We arrived late yesterday evening into the largest city on the south island of Kyushu – Fukuoka. Our guide book describes it as one of the most likeable places in Japan and after only one full day pottering around to find the local Tojinmachi Market, the Hakata train station’s post office and to wander through the Canal City we would agree. We’ve fallen completely for the delights of this metropolitan area and its very friendly, helpful and generous people.
When we arrived at our apartment we couldn’t find how to enter the building from the instructions given to locate a secured set of keys. Firstly we had to check we had the right address and fortunately were able to ask a passing elderly and sweetly drunken couple, who were able to do this for us, saying we should come and stay with them whilst we tried to contact our apartment’s hosts. As we were trying to understand this a young man came by and realised we were all struggling to communicate. Yusuke, with his perfect English, stopped in the street where we were all standing. He was on his way home from work at a bank and came to help us in our attempts to find the keys by tethering his phone to ours so we could use his WiFi. Not only did he do this but then took us back to his apartment and poured us a beer whilst we recharged our phones and finally contacted the host. We’re taking Yusuke out for a drink tomorrow and are looking forward to seeing him again as we’ve found a new friend and wish to get to know him better.
Finally we were shown where the keys were secured for the apartment and today started to explore the city. There is much to say of our first impressions of Japan and it is the small things that give the clues to how different it is to other places. For example, the white gloves of bus drivers and ticket inspectors at train stations; the polite air-stewardesses bowing as we departed the tarmac in our coach to the arrivals hall; plastic yellow bunny rabbit balustrades to temporary road work barriers; trays at cash tills to place your money in and to receive your change; pedestrian lights at all road crossings; English speakers and signs; bicycles everywhere being used by mothers and kids, commuters and grandparents; bicycle lanes and bike shops; art shops; wonderful but also entertainingly dreadful architecture.
In an article from September 2006 in The New York Times by Tom Downey, he says of the architecture of Fukuoka that nowhere else has there been such a fascination with Western architecture in Japan. The city and it’s developers hired all the architectural ‘big guns’ through Japan’s prosperous ‘bubble’ period and is one of the best places to see their works side by side. This is very clearly true with some remarkable buildings mapping the architectural shifts in style and fashion over a sustained period of time.
And the bicycles. They’re still in their boxes, as we were distracted by so many things today on our first full day in Japan, to be able to get around to re-assembling them. Tomorrow, this we will do, and start pedalling around the city.