Trained to Fukuoka
this morning, another interminable ride, this one not only slow but bumpy. That train was jostling me all over the place. Clearly this little princess needs to snap out of her expectations in the rapid/smooth/luxury train travel department. The shinkansen has me quite spoiled, and unfortunately there are no more in my (foreseeable) future.
One step out of the station and I knew I'd love Fukuoka. Clean, wide boulevards, astoundingly quiet for such a large city, easy to navigate -- you name it. Found the guesthouse without so much as a hiccup. The owner is a wonderfully friendly man who speaks terrific English, and was able to answer the onslaught of questions I peppered him with.
My side of the conversation went something like this: "Where does one find whale? No I don't actually want to eat whale, the thought mortifies me. But I have a friend who might have me shot if I leave Japan without sampling the forbidden delicacy. How about judo? Yes this goofy American thinks it might be fun to try out a karate chop or two under authentic instruction. And how about a sports bar? There's this football game I'm going BONKERS to see. No, not soccer, REAL football." It was thoroughly entertaining for us both. Talk about a range of topics.
He's looking into the whale, although sadly/fortunately, Fukuoka being the RAMEN capital of the world and all, they're more into their pork and noodles than eating endangered sea creatures.
As for the judo, it will likely cost me a pretty penny, and it's very likely the instructor will consider the proposal for a nanosecond before shooting down the irreverent tourist who wants to "give it a go" for giggles. He knew where to send me for an "authentic, American sports bar," so proclaimed by said ANYTHING BUT American sports bar in its advertising. I found it tucked in the basement near a bunch of pachinko parlors, and while it was closed at the time, I doubt they show football on tv. The walls were covered in soccer posters, with nary an indication toward the NFL. Further research via our dear friend Google has turned up a review that reported only the Japanese version of ESPN, no American sports to be found, and a cover charge! (For shame!) So there goes that.
My poor Fins will have to take on the Jets without me. (Although waking up to MNF at the cheery hour of 9am does sound like a special slice of wonderful, doesn't it?) GO DOLPHINS!!!
Fukuoka/Hakata is a giant, sprawling, bustling city. To explain the dual name: Fukuoka and Hakata were neighboring towns back in the day, one on each side of the Naka-gawa river. However, with development and population surges and these sorts of things, they (naturally) fused into one metropolis, which goes by the name Fukuoka. That being said, the ferry and train terminals are called Hakata, as they are on the Hakata side of the river. But for all intents and purposes (maps, guidebooks, travel, etc), the city is officially called Fukuoka.
There really isn't much to do tourist-wise in Fukuoka; it's another mega city, like Osaka. Their castle is in ruins (my understanding is it's a meager pile of rubble on the ground, if that), but you can walk around the grounds which are now a lovely park. There is also a couple of temples, and I'm thinking I'll visit those tomorrow. Ran into a few shrines during my walk today; it wouldn't be Japan if there weren't temples and shrines tucked into every nook and cranny, whether in a city or not. I opted to spend my first day getting acquainted with the city's layout, and poked around the two main areas, Canal City and Tenjin -- both, you guessed it, massive shopping arcades. MASSIVE. Like, mind boggling how much shopping there is.
Osaka has nothing on this place. I think maybe only Tokyo rivals it, in terms of shopping and people watching and the such. Being the poor (and poorly dressed) tourist, the glittering and glossy shopping districts don't offer me much. But I do enjoy walking through them and admiring the Japanese take on fashion (all the same megahouse designer brands you'd find lining Fifth Avenue) and probably embarrassing myself at the same time with my dusty sneakers and quick-dry cargo pants. How's that for a mental picture?
For lunch I (obvs) feasted on ramen, and feast it was. Deliberately sought out a small unassuming noodle shop, and decided what the hell, you only have two more meals in Japan, may as well go all-out. I've been avoiding dumplings everywhere I go for fear of their being stuffed with meat (which they typically are), but they always look so tasty, and they're EVERYWHERE.
And since ramen is LOADED with pork and pork stock and all things pork, and you better believe this little noodle slurper wasn't going to let a thing like pork get in the way of her chowing down on ramen in RAMEN MECCA, I figured what the hell, we'll throw the dumplings in too for laughs. Why not.
The dumplings were DELICIOUS! I was practically licking myself. I was torn between shoveling them into my mouth as fast as I possibly could, and actually breathing between bites to "savor" them. I think it was more shovel than breathe, but there was plenty of savoring going on. And happily, there wasn't any (detectable) meat in them. They were loaded with veggies. Double score! As for the ramen, it was out of this world.
The best ramen I've ever had, and I've had some F'in good ramen (as you well know) in the last few weeks. Although having said that I think I've predominantly had soba and udon, with only ramen once or twice that I can immediately call to mind. Anyway. Really superb stuff. And LOADED with pork. The two giant slabs of pork on top? Easy enough to avoid. The liquid pork fat that was the broth? Not so much. And I drank every last rich, dense, greasy drop of it. Ramen was gooooood. Only bummer is I HATE how meat makes me feel after I eat it. So absolutely bursting full and uncomfortable, like my belly has quadrupled in size (it did) and is stretched tight like a drum (oh wow, it was). Am thinking I'll let that delicious, gluttonous, pork-a-licious experience satisfy my ramen quota for the trip and move onto something without pork tomorrow. Perhaps a nice heaping bowl of raw veggies. Talk about detox.