30.11.2009 - 07.12.2009 15 °C
As soon as I arrived in Fukuoka, I knew it wasn't going to be terribly exciting. The main reason I had planned on going to Fukuoka was to see some sumo wrestling. There are four main sumo tournaments in Japan every year and one of them was being held in Fukuoka. Unfortunately, even though I was organized enough to book some accomodation, I was too late to get some tickets which had sold out the day before. Not a huge disaster because I had to go through Fukuoka on my way to Nagasaki anyway.
I stayed in a five bed dorm at a guesthouse, it was located behind and above a small Udon restaurant. The dorm in the guesthouse was Japanse style, which meant futons on tatami mats. The dorm had five futons almost side by side separated by tiny partitions that only went as far as the pillows. The futons were extra thin and the tatami mats didn't offer much cushioning either, so it was almost like lying on the ground. I had to fold my douvet in two and use one half as extra cushioning. On my first day I only explored the immediate area around the guesthouse and there really wasn't much to see. On the second day it was pouring rain outside so it drained any motivation I had to see the rest of the city, not that there's much to see in Fukuoka apparently.
Decorated trees along the side of the road in Fukuoka
Originally I had booked three nights there, but I cut it short by one and booked an extra night in Nagasaki. I have to say, I'm not much of a fan of guesthouses. They are so small and intimate, it feels like you're intruding in someone's house and because they don't have many guests as opposed to hostels, some tend to charge for everything, like soap, towels, coffee, tea, etc. Also, if there aren't many other people staying there, it can be a bit quiet and boring which is always a risk when it is such a small place and you're there during the low season. The very first day, I only saw a French girl the whole time, and we got off on the wrong foot right from the start when she accidentally took my ipod that I had temporarily left on the hostel's counter. After I pointed out her mistake, she showed me her ipod which did look like mine on the outside so I didn't blame her, but in the translation I think she thought that I thought she was a thief and avoided me the rest of the day, either that or I smelled funny.
By the second night I was lucky to meet a group of young foreign students travelling around Japan for a week during a break from their studies near Tokyo. They provided some entertainment and a few tips on good places to visit in Europe. At the end of the night one of them found out I was a computer geek and she excitedly asked me if I could fix her virus ridden laptop. It was a little difficult trying to fix a computer when all the dialog boxes and links were in German, so I had to get by using my memory and her direct translations of all the technical computer jargon, which was rather comical. She was quite pleased in the end when I did fix it considering she'd been having problems with it for the last three months.
It was quite a relief arriving in Nagasaki, the weather was perfect and the city is relatively small and quite pretty.
Nagasaki train station from the pedestrian bridge over the main road
I decided to walk the 15 minutes from the train station to my hostel, which turned out to be a bad decision because I took a wrong turn and it ended up being around 30 minutes. I think a combination of sleeping on a hard floor the previous two nights and carrying my pack for such a long time contributed to the dull pain I developed on my left shoulder. This together with my sore toe that I badly sprained while running up the stairs in Hiroshima while wearing socks has left me a little bruised and battered but still surviving.
River in Nagasaki with one of the many stone bridges crossing it
Night time view outside my window from Nagasaki hostel
Spectacles Bridge in Nagasaki - Built in 1634, this is the oldest surviving stone bridge in Japan
The river was absolutely teeming with Japanese koi of all different colours, but I never got a decent photo of them.
For some reason, even though I paid for a single room, I was given a double room which meant I got a large double bed (first time in Japan). The bathroom and toilet were even in separate rooms so this ended up being my favourite hostel in Japan, at least in terms of location and sleeping arrangements, but other hostels had more people staying so they tended to be a little more fun.
My private double room in hostel Akari, spacious and comfortable
My bathroom in hostel Akari, it wasn't spotless like a 5 star hotel but it was all mine and not the size of a porta-loo
On my first full day in Nagasaki, I went to the Peace Museum and Memorial Park. It was of course very similar to Hiroshima but structured differently. The aftermath of the Atomic bomb begins right at the entrance with several displays of actual bent and torn structures as well as damaged personal belongings and many photos. Then a few video screens showed survivor's testimonies with full and graphic accounts of what had occurred. The most disturbing item I found was a helment displayed upside down still containing several large fragments of human skull fused to the inside. The last part of the museum was dedicated to the education of the dangers of nuclear weapons.
There is a really long wall split horizontally which shows the timeline of the worlds nuclear history (on top) and the anti-nuclear movement (below). The top part is kind of like a wall of shame and the bottom part is the wall of hope. It was quite nice to see New Zealand mentioned in an entry at the January 1985 mark, shown in the photo below.
Entry in anti-nuclear movement timeline, Nagasaki Peace Museum
Even though you are allowed to take photos inside the museum, I hadn't even thought of taking my camera out until the very end. The place isn't exactly conducive to taking tourist snaps.
When I left the museum, light was fading fast but I still decided to go the hypocenter and the Peace Park only a short walk away. The hypocenter (ground zero) in Nagasaki is marked more prominently than in Hiroshima. It's located in a small park and the exact hypocenter is marked by a large black stone monolith surrounded by brick paving arranged in concentric circles.
The Hypocenter in Nagasaki. At 11:02 am, August 9, 1945 a 21 kiloton Plutonium-239 atomic bomb exploded 500 meters above this spot
There were several feral cats hanging out in this park, in fact, in most parks in Japan you will find a clowder of cats. They all look well fed and it's not surprising because quite often you see people (usually elderly) sitting in benches putting food down for them. It's almost like the Japanese version of going to the park with stale bread to feed ducks or pidgeons. Luckily, you don't ever see homeless dogs wondering the streets which is good to see. One thing that is disturbing, is the American trend that the Japanese have adopted with much enthusiasm, and that is the "small dog accessory". You see lots of people, mostly women, carrying their little dogs in their arms, handbags and bicycle baskets.
A cat taking a free drink from flower vase at the Nagasaki hypocenter monument.
Just at the edge of the hypocenter park, there are some steps leading down to a stream and part of the actual ground level at the time of the bombing can be seen behind some protective glass.
Ground level at the time of the atomic bombing, Nagasaki hypocenter.
The Peace Park entrance is about a 2 minute walk from the hypocenter. The park houses several memorial monuments and statues, some were gifted by other countries to the city of Nagasaki. I happened to stumble on the New Zealand "sculpture" by accident, it was apparently unveiled by Phil Goff in October 2006, at the time he was the Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control. Some nearby monuments were memorial statues gifted by Russia, Hungry and the Czech Republic.
The New Zealand memorial sculpture "Cloak of Peace" dedicated to the victims of the Atomic Bomb in Nagasaki
The centre piece at Nagasaki Peace Park, the huge Peace Statue - As impressive at it was, the statue seemed very "European" to me and didn't quite represent anything Japanese
The Fountain of Peace at night
The rest of my time in Nagasaki consisted of chilling out at the hostel and lots of long walks around the city. Nagasaki was probably the prettiest city I visited in Japan, in particular the little cobbled streets near my hostel were quite nice to walk through. These streets were a mixture of residential streets with traditional Japanese houses as well as shopping streets leading to a large covered shopping arcade.
Residential street in Nagasaki. Apparently in Japan, Santa climbs up your balcony instead of using the chimney. This was not the only house where I saw Santas climbing over balconies.
The hostel was also very near a large hill from which you could get excellent views of the city.
View of Nagasaki from hill near hostel. The Peace Park is situated in the valley just to the right of center in the background
I left Nagasaki a few days before leaving Japan because my departure point was Osaka. To be honest Osaka was not one of my favourite cities in Japan and I would have stayed in Nagasaki until the day before leaving but unfortunately my JR train pass was about to expire.
In all of my travels in Japan, I never had to book or reserve any seats on any trains. The beauty of having a Japan Rail (JR) pass was that you could hop on a JR train at any station, go anywhere and get off whenever you wanted. The JR pass has got to be the best tourism incentive that Japan offers, apart from its actual tourist attractions of course. Sure it was expensive to get, but nothing compared to how much I would have ended up paying if I had bought individual tickets. Especially for someone like me that used trains all of the time, not only between cities but also within them. The only catch is you have to buy the JR Pass before you enter Japan so you need to be prepared.
Even though I tried booking a better hostel in Osaka about two weeks in advance, the best ones were all booked - I still blame JetStar with their cheap flights for flying over half of Australia all at once. Not that I have anything against Aussies, it's just that they were booking all the good hostels! So I ended up staying in the south side of Osaka once again in a cheap hotel. This time I chose a different hotel to the one I stayed in my first visit, but it was in the same area. This is the area I talked about in my first Osaka blog which appears to have accumulated the entire homeless and alcoholic population of Osaka. Unfortunately, this hotel was worse than the first one I stayed at in Osaka. I was given a Japanese style room with yet another thin futon on tatami mats (even though the booking I made on the net made no mention of this). The bathroom was shared and the hotel was next door to the train station, this meant there was little chance of sleeping in.
So this is pretty much the end of my adventures in Japan. Hard to encapsulate the experience in just a few sentences, but I'll try anyway. Here are my favourite things about Japan:
- The People
It's early on in my travels, but I can quite confidently say that Japanese people are probably the most respectful and polite people on earth. Always happy to help, even when they don't understand what you are saying. The staff at the hostels and guest houses were always friendly and helpful. Even convenience store staff always greeted me very politely.
Not once did I feel unsafe or if someone was trying to hustle me, well except for the smut peddlers in Roppongi, Tokyo, but you could see them coming a mile away. It's amazing how safe you feel even if you were on a deserted subway platform late at night.
- The Transport System
Having a JR pass definitely helps in this area, nevertheless, travel between and within cities is extremely easy. All the train, tram, bus and subway stations that I used were marked in both Japanse and English and there's always someone to help you if you do get lost and confused.
- The Sights
I only saw a tiny fraction of the country, but most of what I did see was fantastic.
- Heated toilet seats
I don't really have anything I didn't like about Japan but there is one thing that I wish had been different and that was all on me - I wish I knew more Japanese. You definitely feel cut off from things after a while when you don't speak the language. It would have been nice to have more indepth conversations with Japanse people. Also, it would also have been nice if I could have been more specific when ordering in restaurants instead of relying on what looked best in the photos or plastic food models.
My travels so far...
Well, that's it for now, but the adventure continues, so stay tuned!