I arrived in Fukuoka after the short flight from Seoul. The customs lady was stern when she asked me a question in a very low voice. I leaned forward as far as I could for a fairer Japanese listening test but she switched to English. Once I told her that I lived in Japan she couldn’t restrain herself with a big smile. I’m happy too! That’s the first time that I’ve seen a customs agent smile.
We made our way from the Hakata Bus Terminal to the hotel and walked just a couple of blocks before seeing the Kyushu Spring Sake Festival. There was no better time than the present, despite carrying luggage.
The various sake company stalls were lined up in a rectangle enclosing both standing and picnic tables. We had to stand with a couple of strangers at a standing table. The moment that I left to get us some drinks the strangers at our table asked my spouse a blast of the usual personal questions.
Where are you from? Where do you work? What is your job? How old are you? Are you married? Why are you here? Is he as kind and gentle as he looks?
It seems that everyone is doing their own personal survey.
I came back with drinks not knowing that my background had been revealed already. I still thought that we were all anonymous. Some more strangers joined our table and rapidly learned about me and my background from the others. One young man bought us sake and fried chicken, so I came back with beer for him and his friend.
At our table, some were from Yokohama, but only one girl was from Fukuoka, Hakata-Ku, where we were standing. I told her that my friend recommended Nagahama ramen. She said that this was the ‘McDonalds of ramen.’ I don’t know what that means. My impression was chemicals that taste like food, taste good only when you are drunk, and make you feel terrible after eating. A more positive interpretation from strangers that we would meet later was that it means consistency of experience.
My only question to the group of strangers was about their hobbies. The Kyushu girl liked movies and her top movie was the Butterfly Effect. A movie that I will have to watch again! For the others, they were: golfing, drinking, and road biking. Feeling like we had enough to drink, we figured that we’d bring our luggage to the hotel finally and check in.
Later, in the evening, we tried out yatai or street food stalls near Canal City. We met a couple of girls from Hong Kong who spoke pretty good Japanese. They were mainly visiting to see a Jpop group concert. The yatai stall that we went to had the best food on the trip.
We were too early for the cherry blossoms. The forecast from a couple of weeks ago was wrong, something that I have gotten used to. Ninety-five percent of the cherry blossom trees were still budding. So we set out to find the 5% that were blooming. We found a couple in Dazaifu.
After another night of sake (and motsunabe) tasting, with friends this time, we woke up just before check out at 9:30. The standard check out time here is 10:00. I kind of like it that they kick my butt out into the world earlier than other countries, but we did have to rush in getting ready and jamming all of our stuff into our bags to carry only one each. ‘Minimalism’ is a daily struggle.
Due to waking up late we couldn’t squeeze in an island trip before our flight back. Especially since we spent an hour or so looking for an empty coin locker at Hakata station. Being frazzled, we used my travel technique of sitting down to eat and taking a break from the hustle and bustle at Wired Cafe. It turns out that this restaurant chain is also in Tokyo so we missed a Kyushu food tasting opportunity. We set out to find a locker and got one on the 3rd floor, away from the throngs of travelers.
After that, we realized that we forgot something back at the hotel so headed back again.
Feeling a bit defeated, we opted to stroll around the local area for a couple of hours and ended up at Hoshino Coffee for another break.
Luckily, the Fukuoka airport is very close to the city with the domestic terminal being the second subway stop from Hakata station downtown. We set out early to catch our flight back only to find that the flights were full all day. We opted to take advantage of Japan’s high speed rail network due to the frequency and are a bit cheaper than the same-day flights, while it was a 5 hour journey vs ~2.5.
We couldn’t get seats together but at least we got reserved seats. The non-reserved seat train cars had people standing in the aisle and in between train cars around the bathrooms. It looked like a very uncomfortable journey for them, and I believe that we only paid a small amount extra for a reserved seat. I would have gotten Green car seats if we could sit together but there were none available.
We played musical chairs in our reserved seat train car in order to sit together for part of the journey and enjoy a couple of beers. The staff occasionally told us that we would have to move before the next stop due to more oncoming passengers, and we did. He recognized us until he left for a shift change.
Back in Tokyo on Monday I found more cherry blossoms blooming than in Fukuoka.
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