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In August 2012 I returned to Fukuoka for the first time. In 2009-2010 I studied at Kyushu University as an exchange student, where I studied Japanese culture and linguistics and learned Japanese.
My return was part of a five-week trip from Tokyo to Shanghai via Nagasaki by boat. I spent about five days in Fukuoka meeting old friends, teachers, and my host family. (I also wrote a post about the temple of the Great Buddha.)
Today I want to share four of the most delicious things I ate in Fukuoka. Can you guess what they are?
4. Fugu bibimba
The Fukuoka Fuku Festival was all about showing off the versatility of fugu, a delicious poisonous pufferfish. I didn’t find fugu sashimi very flavorful, but I once bought a bit and fried it with excellent results. At the festival was a very popular stall selling fugu bibimba (a Korean rice bowl) for 500 yen (~$6).
3. Tonkatsu, or pork cutlet
My friends recommended this place that serves tonkatsu, Japanese pork cutlet, among many other washoku, or Japanese-style, foods.
A tofu specialty restaurant was a favorite and a recommendation of my host mother’s. She took a friend and me to eat there. The decor was very “Japanese” to our eyes, and the many variations on tofu were amusing and creative, like tofu croquette and tofu hamburger. I went for the latter, with no regrets. It came with steamed vegetables in a wooden box.
Now anyone familiar with me or Fukuoka will certainly guess what tops my list. The historic neighborhood in downtown Fukuoka known as Hakata is practically synonymous with Hakata ramen, a tasty noodle soup made a broth brewed from pork bones. Japan is home to many good ramens, and tonkotsu is king and queen of them all. (Am I biased?) I was overjoyed when Ippudō, Fukuoka’s best known chain, with branches in Hong Kong, New York, etc., opened a branch in Shanghai. Feast your eyes on Hakata ramen!
Have you eaten any of these foods? Please comment on your favorite Japanese foods!
In August last year, I returned to Fukuoka, Japan. I was an exchange student at Kyushu University in Fukuoka during my second year of university, in 2009 and ’10. My late summer visit in 2012 was the first time I had returned to Fukuoka. Many friends were still in school, and I made new friends in an old city.
My friend Kaya and I spent an evening at Hakata Pier (Hakata Futoh), where many people were dancing as part of the Fukuoka Fuku Festival. The name is a play on words, as fuku means ‘happiness’ and fugu is everyone’s favorite (eminently edible) poisonous pufferfish. Showcasing the culinary versatility of fugu through food stands was the theme of the night, along with dancing and fireworks.
On August 20, my host parents picked me up from Tenjin in downtown Fukuoka and we went to the mountains at Mitsuse. When I studied at Kyushu University in 2009-2010, I didn’t live with a host family, but I had host parents named Shinobu and Yoshinori with whom I met regularly, and we explored in and around Fukuoka together. Shinobu, my host mother, picked me up and we dropped by the house to meet Yoshinori. She gave me a copy of “Hinotori No. 9”, a 1967 manga by a favorite author of her’s named Tezuka Osamu 手塚治虫.
We drove out of the city into the Kyushu countryside, which is brilliantly green and full of mountains and mist. We passed clusters of squat houses and factories in a broad plain, then climbed a winding road into the hills. We passed under a web of overpasses in the mountains climbing up a long valley, and started down the other side. We stopped for soba noodles in Mitsuse. Soba is the local specialty. I ate a hot bowl of farm-raised chicken soup with soba, and we discussed my coming trip to China. My host parents love China and visited years ago. Perhaps they will come see me in Shanghai?
It was two years since I had seen them last. My host mom joked that she had turned into an old lady. Her main business is still making hats, but she has broadened into “remaking” kimono into Western dresses. Kimono are quite expensive in Japan, and few people wear or even know how to wear them. The custom of wearing Western clothes saturated Japan about 100 years ago, so today its difficult to find a place for traditional dress. Kimono can be rented for special occasions, as a real kimono is not likely to get much more wear than a tuxedo or wedding dress. My host mom hopes the remade dresses would sell in America. Who knows?
Two years ago, when I left Fukuoka, it was my host mom who said, “From now on you’ll see how Japanese will change your life.” With two more years of Japanese, I came back and experienced Japan at a depth I’d only imagined. Perhaps the myth that Japanese and Japan are impenetrable to “Westerners” lurked somewhere in my mind, but I was buoyed by my teacher’s creed, “Culture doesn’t ask for your passport.” Perhaps I needed to prove this to myself. In any case, I was elated when a friend said, “If I only close my eyes, you’re a Japanese.” I felt a sublime happiness in speaking freely in a language that hadn’t saturated the years after my birth, and the greatest happiness in deepening the bonds between myself and my friends, teachers, and host family. If I may land on a distant shore and feel at home in my heart, where cannot I find happiness? The world is full of friends, and I am small.
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.
The weather has warmed a bit, and the days are longer, so I have continued exploring in earnest. On the 28th I left Hakozaki Campus, crossed the street, and headed for the coast. I watched trains go by and walked by trees, playing fields, and huge apartment buildings, then reached an intersection of massive highway overpasses. I crossed the streets under them and found myself in front of Rinkai Recycle Plaza.
I wandered around the grounds, and inside, where I discovered you can tour the facilities, so I took the elevator up one floor and started with a cute model of the garbage disposal process explained in kids’ Japanese. ^_^ The first observation window showed where the trucks come in and unload their garbage after being weighed outside.
Next, a gigantic computer-controlled claw picks up garbage from a deep pit and drops it into the incinerator. I was the only one there, so I sat and watched it for a while. The pit was too dark to photograph, but trust me, it was deep!
Each of those talons on the claw is taller than me.
Outside I saw my ideal childhood playground.
The tour then explained the incinerators, where the burnable garbage we sort into the red bags is reduced to ash.
The plant can is manned 24/7, and can be run by about 5 people.
I left Rinkai and walked past factories, and then crossed the Tatara River (the same one I photographed in an earlier post, but this photo is aimed in the opposite direction, out to sea).
I walked along the beach, and found the entrance to Najima Shrine.
I walked up the old stone steps and turned into the woods to follow this path to a fox shrine.
I walked through the adjacent smattering of Buddhist statues and small wooden buildings, and then headed home.
In other news, my Japanese written and interview finals for this semester went well! Speaking, especially, was much easier than during the midterm exam. So, my 8:40 AM class is finally over. The day after my exam, I was finally able to achieve my goal of waking up before 8 AM without using an alarm clock. Today I succeeded as well. But now the class is over! 😛 In the mall after my adventure I did some gender observations for my paper, due next Friday.
Today I am going to Tenjin to meet a friend for lunch!
We are well into the New Year, and many things have happened here since my break, when Kayci came to visit. We visited Shimonoseki and Beppu, then took trains to Hiroshima, Mijayima, and Himeji on the way to Tokyo, where we shopped for used manga in Akihabara. Kayci flew home, and I stopped overnight in Osaka on my 23-hour ride on various trains back to Fukuoka. I spent New Year’s Eve at the house of my Japanese tutor, Naoki, where I met his brother, and had a great time. On New Year’s Day we ate traditional foods in the morning, like fish eggs, black beans, and fluffy cake, and went to visit Miyajidake Shrine in Munakata, owner of Japan’s largest shimenawa rope.
It’s usually deserted, but on New Year’s Day it’s visited by thousands of hatsumode pilgrims. Lots of street vendors were serving food, so I ate a hot mochi cake powdered with green tea and filled with sweet red beans. We also shared some okonomiyaki, and Naoki’s brother bought me some octopus on a stick.
I am now teaching English on Saturdays, at the ACROS building.
I took a photo in Tenjin from the Mitsukoshi dept. store:
And another photo three days later, of Nakasu. I walk across this river every time I visit Tenjin.
In class we had our first tea ceremony, on a first class back after the break. We struggled to remember the form.
Amazingly, and unseasonably, it snowed on Jan. 13.
I met with my host family again! They’re a wonderful young couple who took me on a trip to the beach last weekend. Before that, my host mom and I checked out Fukuoka’s Akarenga Cultural Center, which is a very European 1909 copper and brick building in the middle of Fukuoka’s glass and steel monstrosities. We perused the exhibition of childrens’ art on the first floor of Inter Media Station, in Tenjin, and then sat for tea at a café on an upper floor and talked in Japanese. My host mom really wants to visit Morocco; we talked a little about my trip. She gave me a gift! The next day I opened the cute little box, untied the gold ribbon from around the bright green bag, and got out my iTouch (dictionary) to read the Japanese directions on a tiny folded piece of paper. I poured all 25 grams of kudzu starch powder into a cup, mixed it with boiling water, and came up with a viscous, milky substance. I took a sip, and it was delicious!
On Jan. 17 my host parents picked me up from Tenjin, and we went on a day trip to lots of places, including Yusentei Garden and the beach at Itoshima. The trip was so much fun! First, we saw the garden, and had tea in the tea pavilion, and fed the carp.
We drove to Itoshima to see the beach. On the way we stopped for taiyaki, which are fish-shaped pastries: pancake on the outside, with sweet filling. Mine was white bean, and definitely the best taiyaki I’ve ever had. At Itoshima we walked a deserted beach to visit a salt factory made entirely of wood.
As the sun set we sat in a warm café where I had caramel milk tea and talked more. We drove back to Fukuoka, listening to Bob Dylan, and had sushi for dinner in Hakozaki, at a kaitenzushi restaurant (revolving sushi, i.e. conveyor belt). I tried new delicious kinds of fish that I’d never heard of before. We sat by some chefs whom we could watch roll maki, cook eel and fish with a blow torch, and mold various kinds of nigiri. They dropped me off at my dorm, and that was a night.
Yesterday I didn’t do any homework, because it was warm! In the morning I saw that this building is underway near my dormitory:
I got sidetracked walking home, because I wanted to visit a far away building I’d seen every day. I walked through a small tunnel, under some railroad tracks, and across more rails, and discovered that the river I cross every day has a beautiful section masked by the railroad platform.
Today the warm weather continued, so I rode my bike to school and back, but now it’s raining. It was a short-lived reprieve! I can’t wait for spring.
Until next time,