By Alek Sigley, founder of Tongil Tours and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
This is a quick update for readers of my blog. First off, I’d like to apologise for the lack of new content recently. But more is on the way soon!
I had summer break from mid-July until the end of August, during which, as mentioned in a previous post, I stayed with my wife in Tokyo. Late August was especially hectic as my parents visited Japan to meet my wife’s family for the first time. While they were here I took them sightseeing to some of the must-see spots in Japan. So there you have it, I’ve become a tour guide for not only North Korea (and South Korea too occasionally), but Japan now too!
We went to Tokyo Skytree to enjoy a stunning view of Tokyo with Mount Fuji looming in the distance.
Then we headed to Kyoto and Nara, visiting Todaiji, the world’s largest wooden building, among other sites.
Then we got on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima, where the in-laws met for the first time. I was a bit nervous, but everything worked out well in the end!
Then we went sightseeing in Miyajima on a beautiful clear summer day.
Pyongyang, and my impending return there for another semester at Kim Il Sung University, was at the back of mind most of the time, but I was occasionally reminded of the city that I have been calling my home since April.
Passing a cinema in Shinjuku I saw that Baahubali, an Indian Bollywood epic which won a prize at the 2016 Pyongyang International Film Festival and was a huge hit among Pyongyang locals (as mentioned in previous posts), was showing.
In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum there was a display that featured a clock that counted down from the Hiroshima atomic bombing as well as the most recent nuclear test conducted worldwide. Looking down I saw this, notice listing that most recent test as being the last year’s September 3rd North Korea nuclear test. I was reminded of the elusive nature of peace in the East Asian region, but also felt hope that things would improve after a year of busy diplomacy (the North Korea-South Korea and North Korea-US Summits).
In Ueno Park, East Asia’s first Western-style public park, I saw this series of monuments to Wani the Scholar, a semi-legendary scholar known for first introducing Confucius’s Analects and Chinese characters (which are still used in Japan today) to Japan from the Korean state of Paekche in the 4th century AD. I pondered on the long history of cultural exchange and cordial relations between Japan and Korea, and felt a sense of sadness that the 19th and 20th centuries (and the Imjin Wars a few centuries before that) had led to a reversal of this situation.
I felt a similar way in Kyoto, where we visited Honno-ji Temple, famous for being the place where one of the most famous shoguns in Japanese history Oda Nobunaga committed seppuku (ritual suicide) when faced with a coup d’état in the 16th century. There, I saw this sign and noticed the Korean yangban (scholar officials of the Choson dynasty) hats on both sides of the title. The sign commemorates the time when the temple hosted a diplomatic delegation of 346 from Korea in 1719. The delegation came to commemorate the appointing of a new shogun, who commanded a banquet held to symbolise friendly relations between Japan and Korea.
Nobody can ever predict the ebbs and flows of history. Hopefully the next few years will bring some improvement in relations between Japan and the DPRK as North Korea pushes to better ties with the rest of the world and improve its economy.
With such thoughts in mind I flew to Beijing, where I stopped for a day spent downloading a semester’s worth of entertainment (music, e-books, and a few TV series) from the internet to my computer and boarded my Air Koryo flight back to Pyongyang loaded with boxes of Australian honey and Shiroi Koibito, a popular Japanese omiyage (Gaijinpot: “a gift or souvenir you give to friends, coworkers, and family after returning home from a trip”), for my teachers and friends at Kim Il Sung University.
I’m back in the Kim Il Sung University dormitory now. The first two weeks have also been busy as I settle back in, get into the routine of studies, and attend events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK (the 9th of September being the anniversary). This semester I’ll be knuckling down and trying to make good progress on my master’s thesis. I’ll be releasing a mix of content from last semester and new experiences from this semester. So stay tuned for more soon!