16 September 2008

Fukuoka, Japan. Part II

Thus began my favorite part of the day: the archaeological building, sports grounds, Fukuoka castle ruins, and Ohori Park, with its beautiful lake and Japanese garden. It is worthwhile to note that the pace of our trip and the direction it took were the accomplishment of Tom. He had a pretty good plan and he kept us moving. I could not believe the ground we covered in one day. I'd had a bad time the previous night with my nethers but I was determined not to be inhibited on my one full day in Japan so I took some supportive measures on Sunday and this really helped (thanks WebMD momma!). I also took the time to rest periodically and Tom was kind about that. By the end of the day we had walked from Hakata Station to Hawk's Town and my dogs were barking a good one. Luckily, I knew an electronics store with a full-body massage chair.

Tom eats about every two days. I eat about every two minutes. I think, and I told him, that the best way to experience a culture is to put it in your mouth. He allowed this point, if for no other reason than that if I was eating at least I would render myself unable to speak. We looked around and quickly found a noodle shop and went in and sat down. We stood back up and were directed to a vending machine by the door with the menu and prices. We picked a couple of things out and stuck in our money (Y550) and gave the ticket and shortly were delivered steaming grub. I got the special (see the picture) and Tom got something with some crispy noodles. I ate a bite. It was all good. Sides of fried dumplins. Green tea.

On through the shopping district and, after finding a present (a little cherry tree made out of copper wire with rose quartz petals), we broke through to the Fukuoka-jo archaeological area. Tom, walking blind, hit it smack on. We went down an uneven path bordered by a ditch populated by giant koi and trees occupied by a group of huge blue-black ravens. They apparently thought we were hilarious.

And I must have appeared strange to to the birds and all the bird-like zero-body-fatted peoples of Japan, but they don't stare and point like the Koreans. A friend of a friend, female and apparently attractive (I haven't met her), told Tom that she didn't want to live here for much longer because she didn't want to fall victim to what she called the "princess syndrome." Males and females alike she had seen afflicted by an artificially high sense of self-esteem because of the attention: they get a big head, in other words. I, not being the typical "stylishly skinny, twenty-something, just-graduated, hot-enough-to-club-anywhere" type foreigner, have felt something quite the opposite here at times, something which I will call the "Shrek syndrome." I feel scary, at times, and sadly small for my size.

But I digress. There is, upon my first impression anyway, less danger of this in Japan. And (nice segway) this might be because of the unfettered wanderlust displayed by the Japanese throughout history. I actually recognized some of the amphora at the ceramics display in the archaeology display (I taught Humanities 101 a couple of times back home). The pots came from as far away as Greece and Spain. I could only read bits of the notation but I think the dig dated to the tenth century, three centuries before a European came this far East. I am not saying the Japanese went to get them and they were actually after what was in the pots, not the pots themselves, but that is some kind of trading network. According to the literature Fukuoka was Japan's gateway to the west and it remains so to this day.

The complex excavated was a merchant and diplomatic centre for years. Guarding it, just above, was a fortress built of huge fitted stones, a deep gray wall canted inward and topped with earth-works. None of the original wooden structures survive, but a beautiful garden of cherry trees and a guardhouse give one the impression of a wealthy and secure culture that remained impenetrable till 1945. Nagasaki is just 100K south of Fukuoka, Hiroshima 200K north.

Between the archeology building and the castle there was a large flat that probably had some history but it now holds a baseball field and a dusty rugby pitch. We sat under the ginko trees and watched the end of one rugby match and the beginning of another. It was brutal. I was very glad to be on the sidelines. There was usually at least one person writhing on the ground in pain and from where I was sitting it wasn't playacting. Huge collisions, no pads. It reminded me of a game we used to play when I was a kid called "kill the man with the ball." It had another rhymey name that time has rendered inappropriate that could roughly be translated "splatter the homosexual." It was a lot of fun. These fellas were really enjoying themselves, too.

We climbed up through the maze, though the wide guarded stairways and under and over former drawbridges, up several levels to the very top. The uppermost level was only the size of a tennis court but it offered a spectacular view of the city. I tried to imagine the blood that had been let on those steps and terraces and when I closed my eyes the screaming and clash of the rugby match below could just as well have been a battle raging outside the castle gates.

A five minute walk brought us to the edge of Ohori park, which contains a large lake, an art museum and a theater. I have read that the park is a copy of another in China and that it is famous throughout Japan. We walked through the Japanese garden (Y200) that was built to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the park's construction. The park's name means "trench" and derives from the fact that the lake was built using part of the outer moat of the castle. The land itself was reclaimed at one point from the bay, which is amazing since it is a few kilometers from the water now (much of the city lays on land that was once ocean and if my readings of the satellite images are correct there is a large reclamation project underway currently to the north of downtown). One of the old maps in the archeology building showed the water coming right up to the castle and I thought at the time that it was a map of somewhere else.

A walkway with bridges connecting small islands allows one to walk across the center of the lake and we did this, stopping to watch the families peddling around in swan boats, young people rowing skiffs, and a regatta of RC sailboats. On the opposite side there were restaurants and fountains and a concession stand where you could buy little plastic bags of fish pellets to throw to the huge carp patrolling the shore. Some of these fish were four feet long and weighed at least 100 pounds and that is no fish story. There was also a public bathroom and it was a sitter and it had a door! Hooray!

We walked a while further till we got to the Yahoo! Dome complex and Hawk's town, a set of two or three huge shopping malls. We walked around in there and Tom bought some soccer jerseys (he collects them) and we had dinner (Y4000). Curry. I can't believe it either but the guy was slapping naan on the inside of a huge tandoori oven right out front and that was it: I was having Indian in Japan. Oh, well. It was great, too. A surly bearded and turbaned Sikh ran the place and when I told him it was good he looked down his nose at me and grunted his disdain. I love it.

I was foot-sore by that point so after a powwow about how to proceed we decided to take a quick cab over to the Fukuoka Tower and then hunt down a bus back from there. We went up the tower (Y800) and I fiddled around trying to take a decent picture with my poor camera and got a couple that are OK I think. Down below there was a brightly lit complex of buildings sticking out into the water that looked like a medieval manor, complete with chapel. We went down and walked across the causeway but they weren't having us and the bar there wanted Y2000 just to walk in the door so we walked around on the beach for a minute and then went and found the bus stop and went back to Hakata Station. A brief stop at the massage chair display at Yodobashi while Tom got some CDs and then on home. I drank a few beers on the balcony and watched the people walking around outside till I started getting noddy.

The trip home was more eventful than the one there. At one point the sky darkened and it started sprinkling and the ferry slowed down abruptly and they said something over the intercom and everyone started looking out the windows. I asked the Korean guy across the aisle what was going on, "Is it a storm?" "No," he said. "Whales." Then the ferry took a hard turn to port and I looked out the window to the starboard and about 200 yards off I saw it: a huge black dorsal fin rising and turning away into the water.

When I got home I had another surprise. Yu Jin had told her mother that she was going to the movies and then went and got on the train.