Religions of Korea

Jonathan Thomas is a Second Year student, currently enrolled in the UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in Seoul, South Korea.

Seoul National University is nestled into a contour on the side of one of Seoul’s largest mountains, Gwankak mountain. The mountain is located to the south of the city, and like most of Korea, is particularly picturesque during the fall months when the trees covering the mountains turn from green to autumnal colors. Getting off at Gwacheon station puts you at the base of the mountain path that begins the ascent to the top of Gwanak mountain.  The path winds its way up, following a clear stream which makes it way down the mountain in the opposite direction.

Just before the peak of the mountain, there are a series of buildings, where you’ll find an ornate and active Buddhist temple, with its members still operating and maintaining the temple. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Walking up to the top and finding a temple is quite common in Korea, with many of them located on or around mountains. This doesn’t mean that Buddhists or Buddhist monks are in anyway secluded. Often times you’ll see monks with their heads shaved dressed in gray robes riding the subway. Additionally, if you take the bus from Seoul National University to the closest subway station on the east side of the school, you will be thrust into the busy area of Nakseongdae station. The busy streets are home to coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and churches. The churches are highlighted by the spires jutting up from them, but apart from this they look like any other building on the street.

What is remarkable about this is the coexistence of both of these religions in harmony. Many times, religions butt heads, clash in their ideology and generally don’t get along. While there have been rises and falls in popularity of both religions in Korea over the centuries, Korea has had a history of religious acceptance, especially of foreign religions, and the divide between Christianity and Buddhism is about fifty-fifty. This has created a dynamic that has continued into the present. The religious order of Korea isn’t something of tension, but rather a virtue, where the religion you hold is your belief and the religion another person holds is their own belief. This has created a society where Buddhist temples and Christian churches sit virtually side-by-side without the slightest hint of animosity.

While this may seem trivial, to me it’s a refreshing reassurance. Currently, there are quite a lot religious conflicts spread across the world, and these conflicts are some of the most difficult to resolve. Therefore, to see a country and culture like Korea where two religions can coexist, sans conflict, gives me hope that those conflicts have some sort of resolution, and makes me appreciated Korea for its unique cultural aspects like this one.

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Rethinking Food Security

Devan Kaufman is a 4th year studying Global Studies currently abroad with SIT International Honors: Rethinking Food Security. Currently in India, the program will also visit Tanzania and Italy.
Devan Kaufman (me) on a rooftop in Ahmedabad wearing a necklace of marigolds and a dot of red with rice pressed in on my forehead – a traditional welcome.
A rickshaw: these are common modes of transportation and what I used in getting to and from class.
One of the oldest tea shops in the market visited – selling for over 100 years.
Workers standing on the side of a truck of whole coconuts for the wholesaler.
 Wholesale bags of goods at the market.
Colorful sand used for Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights) in the making of rangolis (a traditional art form of colored patterns created on the floor commonly using dyed rice or sand).
Some traditional sweets.
Anna purna: a program I studied that serves food to day laborers for a cheap price: Daal, roti, rice and a sweet.
One of AMUL’s headquarters where milk is processed. India has the largest milk co – op and visiting this processing site was part of my studies.
Rooftop city view.
An alter for Diwali.
Pastoralists with their cows: Their livelihoods are constantly being threatened with globalization and a shift towards industrialization and ignoring biodiversity.
A few indigenous cows.

Climbing Mt. Fuji

Chandler Collins is a 2nd Year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is attending the UVA Exchange: Hitotsubashi University program this semester.

We took an early morning bus to Mt. Fuji’s Yoshida-Subaru 5th Station, a small simulacrum of a Japanese city perched 2,000m into the clouds, where we began the 7-hour ascent to the summit. Since Mt. Fuji is a volcano, there is no foliage at the summit to block the harsh sub-freezing winds from sapping our body’s heat. We huddled together on the rocky ground and waited as the sun rose through the clouds and over Kawaguchiko, the small town below Fuji-san. In this image, Keelyn McCabe braces against the cold wind and attempts to steady our UVA (pronounced Baa-ji-ni-ya in my broken Japanese) flag against the sub-freezing winds. An old Japanese adage rings true, “Only a fool goes to Japan and doesn’t climb Mt. Fuji. An even bigger fool climbs it twice.”
Pictured is my completed “Mt. Fuji Stick,” a 2 ft. long wooden stick which climbers get branded at each mountain hut along the ascent up the mountain. Each hut has a unique brand, marking the name of the mountain hut/station.
After the sun rose, we began the 1500m descent over a 6km trail dusted with volcanic ash which bored its way into our clothing and gnaw on our feet with each new step. In this image, we’d yet to descend through the clouds. [L to R: Gabriel Aguto, Blaise Sevier, Keelyn McCabe]

 

Additionally, Collin has created a travel video to recap his adventures, you can find one for Mt. Fuji here (https://youtu.be/Co2nKR_b7GA)

Stunning Sights of Japan

Caroline Jordan is a 4th Year student studying Psychology. She is attending the UVA Exchange: Waseda University program this semester.

Taken in Harajuku, this photo shows the famous Takeshita Street, famed for its relevance to youth culture. The picture shows how crowded this popular shopping and fashion area gets, with both tourists and locals examining the youthful fashion culture in stores.

Taken at the Asakusa Shrine, this photo shows the long road of shops and vendors leading to the temple. Food, charms, and souvenirs are sold here, before entering the Shinto shrine.

This photo is of myself in the Tokyo Metropolitan Building observation area. For such a large and populous city, the view is serene from above it all.

Two Waseda University students show the exchange students how to observe the proper rituals at the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine in Kawagoe.

I took this photo in Kawagoe, a traditional town. Around the town, there were many of these “love fortunes” pictured here. Fortunes are common in the shrines and temples here, but this is the only city where I have seen so many love fortunes placed around!

Taken near Palette Town in Odaiba, this photo shows buildings making up the famous skyline. I took it to show the unique architecture of even the standard office buildings in Tokyo.

Running Japan Film: Studying Tokyo’s Community

Blaise Sevier, Chandler Collins, Keelyn McCabe, and Gabriel Aguto, who are second years spending this semester on our new exchange at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

They are a part of one of the Forums in the College  – theirs is Mobility and Community, which highly encouraged its students to study abroad fall of second year.

They are all collaborating on a film project over the course of the semester.

From L to R: Blaise Sevier, Chandler Collins, Keelyn McCabe, Gabriel Aguto at the top of Mt. Fuji

Please check out their blog below!

https://www.runningjapanfilm.com/

UVA Exchange: Seoul National University

Elizabeth Kim is an Economics major, who attended the Spring 2017 UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in her third year.

This is a picture of the streets of Hongdae. It’s always so crowded, especially when there are street performers like in the picture! You can’t really tell who is the performer because the crowd is so huge! There is always one section of the road in Hongdae where there are many street performs dancing to or singing popular Korean pop songs. I thought it was interesting that in the U.S., many street performers are also asking for money, but here it is a lot of young people that want to show off their talents.

As exchange students, we are part of a program called SNU Buddy where we are put in groups with Korean students who help us get settled and create group events. One event was to have our own jangteo called International Food Day. It was the biggest jangteo on campus, as seen in the picture! Students from many different countries cooked two dishes from their country that could sell a lot. I participated as well on the U.S. team and we decided to make chili and fried Oreos. The fried Oreos sold really well because many Koreans hadn’t seen it before and they all said it was a food that they would expect to come from the U.S. because it was fried and would have very many calories.

From April 27 to May 7 is the Lotus Lantern Festival to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, which is on May 3. These are some of the lanterns that were put up at Bongeunsa Temple in Gangnam. It’s always cool to see historical monuments tucked away in the huge city of Seoul. The lanterns were so pretty to look at.

Lotte World at night was very pretty. This is a part of the portion of the park that is outdoors. I thought it resembled the castle at Disneyworld! Its interesting one company, like Lotte, that can be involved in so many things. For example, Lotte runs this amusement park but also many department stores, fast food restaurants, hotels, and many more.

This is the cherry blossom festival in the beginning of April. Though there are many cherry blossoms all around Korea, one of the popular places to go see them is at Seokchon Lake, where this picture was taken. I submitted this picture because you can see how crowded it was! Afterwards, I could understand why everyone wanted to go see the cherry blossoms – they’re only in bloom for about 1 – 2 weeks.

More street food in Hongdae!! There are always so many street food trucks and it’s tempting to stop at each one. There are especially many in Hongdae because it is a very popular location for young people to go to eat, drink, and shop. Here, my friend and I are eating fried dumplings and the vendor is also selling tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and odeng (fish cake).

Golden Week: Okinawa and Osaka

Myliyah Hanna is a Japanese and English major who spent this past spring semester studying on exchange in Tokyo, Japan. Read about her spring break adventures!

Okinawa

Golden Week is a week of Japanese holidays, such as Showa Day or Children’s Day, that many people take off to vacation and travel. For us exchange students it meant a week off from class, my spring break. Golden Week is an opportunity to travel and therefore the prices of the shinkansen, Japan’s infamous bullet train, flights, and hotels are bumped up. Even though expensive, I asked myself when would be the next time I get a chance like this. And so, I booked a flight and an inn in Naha, Okinawa.

When I left for Okinawa, Tokyo was cool in the morning. The sun was bright and an early morning breeze swam through the city and across the shoulders of other people pulling suitcases alongside themselves. After a three-hour flight to Naha, I found myself overdressed. My leggings and t-shirt were too warm for Okinawan weather and I was paying the price via sweat. But the air near the airport smelled of the ocean and palm trees stood tall along the roads.

I decided to stay close to the airport since Okinawa doesn’t have trains. Besides a car, buses are the main form of transportation. In Naha, however, there’s a monorail that goes through the city. My inn was about ten minutes from one of the stations on the monorail. It was also about 20 minutes from one of the most popular tourist attractions in Okinawa, Kokusai Dori (Kokusai Street), a long road abundant with yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants and Okinawan souvenir shops where one could buy a jar of habushu, or Okinawan snake wine.

The owner of the inn was a talkative, friendly older man who referred to himself as “Master” and spoke in the third person. In the morning he was usually near the entrance of the inn stretching to prepare for a daily run. Sometimes I would come down and see him playing with a short-tailed cat that often frequented the inn. The kitten was a girl who he had wanted to name Kentarou, a traditionally masculine name, but had yet to name her because he couldn’t think of anything else he liked. “See, if I named her Kentarou,” he said, “she’d probably get scared by the name and run off.” Every night he was usually in the kitchen, watching television and inviting people to sit and drink with him. Amongst some of those conversations, I had come to know him in a way that I wasn’t expecting. He was open and honest about his life, his feminine personality, his open marriage and three girlfriends. He had probably told me too much for even American standards, but I undoubtedly appreciated his honesty.

“Master” was just one person in Okinawa that I encountered and made me feel like I belonged, almost as if Okinawa had been waiting for me. Although I wasn’t free from the prolonged staring, Okinawans were more willing to approach me and ask me questions than people in Tokyo. It was also the first time I received so much positive attention on my braids since my arrival. There is something to be definitely said for Okinawa’s excellent hosting skills. It was the first time in my exchange experience thus far that I wasn’t the odd man out. I wasn’t othered. I was welcomed and I cannot begin to explain how necessary that was for me.

This isn’t to say that people in Tokyo haven’t been kind and gracious either. I’ve run into many nice people who were patient with me as I tried to explain myself in nervous Japanese. I will say, however, that even though Tokyo is the most global in its visitors and stores, Okinawa’s mindset is far more international. There is no need to remind a foreigner how un-Japanese they are in their mannerisms or mother-tongue. Okinawa knew that, and it didn’t care.

Okinawa was laid-back, lacking some of the rigid social rules I discovered in Tokyo. I noticed this especially when it came to clothing. In Tokyo, certain styles of tops and dresses–off the shoulder tops, open back dresses, spaghetti straps–have a reputation for promiscuity. In Naha, however, these tops and dresses were abundant in Naha. Simply put, it was too warm in Okinawa to cover up. Tokyo is serious; Okinawa is a beach.

Two days before my flight departing from the island, I visited an interactive workshop that specialized in traditional Okinawan sango dyeing. The building was styled after traditional Japanese architecture and soft music played overhead. Upstairs was where I sat at a table and used coral and paint to create designs on a t-shirt. The entire workshop, which was about an hour, cost about 30 dollars but it was well worth my money. Later that day I also visited Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage site and one of Okinawa’s oldest historical monuments. The inside curved and weaved through numerous rooms that each held their purposes, such as the throne room for celebrations and a raised platform room where past kings conducted political business.

I didn’t know what to expect what when I landed at the airport. I imagined long rural roads, strangers distancing themselves from me. Okinawa surprised me, opened up a whole other side of Japanese identity I thought I would rarely see. The friendliness I experienced in Okinawa alone is reason enough for me to go back. I was reminded that Japan is not only Tokyo, the one place that seems to ring in our minds the loudest when we hear the country’s name. Okinawa reminded me that central Japan, the big cities, are not the end-all-be-all. It also reminded me about the pleasures of taking a break from crowded areas to breathe and stretch, feel the ocean on my toes and the sunshine on my skin.

Osaka

When I hear the name Osaka, I think of medieval Japan. I think of how important Osaka was as a trade post and a cultural hub where many of the great poets journeyed to. I think about its proximity to Kyoto, Nara, the once great capitals of Japan before it was decided that Tokyo would become the next, and final, capital.

Japanese literature classes can only teach but so much. I knew of Kansai-ben, or Kansai dialect, and of Osaka’s infamous okonomiyaki, which I can only describe as a vegetable and meat pancake. Other than that, Osaka remained a mystery to me. Japan is ultimately more than just Tokyo and I wanted to experience the Japan that wasn’t in Tokyo. After Okinawa, I returned to the airport and boarded a plane heading for the port city.

Admittedly, when I arrived in Osaka I was excited to have trains and subways to ride again. The airport stood atop an island about twenty minutes or so from Osaka itself. When I landed, the waters and sky were streaked with flecks of gold and purple, the windows of the stylish airport glittering with the sunset. It was rush hour but people were calm, taking their time to board the trains heading into the city. Osaka has its own loop line that circles the city, making stops at the most popular locations. The guesthouse I stayed at was on one of these stops, two minutes from the station.

My favorite part about Osaka is the fact that the city weaves its rivers into its architecture. Bridges are abundant, each with their own character and connecting different areas together. Atop the Umeda Sky Building is an observation deck. I went and ordered a parfait to enjoy the breathtaking view. Mountains stood tall along the horizon and I could see planes descending to land at the nearby airport. The outside observation deck had speakers playing the epitome of cafe music, with its soft guitar and drums. It was windy but the circular deck gave me one of the best views of Osaka. I could see the curves of the river and how they emptied into the sea; I could see clouds lifting off from the mountains.

It was at night, however, that Osaka’s young spirit opened itself up to me. Dotonbori is undoubtedly a tourist site, but the attention it attracted was nothing but positive. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves. I indulged in the sights and smells of ramen and okonomiyaki. There was laughter and music and relaxation. As I walked through Dotonbori, crossing bridges over a glimmering river to the other sides of the area, I walked aimlessly and took in what Osaka gave to me. I had chosen a small izakaya to eat dinner at that night. I sat at the bar, where I watched the two chefs prepare the meals and joke with one another. I was the only foreigner in there at the time, but that didn’t stop anyone from asking me questions. Before I left they wished me luck in my studies, asked that I come back to the izakaya when I’m in Osaka again.

Although my time in Osaka was limited to a day, it’s easily one of the most memorable. I didn’t want to leave. The people were incredibly friendly and unbothered about my foreignness. If anything, it emboldened many to ask me about my studies, where I came from, my reasons for coming to Japan. The week of traveling reminded me about the importance of traveling in the first place. Of course seeing monuments and visiting famous areas is always an experience in itself, but certainly, the beauty of venturing oceans away from home is to interact with people and to learn their stories and their habits. Okinawa and Osaka presented to me the beauty of human curiosity and kindness, the kind that one can find only when they travel.

I returned to Tokyo via the shinkansen, or the bullet train. I was convinced by some friends who have been to Japan numerous times to ride it at least once while I’m here. From Osaka to Tokyo it was about two and a half hours, but the trip itself felt so much shorter than that. At one point Mount Fuji stood in the distance. I scrambled to take a picture, but the train curved and Fuji-san disappeared from my sight.

I wasn’t expecting Osaka to leave such a deep impression on me, but that’s what makes it so alluring. Osaka was young and carefree, wanting to take you everywhere and show you everything it could. Osaka showed off its mountains, its rivers like snakes emptying into the sea. Osaka’s nighttime dress was bold and kind, and when it saw me off to return to school I knew I had to visit again before I returned to America. Osaka still has so much to show me, and I eagerly await my second chance.