Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Don't you have marijuana?

I guess I should expect this question from immigration officials. I do still have that Dutch residence permit in my passport after all.

So, Japan. Wow. Everyone said it was amazing, but wow. I think I'm in love. It's not like Korea – it's better. The people are more polite: they don't drive like maniacs, or push in front of you, or gawp at foreigners, and they just seem awfully happy. And the buildings look different from each other, and the trees are not all the same, and everything is pretty and the food is marvellous and I want to live in Nagasaki.

Having said all that, on my walk home this afternoon, I remembered what I love about my adopted home. Korea might be a whiny little so-and-so with an awfully big chip on her shoulder, but she has her charms, and I hope I'm forgiven for my fling with Japan. Because I can't promise I won't stray again.

I guess the first thing Lacey and I noticed about Fukuoka was that it felt like home. Japan felt more Western, and more cosmopolitan than Korea. Miracles have happened in the Korean economy, but it is called the 'Hermit Kingdom' for a reason. Fukuoka, and to an even greater degree, Nagasaki, are old port cities, with long-established ties to other cultures. We saw fewer foreigners in both cities than in Daegu, but were stared at much less. There was less English around, but the English we heard and read was more accurate, and somehow communication seemed easier. There were a bunch of Starbucks and various branches of Western clothing stores, but somehow everything was still very Japanese. It felt like Japan has come to terms with its relationship to the West, while Korea still has a rather passive/aggressive thing going on.

Our first day in Fukuoka was exhausting. We got free 15-minute full-body massages from armchairs, window-shopped in a big Vegas-style shopping mall with a canal, took a detour along the river to walk by the famous ramen food stalls, got rained on and lost looking for a place to eat, and finally sat our tired selves down at the counter of a sushi restaurant. I know its obvious that freshly made sushi, in Japan, would be more delicious than anywhere else, but this really was superb. There were a couple slightly weirder ones, but I thought all the seafood was delicious, and I couldn't get over how tasty the rice was. Then, however, came the giant egg-fest. This was basically a large cube of cold omelette stuffed with a little rice. Despite recent adjustments of palate, I still don't love egg, and it was just too much for me. I struggled it down, and only retched once, but my efforts did not go unnoticed by the chefs, and caused quite a lot of merriment. I explained that I just wasn't keen on egg, and Lacey ate my second piece, so we all left happy. Oh, and this was all served with fish-head soup. I didn't spot that it was actually a head until I'd almost finished, which I'm rather relieved about, because I might have freaked out and not eaten something delicious.

Second day was Nagasaki, my new favorite city. The atom bomb was dropped on a neighbourhoood called Urakami to the north of the city's centre, and there's now a large park and museum there. The museum was emotionally draining (how could it not be?), but not heavy-handed, and somehow the city has taken something positive from something so horrific. By the time we got back to the city centre, we thought it was too late to see the temples, but no, we were in for quite the treat. Turns out Nagasaki was having its annual Lantern Festival, and the temples were therefore open late – and Sofujuki even had free entrance! So not only did we see the temple, we saw it by lantern light for free. Oh, and a very cute Japanese lady gave us rice dumplings stuffed with sweet sesame paste.

Yesterday started a little later, as we'd done so much walking and needed a rest. We tried to find a 1950s style diner for breakfast, but were informed by a very friendly businessman that it had gone bankrupt. He then walked us to a nearby Italian bistro. From there it was a pleasant stroll to the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Another excellent museum with well laid-out exhibitions and interesting stuff to see. My favourite piece was an interactive video piece where you could control a group of girls in military clothes (all actually the artist) – political, accessible and fun. My kind of art. The afternoon was saved for shopping and spending the last of our yen, but having found ourselves surrounded by adorable but unaffordable clothes, we went for noodles instead. Fukuoka is famous for its pork ramen, and we went to a restaurant we'd seen with people queue in the rain for. We chose the one described as having the elusive 'umami' flavor, and I was absolutely blown away: Wagamama this was not. The last of our yen, or so we thought, went on beers. I feel like I always try to buy things like clothes, and end up just eating and drinking delicious things instead.

When we got to the ferry terminal this morning, we found out that the fuel surcharge is actually only 1,000yen, instead of 10,000yen. Another happy surprise to top off a stupendous weekend. Here are some pictures.

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