Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fukuoka: Old City, Young Vibe

Fukuoka is thought to be the oldest city in Japan due to its proximity to China and Korea (you can catch a ferry over to either one from here), and it was recently ranked 12th most livable city in the world, thanks to its youthful aura and liveliness. And ramen. Fukuoka is said to have the best ramen in the country.

I got to Fukuoka (also known as Hakata), around 11am, checked in, and went to find the Pokemon Center (yes, another one). It doesn't seem as though they get many foreigners in there because the woman who checked me out was really excited and asked me all sorts of questions - seemingly excited to practice her English.

"You, Pokemon like very much?"
"Yes! It's great!"
"Oh, sankyuu (thank you) very much!" (I'm not being racist, sankyuu is actually the Japanicized version of 'thank you,' and is in the dictionary.)

I showed her my Pikachu phone charm collection from Osaka and Sapporo and she freaked out.

"Oh! SO CUTE! Kawaii! Sankyuu!"
"I'm going to get one more in Tokyo."
"Oh! Sankyuu!"

Having been excessively thanked (or sanked, I suppose), I went to get some cold soba, which you dip into a soy sauce type sauce.

Then I walked to Tochoji Temple and saw Japan's largest wooden buddha - which was pretty impressive.

Behind it was Shofukuji Temple (founded in 1195 CE), where I stopped to sit and take in the serenity. I sat down on a step, let the sun warm me, and listened to the distant hum of cars, the cooing of pigeons, the singing of other unknown birds, and the crowing of, well, crows. With no other patrons around, it was incredibly relaxing. I played with a creepy black cat (the second one I've seen in two days). It kept trying to eat/lick my camera.

My legs took me to Kushida Shrine, founded in 757 CE, that was full of history and nifty items. Unlike Shofukuji, this place was PACKED with pilgrims, waiting in a ridiculously long line to throw money in a box, pull a rope, and clap. This has a great explanation of the significance of all things Shinto-shriney.

Right next to Kushida was the entrance to Canal City shopping arcade - a bizarre mall with a man made canal running through it, built in the 1990s to look "futuristic." It is exactly what one would picture of the tacky ass future conjured up in the '90s. I had no intention of shopping, but found myself interested in going to see the Hobbit. I just missed the last 2D viewing (I hate 3D), and decided that Les Mis would not be a bad second choice. Until I saw the price tag. ~$20 for a ticket (for college students). TWENTY U.S. DOLLARS FOR A MOVIE TICKET. And I thought it was bad in DC!

I walked away in disgust and decided to remind myself that Japan is still awesome despite $20 movie tickets, so I went to "Ramen Stadium," half a floor of Canal City dedicated to ramen shops serving up soupy noodles from around the country. I went with the Fukuoka ramen, served with a large piece of pork and a soft-boiled egg (with a delicious gooey yolk). Full and once again happy, I walked back to the train station to do some ticket changes, and then went to the hostel.

Tabicolle Backpackers is a super awesome hostel - small, but with the friendliest staff everrrrrrrrr. I made friends with the girl behind the desk, and she helped me plan my city hopping nom fest for tomorrow. I'm going to go to Shimonoseki for sashimi and sightseeing, and then Kagoshima to eat black pork, drink sweet potato shochu, and look in awe at Sakurajima (an apparently impressive active volcano nearby).

I invited everyone in the hostel lounge for dinner, and two people joined me: Duncan (Australian) and Rachel (American). We went to try mentaiko, a famous Fukuoka dish made of cod roe, and wound up ordering a bunch of things.

We got mentaiko with mustard, mentaiko croquette, an omelette type thing with bacon and scallions, fried pulled pork skewers (my personal favorite), and gyoza. I washed it all down with some potato shochu on the rocks, which basically tasted like delicious vodka with a slightly sweet flavor.

The food photos did not come out well, but here ya go:


Mentaiko croquette 

Sweet potato shochu 

Fried pulled pork skewers 


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