Friday, March 23, 2012

A ramen-fueled expedition through Japan

So let's start with some break-dancing robots:

A special performance from Fukuoka's Robosquare.

As some of you may know, last month I hopped a plane to Japan with Stephanie and Christine for our winter break. It was a really wonderful trip. We went to Fukuoka, Okinawa, and Saga. I got to see an old friend, make a lot of new ones, eat delicious food (yes, that includes a LOT of ramen), and go from hanging at the beach to chilling in the snow within a day of each other. And, while I'm mentioning opposites, I also stayed in one of the nicest houses I've ever been in followed immediately by a brief stint at what was (hands down) the sketchiest hostel I've ever laid eyes on.

Fukuoka style ramen
Fukuoka (福岡) is the largest city on the island of Kyushu - which is the most southern of Japan's four main islands. After we flew into Fukuoka, we had a day to kill before we headed to Okinawa. It was a very cool city, both figuratively and literally. It's much too big of a city to see it all in a day or even a week but, dispute a few public transportation related mishaps, we tried our best to at least hit a few of the highlights. Amoung other places, we visited Seaside Momochi Park, Fukuoka Castle, Tenjin, and a local fish market.
Fukuoka Tower from Momochi Park
The old guardhouse from Fukuoka Castle
Stephanie with a wolf shrine at a random temple we stumbled upon while looking for dinner
Also, there was some definite Chopper action on this trip. As far as Japan is concerned, Chopper is the man (and I guess Hello Kitty is the woman?)

Okinawa was probably my favorite place that we visited. Of course, the fantastic sunny weather and beautiful beaches may have swayed my opinion a bit. I stuck my feet in the Pacific, had some of the most amazing sashimi I've ever eaten, and CLIMBED ALL THE THINGS!!!
Warm enough to wear a t-shirt, but not quite warm enough to go swimming...
So GOOD!!!
We found a random rope obstacle course in a park and things immediately devolved into a race to the top.
Climbing the lava rocks at Maeda Cape. It was so beautiful there!
In a funny little bit of serendipity, Glenn Scott, the teacher I had for my senior Communications Capstone class just happened to be applying for a Fulbright in Japan at the same time I was applying to go to Taiwan. (Sidenote: If you're interested, the Comm Thesis paper I wrote for that class was recently published here: Anyhow, he's currently a visiting scholar at the University of the Ryukus in Okinawa and, since he and his family are awesome, they let us stay with them for a few days. Dr. Scott is a great tour guide, his wife is a fantastic cook, and he even took us to a few of his classes so we could get to know some of his students.
At the top of Zanpa Cape Lighthouse with Glenn
Getting ramen for dinner with some of the super interesting girls from Glenn's American Culture class
When one of Glenn's other students, Sato, took us to the American Village, we decided to challenge ourselves with Blue Seal's famous ice cream mountain. Sato told us it has always been a dream of hers to attempt it but she had never been able to convince anyone else to go for it. Naturally, we were happy to oblige. It was 17 scoops of awesome.
Mission completed.

After spending 4 lovely days in the Okinawa sun, we hopped a plane back to Fukuoka to meet up with Christine's long time penpal, Rina, and go on the grand tour of Saga prefecture. Although the two of them had been writing for about 8 years, they had never met, so it was really fun to witness them finally getting together. Despite our major lack of Japanese skills, Rina's family was so warm and welcoming! Their house is lovely and so was the drive through the snowy Japanese country side to get there. It definitely gave me a new found respect for Japanese style architecture. Her grandmother took us to Kyushu castle and to an outdoor hot spring foot bath. Then, the next day, her mother took us to a beautiful temple in Fukuoka. And, everywhere we went, the food was phenomenal!
Kyushu Castle in the snow 
It was cold and I am the quintessential Floridian
Rina and Stephanie at the foot bath 
Tempura and sushi for lunch? Yes, please.  
The temple in Fukuoka
Stephanie and the unicorn-lion (lionicorn?) at the temple

 And here's some photobooth fun we had with Rina and her friend:

I'll leave you with this word to the wise (and follow up to my sketchy hostel comment): If you ever find yourself in Fukuoka, don't stay at the Aloha House Hostel. Seriously. Just don't do it. Even if there are no other options. You'd be better off passing the night at the local Denny's (which, for the record, are super fancy in Japan but still open all night and willing to let you chill indefinitely as long as you keep ordering coffee), a tact which we seriously considered after a very frustrating hour spent talking to the boss and a good look around.

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