Wednesday 2nd – Friday 4th October
Having learnt a little about Korea, particularly the Republic of South Korea and the significance of the yin-yang of its flag, it was time to move our adventure to Japan.
The ferry service from Busan to Fukuoka was very well organised and orderly, compared to some of our ferry trips in Europe last year. Courtesy and consideration were the order of the day as we boarded and found our reserved seats.
Our Japanese travel agent had given us very specific instructions on how to get from the port to the hotel and had even included a pre-paid Suica card to use on public transport. So without a coin out of our wallet nor a map in our hand we found the hotel, just one minute walk from the station. Once again, following instructions provided by our agent, we started to explore Fukuoka.
Our first temple visit was to Sumijoshi Shrine, a small but brightly coloured shrine about 15 minutes walk from our hotel. From there we checked out the very expensive Canal City Hakata shopping complex and the rather more down to earth Kawabata Shopping Arcade.
We continued exploring and found the Shofukiyi Zen Temple. The day was dull and light was starting to fade, which matched the darkened wood and stark mood of this temple.
We found a bar to relax and rest our tired legs and realised that smoking in bars and restaurants is quite acceptable. Dinner was in the restaurant area of the Hakata station – a massive 11 storey building, completed in 2011, of train lines, bus stations, fast food outlets, offices and restaurants. What is different about it is the sheer size.
Our next day was a designated temple visit. After negotiating 3 separate train services, all with our magic Suica card, we arrived at Dazaifu where the Dazaifu Tenman-gū Shinto shrine is located. It is built over the grave of Sugawara no Michizane and is one of the main shrines dedicated to Tenjin, the deified form of Michizane. This important shrine is surrounded by 6000 Asian plum trees, and some of them must have been planted when it was built in 905AD, because they are huge with massive girths. We wandered and photographed and watched as people came to pray, monks swept the autumn leaves away and turtles and fish begged to be fed. A lone crane stood on a rock, trying to find a fish small enough to eat.
We climbed to the Tenkai inarisha, through a corridor of orange gates. The shrine is significant for making wishes, and there were many of these on paper and wood.
The significance of the shrines is not lost in Dazaifu where a pedestrian street is full of tourist shops offering snacks and souvenirs. Asian Plums are significant in Dazaifu and the local plum bun and plum ice cream were both yummy.
As we arrived in Fukuoka we saw a beautiful bronze dome from the ferry. Braving the train system and our navigation skills we went to find the home of the dome and the Fukouka Hawks baseball team. It was a disappointing visit from a photography point of view but an interesting excursion to see “Hawks Town”, a shopping mall and precinct given over to celebrating the baseball team.
We returned to the station for dinner and braved a restaurant without an English menu and only one young waitress who spoke limited English. We chose a set menu and I really didn’t recognise everything but the meal was fantastic both in presentation and taste.
So we survived our first stop in Japan and now off on the very fast bullet train to Kumamoto.