It’s taken us three months but we’ve got here. Japan was where we originally intended to go for a couple of months break after finishing my PhD. As you can tell, we got a bit carried away… why not spend our savings on adventures in new countries? In these first few months I feel like I’ve learnt infinitely more about the way the world works, most importantly public transport in asian countries, than I would have staying in the UK. I love knowing that I can easily get around in unknown places, have broken conversations with locals and read signs in new alphabets, it makes everything a little less scary. It was of course scary the first and maybe second time, but if you’re lost or hungry you have no choice. You have to dive in to awkward conversations and see what happens! You never know, you might get a museum to yourself, a sleeve fish waved in your face or try delicious Japanese pizza/pancakes (okonimiyaki).
So now we are in Japan for two months. The first of which will be spent travelling around again at a very fast pace, up to Sapporo and back on our expensive but oh so worth it 21 day JR passes (unlimited travel on Japan Rail network including many Shinkansen bullet trains). The second will be a month helping maintain a holiday resort on the more rural island of Shikoku. So rural in fact that it’ll take us two trains to Matsuyama from Kyoto, an hour bus to the village of Kumkogen then we must hitchhike to the resort as on Sundays there are just two buses a day, which we’ll miss both.
We had to book our travel out of Japan according to visa rules but this was not checked of course. I did get asked lots of questions though by the seemingly too young immigration officer and asked which cities I was visiting – I gave him a long list to which he quickly stopped writing them down. We both received 90 day visas and we’re booked on a ferry in September back to China (Osaka to Shanghai). This may change depending on how much money is spent in these two months, Japan is seemingly similar to UK prices so far – not great. If we scrimp and save and love it here we may stay longer, else we’ll head on to China then Vietnam where our money will go much further.
Arriving in Hakata Port, Fukuoka
The ferry from Busan reached Fukuoka overnight and was full of South Koreans on holiday. It was our first experience of tatami mats, or Japanese style sleeping. It was a short but choppy trip. Boarding was at 7pm but the boat didn’t sail until nearly 11pm, and peeking out the window at just before 6am, we had already docked.
Turfed off at 7:30am it was straight forward to find a working ATM in a nearby convenience store. Our precious travel card (Revolut) is Mastercard so not accepted as much as VISA. It was hot and so humid – it still is writing this in Nagasaki. Let’s hope the more north we go the cooler it gets… Oh to be cold and wear long sleeves and trousers again! That probably won’t happen until October/November.
To escape the heat there is Tenjin underground city, long roads full of shops with escape routes into more malls that line the streets above. Canal City, another giant shopping mall was a hidden gem for a fun hourly water fountain display set to music.
It turns out that Fukuoka claims to be the origin of ramen, a delicious (oishi) broth and noodle dish. We had it twice, one in ramen town above the train station and another down a back alley full of locals for half the price (¥370 or £2.51).
Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival
Because we researched so well (ahem) we arrived in time to watch the practice runs of the Yamakasa. Usually we’ve missed all the exciting annual city festivals but you can’t miss this, streets full of men wearing traditional outfits known as mizu-happi, bearing their bums to the world. The different districts create their own 1 ton heavy floats which are raced around the city starting at 5am in the morning. It is not exactly a competition in terms of time but in terms of team camaraderie and solidarity. The sounds of the festival have been recorded and are part of the top 100 soundscapes of Japan. Here’s a glimpse…
Just under three months had passed since we visited botanical gardens in Helsinki, too long to go without a hot humid greenhouse full of giant water lillies and cacti. Fukuoka did not disappoint.
A little lost on the way, Mischa had his first fully Japanese conversation to ask directions and it was a success, especially as we made the man chuckle too. Walking the correct way to the entrance I realised the amazing loud sound of the cicadas, like something just out of an anime (I’m thinking Neon Genesis Evangelion). So this is Japan.
The ticket for the gardens cost ¥600 (£4) and this included entrance to the zoo which we did not go in. What was not accounted for was the fact that the hot and humid room felt no different from outside, bar a very timid and infrequent breeze. Nonetheless the grounds were beautifully styled and kept and they had the biggest rose garden I’ve ever seen. The red brick style greenhouse covered in ivy and other crawlers was architecturally pleasing. And, of course, the cafe had great drinks.
Well, Mischa’s aren’t in here yet but in a few days it’ll be complete 🙂