Thursday, 22 May 2008

Hakata Love Baby! Shots from Fukuoka

Like I said, Andy has lived in Fukuoka for about two and a half years now, and I’ve visited there twice, and I’ve gotta say it seems like a really great city. Sources (Andy) say that it’s the fastest growing city in Japan, and it seems to combine some lovely old Temples and Shrines with a gleaming, spacious modern centre really well. It has a good sized alternative area called Daimyo, monstrously huge shops, a beach, and most importantly it feels like a good city. In fact I could really see myself living there, if it weren’t for the fact that in the summer it reaches temperatures rivalling Satan’s taint.

Holy crap, I was there in July and August two years ago and I almost died. Steaming, filthy heat engulfs the whole city and frankly I don’t see how anyone gets anything done at all. God I never want to go back in the summer.

Another drawback is that Fukuoka was Frankensteined together hundreds of years ago from two separate cities: Fukuoka and Hakata. The big train station is still called Hakata, and the local Hakata identity is still really strong. In fact at the airport as I was leaving, I noticed more omiyage (souvenirs) are branded Hakata than Fukuoka. The problem for the modern city is that it’s still pretty much split in half with the majority of the shops in the Tenjin area, and the main station and plenty of other stuff in the Hakata area. It’s quite a hike, or a packed bus ride, between the two, and in that heat I was talking about…

Yeah, coz I was there this time at the end of April, and there were already two days that I would describe as uncomfortably humid. God bless you, good people of Fukuoka, I don’t know how you do what you do.

Another thing the guidebook said about Fukuoka was that it’s famous for Hakata Bijin – the beautiful women of Hakata. I met people there who swore this was true but sorry I couldn’t swear to it. Perhaps I should’ve been ogling more women, though to be honest… probably not.

So here’s some shots of Fukuoka:

Fukuoka’s local ramen is really good. Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen is kinda meat-stocky and the noodles are tougher and chewier. I hit two famous ramen shops, but I liked the less famous of the two (Ikkousha) better. Don’t ask me if it’s better than Sapporo ramen though, I might be able to tell the difference taste wise but it would be insulting to pretend I actually prefer one over the other.

Fukuoka has the largest wooden Buddha in Japan secreted away on the third floor of a pretty unassuming temple in the city centre. The Buddha itself is spectacular, but even better is the “hell” beneath it. A door leads you into a pretty graphic exhibition of what’ll happen to your soul if you go to hell. Let me tell you, it don’t look pretty. The demons are going to be about five times bigger than you, ugly as sin, and there’s gonna be burning, squishing, stabbing and starving. Not only that but because we’re dealing with re-birth after the whole thing is through… yeah, you’re probably going to have to do it all again. Creepy music and narration accompanied the pictures and the corridor gradually gets darker until turning the corner you have to pass through a twisty pitch-black corridor of terror. You hold onto the hand-rail and ruminate on the many, many reasons you’re probably going to end up burned, squished, stabbed and starved. Finally you emerge into the light where some particularly pure looking figures wait to accept your pitiful small change in exchange for some slim grasp at not getting horribly torn asunder by massive green demons. Of course I didn’t take any pictures, the floor would’ve probably opened up and taken me right there.

The Across building is really worth climbing up. It’s a huge, stepped office/ arts complex, covered in trees and plants that you ascend via a series of winding staircases up the outside. The combination of lush flora and ugly concrete hidden beneath it makes the whole thing feel very apocalyptic and tripods-esque.

At Robosquare, now located near Fukuoka tower next to the beach, you can mess around with lots of cute mass produced robots, like Aibo, the robot dog; Pleo, the robot dinosaur; and Hello Kitty Robo, the robot Hello Kitty. The lady who showed us the robots was incredibly nice, especially the way in which she talked to the robots as if they were actual animals rather than machines. However they all speak Japanese of course, and there’s no way they’re going to understand your crude gaijin tongue. Oh except the robot dinosaur, he doesn’t speak any language because he’s a dinosaur.

Of course there’s more, so much more, but that should give you a feel for the place. Hakata love and out!

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