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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Trip to Japan: Day 2 - Pounding the Pavement 5月25日

On my first full day in Fukuoka 福岡, I did a lot of walking. In fact, every day of my trip involved a lot of footwork, so much so that the bottoms of my soles are still feeling the effects. Nevertheless, walking around allows you to get a good idea of the layout of a city, and it didn't take long for me to get a good grasp on where things were, especially in relation to my hotel.

I started out after breakfast on Monday by walking from the Hakata Riverside Hotel to Hakata Station 博多駅, the transportation center for Fukuoka. On the way, I poked my head into the Tōchō-ji 東長寺 temple to take a look at the largest wooden Buddha in Japan. It was big, but photos weren't allowed, and I continued down the road to the station. After buying a copy of the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ from a kiosk inside, I walked back towards the area where my hotel was located, using small streets and getting a little lost before I found my way to the Kami-Kawabata-dōri shopping arcade and the back entrance to Kushida-jinja 櫛田神社, Hakata's principal Shintō 神道 shrine. Although the shrine dates back to 757, the halls are rebuilt every 25 years, so instead I concentrated on the large float, the biggest of 12 that are taken out during the annual Gion Yamakasa festival 博多祇園山笠 the first two weeks of every July. Another point of interest in the shrine grounds was a thousand-year-old gingko イチョウ tree and two stone anchor weights, left behind by the Mongol invasion fleet 元寇 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_invasions_of_Japan).

Leaving the shrine, I crossed the street to the Hakata Machiya Furusato-kan 博多町家ふるさと館, a complex of three buildings. First was a museum with displays devoted to Hakata's popular culture. I couldn't make out what was said on the recordings of the local dialect, but I had no problem donning the headgear of a traditional improvisational comedy known as "Hakata-Niwaka" 博多にわか. The second building contained a weaver's workshop, where one old gentleman was demonstrating traditional silk weaving. The last building was primarily a gift shop, so I got an early start on my souvenir shopping.

Next stop was Canal City キャナルシティ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_City), an urban renewal project that opened in 1996. There are five floors of shops and restaurants, plus two hotels and a movie theater. The color scheme was weird, but somehow beautiful at the same time:
but the real highlight was the canal and, in particular, the water jets show which took place on the hour. The jets reached the fifth-floor, but that didn't seem to faze the window washer in the background:


Following lunch at Canal City, I crossed over to Nakasu 中洲 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakasu), a sandbank in the middle of the Naka-gawa River 那珂川. Fukuoka's notorious entertainment district is noted for the number of bars and restaurants crammed into the small island, as well as its "special" businesses. I inadvertently walked down the worst of the red light district where, even in the middle of a Monday afternoon, gangster-looking touts lined the doorways, looking for customers. Needless to say, I refrained from taking photos and quickly made my way over the river and into Tenjin 天神, Fukuoka's main shopping district. Once safely away from the yakuza ヤクザ, I found my way to ACROS ("Asian Crosslands Over the Sea") Fukuoka アクロス福岡, a combination symphony hall/exhibition space/shopping center. The most interesting feature of this building was its southern exterior, which had been built as a terraced "step garden". Though the top floor observatory was closed, the views on the walk up to the 10th story were good, and all the vegetation gave the structure a Babylonian kind of feel.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around Tenjin, checking my email at the Fukuoka International Association's Rainbow Plaza (8F, IMS Building) and seeing what was on offer in the various department stores and shopping complexes both above and below ground. By the time I walked back to my hotel, my legs were tired but I was starting to understand why an old girlfriend liked Fukuoka so match. The weather forecast on the evening news predicted that Tuesday was going to be the sunniest day of the week, so I decided to get to bed early in preparation for some hiking the next day.

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