I’m writing this as we sit at the Incheon International Airport, awaiting our final flight home to SF, so there’s a sense of completing this entry will be closing the book on this phase of my life. There’s a bit to cover in terms of our activity over the past month or so. I’ll do my best to quickly catch us up.
Since the beginning of October, I had notified my work of my intention to leave and me and Libby have begun our process of packing up and heading home. This process is rather tedious and difficult. First, we’re both still living in the apartment that we need to unpack; so there’s a process of just sorting out what can be removed and what most remain, while living on top of it. And while I would love to mostly just throw everything we own away and come home with limited baggage, we agreed to put more effort into either sending home, recycling, or selling items before we would throw it away. Of our entire time here in Japan, this period was the only time I really felt the frustration of not owning a car. Moving furniture, large boxes, and groups of clothes and trash is exhausting when all you’ve got is your hands to walk a couple of kilometers.
We ended up mailing back quite a few things, after sorting through our desks and drawers. Having been here a couple of years we accumulated a lot of “stuff” I suppose. We used a local second hand shop to sell of a wide variety of furniture and small items. We sold a couple of items off craigslist, although a few items we could not sell no matter how much we tried (it’s still pretty hard to second hand sell mattresses or large furnitures no matter the condition, size, or price it seems). Eventually we had to throw quite a few things out, however. In Japan, you can’t simply throw out trash like you might in the US however; we had to purchase special tickets and reserve a city pick up for a few of our items. Furthermore, because trash pick up days are divided among different kinds of trash (recyclable papers, plastics, burnables, dangerous items, etc), there was alot of scram bling to just get the right kinds of trash sorted and out the door before we left. Plus, there’s all the kitchen items. The fluids, oils, knives, silver ware, bowls, etc. Stuff adds up, and it takes time and organization to handle. Libby helped a lot by preparing and sorting while I was at work, but even then it still felt like we were working up until the last day.
In addition to just clearing the apartment, there were many logistics to handle. Notifying the city government of our moving, filling out paperwork, notifying our apartment, notifying the electric, gas, and insurance companies, and then scheduling each of those to come by and visit us on the last day to check out and pay the final bill. This requires a lot of awkward phone calls. On our actual last day, we even had to sit outside the apartment door after handing over the key just to await our gas meter to be read and the last bill to be handled. There’s also a long frustrating saga for getting rid of the futons and last trash on the last day, but hey, we got it done.
But in the end, we got it all handled and were on our way to the last major trip of our stay here in Japan: to Kyuushuu! Before heading to Kyuushuu, our first stop would be in Osaka via over night bus. This time, I reserved us a bit nicer bus seats; each one would be separate, with curtains dividing, fully reclinable, and usb charging. This bus was still pretty uncomfortable to be honest lol. I had a hard time getting comfortable, but I did get some sleep, a lot more than the last time we tried it. Still, it’s cheap, and it’s time efficient due to the fact that you travel whilst asleep, and thus we arrived into Osaka early in the morning, immediately capable of some exploring. We met up with a friend of Vivian’s (Libby’s sister) for breakfast and had a really nice chat. Afterwards, we headed for the Osaka aquarium. Overall, it’s a fairly nice spot, although it’s out of the way in terms of access. Apparently a beloved sea otter that was born into aquarium had recently died, so there was a lot of mourning and well wishes around the museum for this particular otter. The main tank was pretty fun; they mixed a huge variety of fish and animals together in this one massive tank. You get many perspectives to observe as you descend stairs that spiral about it, too, which leads to getting many opportunities to catch different fish you didn’t notice the first time without having to wade through a bunched up crowd facing one window, like some other tanks I’ve seen. Me and Libby joked about how different fish had faces like each other; I found a fish with a stubby nose and derpy expression to refer to as Libby, and she found one with a long, lance across its face to refer to as me. Also, because our break fast schedules were slightly off, I ended up being hungry sooner than Libby, so I asked for a snack break in the cafeteria. To Libby’s disapproval, I got the massively long unagi hot dog to enjoy for myself. Back to the basic, aww yeah! Save the animals, eat the hot dogs!
After the aquarium, we headed into downtown area to explore a bit more. We got to stop by a particular shrine we had intended to visit last time but didn’t find in time. It was rather small, but quite nice. One fun feature was a large stage platform shaped as a devil’s gaping mouth, teeth, horns and all. Too bad we couldn’t climb up into it though. We also attempted to lunch at the same curry shop we had visited before with Elise and Captain, but unfortunately when looking up the shop, I ended up directing us to one of its branch locations, not the original shop. This branch was… strange. Much more empty, and only one cook manning the shop. He seemed very uninterested in waiting us, or anyone really. After taking our orders and dispensing us our meals, he disappeared into the office room adjacent to the kitchen to smoke. Other customers who came into the shop felt similarly disappointed and disappeared without even ordering, although we did finish our plates. It wasn’t bad, it was still okay, but it was really missing the atmosphere and heart that the original shop had. Sorry I led us astray Libby!
After kind of tiring ourselves out from walking, we headed to the harbor to catch a ride to our next stop, via Ferry! This was actually, weirdly enough, the funnest part of the trip for me. We had a decently cozy room on a large ferry boat, filled with high school students, couples, and what seemed to be freight truck drivers, and spend the night sailing across the Sea of Japan to Kita-Kyuushuu. We had a bath on the boat, we had dinner on the boat, and eventually we watched as we sailed beneath a large bridge that crossed the main Island of Japan and Shikoku. It was really cool to see it lit up in the night and watch the coastlines pass us by. The next morning we would depart the boat and head into Kokura, but this was definitely a lot of fun. Like a tiny, tiny cruise lol.
Kokura, our first major stop in Kyuushuu, was quite nice. For such a small, remote city, there’s a lot to see and do. Our first big stop was the Toto toilet museum, detailing the company’s history and, in general, Japan’s history in developing toilet technology. Libby really liked this museum, lol, and I have to admit it was surprisingly fun for many reasons, of which Libby is likely to cover in more detail.
Next, we visited the local castle / museum as you do. While the castle was quite small, the museum itself was quite nice, detailing a lot of Kyuushuu history which I knew nothing about. Especially fun was the story of the infamous sword duel between Musashi Miyamoto and Sasaki Kojiro, two of the most famous swordsmen of Japanese history. Musashi had essentially called Kojiro out to a duel after the two happened to be in the area at the same time, wanting to prove himself the better of the two. Knowing that Kojiro was a master of a style that emphasized longer swords and range, Musashi rather cleverly came to the duel with a secret weapon: a wooden sword he had created from a boat oar to just be longer than Kojiro’s preferred weapon. So, when Kojiro lunged expecting his range to succeed, Musashi counter quickly to the head with the surprising reach of his lighter, wooden weapon. Anyways, apparently people here are quite bitter about this, leading to some accusations and alternate explanations that Musashi himself did not kill Kojiro, but that his own students interfered. That’s the risk of a gentleman’s duel; if you don’t live to give a competing account, there’s no way to know if the fight was spoiled.
After, we stopped by a giant Otaku mall complex with a small but very well kept anime museum. The particular exhibit featured a Yaoi artist, which if you didn’t know, is a style of cartoon that features beautiful young boys having soap opera dramatic love interests in each other, lol. The mall was also surprisingly busy with customers on a week day afternoon, even more so than similar anime malls we had visited in Tokyo.
After Kokura, we left down the coast to Beppu, a small coastal village known for having some of the oldest and most famous onsen baths in the country. But actually, our first activity there was to cook food in the onsen steam! Libby loved this. Basically, we ordered a bunch of raw sea food, vegetables, and pork onto a basket, then lowered it down a small shaft close to the natural hot vapors emitted from the underground springs. Half an hour later, we’re eating steamed foods! It was funny for all the silliest reasons, and tasted quite decent too. Steaming food doesn’t add much complexity in flavor but it makes the texture especially creamy and satisfying.
We also visited a group of natural onsen that you cannot actually enter, but simply observe from a distance. These varied from bubbling mud pits to smooth silky white springs, based on the kind of mineral was mixed into the spring water from the surrounding terrain. Of one particular funny note was the tour guide who kept demonstrating how blowing ashes from a cigarette or match would cause the spring mists to magically “poof” up in thickness. He went on to explain the science (basically that most spring is there but invisible to the eye until mixing with other heavier, warm, floating particle), but mostly, we just kept blowing over and over to demonstrate the effect. Me and Libby laughed, “like this guy must be getting paid essentially to just follow the tour crowds and blow all day? Does he ever get exhausted just blowing and blowing?” You know, because we’re children.
Anyways, at the end of the day we had our last really nice bath at nearby onsen, although it was not the same establishment that we slept :(. Also, Beppu water was ridiculously hot! It was kind of hard to stay in the water. Later, a Japanese friend of mine who uses public baths every day would also comment that he thought Beppu baths were too hot, and would often pour cold water into the baths when no one was around lol.
Anywho, the next day we visited Oita city itself. There’s not a lot to say about Oita, it’s attractive enough, and I did get to visit a nearby friend, but it was very clear that the “city” of Oita was more a central location for the many surrounding country side towns. We didn’t stay too long.
Our last stop before leaving Japan was in Fukuoka city. Where have you been all our life! We really like Fukuoka. First off, the major station, Hakata, is just FULL of awesome food spots. Some mix of izakaya, ramen, and other interesting sit down shops. The main difference is that there is a lot less pretension to the type of food here compared to, say, Tokyo station. In the end we had Tan Tan Men and Salt Pork ramen at the station, both were cheap and good!
On our first night, we decided to head out late to look at some temples in the city, and to our great luck, that night and time happened to be the last opportunity to see a special illumination event. We followed a crown of people who walked around some local neighborhoods visiting temples in the cold night, each spot having a unique event and artistic illumination. It felt like Buddhist Christmas! Everyone was being really friendly, and there was something magical overall about the experience. Would visit again!
Other stops included an Asian Art Museum that featured a wide selection from South East Asia. It was a really well priced but entertaining museum, with a wide diversity, but also great organization and explanations given. We also stopped by a very small, out of the way tea garden, where we had some candy and matcha. The garden lake was really beautiful, and for the humble cost of $3 we spent a good couple of hours just walking and relaxing in the serene atmosphere. I think I’d like to take my mom to a place like that someday.
But eventually, our days in Fukuoka came to an end, too. We had to say good bye. Our flight back was quite comfortable. It seems the famous Asiana Air accident in San Francisco had put off some customers, as the flights were relatively empty, and cheap! Well, we took our chances and gambled with our lives. And it paid!!!
Ok, that’s enough for me, I’ll pass things off to Libby to fill you guys in more details (especially relative to food).
Hello! I’m writing back in California and we are about two weeks into readjusting to life in The Bay. We’ve met with a number of our friends already and had nice parties of turkeys and burritos. We’ve had to relearn a lot of things, like how to deal with those unusable small U.S. coins, vending machines that don’t vend, and riding in cars again. But anyways, let’s reminisce!
As Zach said, we started prepping our apartment for departure in October. We took a lot of large items to the thrift store and got some money (which we spent on our horrible McDonald’s secret). We threw out a lot of our daily necessities – forks, pots, bedsheets, etc. – in our trash. We pulled adhesive hooks off our wall, peeling off the cheapo wallpaper with it (This must be how apartments get more of your deposit). Honestly I didn’t know what to expect out of Japanese apartment inspection, so I did what I knew and tried to clean every nook and cranny as best as I could.
Once we were done with the apartment and left homeless, we got to do some of our favorite things. We went to Ueno to one of our favorite coffee chains, Precious Coffee Moments, for some sesame milk coffee. Then we had dinner at our favorite tsukemen spot, which was busy as usual. As we started eating, I could feel time passing by slowly, ticking away from “I usually eat here.” to “I used to eat here.”. I felt a bit teary-eyed at the last bites of noodle. Who knows the next time we would be back at this place? We strolled through Ueno Park where there was already an event being set up for the next day. Maybe we’ll always think of Tokyo the way it was while we were there, but the city was already moving just fine without us.
Enough depressing stuff! We departed for the Shinjuku bus terminal onto our next adventure, Kyushuu! But before we exited the station, I managed to grab one last strawberry daifuku mochi for snacking on the bus. The bus came at around 11:20pm, and Zach said it was a pretty nice overnight bus compared to the previous one we tried. The seat lounged back (I had a hard time making it go all the way back though.) and not one, but two! cushions were provided. The seat came with a foot stool which I wasn’t sure what to do with. One of the first things they said at the start was that they expected you to sleep or rest. So they turned the lights completely off and it was pitch black. “B-b-but my mochi…” I thought. Well there’s only one way to eat it! An hour or so into the ride, I ate it like a creepy person eating an ortolan: 1) grabbing the double bagged mochi (plastic and paper) as stealthily from the front pocket, 2) I put the provided blanket over my head. 3) *SheEEEH shEEEH* noise are made as I untie the plastic bag. 4) *Kr–h kr–h noises of the paper bag. “Noooo, please don’t take my heart!”, it was maybe saying through it’s muffles. 5) Finally! The mochi in my hand, I felt for the perforated seam. The unlicensed doctor clumsily made the incision – *KUH-KUH* silence * KUH-KUH* silence etc., until the surprisingly loud package is open and the powdery puff is in my two fingers! It was a bit gooey on the bottom from the strawberry juices seeping through but no matter! 6) In the safety of my blanket, I ate it in three bites, only hearing my own chewing. “Tradition dictates that this is to shield – from God’s eyes (other passengers’ eyes) – the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act (my terrible night snacking and being that passenger*)”.
We arrived in Osaka early at 8am. We met up with Josten, my sister Vivian’s friend, for a nice coffee and french toast breakfast. After, we were onto the Osaka Aquarium and they had tons of stamps, which was mostly for the childrens. They had dolphins and a couple of whale sharks which was a nice surprise. They also had a dissected basking shark that high schoolers got to work on, which is a pretty lucky lab experiment to have! Zach ate a disgracefully long hot dog. We ate a real lunch of katsu curry and as Zach said, the guy running the place was kind of funny, like he didn’t want to be there, and neither did the other customers.
We headed off to catch our ferry to Kita-Kyushu. The boat was quite nice. It had three decks to hang out on, a couple areas to lounge or watch tv, even some fun ramen and assorted snack vending machines! We were excited that the boat had a small public bath area so we went before it got too crowded. We were pretty rank at that point. For dinner the boat had a buffet which had a lot of nice things like salmon sashimi, stir fry, baked curry, and vegetables (!). The ferry went under a number of bridges and we got to see one of them. It was very cold and windy! The ferry ride was a really fun experience and it definitely makes me want to see if other boat trips would be fun.
We landed in Kita-Kyushu and took the free ferry shuttle to Kokura. Our first stop, the Toto toilet museum had a lot of stuff and it was quite interesting. We got to do a lot of button pressing demonstrations showing what happens inside the toilet. They also displayed a motorcycle that was taken cross country and powered with poop! There was a lot of toilet history, showing the evolution from the squatty potty towards toilets that spray your butt nice and clean. One of the last exhibits was showing toilet models from other markets. The description for the U.S. products was pretty funny, saying we prefer “traditional toilets” (*ahem* boring toilets). The whole museum was made so that you would buy something from their “gift shop”/showroom floor. We were already convinced though. Just take our money, Toto!! After the Toto museum, we went to Kokura Castle and the surrounding grounds. It was a pretty okay castle. After, we went to the city manga museum, which was in the big anime entertainment hangout building. If you like Galaxy Express 999, this is the place to go! We didn’t realize it was going to be a yaoi special exhibit but it was pretty amusing. We ate pasta with all-you-can-eat bread for dinner.
Beppu was a really fun resort town to hang out in. The non-bathing hot springs were silly-themed but fun. There was one that had a bunch of plastic demons around it, one with crocodiles, and another with displays of fish that live in hot spring water. One of the newly developed hot springs had a foot soaking bath and a really nice gift shop. It was hard not to go into omiyage buying mode but Zach found a nice pickling book that we hope to experiment with. The hot spring steamed foods restaurant was really great and Zach did all of the cooking! I enjoyed the shellfish and shrimps, which I don’t get to eat all the time. The food was really simple but it goes to show that you don’t need much if your produce is really fresh, maybe just some soy sauce if anything. It’s too bad there isn’t a restaurant like it in the bay area, otherwise my family and I would be there a lot.
From Beppu, we got to take a short half day trip to Yufuin No Mori. We took a really beautiful, classy saloon-style train through forest and mountains out to this little tourist town. There was a lot of tourist stores, like the Ghibli store and knick knack toy stores as the trail heads to a temple and the mountains changing fall colors. What seemed popular in town were swiss roll cakes, but we unfortunately didn’t have any luggage space for that. We found some sesame manjuu, which Zach wanted to buy a half dozen of. We also got some fried meat related things for our trip back.
Oita – the city is important enough to have a Nana’s Green Tea, which we had our last sesame parfait! There was also a Kiddyland and Pokemon Store as well, but we didn’t have enough time to check it out. I also liked the chicken decorations in and around the station. We got to see a bit of the art museum and though it was small, the pieces inside were really pretty.
We took our last shinkansen ride out to Fukuoka. While it was a brief 20 minute ride, it was fun and comfortable as usual. Whenever we go somewhere new, Zach is like “I can live here”. Well in Fukuoka it was my turn to say it! Fukuoka is my kind of city! Hakata Station is huge and has tons of shops and restaurants. The first floor even smelled like butter wherever you go! There are a bunch of rivers that run across the city, making for a really nice view. The only down side was that the subways were oddly inconvenient to use since the two systems of trains rarely had transfer points to each other. Fukuoka is definitely a bus town. The light festival of temples was really fun, and we felt really lucky to catch it since it was the last day. The ramen in town was super amazing, we couldn’t believe how a simple looking bowl of noodles was so rich in meaty pork flavors. It was super thick and it had a meat sweetness to it. The other foods we had, like the dry curry and tan tan men was really great too. If we stayed longer, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found more new things to eat. On the really big roads of town, there were makeshift ramen and yakitori stalls on the side of the road. I was really excited to see them but we didn’t get to eat at them because it was rainy that day. Next time for sure!
One of the best parts of our Fukuoka was our excursion to the Sailor Moon Cafe in town. We got there just in time since all of the reservations for the cafe were over in Tokyo and it had just opened recently in Fukuoka. It was sooooo fun! I was giggling and taking pictures of everything. I’m thankful that Zach got the tickets and had the patience to sit while I made squeeeee! and eeeeeeee! noises at all the food and decorations. He also made fun of me for taking the paper place mats that the food was supposed to go on. He got the burgers made to look like Luna and Artemis while I got the Tuxedo Mask curry with a gooey egg in the center. We also got the silly drinks of a cotton candy Luna-P Ball and the passion fruit Sailor Uranus and Neptune drink (with two straws because they are lovers. hyuk hyuk). The food was alright, but the experience was fun and themed cafes are one of the very few things that are in Japan only.
We ended the trip with a nice public bath soak at our hotel and some of our favorite foods, some milk (which is stupid good in Japan) and a dorayaki for breakfast. The last day we sent out some postcards and we left for the very convenient Fukuoka airport.
And that is the end of our Japan journey.
Zach and I haven’t decided what we will do with this blog, but maybe we will write an update on life in California, post up more photos, or write about future trips we take. But it’s been fun and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading and looking at all of our pictures!
Until we meet again! またね！