~ japan day 8: Fukuoka + New Year ~
once again, ari is a guestwriter in this entry again. he’s helping me finishing up this neverending story…
At 9:30am, Jessi and Hitomi-san came to pick us up at the hotel. Hitomi-san had a car and was actually really planning to drive us around all day that day. Wow!
Our first visit was the gas station. As we chatted in the car while the guy was filling the car up, Hitomi-san asked us how much gasoline was in Jakarta nowadays. We had no idea. Hehehe…
We drove towards this temple called Daizafu Tenmangu Shrine, a bit outside the city to get our blessings for the new year. As we reached the area, Hitomi-san told us that there will be around 2 million people there later in the day, that’s why we came in the morning. The walk to the shrine was very interesting. There were gift shops and traditional Japanese snack stores along the way on both sides of the street. And lots of places that sell mentaiko (spicy-salty pickled cod roe). We were told that Fukuoka is well known for it’s mentaiko. “mentaiko daisuki” we told Hitomi-san (we love mentaiko). We tried the mentaiko-filled croquette, which was ok, then some warm redbean filled mochi. We went in a few souvenir stores, one of which was a glass store. Thalia bought a pair of little pig chopstick holders made of glass.
As we reached the gate of the temple, is was obvious from the preparation that there’s going to be a huge matsuri (street festival) there that evening. We were told by Hitomi-san that this temple is especially popular with students who come here to get their blessing before an exam so that their minds get super-duper clarity when doing the tests. At the gift shop, they even sell specially blessed pencils among the various talismans. We crossed a bridge as we walked towards the main shrine. It is said that if we don’t look back while crossing the bridge, we will pass all challenges smoothly. Well I guess looking at it from another perspective, 2 million people hanging out, taking pictures of the garden and koi on this tiny wooden bridge would not be a good idea as well.
Although we were there quite early in the morning, there were plenty of visitors already. There was a barrier around the shrine, and visitors tossed coins into the barrier. We tossed coins and clapped hands at the main shrine. Hitomi-san told us that usually, the barrier isn’t there and you can go closer to the shrine during normal days. Tonight, however is the New Year, and to keep the order, they put up the barrier preventing people overcrowding the shrine.
We then wrote our wishes for the new year on a wooden plank and then hung it near a tree. Supposedly, if you write your wishes for this year on that particular wooden plank and hang it on the trees, they will come true within that coming year. Since there will be thousands, if not millions, of people coming to this shrine, and there is not enough branch on the trees to accommodate the millions of wishes, they put an additional fences up around the trees, where you can hang your wishes.
Since we came to the temple with someone who can actually read Japanese, we bought this tiny folded piece of paper which is supposed to tell our fortune for the new year from a vending machine. Yes, a vending machine. To our surprise, it was scary how accurate the predictions were. The little piece of paper told us exactly about what we wished for on our wooden planks earlier.
The paper also needs to be tied into the branches for the fortune telling to come true. Just like the wooden planks, there were fences around the sakura trees where we can tie our little piece of paper on.
We drove back to the city, after getting a bit lost walking towards the parking lot, then drove around to the Fukuoka Tower and then the Fukuoka Dome (sponsored by Yahoo, so here it’s called the Yafoo Do-mu) and took pictures. The resident baseball team is apparently called the Hawks. They were number one in their league in 05.
We then went to the colossal “Ramen Stadium” at the Canal City Mall for lunch. It was literally what it’s name says. Ramen from all over Japan pitted against each other, complete with stats, pictures of acceptable variations, history and you can decide for yourself which bowl of ramen is the best of all. There was even a gallery of ramen bowls on display. The arena was comprised of authentic Japanese ramen shops from different areas in Japan, where you can buy coupons (from a vending machine) and eat the typical ramen from that area in each of it’s natural setting. We tried the Hakata Ramen, since we’re in Fukuoka and it was delicious. The soup base was a mix of chicken broth and pork bone marrow. It had half a hard-boiled egg with the yolk still partly liquid. Yumm…
After lunch, we went to take Purikura pictures. One of those instant photo booths where you can strut your stuff and then edit the background or doodle on afterwards. It was Jessi’s idea. I’ve never seen so many Purikura machines in one room. There was even a corner where you can rent Cosplay costumes to pose in if you wanted. I guess the sailor schoolgirl outfit is popular here since they had it displayed on a mannequin.
While Hitomi-san went around to do some shopping, we walked around the mall for a bit, then had coffee at the Muji store before we headed back to the hotel. We got to spend some time talking with Jessi about school and stuff. She seems to like it here.
Later that night, Hitomi-san picked us up again to go for a quick dinner before watching the Hanabi (fireworks) near the bay. We had sushi back at the Canal City Mall. Hitomi-san gladly helped us order a few unique sushi that we don’t normally see outside Japan from the chef.
shako, fresh tako (octopus), kanpachi, salmon heated with torch, sakura toro (horse), buta (pork), anago (sea eel?), and flat fish.
We did a little more Purikura after dinner to kill time since it was still 9pm. We got a little better at editing the photos after our practice earlier. Then we drove towards the Hakata Pier. There was a huge traffic congestion going to the parking garage, so we circled around the nearby neighborhood to look for public parking on the street. We found one and went right in. Later we found out that that space was actually for private use of the apartment’s tenant only, but the sign had been missing. Lucky we didn’t get caught. I guess the policemen were busy with the crowd at the pier.
The pier was packed with young people in their late teens or early twenties. Some of them were understandably a bit rowdy due to alcohol. Jessi was getting a bit worried. There was even a fight that broke out between 3-4 guys near the bathroom and everybody just formed a circle to watch. Pretty cool! Thalia and I were on our way to the bathroom, since we thought it was a good idea before the fireworks started, then we came across this long line leading to the bathroom with a big gap in the middle. At first we hadn’t realized what was going on, it was a completely silent fist fight between some thug guys that I think was gang-related. No body was yelling, not even a word, even though it ended up with a semi-conscious bleeding guy on the foor. The fight was broken off by this older guy (around 25) coming out of the men’s room. He simply stepped over the guy on the floor and brushed aside the guy punching the daylights out of the poor dude. Later he told them to make up, and they actually did! That’s when we realized that this was a gang thing. Later when we told Hitomi-san about the fight, she just replied something like “well yeah, that sort of things sometimes happen here when people get drunk” in Japanese. Well, okay.
The fireworks itself was rather ordinary. Hitomi-san told us that the big one was actually going on at the temple we were at this morning. 5 minutes before the count down and we still had plenty of space to swing our arms around us. For Thalia and I, it was definitely the first New Year’s Eve Fireworks which we didn’t have to try really hard to enjoy. We got to the pier about half an hour to midnight and off to our cars 20 minutes after the fireworks. Amazing! Oh, yeah and some drunk guy jumped into the freezing water at the sight of the first Hanabi only to be cheered by his buddies.
We went back to the hotel to pack for our trip to Beppu. Then I went to sleep while Thalia watched the count down on TV again, only this time it was paired with the Annual Top hits from 1997.
photo album: Japan Trip: Day 8 (31 December 2005).