On August 18, 2012, I met my host mother for the first time in two years. When I studied abroad in Fukuoka, I didn’t live with my host family, but I met with them regularly to travel in northern Kyushu. My host mother brought along her friend, a student from China named Xu Baochang 徐宝昌. She drove us to a tofu restaurant. The decor was Japanese, and we could see the garden from a low window by our table. I ate a tofu hamburger with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, and vegetables steamed in a wooden box with various sauces. For desert we had soymilk ice cream and ice coffee.
Tochoji Temple and the Great Buddha of Fukuoka
Next we drove to Tochoji Temple 東長寺 to see the Great Buddha of Fukuoka. Inside a big red tower next to the temple is the 16.1 meter wooden Buddha. Under the Buddha is a jigoku-meguri (地獄巡り), or “Tour of Hell.” We entered through a dark door and an intercom explained the Buddhist hells one by one as we passed lively paintings of torture and misfortune. Finally, we entered a pitch-dark tunnel that wound its way under the statue. I followed the handrail and at last emerged into the light before a painting of three Buddhas, symbolizing escaping hell to enter gokuraku (極楽), or Paradise. We visited the main hall at Tochoji and saw the orange five-story pagoda completed last year. Opposite the pagoda was a wooden hexagonal hall built in 1842, whose doors are only opened once every few years.
The harbor market
We drove to the harbor near Nagahama where my host mother once lived. A little crowded marketplace was selling a variety of sea creatures. Most of the fish, crabs and whatnot were circling little tanks. A bucket squirmed with live octopi. I overheard about as much Chinese as Japanese. After the market, my host mother dropped me off at the post office and we agreed to meet again in two days.