- I barely survived recording this video! New blog post: The Kyary Pamyu Pamyu truck invades Tenjin http://t.co/DKzxZLAOGE 22:05:31, 2014-07-17
- Check out my video of Fukuoka’s biggest annual event, the Yamakasa race, with teams carrying amazing one-ton floats http://t.co/wXgIxrLKnm 09:37:26, 2014-07-19
- What stand-ups are meant for, vs what you are doing, vs what you actually need RT @paytonrules: Standups are Broken – http://t.co/tguoqXTv2N 18:48:55, 2014-07-19
- Auto-shoeser: it’s not a word, but it should be (at a nearby bowling alley in Fukuoka). http://t.co/0Ugw8wAKla 09:48:05, 2014-07-22
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 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!
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:
- Ultraman sells out – big time http://t.co/lB2E8g40f4 07:40:25, 2014-07-09
- RT @johannarothman: RT @DwaynePhillips: The lack of females employed in Silicon Valley is shown here http://t.co/I9cfX0edkm (Me: directly r… 09:20:40, 2014-07-10
- Yum! – New blog post: Tempura for lunch, at Tempura no Hirao http://t.co/cq2eKcbFMf 09:34:57, 2014-07-11
- @fukuoka_it Is the Fukuoka IT group still active? I'm a web developer, in Fukuoka for the next 6 months. Hoping to meet other folks in IT. 17:53:33, 2014-07-11
- Slightly out of order new blog post – check out the Yamakasa float! First day in Fukuoka http://t.co/YZGQNSZ2HF 18:40:24, 2014-07-11
- Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman's journey to Japanese pop (and he's fluent in Japanese) http://t.co/UzdzzdTNHq 20:42:31, 2014-07-12
- New blog post: A day at Keya beach (where I comically attempt to rent a float) http://t.co/qa6fqrGlSh 08:47:55, 2014-07-13
- I’ll be getting up early for the Yamakasa festival finale – a race with thousands of runners carrying one-ton floats http://t.co/rOMVHgN2zR 08:28:43, 2014-07-14
- I knew it was just a matter of time until I came across an unwitting store name like this in Fukuoka http://t.co/T88yhtzBUC 02:20:50, 2014-07-15
- Here are some more dubious store names in Japan, like in my last tweet (this is from a few years ago on my blog) http://t.co/oecZbYivrO 02:51:44, 2014-07-15
- And I’m watching in Japan! RT @PromptWorks: We're broadcasting tonight's @phillyrb meetup live: http://t.co/RI0p5hk3X7 17:46:30, 2014-07-15
…until I came across an unwitting store name like this in Fukuoka (the old man staring at it is a nice touch):
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).
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 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.
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.
- RT @BrianSJ3: @estherderby It's tough at the top. Hard change to make. http://t.co/ITk5fh0aQP 11:36:15, 2014-07-02
- New office, I will meet you in 6 months, when I'm back from Japan RT @PromptWorks: First day in the new office http://t.co/J24Vt1Swmg 14:54:05, 2014-07-02
- We’re hiring software engineers at @PromptWorks. We are all about quality, mentoring, and delighting our clients http://t.co/28HvspyQqU 14:57:28, 2014-07-02
- @Jtsternberg @curtismchale Sorry, my Shashin plugin works with Picasa/G+ photos and Youtube, but I never got around to adding Flickr support in reply to Jtsternberg 17:31:18, 2014-07-02
- I just got @avdi's Exceptional Ruby and Confident Ruby, so I can do some serious Ruby nerding on my flight to Japan Monday 08:24:11, 2014-07-05
- So there’s a category 5 typhoon that may hit Fukuoka around the time we arrive. Let’s hope it takes a different path! http://t.co/9FvtnsC7Ab 08:56:45, 2014-07-05
- Typhoon Neoguri has slowed and won’t interfere with our flights today. But we’ll get walloped not long after we land! http://t.co/9FvtnsC7Ab 04:23:33, 2014-07-07
- Made it to Dulles airport. Next stop Tokyo, then Fukuoka! 10:42:00, 2014-07-07
- Made it! http://t.co/2wookIdEQy 05:14:44, 2014-07-08
- New blog post, about our trip to Fukuoka yesterday and our first evening here: BOS → IAD → NRT → FUK http://t.co/4g1mNIi8u1 15:06:55, 2014-07-08
- RT @korkyplunger: "We don't have time for refactoring, there's still too much left to do." http://t.co/rQgOuip4TO 15:09:36, 2014-07-08