We know the island of Kyushu as we have been here before; once to visit 2 friends who were working in two different, tiny towns, teaching English for a year after leaving university, and then twice more for their weddings! They’ve both now settled in Japan, with their families, and enjoy lifestyles that are very different, in many ways, to what they’d have experienced if they had come back to live in the UK.
Our first day in Fukuoka involved negotiating the mini-city that is Hakata station. It’s huge, on over 12 – possibly more – different levels. It was a zoo, as this is the entry point for the island, where there are 3 big RWC2019 venues. Half of Wales is heading this way next week, as they have games at Oita and Kumamoto, and tomorrow night there’s France v USA in Fukuoka and NZ v Canada in Oita. Lots and lots of rugby fans in a queue to get their Japan Rail passes, and working out the chances of getting a seat on a train to Oita. Not great unless you’ve planned in advance!
A bit of geography needed here. Kyushu is a volcanic island, and we will be getting up close and personal with at least a couple of them – Ato and Sakurajima. The centre of the island is covered in mountains, with just the one Shinkansen line down the West coast. Oita is south east of Fukuoka and doesn’t have a Shinkansen link, so it’s a much slower train trip, and there’s not a lot of availability for match day. Not a hotel to be had either, unless you go outside the city to Beppu or even back up on a 2 hour trip to Fukuoka. Some people are going to be struggling if they arrive on the day and hope to travel/stay over. The staff in the ticket office were doing their very best, but tomorrow could be interesting when the hordes arrive.
Our experiences of eating out in Japan have always been interesting – I’ve still not forgiven Richard for feeding me horse meat and saying it was beef – and last night’s dinner added another new experience to the list. We went to ZAUO – a sort of big warehouse in the Tenjin area of the city, where you literally catch your own dinner!
Chris’ two boys loved it – a huge flounder and a bream ended up on their lines, drums were beaten, chants and celebrations were made, and our fish eventually arrived in many different forms, to be eaten alongside tempura vegetables and some chips with ketchup. Fish in batter, fish in butter, breaded fish, and even the heads and bones, in broth and making a miso soup. Not a bit wasted.
The place was huge, and very busy by the time we left. I’ve no idea what it all costs as Chris kindly paid for us all, but it looked highly complicated as there were pages and pages of menu options.
Next on our travel list is a waterfall and a temple, way up in the hills, away from the busy city and out in the rural Japan that is squeezed into the few small flat areas around the coast, or up the mountains on terraces. This is a land of contrasts and surprises. Fish and chips aren’t quite the same, but the ketchup is!