Traveling with a Deeper Purpose

Last month, I embarked on a journey I was towards the top of my my list for travel destinations in one of Japan’s more unlikely places: Okinawa, specifically Naha and the surrounding areas.  When I travel, it is usually purely for leisure, sampling local foods, and taking photos at the famous locations and historical sites I encounter while walking through the streets or dashing from point A to point B. This time, the travel was very different and had a much deeper, personal meaning. 

Let me preface the discussion with now of the questions both foreigners and Japanese ask me all the time in Japan: “Why did you come to Japan?” My answer, as I have discussed before on this website, is different than many other traditional answers. I have never had any interest in manga, anime, or video game culture. I actually never really even had an interest in Japanese food before I went to Tokyo for the first time some three years ago. My reasons always surrounded the important role the Japanese plays in US military and security policy in the Pacific and the large role the Japanese play when it comes to international trade and economic might. 

There is, however, one more, more personal reason that I have not discussed on this website: my grandfather. 

My grandfather (currently in his upper-80s and very healthy) joined the United States Marines following Pearl Harbor quickly after his high school graduation. As fate would have it, he received a Purple Heart at Okinawa and is a member of one of the most decorated and famed Marine Divisions in the Pacific during World War II: The Sixth Division. One of the division’s claims to fame was valiantly fighting and winning the Battle of Okinawa. For as long as I can remember, I have heard stories about the battle, the island, and the Okinawan people. When I was accepted to my current position in Japan, I made visiting Okinawa while my grandfather is still alive one of my top priorities. I wanted to see what he saw from a first hand perspective. More than anything, I wanted to talk about Okinawa with him when I return from Japan at some point this summer for a few weeks. 

With these thoughts and conversations in my mind, I boarded a plane bound for Naha (major city on Okinawa’s main island) and looked forward to seeing the island though the lens of my grandfather. Almost immediately after arriving, I recognized the island was different than anywhere else in Japan. The presence of American military personnel, American military bases, and the English language in more places than on the main island certainly show how much of an effect American rule (until 1972) and the American military have had on the island. I will never forget hearing the jets roar past as I neared Kadena AFB shortly after arrival. The might of the US Air Force was awe-inspiring. 

I will spare the graphic details of many of the stories and discussions we had while I was younger, but it was amazing to see many of the places, beaches, and characteristics of Okinawa my grandfather described, much in the way he described them, more than sixty years after the fact. As I walked the city and the beaches, I could not imagine how much American blood was shed during the campaign and how fortunate I was that my grandfather survived the battle. 

While I rode a boat leaving Naha out on the open ocean bound for some smaller islands, I closed my eyes and envisioned my young grandfather and his friends as they were on their boats dodging fire from the small volcanic islands before landing on the main island. The feeling I received in that moment is something I will never forget. The rocking on the boat through the surf as the high peaks peaked through the water is feeling I will always remember. 

As the trip continued onward, I visited other famous war sites on the island and spoke with some Airmen and Marines I met out and about on the streets. This trip certainly was not all for leisure and I needed a change of pace when it came to traveling. Certainly the trip to Okinawa will resonate with me for years to come. 

To get back to the main point of this post, it is important to travel with a deeper meaning than just sightseeing from time to time. It enhances the whole experience and allows you to focus like a laser on different aspects- history, relationships, family ties, etc., that may often be ignored while you are out on the road. This trip was so special for me as I connected with my family’s history in a first-person way that many people may never be able to do. If you have the chance to do this, you must. 

Needless to say, my grandfather was surprised and happy to receive the post card I mailed him from Naha. 

Have you ever traveled with a deeper meaning? What stuck out most to you? 

Reflecting on my South Korean Trip

Good evening. I have finally had a chance to gather my thoughts on this weekend’s Korean adventure for a proper post on the website!

As soon as three years ago, if someone would have told me that I would be atop the Seoul N Tower in South Korea, I would have called them crazy. If the same person had said I would be there with a friend I met in college as a member of the International Student Association, I would have said they were absolutely nuts! I truly believe moments like this are what make life worth living and make it worthwhile to take chances and grab every opportunity that you get whenever it presents itself.

The journey started on Saturday with a short flight from Osaka to Busan, South Korea. From there, I traversed through the city’s extensive metro network to the stop at Haeundae Beach, where my room was located. My first impressions of Korea were nearly exactly what I had expected and I was relieved. Many of my friends had been to Korea in the past, so it was nice that their advice and suggestions were accurate.

That afternoon, I spent some time on the beach, taking in some sun and photographing the elegant scene where the Busan skyline meets the beach. There is always something about the ocean that draws me in for an extended period of time. I stayed longer than I had hoped, but continued on throughout the evening in the general vicinity. I took photos of the traditional marketplace and sampled some Korean food along the evening walk. Image

The hustle and bustle of these crammed, narrow shopping streets is one of my favorite things about traveling, especially in Asia. Hearing the sounds of bartering, children running, and motorcycles serpentining through the crowd is something that everyone must experience once before they die. As night fell in Busan, I continued to Busan Tower to take in the city from above. I am always a sucker for night time city views, and Busan Tower did not disappoint!


I then strolled through the International Film Festival area before heading back to my room for the evening. I had a ticket for the first train to Seoul on the KTX to meet my friend!


After the fast, short, and cheap (thanks to the foreigner rail pass that Korea Railroad offers (, I was in Seoul by 10:00AM the following morning, where I met up with my friend for some traditional Korean breakfast and a tour of the city. It was amazing to meet one of my friends in a place so far and different than my university. Perhaps the most remarkable part about it is that she lives in Seoul, I live in Osaka, and we met in Seoul Station for a day out in her home city. We both remarked about how far away we were from Philadelphia.

From the moment I stepped outside of Seoul Station, I felt a vibe of energy and excitement that I have felt nowhere outside of the United States except for Tokyo. It was at that moment where I began to have a very strong affinity towards Seoul. The bustling of the cars, the chatter of pedestrians, and the street vendors everywhere truly makes the city so great. We walked to a palace in Korea and I was able to take in some of the sights and sounds of the more traditional aspects of Old Seoul. Image

There were even traditional guards at the entrance! Image

From there, we ate some more traditional Korean food and eventually ended up at Seoul N Tower following a short bus ride through the city. Image

I love panoramic views of cities and all the industry and majesty that accompanies them, so I took many, many photos of Seoul from above. The locks of love that cover the fence at the base of Seoul Tower were remarkable, but so was the view from the observation deck. I have not felt this high up in my entire life when it comes to viewing a city from above the skyline. Check out the amazing view from Seoul N Tower. Image

From there, it was off to the foreign district in Seoul, where we enjoyed some American drinks and appetizers to close out what was a remarkable day in Seoul. It was at that moment where we discussed our friendship in college, our travels, and what it was like to be meeting in Asia. It was also at that moment when I realized I was so happy that I joined the International Student Assocation at my school. Had I not taken a step outside the box to meet new people after I returned from my first trip to Japan, I never would have had the opportunity to meet so many people and make so many new friends who live abroad, especially in Asia. I never would have had a great tour guide and never would have been able to maneuver and get around in Seoul like I had done that day. It is something I hope to replicate with future trips to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and subsequent trips to Seoul. If anyone is interested in traveling, cultural exchange, or meeting new people, I strongly suggest you get involved in your university’s international exchange programs. It will change you for the better.

As our meal concluded, the reality hit that I would return to Busan for my flight out the next morning and my friend would return to Seoul for class in the morning. I took the KTX back through the night and arrived in Busan around 11:00PM. After frantically rushing to catch the last train, I returned to my room and went to sleep. I was fortunate enough to catch a glorious sunrise at the beach before heading back to the airport.Image

I had what I considered to be a tremendous weekend in Korea: sightseeing, rekindling friendships, and sampling great food along the way. There is something to be said when you have a friend showing you the way through one of the biggest and most modern cities on the planet. I look forward to returning to Korea someday.

Please leave your comments below!

Until next time.