The last time I wrote about Fukuoka I shared my experiences mainly about sumo. As a quick refresher I am yet again sharing my favorite picture that I took at the sumo match in November of 2022:
If you need more of a reminder or haven't checked out my first blog entry about Fukuoka, you can do so here.
My first trip to Fukuoka, I explored the city only. Besides sumo, I remember feeling a little underwhelmed with the largest city in Kyushu. So this time I went in hopes of finding something more. That something more, meant that I needed to leave the city.
This trip was a weekend trip and my ONLY trip of the summer. I had hoped to travel more this summer but there were several factors that got in the way. First, I was infected with COVID for the first time. This is still a mass disabling event and we are currently experiencing a spike with multiple strains (both here in Japan and the U.S., so be mindful!). My experience with COVID was similar to a bad flu: I had a fever, chills, cough, lost my sense of taste and smell, fatigue, shortness of breath, congestion, and I even experienced some hallucinations/brain fog. One evening I heard Steve Buscemi talking to me. I was logically aware that he wasn't in the room with me and I even distinctly remember thinking "Why is Steve Buscemi talking to me?" Needless to say it has been about a month since I got COVID and I am still not feeling back to my whole self. Since I got sick, I missed out on the Fuji Rock Festival (which I had purchased festival and flight tickets for months beforehand!). I was looking forward to see some artists that I really appreciate: Foo Fighters, Lizzo (the allegations against Lizzo came out the day after she was here in Japan), Lewis Capaldi (who had to drop out because of health related things), and Alanis Morissette. Needless to say, I was devastated to miss out on this. Another factor of limited summer travel was due to teachers in Japan not having holidays off. Because I am saving my vacation days for my fall trip back to the U.S., this left me with only the weekends to do some exploring.
Last Friday, I left work early (with time that I had banked from working overtime during the school year) so that I could drive to Fukuoka City. From Miyakonojo, it's about a three and a half hour drive if you take the toll roads (if you avoid the toll roads it takes about seven or eight hours). The tolls to get to the city were about ¥6,300 or about $43.24 (at the time I am writing this). This is why many people opt not to drive the toll roads, but not me! I'd much prefer to get to my destination quicker so that I have more time to explore and rest. Taking the toll roads allowed me to get into the city mid afternoon, get checked into my hotel, and I even had time for a quick nap.
After napping I took the train over to "Best Denki Stadium". Best Denki Stadium hosted some games during the 2019 World Cup, including the France vs. U.S. game. However, today, this is where the "Avispa Fukuoka" soccer team plays. Avispa is Spanish for "wasp". Before you ask, I'm not sure why they have a Spanish name. However, I will say that if you look into different Japanese sports teams they often have English names. For example, take a look at the teams in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) (the Japanese equivalent of the MLB).
When I got to the stadium I was surprised that the food and drink stalls inside did not accept cash payment. This is the first time I have encountered this problem since moving to Japan. In many cases, Japan is still a cash based society. Since I don't have any form of Japanese credit or debit card, I ended up using my American credit card and purchased one chuhai for the game. I then awkwardly found my way to my seat. Initially I didn't realize that my seat was in the very first row! My only complaint was that there were railings in the way, so the entire time I had to hunch over or stretch myself to peer over for the best views.
The Avispa mascots. Click on the arrow above for the bow →
The Avispas ended up losing the game to "Albirex Niigata" with a final score of 1-0. This was my second experience watching professional sports in Japan (the first being sumo back in November) so I was quite surprised by a few things. For starters, the crowd never boos. If they are upset with a ref, a player, or a play they will make a quick noise of disappoint and move on. Second, they water the field during halftime. I don't remember ever seeing this happen in the U.S. So I googled it and didn't get a definite answer if it is in fact a practice in America. To me, this seems dangerous. However, the reasoning behind this practice is it makes the ball go faster and creates a more intense environment. Finally, the players and mascots all bow at the end of the game. Afterwards, I took the train back to the hotel and had a very late dinner of gyoza.
The following day I stayed in the city. I walked over to Canal City and enjoyed some lunch at a Hawaiian restaurant and did a bit of shopping. In the afternoon, I headed back to the hotel to freshen up (have I mentioned how hot the summers in Japan are?) before heading back out to take a bus to "PayPay Dome". This is where the SoftBank Hawks play baseball. The Hawks are one of twelve professional baseball teams in Japan and they are the only team based in Kyushu. They are also a good team! Their most recent championship win was in 2020. So, as you can imagine, there is a huge SoftBank Hawks following in my
Seeing a baseball game in Japan has been on my bucket-list. I have never been a baseball fan and quite frankly I think it's boring. However, baseball is the all-American sport, that Japan has perfected. After moving here, I can understand why they are so good at baseball. The baseball players, starting from a young age, are out on the field all day, every day. (If you talk to my friend she will gladly tell you how exhausting it is living next to a baseball field here.) So, I have been excited to experience baseball culture. I even bought a shirt to blend in with the other fans!
WOW! The difference between the soccer game and the baseball game was remarkable. For starters, the game grabbed my attention right away because the Hawks managed to hit a home run in the first inning. Also, PayPay Dome is a great stadium. This is coming from someone who had the worst seat you could get (back row of the outfield). However, the dome is completely enclosed and it was air conditioned! So throughout the game I was comfortable. Additionally there are so many food and drink options, that accept cash. They had some chains such as KFC, Dippin' Dots and Mos Burger (a Japanese restaurant chain). They also had some Japanese food like yakiniku, soba and okinomiyaki. There were also several beer options, however, I was excited because Kirin beer had a big presence in the stadium so they had many different flavors of chuhai that I enjoyed throughout the game. In addition to the food stalls, they also had vendors walking around selling food. Just like American baseball games! Unlike America, all of these vendors are young, attractive women and they don't yell to get attention. They will, instead, stand there and raise their hand while they scan the audience. I successfully ordered a もも (peach) chuhai and had a VERY small conversation with one of the vendors. It was a personal win!
The Hawks beat the Lions with a final score of 3-2. Overall I enjoyed the atmosphere at the Hawks game a lot, I would even be interested in going back! During the seventh inning stretch, the audience blew up balloons with noise makers on the end and released them. Just like the soccer game, the players and mascots bowed. Because they won, their was an entire ceremony after the game that included the star players getting some small gifts and they all exited on a red carpet. My favorite part of the ceremony was that the mascots bowed so far that they were laying face down on the field. It looked adorable!
The following day, I checked out of the hotel early because I wanted to get out of the city to do some exploring, I had four destinations in mind.
The first destination was Nanzoin Temple located in Sasaguri. It is home to the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. Buddha can be seen reclining with his head resting on his right hand. Laying down, the statue measures 134 feet long and is 36 feet tall. Because I got there right when it opened, I had the time to honor and live in the moment with just me and this giant statue. It felt really special.
The heat and humidity caused my camera to fog up (both my mirrorless camera and the camera on my phone!). So I was lucky to get the pictures that I did. I spent quite a bit of time in post production to get these particular captures looking good. For the remainder of the day, all of my pictures showed water spots. This happened to me once before with my Nikon D3500 when I went on my cross country trip back in the Spring of 2021. The humidity in Louisiana was not kind to my camera. Anyway, I do hope to visit Nanzoin Temple again and get a second attempt at capturing it's essence. There were also several other statues and smaller shrines throughout the temple that I didn't even attempt to capture.
After Nanzoin it was time to go to the coast! So I had to head back towards the city to reach the ocean. I visited a shrine with a white torii gate called Sakurai Futamigaura in Itoshima. The gate was built to honor deities Izanagi and Izanami who are believed to have played an important role in the creation of the world. Before this summer I was unfamiliar with Izanagi and Izanami, but, interestingly enough, one of my students is talking about the two deities in their upcoming speech for the English Speech Contest.
The two rocks behind the torii gate are connected by a rope which is believed to be good luck for happy and healthy relationships/marriage.
I didn't have a swimsuit on but I still decided to go into the water, at least up to my knees. August is known as jellyfish season here in Japan so I had to be extra careful. The water was really clear, calm and warm, though, so I wasn't too worried about running into a jelly.
Afterwards, I headed back inland to a sketchy road that lead up to Shiraito Falls. Because it was a sunny weekend day the area was pretty packed. They even had traffic guides in the street dictating where to go. I ended up getting stuck in a parking lot that was at the bottom of a mountain. I didn't realize at the time, but there was a better side to park for people interested in going to the waterfall. Instead I had a 25 minute hike that was all up hill on a very narrow road with little room to avoid oncoming traffic. The entire time I had to keep moving or else I would have turned around, I was completely out of breath. On top of that, I was the only crazy person attempting the hike, so I had doubts that I was even going the correct way. But alas, I wound up in an overcrowded parking lot (where I should have been from the start) and was able to make my way to the river.
People were crowded along both sides of the fast flowing water. I was surprised and a bit confused with the amount of people fishing. I continued all the way up to the waterfall and passed by a small child who happily greeted me with a "konnichiwa" and then right afterwards a "hello!". I found a place to take some very quick pictures (there were people everywhere, less than ideal nature environment) and then headed back through the stalls that lined the outside of the parking lot. Here, I discovered that there were bamboo shoots set up with running water for people to wash the fish they caught. They could also cook and eat the fish at tables. This helped me understand why it was such a popular spot. People could catch and eat the fish right on the spot. It doesn't get anymore fresh than that.
Once I made it back to the car, I headed to the last destination: The Great Kannon of Mercy Statue, another Buddhist temple. This temple is located in the city of Kurume in Fukuoka and cost ¥500 (or about $3.45) to enter.
Kannon is the goddess of mercy. Her legend comes from China where she is called "Guanyin" and is believed to be a protector or savior for human suffering. In all cases, Kannon statues are large and meant to be seen from multiple locations. The one in Fukuoka is no different. I had first discovered the statue while riding in the car with my friends on the highway while we came back from Nagasaki this past Spring. Even from the toll road, you could tell that the statue is massive. She is about 203 feet tall!
In addition to the statue there is a Buddhist temple next to it that is modeled after the Bodh Gaya. The Bodh Gaya is a temple in India where it is believed that Siddhartha obtained enlightenment.
After grabbing some captures of both structures, I entered the Kannon statue. Inside there is a spiral staircase that leads all the way to the top of the statue. From there, you can peer out some very tiny windows and get a 360° view of Kurume City. After just completing an intense-to-me hike about an hour prior, my legs became a bit shaky from the 203 feet of stairs!
Following the stairs, you are then directed through a set of underground paths that eventually lead you back to the ground floor of the temple. Here, there is a museum of heaven and hell. I am not really sure what was going on in the museum, everything was in Japanese. However, there was a bunch of different statues that were encrusted with various crystals. In the hell part of the museum, I got too freaked out to even enter. I was the only person around, and I could hear things moving inside. I walked through the doorway and was immediately greeted by a very large, angry looking deity or demon of something staring at me in a barely lit room. I "noped" so fast that I exited the museum without a second thought. However, I do plan to visit this temple again with my friends when we inevitably go to sumo again this coming November.
The walls of the hallways exiting the museum were painted with interesting and vibrant works of art.
I then began to make my way back home, which was about a two hour drive from Kurume. On my way out I could see Kannon reflecting off of the rear window of the cars in front of me for several blocks! I wish I could have taken a picture of it because it felt super spiritual and powerful. How cool would it be to have a large feminine energy protecting the city you live in? The most famous Kannon statue in Japan is located in the city of Sendai which is in Miyagi prefecture. I plan on visiting her when I visit Miyagi this fall! Until next time. :)