One thing I’ve noticed about Fukuoka is its affinity for South Korea. Maybe it’s because there’s a higher Korean population here or maybe because it’s geographically closer to Seoul than Tokyo, but at less than an hour’s plane journey away from the city of Busan, it certainly has a better connection with the country than most of Japan.
Nearly every young Japanese woman I’ve spoken to so far has talked about K-Pop, and I’ve been able to mention 2NE1, Mamamoo, and Blackpink as some of the music I listen to. I’m definitely no expert but I think I gained some street cred for liking them. My dormitory had a session where the students could try on traditional Korean outfits and I listened to a brief Korean lesson taught in Japanese (which was strange given that I only have basic Japanese skills and zero Korean… unless you count the odd word I actually know)
Another band on my phone playlist that’s pretty popular is ONE OK ROCK. I’ve met a few people that like them too and since coming to Japan I’ve learnt more about them, like the fact that the lead vocalist’s parents were super famous. One of the images I want to remember from this trip is being driven back to Nishijin from Meinohama, watching all the bright lights against the night sky and listening to ‘The Beginning’ on the car stereo.
On the Sunday afternoon (23rd), I went to the Hakata ward to check out the shops around Nakasukawabata and Gion to buy some omiyage for my family. Omiyage is a custom deeply rooted in Japanese culture, and one that the Japanese take very seriously. It’s the act of buying someone a gift after travelling somewhere, as a way of showing that you were thinking of them while you were away. It’s a big taboo to return with nothing, and just shows how Japanese society is oriented around putting others first. I really like this idea, partly because we’ve done something similar in our family for years, although I perhaps don’t like the fact that in Japan it’s mandatory in some cases.
I may only be halfway through my stay but I want to make sure I get as many presents for people as possible so I’m starting early. Within reason, of course.
Near Nakasukawabata is Kushida Jinja, a popular Shinto Shrine in Fukuoka City. Kyushu’s famous Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is held here in July, as it has been for over 700 years. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong time of year for that but it was still worth the visit. It’s incredibly pretty and nestled in the middle of an urban shopping district, but the contrast just makes it seem even more beautiful. Kushida Jinja is dedicated to the deities Amaterasu and Susano’o, the goddess of the sun and the god of the sea, respectively.
I’d been trying for the last few days to get my hands on a ticket to the Sailor Moon musical, but with no luck seeing as the ticket office wasn’t open. However, on Monday, I finally got it with help from one of my teachers. She navigated the website to make me a reservation, meaning I had to take the printed confirmation to the conbini and redeem it. I practiced what I was going to say in my head for at least five minutes, all while looking very interested in the bread aisle. But I did it with no hiccups or misunderstandings and I walked out of the Seven Eleven, ticket in hand and feeling victorious.
When I was first looking at coming to Fukuoka, I’d seen that the show would be timed for this month. Although, I’d originally intended to come in August so I put the notion out of my head, because why even entertain the idea if it wasn’t going to happen, right? A family trip to California postponed my Japan plans and I ended up booking in October… but by then I’d already accepted I wasn’t going to see it. It wasn’t until I watched a vlog from SharlainJapan that I had an “Oh my god, is that this month?” moment. Cue a desperate Google search.
I love Sailor Moon, and have done since I was about eight years old. And I grew up performing, with musical theatre being one genre I love the most. Mixing the two is a dream come true, and even if I only understand like 10% of it, I can still appreciate the characters, the staging, the music and the costumes.
However, Monday wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’d only exchanged half of my money before travelling because there was no way I was taking it all in one big wad. It was about halfway through my time here and even though I hadn’t run out, I figured it was time to get some more yen. And after a brief conversation in Japanese with the currency exchange lady it was very clear that my cards weren’t going to work. Without freaking out too much, I followed her directions to the nearest Seven Eleven ATM to withdraw my money. They didn’t work. Next I tried the post office. They still didn’t work. Panic was starting to rise because I knew those were my best options. Eventually I got some cash out, but it took going to a conbini in an entirely different ward. Crisis averted.
The next morning called for 25 degree weather, so on went the swimsuit and I left for the beach. As a Brit, it felt very strange to be sitting by the sea without a jacket and enjoying the warm sunshine towards the end of October. It’d be November in a week’s time and mid-autumn is supposed to feel cold in time for Halloween and Bonfire Night. Although… it’s already snowed up in Hokkaido, which just proves how different the north and south climates are in Japan. I’d brought my homework to finish off but while the sound of the waves made for perfect ambient background noise, it wasn’t the most productive of working environments (don’t worry, I did get it done!).
Still, I got to dip my toes in the Tsushima Strait – where the Sea of Japan meets the East China Sea.
On Wednesday, my craving for a nice proper Western breakfast got the better of me. I’d been dying to try the Hawaiian all-day breakfast restaurant in Tenjin for over a week, so I took a trip into the city centre to visit Eggs ‘n’ Things. I’d highly recommend it; the food was good and the service even better. And if your Japanese is a bit rusty, there’s an English menu and English-speaking staff.
I’ve been thinking about going to see the new Death Note movie when it’s released next week, so I made a pit-stop at the cinema to check out show times. Instead of actually finding what I went in for, I came out with a ticket to see the live action Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso the next morning. Classic Jenny, to be perfectly honest.
The first anime I’d ever watched was Pokémon, like most British people of my generation, and because of that, I couldn’t not give the Fukuoka Pokemon Center a visit. I was very good and resisted emptying my bank account, only spending money on one thing that wasn’t even for me (not going to say what because they read this blog and I want it to be a surprise). But if I had enough room in my suitcase, I’d be very tempted to bring a Pikachu home. Every month, the Pokemon Centers have a themed Pikachu plush and this October was a circus edition. There were Pikachu shaped pumpkin merchandise and the store was subtly decorated for Halloween. And because Sun and Moon will be out soon, the new starters and legendaries had their own toys.
The next day, I was out of the dormitory for fourteen hours. After an early start I hurried into Tenjin to make the showing of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. Because it’s been out since mid-September, there was only one screening per day, at 9am. I was so early the depaato hadn’t even opened yet. Approximately two hours later, I emerged with slightly teary eyes, and even if I couldn’t understand everything I enjoyed it anyway. I think it helps that I already knew the story. (Keep an eye out for a review soon!)
Killing time before class, I hung around Tenjin for a bit, finding one of the long skirts that are fashionable at the moment on the sale rack at Spinns. The length is perfect for the colder seasons and the colour is one of my favourite green shades so I love it.
After my lesson, I’d agreed to go to a yatai with a friend from school. Yatai are something Fukuoka is known for, and are small pop up food stalls along the streets of the city. Unlike regular street food, where you buy something and move along, yatai are fully equipped for sit down dining. It’s still quicker than a restaurant, but way more sociable. Here I tried Hakata ramen for the first time, another thing Fukuoka is famous for, which is comprised of a creamy tonkotsu (pork) broth, with pork slices and thin noodles. As someone who likes her ramen, this was absolutely delicious. And there’s just something about drinking the warm soup while feeling the night air that makes it so much better. After that we went to Starbucks, and stayed until close, which meant I didn’t return to my room until after 10pm.
On Friday, my sensei and I had arranged to go somewhere after class, and we ended up in a cat café. While their popularity is steadily increasing in the UK, animal-themed cafés have yet to achieve the notoriety and variety of the ones in Japan. It was extremely relaxing to just sit among the cats and stroke them, occasionally feeding them and giving them toys. I can see why people love going, especially if can’t make a commitment to owning your own pet.
The next morning, I was up and out and ready to go to Tenjin. Seeing as I’ve usually decided what I want to do for Halloween in the beginning of October, I was really behind this year because I didn’t think I’d be doing anything. But Japanese hospitality is Japanese hospitality and there was no way I’d have nowhere to go, so I went to buy a couple of accessories to turn some of my clothes into a makeshift costume. I am a cosplayer, after all, and if there’s one thing I know how to do – it’s pulling things together at the last minute.
That afternoon, we had a cooking meet-up, where locals joined the students to help us make some typical Japanese food. On the menu was takoyaki, okonomiyaki and yakisoba. Takoyaki are small balls of batter filled with octopus meat as well as other ingredients like cabbage and pickled ginger. Okonomiyaki is somewhere between a pancake and an omelette, and yakisoba is fried noodles. We all cooked together, and took turns to flip the takoyaki, before eating what we’d made. It was a great way to meet new people, while learning a bit more about the food that Japan had to offer. Especially as I’d be meeting a couple of my new acquaintances for Halloween celebrations later…
It was an international party, where foreigners could get in for free if they’d been brought along by a Japanese person. Held in a nightclub that reminded me a lot of my undergraduate days, the goal was to socialise with as many people as possible. But if talking to others in a club is hard enough under normal circumstances, it’s even more difficult in another language. The Japanese attendees would practice their English when speaking to me, and because it was a two-way kind of situation, I’d respond in Japanese. After a few hours and several bilingual conversations, it was the end of the night and I was absolutely exhausted so I walked back to the subway station… and met Jesus.
Halloween may not be a huge event in Japan, but it’s getting more and more popular by the year and you could definitely tell by the amount of people in costume out on the street. And it was definitely interesting to see Halloween from a different perspective, in a different country with a different culture.
For more about my life in Japan, click here.