Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fukuoka, Japan

Since I was a young girl, I have always dreamed of visiting Japan. Of course I wanted to go because I am half Japanese. My parents imbued me with a sense of awe for the country by taking me to local Japanese festivals, feeding me miso soup, and dressing me up in kimonos throughout my childhood. However, I always sensed something exceptional about the country that was felt beyond the influences of my family. Some quiet secret was hidden in the cherry blossoms, in the Japanese gardens, and in the koi fish. 
Our trip to Fukuoka absolutely confirmed all of my preconceived feelings. The moment we stepped onto Japanese grounds, we could tangibly feel something distinctive in the air. Although our holiday only lasted 3 full days, it was one of the most memorable we've ever had. Japan is a truly unique and remarkable place.

After the long, overnight journey on a ship from Busan to Fukuoka, we dropped our things off at our hotel and set off to find breakfast straight away. We wandered the quiet, Saturday morning city streets with Josh and Kalie, a young married couple we'd met on the ferry. Coincidentally, they also live in Danggam Jugong, our apartment complex! We soon stumbled upon the only restaurant on the street that appeared to be open and sat down at a small table. After puzzling over the menu, we picked our poisons and were instructed by the waiter to crack raw eggs into our bowls of rice. Well, itadakimasu! 

After we said goodbye to Josh and Kalie, we hopped on the easy-to-maneuver subway and headed to  the Yahoo Dome, Fukuoka's baseball stadium. We bought two tickets for the afternoon game and settled into our seats early with sushi and noodles. When the game finally started, the crowd burst into a frenzied commotion. They blowed trumpets, beat drums, and struck little blow-up bats together. They chanted numerous Japanese rallying calls and loudly cheered on the men at bat. The Japanese baseball game experience was extremely memorable and so much fun! 

That evening, we went to a restaurant down the street from our hotel called Hanamidori. It is rated the #3 restaurant in Fukuoka on tripadvisor.com, and the food certainly did not disappoint. We waited for about 10 minutes before we were greeted by a lovely server in a kimono who showed us to our seat. We ordered mizutaki, a hot pot soup dish with a variety of delicious meats and vegetables. We ladled the dashi soup stock into small, ceramic cups to drink and ate the meats and veggies in another bowl with ponzu. Every spoonful we put into our mouths was exquisite. 

The next morning, we took a two-hour train ride from Fukuoka to the quaint city of Beppu. We passed miles and miles of picturesque countryside dotted with traditional, thatched-roof houses and bamboo forests. 

After we arrived, we spoke to a tour guide at the information desk and headed to a nearby restaurant upon her recommendation. To our delight, the restaurant specialized in tempura, which we thoroughly enjoyed. 

Beppu is known for its famous onsen, or hot springs. There are eight major geothermal hot springs in the city which are referred to as the "eight hells of Beppu." We viewed several of them during our walk around the city and ate delicious hot cakes baked over the hot springs steam. 

We also bathed in the hot spring waters in a traditional family bathhouse. The experience was so relaxing and calming. After we bathed in the (very) hot water for about a half hour, my body felt rejuvenated and refreshed. It reminded us of Spirited Away, our favorite Hayao Miyazaki animated film, where spirits come to bathe in a Japanese bathhouse. 

On our third and last day in Fukuoka, we toured the major historical sites of the city. First, we went to the Kushida Shrine, which was originally built in the year 757. Even though the shrine was located in the midst of the bustling city, the shrine grounds were peaceful and holy. Many Japanese people walked into the shrine to behold the ancient structure and pay tribute to the gods.

After the shrine visit, we walked to a famous shopping district down the road called Canal City. Here, we browsed traditional Japanese shops and picked up a few souvenirs. The character below decided to flash me a peace sign as I took his picture.  

Our last stops of the day were Ohori Park and the Fukuoka Castle remains. Our walk through the park was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. The park was so tranquil and hushed apart from the buzzing insects that hid in the trees. The sun shone through the dense canopy, creating a scenic stroll for us. A man on a park bench sang an ancient-sounding Japanese song that echoed through the grounds as we walked. We stopped under the shade of a big tree to enjoy the moment. 

While walking, we came upon a large lake surrounded by a track, playgrounds, and treat shops. We decided to rent a swan boat and paddle around, talking about and reflecting upon our beautiful vacation. 

There's not much left of the Fukuoka Castle, but the remains provided a glimpse into the Japanese Edo period and furnished us with a spectacular platform on which we viewed the park grounds and the city panorama. 

I still reflect in wonder and amazement about our first trip to Japan. All of our experiences left us with such sweet and vivid memories. We are confident that our times in Japan have only just begun. We cannot wait to go back again. 

1 comment:

  1. What a nice trip you had! I am anxious to visit Japan, too!