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Published: August 8th 2018
Greetings from Fukuoka, the largest city on the island of Kyushu, and at just over 1.5 million people, the sixth largest in Japan. It is definitely an urban centre, it’s been good to have arrived here, and although there really isn’t that much to see and do in the city itself, it’s been a great place in which to spend my final three nights in Japan. Indeed, this is my last stop on the Japan-leg of my summer adventures this year – I feel quite sad about this actually, as if it is not evident in these blogs I’ve written, I’ve had the most amazing time travelling in this wonderful country. The people are super welcoming, friendly and hospitable, the country is beautiful, there are so many things to see and do, so many typical Japanese experiences to be had, the food is amazing, and travelling around here has been just so easy and efficient. What more can you ask of a country? It is thus with a bit sadness that I’m getting ready to say goodbye to Japan, but if I do plan another visit at any point again to the country, I would be very keen
Glover Garden, Nagasaki
Very friendly locals! The next J-Pop girl band group?
to explore the northern, quieter parts of the country – northern Honshu and Hokkaido to be exact. It is definitely a country which cannot be taken in with just one relatively short visit. The time I have had here though has just been amazing.
I believe I last wrote from the hot-spring and onsen resort town of Beppu. The guesthouse owner gave me a lift to the station on Monday morning, which was most welcome being about 2.5 miles out of town. I caught another Sonic train northwestwards, and two hours later arrived in my final Japanese port-of-call, the city of Fukuoka. In actual fact, I am staying in Hakata – the city is actually made up of two urban centres which officially joined only in 1889 – Fukuoka on the west side of the Hakata-gawa River, and Hakata on the east side. I am staying on the east-side, not far from the train station, and am thus really in Hakata. But most people abroad know it as Fukuoka, and for English-speakers one has to be quite careful how you pronounce the city’s name! What is more, I actually walked through one area of the city yesterday which you
Peace Park, Nagasaki
Nagasaki Peace Statue
may even have to be more careful in pronouncing – the area of Gofuku. I found this quite funny, and had to take a picture…
As mentioned, there is not much to see and do here really, there are no amazing temples, natural areas of beauty, or must-see sights. It is just a plain and simple, honest urban centre. But a great place to finish off. Yesterday I had really quite a busy day, but my main reason for staying here has been just to relax and unwind a bit, a sort-of half-way through my journey type of day, contemplating the end of my journey in Japan, and preparing myself physically and mentally for a new country tomorrow, South Korea, for the final two weeks of my journey.
So on Monday, I checked into my hotel, my final business hotel of my trip, the really quiet, comfortable, calm and friendly Hotel Areaone, just north of the train station. My top-floor room has a really fascinating view over the small Mikasa-gawa river flowing below (where bats fly over in the evenings, and fish jump out of the water!), and the train tracks entering the station from the north, including
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
The time of the bomb: 11.02am, 9th August 1945
the shinkansen bullet train line. I could watch the train tracks for a long time, there’s always a train, including a bullet or two, going by every few minutes, and I actually find it quite soothing to hear them pass by. After checking in, I just walked around the nearby station area for a bit, had my first proper ramen meal for lunch (other noodle meals have really only been udon or soba, not the proper, brothy, flavoursome ramen), met an interesting Australian gentleman who’s just opened a new shop in Nagasaki selling Australian jewellery, and bought three more CDs which are rare to get back home. I called it an early evening, and just chilled in my room for the rest of the day.
Yesterday indeed was quite busy, and to make use of the final day of my two-week Japan Rail Pass, as well as to visit the city itself, I boarded a two-hour train in the morning to nearby Nagasaki. Indeed, I felt it important to also visit Nagasaki as well as Hiroshima, and spent another day, well at least the first part of it, contemplating once more the destruction and horrors released by the second,
Hotel Areaone, Fukuoka
My business hotel for three nights here
and final, atomic bomb ever used in warfare. Perhaps it was with the second bomb, not the first, at which the Japanese government at the time realised that they would be foolhardy not to surrender, as the US would probably not be stopping there. It was following this second bomb, on 15th
August 1945, that Japan surrendered unconditionally to the allied nations, and at last there came an end to the six years of the worst warfare the world has ever seen. Once more I found myself emotional and moved by the horrors of that day, but also in continued and complete agreement of the US decision to drop the bomb. In fact, and I didn’t know this before, it was a joint-decision between the US and the UK government, as Roosevelt had met with Churchill only a few months earlier, to agree to drop the bombs on Japan. Just three days after Hiroshima, the US army loaded the second bomb, a hydrogen bomb as opposed to an atomic bomb (I’m actually unsure of the difference), called “Fat Man” onto the USAF B-29 bomber “Bock’s Car”. Its intended target was the northern Kyushu city of Kokura, but because of poor
Hotel Areaone, Fukuoka
My room - I think the smallest yet, but still highly comfortable and efficient
visibility due to cloud cover, they aimed for their secondary target, the western Kyushu city of Nagasaki. When they arrived over the city though, there was also poor visibility, and the decision was nearly made to abort the mission and return to base, until there was a small gap in the cloud cover showing the Mitsubishi Arms Factory below - the bomb was released aiming for there. It missed its intended arms factory target, but detonated 500 metres above the northern Urakami suburb of Nagasaki. Although it was even more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and temperatures at the hypocentre reached around twice as hot, at 4000 degrees, the damage was comparatively limited due to Nagasaki lying in a river valley – the surrounding mountains helped to contain the bomb explosion. Nevertheless, 74,000 lost their lives in the initial explosion, out of a population of 240,000. A further 75,000 were horribly injured. These were sobering statistics.
My visit yesterday morning began with a climb up (at least via some very welcome escalators, the heat yesterday was intense) to the quite famous Nagasaki Peace Statue in the northern end of the Peace Park in the suburb of Urakami, and the
Hotel Areaone, Fukuoka
My bathroom - quite confused as to how one is meant to leave the bathroom when one is finished in there...! (Although I think it means not to leave the door open after a hot bath or shower, to let the steam out, and set off the fire alarm)
beautiful Fountain of Peace, shaped like wings, just opposite. As with Hiroshima, my visit very nearly coincided with the anniversary of the bomb, and also just like Hiroshima, the authorities were preparing for what looked to be a large gathering of people to commemorate the event. Further south from here I stopped off at the black stone column in the Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park, marking the point directly above which the bomb detonated. A further short walk to the south brought me to Nagasaki’s own Atomic Bomb Museum, containing similar exhibits to Hiroshima: pictures of the destruction, some very graphic and haunting images of the injured and killed, and further information on the development of, and arguments against, nuclear weaponry over recent years.
After a short lunch stop at a nearby modern Japanese eatery, I hopped on two trams to take me to the southern part of the city, to visit the famous Glover Garden area, overlooking Nagasaki Harbour. My visit to Nagasaki, both unfortunately, and quite impressively, coincided with the calling of the humungous (I’ve never seen such a big ship before!) Ovation of the Seas cruise liner arriving from Tianjin in China – apparently one of a
Hotel Areaone, Fukuoka
View from my hotel room, right over the Mikasagawa River, and timed just as two bullet trains were passing each other over the bridge. I believe this is believed to be an auspicious moment in Japan, and that if a wish is made at the point of passing of two bullet trains, then it will come true.
series of three ships built, its type being the second largest ocean liner ever built. I had met a few western cruise tourists at the bomb memorial sites in the north of the city who told me about their ship, but unfortunately the crowds of mostly Chinese mainland tourists (if anyone’s read my previous blogs, these are currently not my favourite types of tourists at all) seemed mostly interested in visiting the Glover Garden area. I am perfectly in favour of sharing tourist sights with fellow travellers, who are mindful of others around them, and who keep noise-levels respectful of their surroundings. But I’m afraid once again I was unable to see such courtesy in the behaviour of these people. I was able fortunately to block them out mostly, and in actual fact my visit to the Glover Garden area didn’t involve too many encounters, they mostly seemed to be being loud around the souvenir shops and eateries on the main road.
Nagasaki actually holds a rich history of international trade and relations. This pretty much began with the arrival of the Portuguese, and along with them Christianity, St Francis Xavier and the Jesuits, in the 16th
Japan Rail Pass
This will be missed, as will Japan...
and much of Kyushu also, is home to a fair number of Japan’s estimated one to two million Christians. They have been both welcomed and reviled over the centuries, the latter sentiment leading to a number of martyrdoms, particularly in the 17th
century. In 1638, shogunate Japan began its famous two-century period of national isolation, where any form of contact or trade with the outside world was prohibited, until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 brought sweeping changes over the country, opening it up once more to the outside world, and ushering in the age of modernisation, whereby Japan progressed rapidly from a feudal shogunate to a modern nation state. Yet despite this isolation, a tiny Dutch trading post was officially sanctioned to conduct trade with the outside world. This was the tiny artificial island of Dejima, measuring a mere 15,000 square metres in total, in the centre of Nagasaki. Following the Meiji Restoration, foreign commercialists and industrialists were also attracted to Nagasaki, including Thomas Glover (1838-1911), a Scottish industrialist who built Japan’s first railway, helped establish the ship-building industry, and was also involved in arms importation which helped to influence the Meiji Restoration. His house, and the beautiful gardens surrounding
More CD Purchases
Very rare CDs, either not available or very expensive if ordered back in the UK - very pleased to have bought these!
it, thus made a pleasant place to while away an hour or so in the south of Nagasaki, visiting traditionally-built British houses amongst English gardens and conservatories. My heart felt a bit warmed by this reminiscence of home, so far away on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The area is also home to a statue of Tamaki Miura, a Japanese opera singer who played Madame Butterfly, the story of which took place in Nagasaki, and nearby, a statue of Giacomo Puccini, the opera’s writer. Indeed, I could well have imagined the sorry sight of Cho-Cho-San looking out over Nagasaki Harbour, agonisingly waiting in vain for the return of her American lover. Despite the heat, the Glover Garden area was a very pleasant place to walk around, followed-up by a final walk around the afore-mentioned Dejima area, which has been beautifully restored in 2006, giving every bit the impression of what the tiny island must have looked and felt like as the tiny window which gave the west only the briefest glimpse of the mysteries of Japan for over two hundred years.
After quite an intense day of sightseeing in Nagasaki, I was ready to board my return train
back to Fukuoka, and at 4.20pm my final train trip in Japan began, as we left the station bound once more for Hakata.
Yet despite the busy-ness of the day thus far, my activities were far from over. After an hour’s lie down back in my hotel, it was time to pack my small backpack for an overnight excursion for perhaps my final Japanese experience this trip. Although initially reluctant when planning this trip a few months ago, and also a little nervous yesterday, I left my hotel at 7.30pm bound for a capsule hotel right in the centre of town. It had to be done…!
In actual fact, the First Cabin Hakata calls itself a “Compact Hotel” rather than a “Capsule Hotel”, and it is slightly difference. I do feel a little bit disappointed not to have been able to do the real capsule experience, but this was the only place I was able to book in advance online, and seemed a good option as my first experience of this kind. Perhaps if I visit Japan again, I may try a more authentic “capsule” experience. What I mean is, a capsule hotel has sleeping berths two-storeys high,
Japanese Wet Wipe
Yay, that sounds like so much fun :D
whereas the First Cabin Hakata is only single-storey. Nevertheless, the place was full of corridors lined with these very small, pod-like compartments, separated from the corridor by a flimsy, pull-down curtain, which for legal reasons apparently cannot be fully closed, and thus pretty much does little to block out any corridor noise. I am going to refer to it hereon as a capsule hotel anyway, as it was very similar I think… After an hour or so of exploring the neon-lit evening streets of Fukuoka, I checked into my capsule hotel pretty much on the busiest street in the middle of the action, on a tiny river island which forms one of the beating hearts of Fukuoka’s nightlife, Nakasu. A lift took me up to the eighth floor, and almost into another world – on the street it was noisy, bright and active, up there it was calm, tranquil and serene. I checked in fairly quickly, and was given the capsule number F23, and a map to locate it. I had actually requested a quiet one, and was happy to find that there were no neighbours to either side of me, but there were two directly opposite me. Nevertheless, despite
being surrounded by people, it was just so quiet. One of the rules of a capsule hotel is “no talking in the capsule area” – if you want to talk, there is a designated room near the entrance for this. This was really nice, although with the constant footsteps and sounds of curtains coming down and going up pretty much most of the night, I was glad to have brought my earplugs. I actually felt really excited when I entered the pod, it had everything a traveller would want. There was a light switch, air-conditioning, TV with headphones, towels, pyjamas, duvet, sheet, pillow, tissues, and a tiny rubbish bin at the foot of the bed. In the central area between all the corridors of pods on the men’s side (the women’s side was on the other half of the floor, completely separate) were the washing facilities – toilets, wash basins, and a really nice, big, hot onsen bath. Everything was sparklingly clean and very top-notch, and as I was enjoying my microwave meal in the talking area near the entrance, I noticed that all the guests who were arriving for the night were pretty much normal, decent, working, business-type people.
Calpis Water Drink
Although the name doesn't sound particularly appealing, I really like it - it's a milky drink, sometimes fizzy (soda) sometimes not (water).
I guess I expected, being in the middle of the nightlife area, and with the whole concept of sleeping in capsules, a bit more of a seedier environment, but this was far from so, and the whole experience and place was really quite pleasant indeed.
After my dinner and a hot onsen bath, it was time to sleep. Despite it taking a while to drop off, mostly as it was a little too stuffy for my liking, and the air-conditioning didn’t feel powerful enough, not due to any loud or prolonged noise from my fellow guests, I ended up having a good night’s sleep. My neighbour opposite me woke me up when he was getting ready to go, but I let go of any anger at this when I realised it was nearly 7am and nearly time for my alarm to go off anyway. I had indeed had a fairly good night’s sleep, considering! (Considering my pod was pretty much the size of my bed, considering there wasn’t any kind of sound insulation between pods, and considering I was pretty much in one giant room with dozens of other gentlemen each in his own pod!). Ah, another Japanese experience
which I think I can tick off the list!
This morning I had a quick wash in the central area, and then returned to my proper hotel, where I had left most of my belongings the night before, just in time for morning breakfast. I then returned to my room, and had a nap for the rest of the morning!
Today has been my final full day in Japan. I have named it myself as a “travel admin” day, in which I have done a few bits and bobs to finish off my time in Japan and move on to preparation for South Korea (this involved changing my Lonely Planets in my day bag, changing the position of yen and wan in my money belt, and a few other similarly minor things!). It also included buying a couple more final souvenirs – probably my final Studio Ghibli plush toy of the trip (unless they sell them in South Korea – I’ve been really hoping to find the talking-fire and the cute dog, both in “Howl’s Moving Castle”!), and a Japanese headband which I’ve been looking for for a while (the kind the Karate Kid puts on in his
final bout, the white one with a Japanese rising red sun and the Japanese characters for “Nihon” written on the front!). And finally, my haircut for the trip. This has to happen, and it’s one of the only times on my trips which I really don’t look forward to. I usually have my hair cut every four weeks or so, before it gets too bushy around the sides for my liking, so this means any travelling trip of more than four weeks needs to have a haircut at some point in the middle. Today I did it, and although there were a couple of scary times where I thought I was going to end up with a step between the short bit at the back and sides and the longer bit on top (I really don’t like that!), it turned out pretty decent in the end, and the step was smoothed over. I also very much impressed myself, as not only was I able to explain to the lady what I wanted completely in Japanese (she spoke no English at all), we were also able to have a conversation for the first ten minutes or so. The whole process, including
wash, brief head massage, and dry took about half-an-hour. The conversation did dry up after about ten minutes or so, as I pretty much ran out of Japanese, but this really did impress me. Unfortunately I was asked the one question I dislike though, the one which I try to avoid, and it has been a record three weeks of travelling before anyone asked it to me – usually I’m asked it every day. Are you married? Followed by the second question, why not? My Japanese is too limited to go into the details here, and I’m far from being able to say something like “I’m not the marrying type”, but I was able to summarise my reasons by saying “it’s good and easy” – I think that was close enough!
I then enjoyed another ramen bowl back at the train station, and am currently continuing my travel admin day by chilling in my room with the air-conditioning on, and writing up this, my final blog entry for the Japan part of my journey.
Indeed, if it isn’t immediately obvious by now (though I’m sure it is!), I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of travelling in this country.
It is beautiful, the people are magical, I feel a close connection between my own British culture and the Japanese culture, and it has just been a real pleasure to travel around this amazing country for three weeks. Japan, you have been amazing, thank you so much for such a wonderful time in your country, for the positive energy which you freely emanate - I will leave with many upon many fond memory of your beautiful and hospitable island nation.
With this entry I say goodbye to Japan, but in my next I plan to say hello to South Korea. Tomorrow I take a hydrofoil from Fukuoka across the Sea of Japan, heading for Busan, where I plan to spend my first three nights in my 78th
country. I am planning to write up my next entry from there, in a few days’ time.
Thank you also for reading, and all the best.
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