Thursday, 18 June 2009

Japan Diaries, part I

(Photo: the festival 'float' we saw during the night.)
We left on a Friday and arrived in Japan on a Saturday, somewhere in the afternoon. We flew to Tokyo first and then had a connecting flight to Fukuoka which is on the southern big island of Kyushu. There were a few hours to kill in Tokyo and because the long flight had made us tired and sticky we decided to have a shower at the airport. World’s best decision – it made us all human again. We had bought our vouchers for our railpasses in the Netherlands. It is not possible to buy them in Japan, and they are really only for foreigners on a tourist visa. But you need to activate them in Japan and exchange them for the real pass. We did that at Narita airport in Tokyo and used them immediately to travel to the city. Hurray! We were in Tokyo!
The imperial palace is not far from Tokyo’s main train station and it is surrounded by extensive gardens. This made a good destination for our short trip. This is where I made some pictures of the Pirate’s first encounter with Japan – and Hello Kitty. :) (For the Pirate’s pics, check his blog:

The flight to Fukuoka was a short one and we arrived there late in the evening, around 10.30 or 11. Oh how wonderful of me to have booked a hostel bed for us at a great internationally acclaimed, amazing traditional place. A very helpful (and English-speaking!) boy at the airport showed us how to get to the subway (walked us all the way there, like 10 minutes). We were the last flight to arrive, it was the end of his shift but he took the trouble of showing us how to use the ticket machine and everything. Sweet dude. So we took the subway (guy told us where to get off) and walked a block to the hostel. It looked truly amazing with a small tea garden en those paper slide doors and everything. S praised my booking skills. And then it turned out I had made a wrong booking.

The booking I had made was for Sunday. We were there on Saturday. And the hostel was packed full. Not a bed left. Argh. There we were, two tired chicks from Amsterdam with bulging backpacks… Would the hostel guy know another place perhaps? He called another place. No, the lady there explained to me in broken English. She didn’t have a bed for us either. But we should try the Riverside Hotel. The hostel guy wrote it down for us (LIBERSAIDO) and told us how to get there. It was not far.

There we went, walking through Fukuoka at night. The streets were almost deserted yet I felt strangely safe there. There was absolutely no feeling of unsafe, like you sometimes get in cities at night. We were walking and suddenly found ourselves in a temple complex in the middle of the city. We walked underneath a shrine portal (torii) and were surrounded with beautiful wooden temples and stone lanterns. There was also a huge high structure, like a festival float, with gods and demons or heroes and kings, animals and flowers. Staring at us at midnight. Absolutely magic.

We walked on, determined to visit the shrine during the daytime, and found Riverside in a shopping arcade. It was full, no rooms at all. Right, what next? The Riverside night guard knew another place, he would give them a call. It was called New Port and he told us how to get there. Wrote down the address in Japanese in case we wanted to show a taxi driver. We decided to find a taxi and lo and behold! there was a taxi stand not far away. We showed them the address. This was the start of a five-driver (plus one wife) address finding frenzy. They all had to look at the address, a map was spread out on a taxi hood, navigation systems were used. It was two blocks down, across the bridge. Walkeable distance.

With a big smile and a domo arigato gozaimas we left the grinning taxi drivers to find New Port. Did you know that Japanese do not really use street names? Or signs? Especially not in another language than Japanese? We tried comparing Riverside’s writing with signs. We tried counting streets. We tried the lot but couldn’t find New Port. 00.30 hours, in Fukuoka, Japan. Argh. Also Saturday night so at one point a (lucky?) guy comes cycling through the street with two hip chickies by his side. But: he stops, without us asking, because when people are in need of help, you help. The chickies did not entirely agree. The guy stared at the address. Stared at our little map that the Riverside gave us. Agreed that this would be the street but where was the hotel? And then just when he decided to give in to the chickies and leave us again, he turns around to us and points to a blue Japanese sign. New Port!

Yeah, if you give your hotel an English name, don’t bother with the English writing…

So we found the hotel. The owner did not speak a word outside of Japan but he knew the two American (...) girls were coming. He gave us a room. We crashed and slept like there was a tomorrow filled with shrines, Japanese people and grins. There was.

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