Arriving in Kyushu...

Trip Start Feb 26, 2007
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Trip End Jun 16, 2007


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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I began my trip with a seven hour journey south to Iwakuni, just south of Hiroshima. I was looking forward to seeing the arched bridge that the town is famous for, but other than that I was looking at it as a stopover destination more than anything else. To my complete surprise, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I`d visited so far...

  I.had to take a bus to get to the youth hostel, and I was immediately accosted by a friendly old Japanese man who was interested in my travels and/or wanted to practise his English. Either way it was nice to talk to a local, and I sensed that I was much more of a novelty here than in Kyoto, for example. The stares and giggles will no doubt increase as I travel around Kyushu as there will be less westerners there, but they are usually accompanied with a smile and a greeting.

Anyway, after checking in at the hostel, set in a beautiful forest, I went for a walk to see Kintai-kyo, the famous bridge. It was a magnificent structure, and yet again (!) the cherry blossom trees lined along the river took the view to another level. I wasn`t expecting to see sakura this far south as I thought that the season would have ended earlier due to the warmer weather, so it was a welcome surprise...

The bridge, and the castle set high above in the mountains, were floodlit at night to create a romantic setting, and I was able to walk back and forth over the bridge as much as I wanted as I`d paid the 300 yen fee. The fact that it was such a calm evening meant that the arches reflected perfectly in the water, making it possible to take picture-postcard photographs...and I took a lot!

I set my alarm for 8am the next morning so that I could walk around the adjoining park while there were no other people around, and with the sun shining, it was quite simply stunning. There was even a swan gliding on the water...a beautiful sight with the cherry blossom trees in the background, and some fallen petals floating on the pond. It was a dream start to my trip, and I could have stayed for longer, but I wanted to continue on to Fukuoka...

After a further five hour train journey, I arrived...and immediately got lost! I had printed out very detailed instructions on how to get to the hostel, but I made a cardinal sin when navigating in Japan - I left the train station via the wrong exit. In the end I succumbed and got a taxi, something I should have done in the first place, and after checking in I went for a long walk to try and get my bearings...

I immediately liked Fukuoaka as it had the bright lights of Tokyo, but it somehow seemed more relaxed and of course was on a much more manageable scale. If there`s one thing I like, it`s aimlessly wandering around the big cities here, surrounded by neon lights and usually listening to the Arctic Monkeys at full blast on my minidisc player...what a buzz! I must have spent a few hours in the Tenjin area alone, just browsing around the huge department stores and wandering the streets, barely seeing another gaijin (which was nice).

It was noticeably warmer than it had been on Honshu, so I was able to stroll around in a t-shirt the next day, beginning with a trip to the Momochi district to see the Fukuoka Tower. It seems that every city in Japan has a tower of some sort, and I usually get roped into paying to go up it, but on this occasion I used my initiative and headed for the nearby Hawks Park Hotel. I conveniently ignored the signs saying "Guests only beyond this point" and boarded the elevator to the 35th floor, where a couple of attractive Japanese ladies greeted me. One of them took pity on me and led me through the posh restaurant/bar to the best vantage point, where I got good views of the tower and the baseball stadium...for free!

In the afternoon, I got the metro to Ohori-koen and had a pleasant walk around a huge lake, before going to the ruins of Fukuoka-jo where there were good views of the tower/hotel/stadium on the horizon, where I`d just come from. There was still a fair amount of cherry blossom to be seen, but you could tell that it was coming off the trees because of the many petals on the floor...

Bizarrely, in a country of 120 million inhabitants, I then bumped into the Norwegian guy I`d met in Kyoto! He was looking lost outside the train station, and I only happened to see him after taking a wrong turn (again) when exiting the subway. This kind of thing happened a lot in New Zealand, but for it to happen in Japan in a not-so-touristy place was a massive coincidence. We chatted for a few minutes, but he was getting the bus somewhere...would you believe he was visiting Hiroshima and Fukuoka as a day trip from Osaka?? Oh to be able to use the Shinkansen...

I went to the futuristic Canal City shopping complex that evening which had some great architecture, plenty of bright lights...and some illuminous flowers! It was a fun place where water would spurt out from all directions of the canal in time with the music, and there were some good shops there too. As usual I went into HMV and listened to music through some decent headphones for once, this time the new Kings of Leon album.

I had a quieter time of it the next day, with the main event being me going for a haircut! The guys there spoke no English whatsoever, so there was no way that I was letting them loose with the clippers, so I used hand gestures to say that I just wanted the back and sides tidying up. He did this, but then began cutting the hair on the top of my head as well...thankfully he wasn`t too scissor happy, and did a good job. I was bemused when he gave me a warm, damp towel at the end though (to dab my face with, for some reason), and he continued to stroke the hair off the front and back of my t-shirt even when I was paying, but overall I`d emerged from the barbers unscathed...

There were a couple of shrines near the Gion metro station so I had a browse around them in the afternoon, then went and had a bite to eat down by the river, with the falling sakura creating a nice scene. I couldn`t help but smile when reading a leaflet about tourist attractions in Fukuoka...they claim to have the largest ferris wheel in Japan, something that I`ve heard in about half a dozen cities now! To be fair though, this one was billed as the largest coastal ferris wheel, so presumably none of the others are near the beach. In any event, I didn`t go on it...

Fukuoka isn`t overloaded with tourist attractions, but I found it to be a really fun, laid back city that is much nicer than say, Osaka. It would be a nice place to settle down in, but in tourist terms, three nights were sufficient, and I was now ready to move on to Nagasaki for another interesting history lesson...
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