320GB external hard drive for about $60CDN. But it’s not just electronics that you can buy. We went to a market that must have filled about 6 city blocks that sold everything from used clothes to $15,000 pearl necklaces, all in one place.

I really loved the time we spent in Tokyo. I have a new appreciation for the Japanese that flood PEI in the summertime (the guy that worked at the front desk of the hostel had been to PEI). It was a refreshing break – I never thought Tokyo would in anyway remind me of home, but it did. So as Jacob said about 100 million times while we were there: Domo Arigato Tokyo, Domo.

Oh, and for those of you that are looking for the details on what we did, you can check this out. (It’s still being updated so be patient)

As always, pictures are here

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추석 – Chuseok

This weekend is Korean Thanksgiving – Chuseok. Which for Koreans means they will flock back to their parents and grandparents house to honor the dead and share a traditional feast, but to us, it means vacation. This is our first long weekend in Korea (we have Friday and Monday off) so we decided to make the most of it. We’re going to Tokyo.

We’ve decided to go, despite all the warnings from my students – it’s dangerous to fly, you’ll get swine flu, it’s too expensive, Japanese people are terrible. All of my students now think I’m this reckless rich person who has no fear of something as terrible as swine flu; either that or they think I’m an idiot. Our director even told us today that if we get swine flu, we lose our jobs. I think I’ll take my chances; I figure if I get swine flu, my job is the least of my worries. We fly out tomorrow (Friday) morning and return late Monday night.

Japan was a kind of quick decision for us, we’ve only been in the country for a short time, but this is our only real long weekend, so we figured why not. We ended up finding a really cheap flight and just booked it. I still find it hard to believe that I can just hop to Japan for the weekend. Japan, to me, still seems like it’s 1000’s of kilometres away. I find it difficult to remember that I actually live in Asia, and going to Japan is the equivalent of going to Halifax.

I have really high expectations for Tokyo. While I knew nothing about Korea before we moved here, and still really don’t know that much about it, I feel like I’m more familiar with Japan. Maybe it’s the Anne of Green Gables phenomenon. I don’t know if that is really founded on anything, but I think Japan is a more well known country.

I expect Tokyo to be cleaner than Korea. There are about 10 times as many people in Tokyo as Ulsan, but  for some reason feel it will be more efficient and more sanitary spot (I saw 2 rats on my walk to school today). I also expect it to be more westernized. I never thought I’d be traveling to Japan for a western experience. I expect the food to be better and the people more helpful.

I’m really excited for us to go on our first real adventure. The trip makes this whole thing seem real. For now we’re living in Korea, but slowly and steadily I am actually going to get to see the rest of the world.

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