Last known location: London, England

Last Stop Hakata

Our final stop in Japan was Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu in the South West of the country. It’s a modern city, with fewer sights to see than most places in Japan, so we didn’t have too much to cram into our last few days. Our hostel in the Hakata district was one of the most traditional we’ve had in Japan so far; we had to take our shoes off when we came in, and our room had tatami matting on the floor and a futon each for us and the four others sharing the room.

On our first night we headed to Nakasu, the entertainment district of the city to have a look around. Surprisingly, something we’ve struggled with in Japan is finding a bar to sit and have a drink! Because everything is so compact, bars, restaurants etc. are often on the upper floors of buildings in the city centres, with just signs outside on the walls to tell you what’s on each floor. This is fine if you can read Japanese! We came a cropper again in Fukuoka thanks to our lack of understanding after we spotted a sign saying ‘Bar’ and headed up to the seventh floor. We found the right place and opened the door to find and very fancy looking place and two men in waistcoats sat smoking who looked quite surprised to see us. After they sorted themselves out we sat down and were handed a warm towel and told that there was a charge of ¥1,000 each (about £8) just for sitting down. We swiftly made our excuses and left!

We gave up our bar hunt and thought we’d have some dinner. Fukouka has hundreds of temporary little outside restaurants called Yatai, which open in the evening with a tiny serving area and maybe a dozen seats, and then disappear again at the end of the night. They all seemed to be full though and it was freezing (maybe more of a summer thing), so we found a cheap noodle restaurant and had Pork Ramen, one of the city’s specialities.

After that we did manage to find a very small bar where all the drinks (except beer) were ¥500 each, a bit of a bargain for Japan, so we thought we’d have a few glasses of red wine. We were slightly concerned that we’d be faced with a huge bill when we came to leave, but the two barmaids, one Japanese and one Korean seemed friendly enough. A Japanese man then came and joined us, and after I’d impressed him with the Spurs videos on my phone he bought us a few Japanese drinks, including Souchu (a potato based spirit) and some kind of Sake liqueur, neither of which were brilliant, but very kind all the same!

We then spotted a very drunk looking western man pass the bar who spotted us through the window and headed in. It turned out he was Australian, so he was crowing about Peter Siddle’s hat-trick on the first day of the Ashes and predicting a 5-0 whitewash as all Aussies do. He claimed to be a former coach of the Queensland Reds rugby team and said he’d been a coach at Saracens for a few months. No idea if any of that was true – he was now coaching corporate teams in Japan, so things can’t have gone that well if it was! He insisted on buying us more wine, and by the time we left at 1am we were slightly the worse for wear!

While we’d been in Fukuoka we’d been hearing all about the 2 week Sumo tournament taking place in the city, one of six held annually, and the only one in this part of the country. The next morning we headed down to the arena and got some tickets for the afternoon’s action. All the Japanese were very enthusiastic, and unlike most sporting events, you could mix with the competitors, who were hanging around backstage, and coming and going from the arena between bouts.

The action was all very ceremonial, with lots of grand announcements, elaborate costumes and various rituals. The actual fights themselves were limited to four minutes, although the first three and a half of each were spent repeatedly sizing each other up then returning to their respective corners. When they finally got started though the action was quite fierce, albeit brief, with some lasting only a few seconds as one fighter dived for the other, missed, and fell out of the ring.

All the fighters are ranked, and as the day went on, better and better sumo wrestlers appeared until the last fight of the day which featured the current champion (Yokozuna) who had won 50+ bouts in a row until a few days previous, against his nearest rival. The underdog was being backed by the crowd but he didn’t manage it, and in the end and everyone trailed out disappointed.

The next morning we packed up and headed down to the ferry terminal. Our next planned stop is Vietnam, but direct flights from Japan cost a minimum of £800 each, so we took a slight diversion via ferry to Busan in South Korea, from where the flights to Hanoi are only £180 each – much more reasonable!

1 Comment:
  1. Rose 30 Nov, 2010

    Those Sumo wrestlers are not a pretty sight are they?!! The shortness of the bouts reminds me of some of the judo matches we used to go to with Al. Seem to remember some of those only lasted a minute or two!!


    Mum x x x

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