This entry is written (finally) by Tim Wingfield.
January 8th - All Good Things...
Mary and I said goodbye to Omura; mine perhaps forever, and Mary's for several nights. We met up with Mary's friends at Starbucks before Zara drove us to the bus interchange. The bus ride on the toll road through the trees and mountains was pleasant.
We arrived in Ureshino, a town locally known for their onsens (hot springs baths) and green tea. We were here mainly for the former. I pulled out the "map" Mary had, which showed the inn's location as well as a couple streets, and compared it to the town map just to try to figure out where we should walk. We walked down most of the town's main street, took a left across a bridge, and magically arrived at our destination.
We checked in (losing our shoes for the night) and were shown to our room. The unit was somewhat barren, but it came to life throughout the night as we experienced R&R Japanese style. The bedroom was a simple white box with a TV, short table, pull out mats from the closet. The entryway had a toilet with a warm seat and the bottom washer (by the way - WEIRD!). The back had a tiny, tiny tea room, a sink, and a bathtub.
We settled in and then explored the area. The second floor, where our room was, had one outdoors bath. The first floor had two baths - one for men and one for women. But first, dinner time!
Dinner was simply ridiculous. We ended up eating for several hours. The meal consisted of multiple courses served in our room. The sweet old lady would come by every 20 minutes or so with a couple trays of food. Most of it was delicious. Some of it I didn't much care for. A few things (i.e. seafood) just wasn't worth trying. Mary ate most of my seafood, and I ate her meat. In fact, I (secretly) emptied the water from the bowl-shaped cooker and grilled my raw meat. Yum.
After that, Mary and I enjoyed our respective baths. The entry room is made to be a changing area. Then, you transition into the next area to shower. Finally, you step your way into the warm water, supplied straight from hot springs in the area.
That night we relaxed and watched TV. We actually found an English-speaking program - one of the Lethal Weapons. We finished the night up with some variety show action and then hit the sack.
January 9th - Welcome Metropolis
Bright and early we woke up, ate breakfast, checked out, and headed back to the bus stop for the last leg of our journey to Fukuoka. We approached the city and were astonished. It spread endlessly both far and high. We arrived at a central hub, which was several city blocks worth of bus stops, a train depot, and a subway. There we bought our wonderful all-day bus passes which took us everywhere!
For our first experience of exploring the city we wondered to nearby ACROS, a sort of civic building. The most exciting thing about this building are the terraces overflowing with greenery.
Then, we strolled across the street to this small temple squeezed in between two larger buildings. There were everyday people, noticeably businessmen in full suit attire, worshiping here. It is amazing how the tradition meshes with the modern, both in architecture and in social practice.
Making the most of our bus pass, we traveled to Fukuoka Tower, a lone skyscraper on the edge of town. It was sleek and smooth as glass (well, it was glass), and its blue panes soared more than three times the height of the UT tower. We looked over the entire city and seaside from the top. A sweet place, yes, but I wouldn't want to have my wedding there (a large service they provide apparently).
Again, using one of Mary's "maps", we thought it would be quicker to walk to our hotel than to wait for the bus. The walk was... let's just say... an hour and a half longer than we expected. With baggage in tow, Mary and I got very tired, and last night's fish was making Mary feel ill. However, we saw many interesting things on the way there, including an arena and a pagoda. (We couldn't figure out how to get close to the pagoda, but that was one of the primary things I wanted to see, and I was happy.) Finally, we found the correct neighborhood, but still wandered for a bit because Japanese streets don't have street names - just a number and neighborhood name. Finally, the lady at the konbini pointed us to the right street, and we were relieved.
That night Mary and I went to Canal City. This grand mall is Japan's new version of the Riverwalk. There are many levels of shops and restaurants that line a man-made canal. We enjoyed a nice Italian meal followed by a delicious crepe (my first one ever!). Mary even got a Frosty from Wendy's! While at Wendy's we watched a fun waterworks show synchronized to music (think the Bellagio). We ended the night with some intense taiko, purikura, and medal game action.
January 10th - The City
No time to waste! Mary and I woke at the break of dawn and took a stroll at nearby Ohori Park, host to a large pond/lake and home to a former world fair. We walked across a bridge to a mysterious island. Mysterious? Yes, mysterious. There were people and dogs that would magically appear and disappear, no where to be found. There are spirits there, I say.
At the park's end we visited a Japanese garden - another thing I was craving to do while in Japan. Then, we walked across the street to a large shrine. This is where the hilarious (and crude) one-liner originated: "haha, I farted on holy ground." After that, Mary and I enjoyed some very interesting modern art at the Fukuoka Art Museum. Then, a block over we roamed through some ancient castle ruins. (I told you there was no time to waste!)
Mary and I bus-hopped to Nishijin, an open-air market. Mary treated me to 100 yen takoyaki, a neat little treat. We also (finally, and briefly) ventured into a pachinko parlor. The Japanese are missing out on the greats... Blackjack, Roulette, Texas Hold 'Em.
Now, for the architectural highlight of the trip! With poor directions, we picked a bus to try and find Nexus World. We rode the urban highway over the water to another far part of town. It dropped us off at... Jusco, of course. So, we naturally went in. Inside we got beverages, snacks, and looked inside a Toys 'R Us. Yes, I'm serious.
We crossed under the highway and walked toward where we guessed Nexus World would be. And, voila, we finally found it! Nexus World is a private community with apartment complexes built by some of the world's most renown architects (such as Rem Koolhaas and Steven Holl). It is truly a hidden treasure! I don't think we were suppose to wander around the neighborhood, but that didn't stop me - and by association, Mary either. I suppose I'm a trouble maker, but it was worth it, and at least I didn't enter one of the buildings and knock on a random tenant's doors (I wanted to).
Late in the afternoon, we took a bus back to the hub and then on to the zoo. Animals are fun! The pictures tell the story.
Our last dinner was a blast. It was tabehoudai at yakiniku, of course! That is... all-you-can-eat at the restaurant where you grill your own meat, my favorite Japanese meal by far.
We spent the night with another round of Canal City. This time we also found the Lucky 104 game, which LOOKED like video poker, but wasn't at all. However, we figured it out and mastered the game! Then, as Auld Lang Syne (the closing song) played, we tried to turn in our medal winnings for a prize, but lo and behold this Sega didn't give prizes... boo!
January 11th - Departure
This was a sad day. This was the day I had to leave Japan. More importantly, this is the day I had to leave Mary.
Mary went with me to the airport via subway. I flew home to Austin via Nagoya and San Francisco, and she rode the bus all the way home. The highlight of the trip home was watching the movie "The Last King of Scotland." The lowlight was when my ear started hurting again when the plane descended into Austin. Many ear infections at an early age equal bad ears.
A Quick Summary
It was wonderful to see Mary again. I loved spending time with you, and Japan wouldn't have been nearly as wonderful without you.
The Japanese culture and architecture is very rich and exciting. The traditional and the modern are very wonderfully meshed together. It is an experience that I am very fortunate to have and I hope that everyone can have at least once in their lifetime.