Well, top 2 reasons: it’s where our former PA neighbors – the NIIYAMAs – live! Also, long-time friends, the TSUMATORIs!
Fukuoka is the capital of Kyushu, the largest island south of Honshu. Kurume is just south of Fukuoka proper. As we travel by car or train, we pass by rice fields of varying harvest readiness, intermingled with shops, houses, malls, train stations… It’s a patchwork quilt of agriculture and urban landscape. You get the idea. I’m still trying to find farmers, farm equipment, and the rice storage buildings, but have yet to actually see anyone working in the rice paddies, or harvesting the rice!
Unlike Tokyo, Kurume and Fukuoka are rather clean, the buildings are relatively new and well-kept. That’s not to say that Tokyo is dirty, but it IS a large city, with older buildings. Oddly enough, the front of most buildings are well-kept, but the sides and back are usually ignored, it seems. The only buildings that seem to be kept up are the temples. ALL temple buildings are clean, inside and the entire outside. Few homes are kept up as well as temples. Here is a good example of a well-tended home.
A Japanese “block,” in general, isn’t so much square or rectangular as an irregular polygon. A small building with a scalene angle is not unusual. Probably fits one person and is a small toilet / WC in the corner or that building! As for the addresses – we spent Y660 extra yen, and about 10 extra minutes in a cab looking for an address for the climbing center Raly Grass in Fukuoka! It turned out to be on the left corner of a “T” and we’d turned right. Go figure…
The cities are divided into “machi,”and / or ”chome,”and are numbered more along the lines of a map pattern (in other words, from above on a map versus sequentially along a street). The numbers floating in the blocks are the ‘chome” or sometimes “cho-mae.” Within a chome are some block numbers, numbered similarly. As one can see, the addresses can be quite convoluted, — and then add in an alley!
Moral of the story: don’t take a cab if you don’t know where you’re going.
Before I go much further, you’ve probably noticed from my Facebook entries and emails, I mention “hot and humid” quite often. While you’re basking in the temperate California climate, it would be hard to imagine what humidity would feel like. So, in an attempt to tactilely describe it, please read on …
Level 1: First hit, at jetway emerging from airplane – like opening up the dryer before the clothes have fully dried. A quick dash into the airport, and we’re saved.
Level 2: Between air-conditioned bus and trains in Tokyo, still trying to avoid touching anything with my bare skin in case I stick to it, and have to “peel” myself off! Ewwww. Sweat starting to make itself known.
Level 3: At night, just before taking a shower, grimly resigned to hours of being post-sweaty, dirty, and stinky, and dying to get out of clothes and into fresh clean ones, a feeling of massive “nebu nebu” – Japanese for very sticky. Natto bean comes to mind*… inside joke.
*(Natto is ferment soy bean, which somehow acquires an okra-like sliminess, and persistent long strings of the slime are created when attempting to separate the beans from the mass for consumption. Oddly enough, I rather enjoy natto.)
Level 4: Pre-typhoon humidity – probably NEXT to the worst sticky feeling. The pressure builds up, like a cloud of heavy mist pillow atop of one, and it’s difficult to breathe. Sweat is freely flowing with any movement, so forget about underarm deodorant, it hasn’t a chance.
Level 5: Post-typhoon cloudless day humidity – THE worst kind of humidity! Give up attempting to stay dry, cool and clean. The food equivalent to this stickiness would probably be “mochi.”
Once someone has come too close and has adhere himself or herself to one, sigh :: The solution would have to be either a knife or a shower.
Level 3.5: On the other hand, a cloudy post-typhoon day is cooler, and though still high in humidity, it doesn’t feel as yucky. Plus, there’s a chance of a light teasingly sporadic breeze. More like a Post-It note sticky.
Fukuoka is famous for:
Tonkotsu ramen (pork bone broth)
Freshly made udon
A giant noodle roller, like the ones to make pasta, but HUGER! The cooked and cooled udon noodles on a strainer. Bowls in ice water to keep cold for serving. Bamboo mats for noodles to rest upon when served.
Midori introduced us to this local handmade udon shop a few doors down from their home. Though it was within walking distance, we drove the less than ¼ mile. Midori doesn’t care for humidity either. ‘C)
The fresh udon texture reminds me of Boba pearls! There’s a bit of a “bounciness” to the bite of the noodles. We had them cold, contrary to the weather, which makes them even bouncier! A bowl of cold drained noodles with a small bowl of dipping sauce that we could add finely chopped green onions, grated fresh ginger, a small packet of
wasabi, and / or fried tempura bits (Y280-560); tempura veggies, shrimp, fish cakes, or kaki (shredded veggies fried in a nest-like shape), or onigiri (triangular rice balls w nori covers, Y120-140 each), or inari (rice in tofu covers, Y100) all came out to about $6-8 / person. The noodles come in 1-3 person size bowls! The hot noodles come in a wooden tub filled with hot noodle water.
We liked this udon place so much, we’ve been there at least three times in the past ten days. The second time was the next day after our first visit!
Dazaifu is located about 20-30 minutes away from where the Niiyamas live. Parking was relatively easy (Y400) and the temple area relatively empty. It was a Thursday, so perhaps the day of the week, and the post-school start season allowed us an uncrowded visit. The day started out cloudy, but then cleared up after lunch. This was a level 5 humidity, however.
Amy and I brought along our handkerchiefs. It felt good to wet the kerchief and mop our faces and arms, hands, cooling ourselves down a bit. Before entering the temple grounds, we stopped by a water trough with cold running water, and several water ladles. Midori taught us to wash our left hand first, then our right, and then sip a bit of water in our mouths and spit it out into the gutter around the water trough. This ritual is to ensure we are clean in hands and speaking when going up to the temple to give our prayers. With Y1 coins of aluminum (small and pretty worthless, esp. with the exchange rate of $1.00 = Y84), we toss them into the large slatted offering box, clap three times, and send our prayers onward. Since I didn’t want to be weighed down so much, I got out all of my Y1 and Y5 coins and tossed them all into the bin. I jingled less.
Shinto shrines are colorful ornate affairs – red for good luck, happiness, unity. On the other hand, Buddhist temples are more along the natural colors line – non-painted, weathered, and simple. Birth and death are Buddhist rites, while everything else for living, like marriage, college acceptance, business ventures, go under Shinto celebrations, it seems. While visiting Dazaifu, we saw a middle-aged man and woman in consultation with the Shinto priest. Midori thought it was perhaps for a business blessing.
We wandered to another part of Dazaifu, and it was here I found perfect peace and beauty. The quiet colors of this Buddhist
site does nothing to attract people, so it had three visitors other than our party of four. It cost Y200 each to enter, a paltry admission fee that belies the worth of our visit! My pictures do not convey the peacefulness, the tranquility of the garden, tatami’d rooms, and the quiet of the trees. There was a teahouse on one side of the back garden. It reminded me of Itoh-sensei,
and my nine months of Chado the last time I was in Japan in 2001-2002. While gazing at the garden from the porch surrounding the temple, I was transported to another time and plane of consciousness – a feeling that is hard to describe, unless you are able to attain this. The peacefulness brought about a lightness, levity, and joy.
I highly recommend seeing this temple. I could have stayed here for days.
A VERY large tatami room! Most Japanese homes have special tatami rooms of six tatami mats, rarely more. This building has more than 50 tatami mats for this
room! Everywhere where there are posts, it means sliding screens can be hung between them, and used as walls to make smaller rooms. The doors are stored at the side of the room, an equivalent hallway surrounding the large room.
As a woodworker, I admired the whole slabs of cedar wood for the floor boards and the outside patio walkways. They were well dried, straight and unwarped, – massive! Some of the screens are hand-painted Sumi-e scenes of bamboo, flowers, mountains. Japanese woodworking and architecture is an entirely separate set of subjects that are better covered by other authors. Still, the love and admiration of such quality workmanship is hard to pass up.
At Dazaifu, Midori introduced us to their special sweet, a mochi-covered red bean paste, lightly grilled, served with Macha (green tea used in Japanese Tea ceremony), and a bowl of Umeboshi (pickled plums). The view of the back patio from the sweet shop was worth this rest.
Umeboshi (innocent-looking pickled plums – VERY flavorful – – – hard to keep a straight face after taking a bite or a nibble!) These are found aplenty in shops at Dazaifu Temple, roadside pit stops, grocery stores, and basically all around Japan, it seems!
Karashi takana (pickled takana greens that are slightly spicy) These can be found in the ramen soups, in fried rice, or as a condiment. They remind me of some pickles found in Chinatown.