When my wife and I went to Kyushu in Golden Week (end of April/start of May) earlier this year it wasn’t actually my first trip to the most southwesterly main island of Japan. As the title implies, I visited Fukuoka on the northern shore of the island to spend a few days with Yoshiteru (Teru); a guy who I knew quite well from our days together in Perth, Australia (2001).
After only 90 minutes sleep I had to get up at 3.45am to take a 6.25am flight from Haneda Airport to Fukuoka; the capital city of Fukuoka prefecture. With a baby screaming most of the way I wasn’t feeling too awake when I met Teru (for the first time in four years!) at 9am having transferred to Gion on my arrival but thankfully I was able to sleep for a bit at his apartment before getting out to see the local area.
First up was Kushida-jinja Shrine in Hakata-ku followed by the Ramen Stadium; a typically Japanese-English name for a mall possessing many ramen restaurants selling the delicious local-style Hakata ramen which still remains one of my favourites when it comes to these fine noodles in a soup broth. A look around town, drinks and pool was how we spent the rest of the day.
The following day was Christmas Eve and in the afternoon we took a train to Karatsu in Saga prefecture to see Karatsu-jo castle. The castle, which was originally built in the early 17th century, stands beside the coastal scenery of Karatsu Bay and is a little unusual as it’s stonework rises directly out of the water, using the ocean as a natural moat. The views from the top and all around were pretty impressive and afterwards we took a forest walk which included a stop along the way to purchase what was billed as the special Karatsu burger!
We went to a nearby restaurant at night for a few quiet beers and some fish. However, a couple of his female friends turned up which resulted in us going to karaoke till 5am! We didn’t rise till 1.30pm on Christmas Day which is late, even by my standards! I went to Shofukji temple near his house by myself and then to Dazaifu (about a 30 minute train ride away) with Teru, I remember putting 2000 yen on my phone card (this was in pre-Skype and wi-fi days!) to try and call home but it didn’t work! It was a strange feeling walking around this city and it taught me that in the future I would need to keep myself much busier if away from Britain at Christmas!
In the evening we went for a few drinks at some Christmas party in Tenjin (the downtown region of the city) not that we were really in the mood thanks to the exertions of the previous night! The following morning I left on a bus at 9.20am as I headed on to Hiroshima where my travels around Japan continued. It would be my first time to visit the famous city but certainly not my last!
So that’s how I spent Christmas in 2005 and whilst I enjoyed seeing a different city and meeting up with an old friend I didn’t really take to spending the festive season in Japan and have subsequently never been here for Christmas since! However, now I’m married that will no doubt change in the next year or two!