16 September 2008

Fukuoka, Japan

As the country basically shuts down for Ch'usok and I had a three and a half day weekend, I decided that I would take the opportunity to go to Japan. It was a short trip, but I learned a lot about the country and was able to experience another Asian culture. This had the added effect of clarifying my perspective on Korea in many ways.

We took a jetfoil over the Eastern Sea (Sea of Japan). It was very fast and hovered above the waves on wings. The ride was very smooth. We met some other people on the ride over, including a fellow working for the US Navy. He was able to give us some important information about finding our way around and gave us a breakdown of the relative currency values. I am horrible at the whole money thing under the best of circumstances, but the breakdown for Yen was fairly simple: 1000 won = 100 yen = 1 dollar. I had bought 30,000 yen at the ferry terminal before we left, which turned out to be fortuitous. Tom intended to use his Visa to get money in Japan, as he could get it without paying huge exchange fees (as I did). The problem is that most Japanese ATMs will not accept any card, even a Visa, that is not issued in-country. On the second day we located an ATM at the post office that accepted any card (thanks Lonely Planet!) and the crisis was averted.

When we got through immigration we went out to the cab stand and the back doors to the first cab opened automatically to meet us. We got in and they closed automatically to welcome us still further. We showed the hostel address to the driver. He looked at it, said something in Japanese, and got out. After a while I decided I would take an opportunity to have a smoke. The doors were locked from the outside. I don't like that. After a while he came back and took us to the hostel. It was real nice. Clean and simple. It had a couple of showers for everyone to share and a large communal bath. Boys at one time and girls another. I didn't get in. It was so nice in fact that I am not even going to tell you which one I stayed at. I'm selfish.

After a short nap we took off to check out the town. The hostel was a bit out of the way, but after about a twenty minute walk we got to Hakata Station, Fukuoka's train terminal. Near there was a Yodobashi store, huge and packed with everything electric. Tom went off in search of CDs and I climbed into a massage chair. I almost never got out. It was heaven. See picture of this thing. Unfortunately it was over 400000 yen or I would have bought it. After a bit more walking around looking at things we had some supper and went back to the hostel and bed.

The next morning I woke up early and took a shower. I knocked on Tom's door at 8AM and after he got cleaned up we went to a Cafe next door and had breakfast. I had potatoes and eggs and sausages (hot dog size, polish taste) and a warm bun with BUTTER! A clear soup with veggies and Earl Grey. Yummin. Sounds a lot like a Western breakfast but according to the LonePlan that is what they eat. Order the "morningu setta."

On down the road to the bus stop and back to Hanaka Station, where we finally found the Post Office which was closed but the ATM area was open and boy were we glad to see that. Tom took out way too much money and we went off walking in search of several shrines in the area. They were very beautiful, with large manicured grounds and extensive cemeteries. The temples in Korea that I have been in have all been in wilderness areas with little in the way of landscaping. The pine woods tightly surround Beomosa and a wild mountain stream runs through the complex. Hyang-iram is built into the side of a cliff and the steps up and the buildings are really the only man made thing there. Most of the five or six Japanese temples we saw had grounds. There was far more open space in Japan in general. In Busan the only place without permanent structures are the streets, mountains, and beaches. In Japan they even had parking lots. I know of only a few in Busan and they are minded by full time parking attendants.

I am trying not to make sweeping generalizations about either country. Bear that in mind as I draw these comparisons. I am really only comparing two cities and likely not even doing that well. I came away feeling that, in general again, Fukuoko is far cleaner than Busan. Sorry.

We began working our way toward the shopping areas in Canal City. This is an area diced up by several canals and rivers that filled with malls and small streets full of shops and restaurants. It was beautiful and nice walking. I was looking for a present for someone so I drug poor Tom through a lot more of that than he probably would have stopped for without me.

There will be more tomorrow and some pictures are available here.