Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fukuoka Yes!

Six hours on the right course, and we arrived in Fukuoka. The proper one. It was noon and we could not check in to the hostel for a few hours, so we did not venture very far with our packs. The city has some nice riverfront through much of the downtown. It reminded me of the revitalized Milwaukee banks. We sat down and watched the coy in the dirty shallow water. We drank a soda, I think it was grape.

Dropping bags and putting up the feet for a minute in the hostel, we then ventured out for dinner. The Lonely Planet guidebook directed us to a pub boasting 1,000 beers, and appropriately named Van Beeru. Sounded too good to be true. It was. After walking the block and then walking it a couple times more, we looked elsewhere for our meal.

As an exercise in decisiveness, we opened the door to a Chinese restaurant and committed to the choice. It was prime eating hours and we were the only patrons. The small kitchen had a man making the food, a woman watching figure skating on TV, and a dog watching both of them from the counter. The food was fine, and the three staff saw us off with a smile.

We found an excellent Irish pub that could fit inside my apartment. After a couple guys at the counter left, we were once again the only customers. The beer selection was a welcome sight, and the proprietor was a friendly fellow. He gave us some recommendations for the city and our future trip to Hokkaido.

Each night we stayed out late, as that was when things were happening. And each night we stayed at a new hostel. The Lonely Planet continued to give great suggestions that did not pan out. This included planning our night around a midnight breakfast in a place that was now a dance club, no thank you, and going across town for a museum closed at an odd time.

The missed midnight breakfast was replaced with a 1:30am dinner at a food cart by the river. Fukuoka, above all, is known for its food carts that set up shop all over town. The carts are dingy shanties on wheels that go up as the sun goes down. Usually there are a few of them together on a corner. Along the river, they stretch for blocks. Some have picnic tables, others have seating at a counter inside. The shanty town food courts look semi-permanent, but they are packed up and wheeled off each morning before sunrise. I cannot remember the proper name, so I just call them “feedpods.”

An amazing number of people were out on a Monday night. I could not imagine a weekend to have more. Seemed every corner had a group of men in suits, swaying side to side. Sidewalks of staggering stumblers. Fukuoka is a great place to roam streets at night, and it is different than other cities I have seen in Japan. Fukuoka has more action, but it has more litter. The homelessness is a bit more apparent. Sidewalks are more likely to be sticky.

It was a few days of heavy walking and late nights. There was consideration of shooting south to Nagasaki, but in the end we were spent. We got our Shinkansen tickets and had a pretty straight forward shot home. We even splurged for reserved seats, so as to avoid battling for a spot in the unreserved cars.

A big tower near the Sea.

Touching the ocean at every opportunity is a must for any Midwesterner.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where's the Fukuoka?!

Lindsay has now arrived in Japan. For the first few days I gave her the best Shizuoka foot tour I knew how. After feeling that we had exhausted everything of interest within a sneaker’s range, we opted to vacate the city. I had been bouncing around and making inquiries as to different locations to visit over break. We decided to not decide our plans until Lindsay had arrived and caught her breath, fair enough.

We felt cool to both the hot and cold climates. Okinawa would be a mild temp at this time, and we would be visiting Hokkaido in a couple months, so we were not especially tempted by any temperate details. With enough time to cover some distance, but too short of notice to leave the country, we went for distant domestic. By some combination of a Lonely Planet guide book, websites, and a map, we set our sites west, to the modern city of Fukuoka.

Around lunchtime on the 27th of December we strapped on our packs and hoofed down to the JR Station downtown. At the ticket purchasing machine I could not get the price I had found online, so I went to the window. The ticket agent gave me the same price as the machine. Wise as I am, I pulled out my laptop that still had the corresponding webpage queued up. The agent immediately understood, and gave us the proper price.

The train rides were fine. We were headed a little south and a lot west. We set out on the Shinkansen (bullet train), and with three transfers, worked our way down to the lesser, regional trains. Covering so much turf, I loved that we never really left the mountains. We zigged away, but would always zag back. Soon after leaving Shizuoka, the snow caps popped out a little more. As the day of travel progressed, the snow dropped from the summits and into the fields. Suddenly, I was in winter again.

At about 7pm we arrived at Fukuoka Station. We stepped off our small train into a small station. It was cold, and it was snowy. At a loss for any flashing arrows or trail of crumbs to guide us, we approached the one visible being, a lone station agent.

Davin: Fukuoka?

Agent: Hai (yes).

Davin: points to the station on the Lonely Planet map of Fukuoka.

Agent: No Kyushu! …as he says this he crosses forearms to mimic an “X”, a national sign for absolutely no. (I am acquainted with this gesture, as I use it with my students all the time.)

The agent then pulls out a map book and shows us where we want to be, in the city of Fukuoka on the north end of Kyushu Island. He flips a couple of pages to show us where we are, Fukuoka Station in the town of Takaoka, a bit west and well north of where we began. In a quick conference, Lindsay and I determined that we did not pack sufficiently to make this our destination. The Agent then laid out a travel itinerary that would get us to our proper city. We stepped outside, made a snowball, and then back tracked a half hour to a bigger city, Kanazawa.

We were fortunate to find a room in a ryokan, a Japanese style hotel. The place was great, with a wonderful older couple running it, but it would be a brief stop for us. Wandering the city to find dinner, I was rather bummed for my shotty navigation, but Lindsay did well to keep the night upbeat. Kanazawa seemed like an acceptable place to spend a stranded night, but we were worn out, and had to catch a 6:30 bus for a 7am train.

Day one route: brown
Day two route: blue

more to come...