With winter camp finished, winter vacation periods for foreign English teachers have begun!  For the first part of my trip, I made a trip back to Japan.  Last year my friend Rory and I went to the Kansai region of Japan to visit the old capital city of Kyoto and the food mecca Osaka.  This year, J and I made a trip to the Kyushu island region where we experienced Japanese onsen (hot spring) culture.
 
Even though it was only 4 days, our trip took us to three different cities and dipped into three different prefectures: Fukuoka City in Fukuoka Prefecture, Yufuin in Oita Prefecture, and Kurokawa Onsen in Kumamoto Prefecture.
 
Our first stop in Fukuoka City reminded me so much of why I love Japan.  There’s something about the analog-esque feel of this country that I really love, from the bus stations to the cars on the streets to the local fashion.  You can frequently spot western influences throughout, though they seem as if they’ve been taken from 1970’s North America and England and have since grown into something uniquely Japanese.
 
After arriving at the airport, I quickly grabbed a (highly-anticipated) hot royal milk tea from the convenience store before we hopped our bus into the city.  Once downtown near Tenjin (天神), it was a short eight minute walk to our hotel where we were right on time for check-in.

On a local bus, heading downtown from the airport.



The room was so tiny!  But we’d known to expect that.  In fact, the bathroom almost seemed to be a little capsule installation, as if it was it’s own unit that could be transported on-the-go. I swear our TV was from the early 90’s!  But just like the late 80’s and early 90’s taxis you see all across town, the Japanese don’t seem to fussed about the “latest and greatest” when what they currently have works perfectly fine. 


That’s a bed for two?!
 

Once we were all checked in, we headed out to Canal City Hakata Mall to do a little bit of shopping before dinner.  The mall is beautifully built, and architecturally reminds me a touch of the brutalist style of the Barbican in the UK.  We popped into the famed Raumen Stadium, where ramen shops compete against one another and can lose their tenancy if their sales aren’t high enough!  There was a Japanese arcade as well, where kids under 16 weren’t allowed!  Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and play, but I think it’s a must if you’re ever in Japan.  Arcade culture is alive and thriving here, even for adults!


Outside of Canal City Mall.  Anyone else getting 90’s flashbacks?!


The architecture of this place reminded me a little bit of the Barbican in London.
Also a good example of what I mean when I say Japan has a touch of 1960’s England.
 

We also made a necessary stop in, Sumiyoshi Suhan (住吉酒販) a specialty sake shop for J.  Rows and rows of sake bottles, each with it’s own hand-written label in Japanese, lined the shelves.  The shop was rather unassuming and down a quiet road, yet plenty of sake enthusiasts were tightly shuffling past one another to survey the stock.


I would have walked right past this place if J hadn’t known exactly where he was headed.

 

Sake sake sake sake sake!

 

After our sake pick up, we made a brief stop back at Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine (住吉神社), as it looked pretty lit up at night.  We also walked along the river and snapped a few more photos around the mall, now lit up for the evening.


The gate to Sumiyoshi-jinja, downtown Fukuoka.


The river, downtown Fukuoka.
 

Slowly we made our way back to our hotel to drop things off and go out for dinner.  J had made a reservation for us at Washudokoro Shuho (和酒処 酒峰), in the Haruyoshi area (春吉).  The owner, Tabaru Ryota, and his wife, Chika Jifuku, were exceptional hosts and sake connoisseurs.  They even made an exception for us and allowed us to take photos and videos!  Our meal consisted of some amazing sashimi, fried tofu, and Japanese-style croquetas, as well as a sampling of 6 or 7 different sakes!

Top, from left: sparkling sake, croquetas, fried tofu, and various other sakes we tried.
Bottom: Japanese sashimi!  Finally!
Chika, Tabaru, J, and I behind the bar of Washudokoro Shuho.
 

Our next stop was Jizakeya Bonchan (地酒屋ぼんちゃん), which is owned by the sweetest and most adorable elderly man named Seiji Tanaka.  His logo is a caricature of himself, and he has photos of him and many of his international and local customers throughout his small shop.  While a far more expensive place to drink, we were treated like VIPs and sampled 3 or 4 sakes there.  We also had his Nagasaki-style udon and a very special curry, the sauce of which he makes with high-end sake.


From top left: sake, sake, more sake, J surrounded by sake, udon, and curry made with sake.
Lower left photo: Outside of Jizakeya Bonchan, with the owner’s logo.


J and I with the owner, Seiji Tanaka.  His logo looks just like him!


The final location of the night was Sake Dining Sagakura (さが蔵), owned by Kenichiro Murai.  His bar features sakes exclusively from breweries in Saga Prefecture.  The crowds were much more lively here, with most patrons coming exclusively to drink.  We were also given a plate of sashimi as our otoshi (お通し), which is like a small, free side dish that you get to off set the “cover charge” on the bill.

Check out all those sake bottles behind me (at Sagakura).


More.  Sake.  Also, was cool to get sashimi as otoshi.  I can get behind that!


We had 4 more sakes here before finally making our way home for the evening.  Next stop, Yufuin!


Read about our following day in Yufuin HERE!