The Dazaifu Starbucks – coolest ever

Inside the Dazaifu StarbucksInside the Dazaifu Starbucks
Inside the Dazaifu Starbucks20-Jul-2014 12:25, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
 

Last week we spent an afternoon in Dazaifu, which is on the outskirts of Fukuoka, and is known for its temples and shrines, and the Kyusuhu National Museum, which I’ll write more about soon. But it should also be known for its Starbucks. I’m not a fan of mega-chain stores in general, and I’m not a fan of coffee, but this Starbucks is cool. Most Starbucks in Japan look just as ordinary as the ones in the US, but this one stands out.

[It's] a Starbucks store unlike any other, designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma… Featuring an intricate matrix of more than 2,000 wooden sticks, the store reflects the neighborhood’s traditional artistic roots, while capturing the modern energy of this world-famous tourist destination.

Kuma was inspired by the neighborhood. “That’s where it all started,” he said. “Dazaifu Tenmangu is a very special location, a historic shrine, for locals and visitors. I wanted to show the essence of the place to honor its strong culture of craftsmanship…

…With the complex weaving, Kuma ultimately wanted to “create a feeling of fluidity, a thoughtful cave-like space.” Each stick, ranging in length from four feet to 13 feet, together adds up to nearly three miles of wood.

“Despite the handmade feel of the space, it also feels high-tech and advanced,” said Ito. “It’s a good mix of traditional and contemporary.”

Outside the Starbucks in DazaifuOutside the Starbucks in Dazaifu
Outside the Starbucks in Dazaifu20-Jul-2014 12:25, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 100
 

Check out this set of professional photos of the place.

It’s nestled among all the tourist shops on the main road to the town’s main attraction, the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine, so it’s easy to find if you’re visiting.

Daruma (Hide-Chan) Ramen and Il Forno del Mignon

Dinner at Daruma ramen. I agreed to hold this sign after Maria assured me it didn’t say “another gaijin sucker”
Dinner at Daruma ramen. I agreed to hold this sign after Maria assured me it didn’t say “another gaijin sucker”19-Jul-2014 17:03, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
 
Fresh croissants at Il Forno del Mignon (photo from fukuokadreaming.com)
Fresh croissants at Il Forno del Mignon (photo from fukuokadreaming.com)08-Sep-2009 18:17, Panasonic DMC-LX2, 2.8, 6.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 320
 

After finishing our day at the Sunshine Pool, we headed home on the subway. We had to transfer at Hakata station, so we decided to stop there for dinner, at the Hakata Deitos center, which is part of yet another huge Japanese shopping complex built around a busy subway station. We went to the information desk and asked for a recommendation on their “noodle street” floor. We were steered to Daruma ramen. I didn’t realize until I looked it up afterwards that its owner, Hideto Kawahara, is something of a minor celebrity. After inheriting his father’s shop in Fukuoka, he’s opened up several more, in New York, Hong Kong, and other locations.

When the waitress saw me take out my camera, she immediately offered to take the picture for me, and handed me the sign I’m holding in the photo. I decided to hold it up only after Maria assured me it didn’t say “another gaijin sucker.” ;-) The whole staff stopped and gave a big cheer when she took the picture.

It was the best ramen we’ve had so far in Fukuoka, so Kai was especially pleased. We followed it up with an unexpected dessert – some very fresh, delicious mini-croissants that we saw for sale on our way back to the subway entrance, at Il Forno del Mignon.

“…never pass through Hakata Station without buying some Croissants from Il Forno del Mignon. It is an institution way before Hakata Station was renovated. You may have to wait awhile because of the long lines throughout the day, but these lines are but testament to the treat that awaits…”

The Uminonakamichi Seaside Park

The kiddie pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside ParkThe kiddie pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
The kiddie pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 10:49, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 8.0, 4.3mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100
 

Last weekend we ventured north of the city, to Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, via a half hour bus ride. It’s the kind of place that has something for everyone:

The park offers an impressive array of seasonal flowers, lush greenery and refreshing ocean views… There is also an 18-hole professional quality disc golf course… Children may also enjoy the Wonder World amusement park, which has a giant ferris wheel with sweeping views over the bay, as well as other attractions including go-karts and a roller coaster. In addition, the massive Sunshine Pool complex…[offers] six different pools for the whole family to enjoy. There is even a small aquarium… which exhibits a wide assortment of fish and holds dolphin and sea lion shows.

- From the Finding Fukuoka guidebook

On our way into the park, we made a short stop at the giant, curvy trampoline landscape for some serious running and jumping. I’d never seen anything like it, and I have to say I enjoyed it at least as much as the boys. After that we got lost trying to find the Sunshine Pool area, but with the help of an attendant we eventually got there (the attendant kindly walked us almost halfway there).

The giant curvy trampolines at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
The giant curvy trampolines at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 10:02, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 13.0, 9.324mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 100
Enjoying the giant curvy trampolines at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
Enjoying the giant curvy trampolines at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 10:00, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.9, 21.5mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
Enjoying the giant curvy trampolines at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
Enjoying the giant curvy trampolines at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 10:02, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 13.0, 8.285mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 100
 

The boys had a great time – it was definitely their favorite outing so far. I enjoyed it too, but unfortunately came home with my first sunburn in about 20 years. Right after Maria and the boys put on sunscreen, a recorded announcement in English was made, asking that no one use sunscreen, as they don’t want it “contaminating” the pool water. So I refrained – in retrospect I should have put it on anyway, as the next few days were painful! If we go back I’ll make sure to buy a rash guard shirt beforehand.

Families came to camp out for the day – literally – with tents. There were also plenty of covered areas, many with tables, for families to set themselves up for the day with some shade. As an American, I felt nervous leaving our things unattended while we were in the water, but Maria reminded me I didn’t need to worry about it.

I have to say the place was managed with a level of fastidiousness that’s extreme even for the Japanese. Every hour, everyone had to get out of the pools for 10 minutes, so the staff could conduct a “safety inspection.” But it was really more about cleaning – they went around with little butterfly nets to get debris out of the pools. Of course at the end of each inspection their nets would be almost completely empty, because the customers are just as obsessed with cleanliness, so there’s never a chance for anything to get dirty.

We took the subway home to Tenjin, which involved switching lines a couple times, so the bus is definitely the simpler way to go. Being on a more remote line (the JR Kashii Line) outside of the city, it was one of the few times I’ve been on a Japanese train that didn’t feel shiny and new, but it was still very nice by American standards.

The giant ferris wheel at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
The giant ferris wheel at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 09:53, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 10.367mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
Uminonakamichi Seaside Park's Sunshine Pool
Uminonakamichi Seaside Park's Sunshine Pool19-Jul-2014 10:50, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 8.0, 4.3mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100
The lazy river pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
The lazy river pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 10:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.5, 8.804mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
Part of the kiddie pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
Part of the kiddie pool at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park19-Jul-2014 11:13, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 8.0, 4.3mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100
Maria and the boys in the lazy river
Maria and the boys in the lazy river19-Jul-2014 11:50, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 8.0, 4.3mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 100
 

New friends in Fukuoka

Eidan and NaoEidan and Nao
Eidan and Nao13-Jul-2014 14:16, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
 
Eidan and Nao bowlingEidan and Nao bowling
Eidan and Nao bowling13-Jul-2014 14:00, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
 
Auto-Shoeser is not a word, but it really should beAuto-Shoeser is not a word, but it really should be
Auto-Shoeser is not a word, but it really should be13-Jul-2014 13:12, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
 
All of us with Nao and EmmettAll of us with Nao and Emmett
All of us with Nao and Emmett13-Jul-2014 14:34, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
 

Maria arrived in Fukuoka about 5 weeks before me and the boys, and she started taking advanced Japanese lessons soon after she got here. The nearby ACROS center offers lessons once per week, for free (the teachers are volunteers). Maria and her teacher, Nao, became fast friends. The boys and I are taking lesson with her now too. We’re taking one free lesson per week at ACROS, and then paid lessons with her twice per week, so we are working hard!

We had dinner with Nao, her two kids, and her boyfriend Emmet a few days after we arrived, and then they took us bowling last weekend. We went to the overwhelming Round One center, which is less than a 10 minute walk from our apartment:

Round One, a vast amusement center next to the Toei Movie Theater, is always open. How about some tenpins? Or mini-basketball on the rooftop? Or mini-tennis? Or the batting cage? You’re already sweating – why not exercise? Speaking of sweat – no problem – they have showers! Indoors, there’s karaoke, a planetarium, darts, billiards, and the kitchen sink, which they’re planning to use for an amusement activity, too! Pay 110 yen for 10 minutes, and you can do anything you like on the premises as long as it’s legal. Cheaper if you are a student or a member.

The only hitch for me was getting bowling shoes that fit. My shoe size is beyond the range of what the Japanese consider normal, so the “auto-shoeser” automatic shoe dispenser couldn’t help me. Fortunately they had a small stash of larger shoes behind the counter.

Some of the other volunteer teachers and students came along too, so it was a fun group outing.

Nao is a great teacher, and Emmet is from the US, so it’s nice to have a fellow American to spend some time with too.

Here is the Tenjin Round One website (Japanese only)

The Yamakasa festival finale race

The biggest annual event in Fukuoka happened to take place less than a week after I arrived here with the boys: Hakata Gion Yamakasa. It’s a festival that has events that take place over a two week period, culminating in a race on the last day:

The highlight of the festival kicks off at exactly 4:59am on July 15th when thousands of men from seven districts race through the streets carrying decorative one-ton floats. But there’s more to Yamakasa than just the main race…

Yamakasa can be traced back some 750 years ago to a Buddhist priest named Shoichi Kokushi. In order to eradicate an epidemic, Kokushi was carried on a platform while he prayed and sprinkled holy water. The religious ceremony was held annually to keep the epidemic away, slowly evolving into the festival it is today…

Most Fukuokans are unaware of the enormous work required to prepare for the festival. Numerous meetings and ceremonies are held at Kushida Shrine throughout the year, with the major preparation starting from the first of June. Members from each nagare begin by selecting a theme and constructing their race float with the assistance of one of the famous doll makers…

Each of the seven nagare covers a rather large area, which is then sub-divided into smaller ku or districts, thereby forming the base of an extensive hierarchy. The tents set up in each ku serve as the center of all activities for the length of the festival. Meetings and planning sessions, meals, socializing, drinking, and sometimes even sleeping take place in the close-knit, familial sphere of the tent.

The boys were emphatically uninterested in getting up at 4am to walk across town to stand in a crowd that they aren’t tall enough yet to see over. Maria was going to join me, but ended up having to stay up late for a work meeting (the US east coast is 13 hours behind us), so she didn’t make it.

I arrived at Kushida Shrine, the starting point of the race, after the first few teams had already started. The area was packed and I couldn’t get very close. I worked my way behind the shrine and got a pretty good view of the final team, getting ready to proceed to the starting line. From there, I spotted some people who looked like they knew what they were doing, and followed them through some back streets, which led to a great spot to watch the race teams go by. The whole experience lasted about two hours, and it was a lot of fun.

Part of the reason each float has such a large group running with it is that the floats are extremely heavy. No one lasts very long while helping to carry a float, so the men are constantly rotating positions. They take practice runs before the final race, to work out patterns for successfully rotating team members.

I put together my best clips in the video above, and my pictures are below. Enjoy!

Breakfast tables ready for the runners
Breakfast tables ready for the runners15-Jul-2014 04:07, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 500
A Yamakasa race team at the starting line
A Yamakasa race team at the starting line15-Jul-2014 04:25, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
The Kazariyama team getting ready to move to the starting line of the Yamakasa race
The Kazariyama team getting ready to move to the starting line of the Yamakasa race15-Jul-2014 04:27, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 250
 
Runners in the Yamakasa race
Runners in the Yamakasa race15-Jul-2014 04:39, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 10.889mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 800
One of the Yamakasa race teams carrying their one ton float
One of the Yamakasa race teams carrying their one ton float15-Jul-2014 04:43, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200
Boys participate in the Yamakasa race too, but not carrying the floats
Boys participate in the Yamakasa race too, but not carrying the floats15-Jul-2014 04:50, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 250
 
A team does one last sprint with their float, after the Yamakasa race is over
A team does one last sprint with their float, after the Yamakasa race is over15-Jul-2014 04:54, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 250
A Yamakasa float, after the race
A Yamakasa float, after the race15-Jul-2014 04:57, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 13.25mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 800
A Yamakasa float, after the race
A Yamakasa float, after the race15-Jul-2014 04:57, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 13.25mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 800
 
A Yamakasa team destroying their float, after the race
A Yamakasa team destroying their float, after the race15-Jul-2014 05:08, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.6, 19.091mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 800
Some boys dressed up for the Yamakasa race
Some boys dressed up for the Yamakasa race15-Jul-2014 05:09, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 10.367mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 800
The head from the destroyed float
The head from the destroyed float15-Jul-2014 05:12, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.0, 7.249mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
 
Kids dressed for the Yamakasa festival
Kids dressed for the Yamakasa festival15-Jul-2014 05:16, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200
One the Yamakasa teams eating after the race
One the Yamakasa teams eating after the race15-Jul-2014 05:34, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
 

The Kyary Pamyu Pamyu truck invades Tenjin

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a pop music sensation in Japan. She is often referred to as the Lady Gaga of Japan. Personally I find J-pop in general, and Pamyu Pamyu in particular, utterly insipid. So when I hear the truck advertising her upcoming tour come rumbling down the streets of our neighborhood in Tenjin, blasting her music, I run for cover. But I did suffer through it briefly yesterday, for you, my blog readers, so I could bring you this short video:

CNN did a pretty good story on Pamyu Pamyu, which attempts to explain the inexplicable:

It was only a matter of time…

…until I came across an unwitting store name like this in Fukuoka (the old man staring at it is a nice touch):

I knew it was just a question of time before I came across a name like thisI knew it was just a question of time before I came across a name like this
I knew it was just a question of time before I came across a name like this15-Jul-2014 11:24, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 100
 

English words are considered cool in Japan, and are often used for store names, on t-shirts, etc. without full knowledge of what they really mean. I saw someone wearing a t-shirt the other day that said “you are a victim” on the front, and “we need cacophony” on the back.

I have a collection of pictures of signs with dubious store names like this from previous Japan trips (the Holy Bitch salon is my favorite).

A day at Keya beach

Keya beach in Itoshima - one of Japan's top 100 beachesKeya beach in Itoshima - one of Japan's top 100 beaches
Keya beach in Itoshima - one of Japan's top 100 beaches12-Jul-2014 11:52, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 8.0, 4.3mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 100
Keya beach in Itoshima - one of Japan's top 100 beachesKeya beach in Itoshima - one of Japan's top 100 beaches
Keya beach in Itoshima - one of Japan's top 100 beaches12-Jul-2014 11:50, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 3.5, 5.958mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
 
Kai and Eidan at Keya beachKai and Eidan at Keya beach
Kai and Eidan at Keya beach12-Jul-2014 11:49, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.9, 21.5mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
Finishing up lunch at Keya beachFinishing up lunch at Keya beach
Finishing up lunch at Keya beach12-Jul-2014 12:48, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 100
 
Checking out the boats near Keya beachChecking out the boats near Keya beach
Checking out the boats near Keya beach12-Jul-2014 14:22, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 100
Abunai! Beware the anthropomorphic waveAbunai! Beware the anthropomorphic wave
Abunai! Beware the anthropomorphic wave12-Jul-2014 14:25, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 100
 

Saturday! It was my first real day off in at least 6 weeks, and we decided to make it a beach day, since Eidan was very excited to go. The Fukuoka area is known for its beaches, and both Fukuoka Now and Finding Fukuoka have excellent beach guides. They both put Itoshima city’s Keya beach right at the top of their lists, so that’s where we decided to go.

It’s a half hour subway ride north to get about halfway there, and then another half hour on a bus. That was the plan anyway. But we couldn’t figure out what the story was with the bus once we got off the subway, even with Maria’s excellent Japanese [see below for details on the bus if you're in the area and want to go - we figured it out later]. There was a bus stop with a sign showing some departure times, but no way to tell which bus went where (and so, no way to know how long we’d wait for ours). So we grabbed a cab, for a pricey but much quicker ride to the beach. Maria had a lively conversation with the driver, in Japanese. She told me later he thought at first she was native Japanese, and asked her in a gruff but light-hearted way, “so where are those 3 from?” She also learned that Itoshima is known for its oysters.

We rented some floats for the boys, which I did without Maria’s help, speaking Japanese to the attendant. I succeeded, but I was definitely way over my head in the conversation. Maria told me beforehand the word for float (ukiwa), and when I said it, the attendant must have assumed my Japanese was pretty good, for me to know a word like that, so she didn’t slow down for me at first (but she did once she realized I was clueless). The tricky part was understanding there was a deposit, separate from the rental fee.

The boys had a great time, and there were plenty of other people there having fun too. There were some families with kids, and interestingly, many had small tents. You don’t generally see people taking tents to the beach in the US, but it makes sense. The crowd was mostly young people though. Some were playing volleyball or swimming, but most were using the barbecue area. You can rent a table with a built-in grill. There were at least a couple dozen tables, and they were almost all in use. The popularity may have something to do with the fully stocked bar. We got our lunch from the concession stand – yakisoba for me and the boys, and Maria had the fried squid legs (“gesso” – essentially big pieces of calamari), which were great.

It started to rain after a couple hours, so we caught the bus back. The folks at the concession stand were kind enough to call the bus company to find out the schedule for us, and where to walk to find the stop. We had a little extra time, and the rain died down, so we checked out the harbor area nearby. Next time we visit, we might try the boat tour to see the unusual rock formations at Keya-no-Oto.

How to get there

The Fukuoka Now beach guide says: “Take a Showa bus from JR Chikuzen-Maebaru Sta. to the final stop at Keya (30 min.). From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach.” But we couldn’t figure out the bus situation at the station. Afterwards, Maria spent about 20 minutes on the Showa bus web site hunting down the bus schedule. You need to exit the north side of the station (kita), as there are different buses on the south side. Here is the schedule. You have to click the tab at the very, very bottom for the Keya beach schedule (芥屋 – second from the right). The station is the first stop, and Keya beach is the last stop. So on the left side of the schedule, the station is first and Keya is last. The right side is vice-versa.

Tempura for lunch, at Tempura no Hirao

Tempura for lunch - yum!Tempura for lunch - yum!
Tempura for lunch - yum!10-Jul-2014 12:30, HTC EVO, 2.0, 3.63mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 148
 

Tempura no Hirao is down the street from us, and it’s a popular lunch spot. It has a no-frills, eat and run diner atmosphere, but the tempura is delicious. You order your meal from a vending machine in front of the shop, which gives you a ticket for the meal you picked. You then wait inside on benches that ring the outer wall, and slide your way along as the people in front of you are seated. When it’s your turn, you take a seat at the U-shaped bar counter, and they take your tickets. They make sure to seat groups together, which is nice. They then bring the tempura to you one piece at a time. Within seconds of each piece being done cooking, it’s brought to you, so it’s nice and hot. It was some of the best tempura I’ve ever had, and was inexpensive. Eidan was disappointed at first with our choice of restaurant, but once he started eating, he didn’t stop until he ran out of food.

First day in Fukuoka

One of the huge Yamakasa floats on display, ahead of the upcoming Hakata Gion Yamakasa (festival)One of the huge Yamakasa floats on display, ahead of the upcoming Hakata Gion Yamakasa (festival)
One of the huge Yamakasa floats on display, ahead of the upcoming Hakata Gion Yamakasa (festival)09-Jul-2014 10:05, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200
 
Kai trying his first bowl of Hakata ramenKai trying his first bowl of Hakata ramen
Kai trying his first bowl of Hakata ramen09-Jul-2014 10:44, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 1250
Eidan is onigiri manEidan is onigiri man
Eidan is onigiri man09-Jul-2014 11:34, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 125
 
Ultraman sells out - big timeUltraman sells out - big time
Ultraman sells out - big time09-Jul-2014 11:10, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 100
Interesting anti drunk-driving poster. The person on the bottom represents what the person on top is doing to himself.Interesting anti drunk-driving poster. The person on the bottom represents what the person on top is doing to himself.
Interesting anti drunk-driving poster. The person on the bottom represents what the person on top is doing to himself.09-Jul-2014 09:59, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.6, 17.222mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 160
 

After writing my long blog post at 3:30am the night we arrived, I started our first full day here by walking a few blocks to the nearest Family Mart convenience store (“konbini”) to pick up some breakfast. Unlike American convenience stores, Japanese ones have inexpensive food that won’t kill you. I picked up some typical Japanese breakfast food – broiled fish, rice, and tamagoyaki (rolled omelet). I had a little trouble at the checkout – I failed to notice the gigantic computer screen facing me from the register, letting me know the total price. I’ll blame the jet lag and sleep deprivation. I did manage to muster an “ikura desu ka?” (“how much is it?”), and I was pleased I understood the answer (and she politely pointed to the gigantic screen). Eating the breakfast back in our apartment, it tasted like the best thing ever, but that was mostly due to the fact that I was starving, and that I hadn’t had a breakfast like that in years (konbini food isn’t bad, but it’s not that good).

After we were all reasonably awake, we headed over to the Tenjin station area for some shopping. It’s home to a truly massive shopping complex, which I’m sure I will write an excruciatingly detailed post about later. This is where we saw the Yamakasa float pictured above, which is part of the 2 week Hakata Gion Yamakasa (festival) that is underway. It culminates in a few days with floats like this being carried through the streets:

You’ve probably already spotted some half-naked men running around town. These men in loincloths are participants in Fukuoka’s most anticipated annual festival, Hakata Gion Yamakasa. The highlight of the festival kicks off at exactly 4:59am on July 15th when thousands of men from seven districts race through the streets carrying decorative one-ton floats.

This is a huge festival and after it happens I’m sure I’ll have pictures to share.

As we walked past shop after shop, Kai started chanting for ramen. Fukuoka is known for its ramen, and there are hundreds of ramen shops here. So it was ramen for lunch. Hakata style ramen is the local favorite, which features a broth made from pork bone, and noodles that are thinner than usual. Our first experience with it was not thrilling however – the random shop we picked in the shopping center turned out not to be the best choice, but it wasn’t bad.

After some window shopping and letting the boys pick out a some little things at Tokyu Hands, which is a great department store, we headed back to the apartment for the rest of the day. We’re here for 6 months, so this isn’t a vacation – Maria and I had to get to work! We can both work from the apartment, which is nice, so we can have the boys with us.

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