Fukuoka! -or- a short trip to Japan

So much has been going on, it’s hard to know where to start. We have finally, after four or five months, gotten off of the mainland and made a trip to Japan, which many people consider the heart of the Pacific Asian Rim. It was, of course, fabulous, even if it wasn’t exactly, or even close, to what we had planned.

The first hint that our plans would be disrupted came at immigration. Akasha grabbed a nice lady who chatted with her about her plans – we would be there three or four days, visit Osaka, see a baseball game – and then was waved through. Mike’s customs guy was crotchety and nearsighted, and was offended, first of all, that I hadn’t filled out the back of the form. Then he wanted to see my return ticket. When I told him I didn’t have one, he face-palmed. He said, Do you have money? Where will you stay? Show me your reservation, he demanded. Akasha had it, so I had to get her involved. Eventually, he let me through. (A Japanese man had pantomimed to me that Mike was having problems and I should go back and help.)

A charming side street near Canal City

Our next adventure came when we tried to get train tickets for Osaka. Long story short, none of our cards went through. Panicking only slightly, we decided we would be staying the night in Fukuoka. As we’d been planning to come back and see a ball game here two nights later, this wasn’t wholly disastrous. We’d save the train fare, and still be in Japan. The nice ladies at the information desk called a hostel for us, and we started the walk.

I’m pretty sure this is when it started to rain. It started slow, then built up, and by the time we found the hostel, it was raining pretty hard. The Khaoson Fukuoka hostel is plain, clean, dry, and friendly. The staff at the hostel sent us to a great local diner where we waited in line for Hakata Ramen. It was awesome, and erased some of the damage the heavy rain had done.  It was served with locally made Asahi beer.

In the morning, we called our card companies to clear them for use in Japan. Then, we walked back to the train station. We found a cute little VW Westfalia that had been converted to a mobile diner, so we had a breakfast of taco meat on cabbage and rice. As we walked, the rain continued. And not only rain, but thunder! We would see a flash of light in the sky and moments later honest to god thunder was rolling down the street for several long seconds. It was a sound we hadn’t heard in months, not even as the typhoon was passing by. It was, oddly, a welcoming sound of home.

Shrine in Fukuoka behind mossy tree

Then we came to a shrine temple. Right in the middle of the city, just off the busy streets, stand calm open lands, which would seem to be parks, but instead are religious sites with working shrines and dormitories for the monks around the back. People walk in off the street to perform their rites, and lit candles and insense, available in the entry way. Then they walk up to the gate of the temple, throw in a coin. They bow. They clap twice, then pull a cord to ring a bell. Then they stand still, perhaps praying; then they leave. I don’t understand what it means or why they do it, but it seems calming, and meditative.

Temple in the rain.

This particular temple had one of the largest wooden buddha sculptures in Asia. It sat on the second floor of a side building, behind a pot where you placed incense to burn. Buddha was maybe twenty feet high, and slightly angry looking. Behind Buddha was a pathway decorated with scenes of what appeared to be souls being tormented by demons; behind that was another tunnel that looped back twice, and was completely unlit. We passed through the darkness holding hands, guided by the handrail, through the hairpins, until we emerged into the light back under Buddha’s watching gaze. It reminded me of the Basilica in Mary in Minneapolis, quiet, beautiful, ornate, reflective, but completely outdoors and open-sided.

Fukuoka itself is a beautiful, small, working class city. There’s a large harbor, and a lot of steel buildings; the streets are wide and uncrowded, despite what you may imagine as crowds of Japanese being stuffed into subway cars.

Canal City courtyard

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We wandered through the intermittent rain to Canal City, a waterside shopping mall, and found a cool series of alleyways along side it.  We grabbed an awesome 5,000 yen sashimi lunch and a very small lunch stop.  It was delicious, affordable, and our host was very generous.  He drew us a picture of our plate and labeled it in Kanji.

The next day we went on a tour of the Asahi factory. They gave us a choice of a Korean tour or  Japanese tour.  We did the tour in Korean, picking up bits and pieces here and there. It was mainly a tour of a bunch of signs and where the cans go into boxes.  Akasha did the Leine’s tour last summer and went to several of the mash tanks there.  At the end we were given two eight oz “super dry”  beers and beer snacks (shrimp and squid flavored crackers.)

From there we made our way to the Yahoo Dome to see the Soft Bank Hawks play the Chiba Lotte Marines.   It is a great dome with a retractable roof (closed for the night), with fewer seats than Target Field, clean and neat with awesome food.  There is so much to say about how Japanese baseball is same/different from US baseball, but it was all said by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations. It was an incredible day with delicious food, and people were so kind to us along the way. After the game we followed Bourdain’s advice and went to a neighborhood bar by the dome.  It was a cozy bar, and as he said in the episode, beers are 40 yen (50 cents)after the game.

The next morning we took a quick trip to a Shinto temple, then boarded the hydro foil back to Busan.

Here is a video tour of the Shintotemple in the middle of downtown Fukuoka, a city of about 2.5 million people.  

What a dog brings to your Korean experience…

First, a dog brings all sorts of lovin. Remi is always happy to see us. When we get home, he hops right off our bed, which he keeps warm for us, to say hello. When we’re mellow, he sleeps next to us. Because it gets warm in our 9th floor officetel, we often keep the door propped open with a bamboo screen stretched across to keep the animals from escaping. This also lets Remi keep up on the comings and goings of our neighbors, which he does with a friendly bark now and then.

Like back home, Remi brings a sense of adventure to coming home. Every once in a while we forget to put away some food, and he decides to remind us to put everything away by taking the food, eating what he can, and leaving the wrappers all over the house. Good boy! Show us what we forgot to put away! Good boy!

But the best part of having Remi along is that he’s a great ambassador of American friendliness. There are a few people – kids, mostly, and drama queen girls – who see Remi and make a little show of screaming in terror, but they’re mostly in the minority. Far outnumbering them are the Koreans who stop and smile, or wave out of car windows, or who stop us on the street to give him a pet.

Last week we were in the park for our morning walk. We saw a couple of ajjumas (older ladies) sitting under the pagoda. One of them took an immediate shine to Remi and called us over. We went, of course, because it’s just wrong not to keep the ambassador of American cute from his rounds. We got Remi to hop up on the pagoda, and the old lady burst into a huge grin as she petted his back.

We tried to speak with her, but our Korean is limited to the words ‘ipa ge’ (cute dog) ‘chak-an ge’ (kind dog) and ‘haraboji’ (grandfather). She smiled at our attempts. She was maybe seventy, with a deeply lined face and thin, dyed black hair. Both of them looked like this, actually; they could have been sisters. Each had a set of bridges that would make American dentists weep: cold steel wirework holding dingy false teeth, but who could care, with their positive attitudes?

One of them held back, a bit reserved, though she began to warm up as the conversation continued. She pantomined the question of whether Remi was a boy or a girl; we told her he was a boy, then made a scissor motion to indicate that technically, he was a gelding. She giggled at that as well.

After a few minutes she gave us a piece of hard candy for the dog, who chewed it into pieces and swallowed it mostly still whole. Then it was time to go.

And that’s generally what Remi gives us here in Mokpo: a bridge to the locals, meetings we’d never have otherwise, and a whole lot of good mojo.

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Update:  One side note.  Tiny, small, micro dogs are the norm here.  We brought his toys, leashes, and brush.  We haven’t seen any replacements.  Remi hasn’t had a dog bone since he left home.    If you are reading this and packing your dog for  the big move, pack everything.  Especially clippers.   We haven’t found a groomer that has the supplies to groom him.  We bought a clipper for $35 dollars, but it isn’t strong enough or large enough to cut more than his toe hair.  We cut his hair with a mustache scissors now days.

If you are a friend wanting to send a care package, Remi would love a bone to gnaw on.  He never liked the plastic ones, but he loves everything else.  He especially loves Bully sticks.  YUM!

Update #2

Online shopping is a medium sized dog owners dream.  We order Remi’ dog food, the cat’s litter, and Remi’s replacement Kong on Gmarket.co.kr  It always arrives in a day or two and shipping is free to $2.  Oh, and as with most things in Korea, it comes with ‘service.’   Gmarket is a hassle to get started, but then it is a lifesaver.