Sunday, 25 May 2014

Fukuoka Visa Run: Day 7

The face of someone who is too hot and too tired
The final day! Since we'd gotten sidetracked on our walk starting in Hakata, we decided to finish it today.

As we'd already been to Hakata, we went straight to point 3 on the walk, which was Rakusui-en. It was very close to our hotel anyway, so it was quite convenient to be able to skip the walk to Hakata Station. For 300 yen we could look around the little oasis of calm, as well as partake in a little tea ceremony (with proper green tea and Japanese sweets).

It looked so funny, walking along a street lined with towering office blocks and apartments, to suddenly spot a cluster of trees bursting up towards the sky, just about hemmed in by a pretty wall all the way around. Hidden inside was the Teahouse. All of a sudden the painfully hot sun was blocked out and replaced by cool, leafy shade and pretty dappled patches of light. It looked deserted, but it turns out it's just the overall calm, quiet nature of the place, and two lovely ladies were waiting inside a little office ready to take our money and give us a green tea voucher to use whenever we were ready.

The garden is quite small, but just the right size to have a relaxing stroll, and there are benches dotted around that you can sit on while you watch the koi swim around and make comforting 'bloop' noises over the gentle rush of a small waterfall. It was fun to imagine people hundreds of years ago doing something similar.

It seems like a popular place to go on dates, as most of the people there looked like couples. It was really amazing how the rush of the water as well as the surprisingly thick foliage managed to block out the sound of the heavy traffic only metres away.

After a while we decided we'd exhausted the delights of the garden and taken far too many photos of the same few fish, so we went in to have our tea. This is where it was a bit awkward, as we weren't sure where to go. The screen doors from the garden were all open, and people were sat inside chatting, but we couldn't see an empty one. Did we join an existing group, or wait for one to be free?

We decided to just go inside and ask (shoes off!) but it took a bit more milling around looking confused before we just asked the lady at the front desk again, whereupon she took our green vouchers and we were ushered into our own tatami room by a lovely (and traditionally dressed?) lady. Oh. That was easy.

She bowed to the room before letting us in, and opened various screens and windows, telling us various things about the tea ceremony. I'd read in the little booklet provided that we were in the oldest room, the original Rakusui-e that then led to the owner adding more rooms. What an honour! So cool. Unfortunately she spoke rather quickly and with a heavy accent, so I missed a lot of it because I was paying attention to the wrong things. I assume it was something to do with spirits coming and/or going through the mysterious little door to the outside that she opened behind me. I'd originally thought the tea would come through there like a food hatch from what I'd heard her say, but she just brought everything in through the main door, so I'm not sure now. If someone could clarify, I'd love you forever!

She told us to eat the sweets first, then drink the tea. The sweets were so small and dainty, I almost didn't want to touch them! They were very sweet (as the name would suggest, I suppose) and if you've ever had mochi I'd say they tasted similar. The tea looked like a small bowl of pea soup, it was so green! It looked wonderful! Being proper tea, it was quite bitter, but in a mild, refreshing way. Sipping on the tea, with a lovely fresh breeze coming through the open screen, I really did feel very relaxed. I could have just gone to sleep, such a great way to spend a summer day in my opinion!

No time for a nap! Onwards and upwards! Off we go, down the road to a huge shrine! The biggest we've seen so far!

It was the Sumiyoshi Shrine, which is apparently one of the oldest shrines in Kyushu, and in ancient times was officially designated as one of the highest-ranked shrines in Japan. From what I can tell, it's dedicated to the god(s?) of sailing, navigation, and Japanese poetry.

We weren't sure what we were and weren't allowed to take photos of, and there didn't seem to be much in the way of indicating, so we went with the safe option of "nothing". Which is a shame because it was gorgeous, and I'd have loved to share, so here are some photos nabbed from google:
Anyway, we washed our hands and wandered in. The whole place is brightly painted in red, and the floor is fine white gravel, almost sandy. Paired with the sun beating down on everything in sight, it was a bit blinding.

We were lured into a false sense of security by the handful of English-language signs we'd seen and were now a bit lost. This led me to a small attraction near the entrance (most likely aimed at children) which had a small bit of English on it. Basically, you pay a couple of hundred yen, then take a small fishing rod and hook a little red or white fish ornament. In the fish is a little fortune, which is very sweet. Unfortunately for me, it was all written in Japanese, so who knows, maybe it was a bad one ;) Either way, apparently the fish is meant to bring me good luck so I've grown quite attached to him.

After watching a stream of people approach the shrine and observing how they prayed, we thought we'd pay some respects and, again, keeping our hands in all the cookie jars, asked for some Visa help from sort of higher power. This one was similar to the last one, throwing money into a very old looking coffer before clapping and then bowing our heads for a moment while we prayed.

We looked at a few more statues and various other attractions claiming to give out fortunes or bring good luck, as well as a rather large statue of, if I remember rightly, a god that also presided over Sumo wrestling?

Having missed breakfast, we were getting quite hungry, and could smell cooking coming from somewhere, as well as a lot of music, so we headed over and found a little international-themed market, which included a lot of street food! Winner. By chance, we found a very lovely Filipino lady selling turon and pancit, which was very exciting, so we bought a portion of pancit to share.

Next up on the tour, Canal City! Another huge shopping centre, but the main attraction for us was the mysterious and ridiculous-sounding "Ramen Stadium".

Aside from a few local brands and cafes, the place was mostly full of international brand names. The slightly confusing layout led us to wandering around, gazing longingly at the walls of food photos.

We found a games arcade, and proceeded to get very excited about the Taiko Drums (especially when we found out it played Pon Pon Pon)

In the same place, we found this Gacha machine that hands out a randomly-assigned pod containing an earplug decorated with...a...tiny woman??

I also found a whole bunch of DramaLlamas, Chris what do we do?!?!

After getting hugely distracted by a huge shop filled with nothing but anime merchandise and trading cards, we FINALLY found the Ramen Stadium! What is it? A cook-off? An eating contest? Do people get into a ring and throw ramen at each other? Wrestle in ramen rather than something like mud?

Turns out it's just a ring of restaurants, all selling their own takes on various ramen dishes from around Japan, and possibly some fusion ones too. The only thing that we could use to differentiate them by, though, was the physical appearance and decor of the place, and the efforts of the person outside whose job it was to haul us in and get us to spend money.

In the end, we were very British and went for the one place that didn't really try to entice us at all. There was a machine outside it, where you could basically speed-order your food. Sadly, even WITH the English option, the man outside had to help us. Oops.

Right, so there are very few photos now, if any, because our ramen arrived in seconds and DEAR LORD it was incredible. We both had Tonkotsu ramen, and the meat was so tasty and flavourful, with the fatty bits melting in your mouth, and the meat being tender and thin. The noodles were great, the soup was great, everything great. My one regret is that I didn't try a Japanese Whisky Highball. No idea what it is but the lady on all the posters seemed to be having a whale of a time.

Back to bed for a rapid repack of the suitcases before trying to get some sleep. Big, heavy day tomorrow.
Visa Run Posts: 

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