Sunday, January 24, 2010

Club de H, Fukuoka Art Gallery, Hakata Tower

Ena and I had a day off together yesterday and the weather was warm and sunny so we cycled into town. One thing that definitely appeals to me about Fukuoka is that even in January you can do stuff like this.

We had lunch at this really good restaurant called "Club de H" in Tenjin. Tenjin is a pretty cool place, its basically a huge maze of narrow alleys and tiny streets that were probably laid out centuries ago. It is the heart of the city and these narrow alleys are full of interesting shops and restaurants. It is massively difficult to navigate in a car, but on a bike or on foot these alleys are quite fun to explore.

Club de H is on one of these narrow streets. Actually, it isn't even on the alley, you have to go down an alley off the street just to get to the front, it would be almost impossible to find if you didn't know where it was beforehand. This is what it looks like from the street:
It is a really nicely designed place though, this is us in front:
(that is a lollipop and NOT a cigarette in Ena's mouth!):
Despite the French sounding name they serve Italian food, which was fantastic (despite my expression, I don't know why I still insist on making strange faces for the camera):
We got a four course meal (salad, soup, main course and desert) with drinks for a total bill of about $25 for the two of us. Another reason I love Fukuoka - the tons of high quality but reasonably priced restaurants.

After the restaurant we headed over to the Fukuoka City Art Gallery, which is located in Ohori park. They have some interesting statues outside, including a flying rabbit:
A giant yellow pumpkin:
And me (on temporary exhibition):
You aren't allowed to take pictures inside the museum, though we took this one next to the entrance:
They have a surprisingly good collection of stuff at the Gallery. The first floor has a selection of ancient Japanese art including some letters by the famous16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu. His main claim to fame is that Toyotomi Hideyoshi - perhaps the most powerful man in Japanese history who united the country - ordered him to commit ritual suicide after discovering that Rikyu's name was inscribed on a gate through which Hideyoshi had passed (meaning that Hideyoshi had walked "beneath" Rikyu), which I guess was a bit of a slight.

They also had a very nice collection of modern art on the second floor, including some works by the likes of Andy Warhol and Salvadore Dali. It was a really fun way to spend a couple of hours!

On the way home we stopped at Hakata Port Tower to watch the sunset over the city, Hakata bay and the islands:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Snow in Najima

We have been hit by a Siberian cold front this week that has left the city cold and miserable! This morning it was snowing buckets - a rare occurrence here - and so I decided to abandon my plans to ride into campus. Instead I grabbed my camera and went for a walk around Najima, the "town" that we now live in.

There are two hills in Najima that would have dominated the area a hundred years ago. Today you could drive through and never even realize the two hills were there since they've been hidden behind all the apartment buildings and elevated highways that dominate the scenery today. Nonetheless, the hills still exist.

We live on one of these hills. Our hill is basically just covered with houses and trees and does not have anything of historical interest on it (to the best of my knowledge it doesn't even have a name, at least not one that appears on the maps).

The other hill, which is just across the street from ours, has a long history however. In the 9th century a shrine was dedicated to Benzaiten, the goddess of fortune, on top of that hill. In the 16th century a castle was built next to the site of the shrine by the feudal lord who ruled this realm, though it was only used for a few years before Fukuoka castle became the region's main castle.

There isn't much left of the castle today (though you can see the castle's layout), but the hill still has a pretty big shrine on it.

There are a few ways to approach the shrine, today I chose the west entrance. You go up some stairs and then go down this long path to the tori:
The shrine entrance:
The shrine has a pair of guardian dogs (shi shi):
And some cute red lanterns:
And a little stone pagoda:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

Well, 2009 and the first decade of the 21st century have officially come and gone. It was a pretty damned good decade for me, I hope the next one will measure up just as well.

In order to ring in the new year, Ena and I headed over to Shikoku to visit the in-laws. We took the Shinkansen for most of the trip:
We had a great meal there:
And got to spend some quality time with the family:
After that we headed back to Fukuoka to ring in the New Year at Hakozaki Shrine. There is a huge festival held there on January 3 each year in which a bunch of near-naked men chase a wooden ball around the shrine grounds while people throw water on them. We showed up to late to see that but went to make a wish for a succesful year anyway. There were a ton of yatai (food stalls) lined up on the long road leading up to the shrine (which was packed with thousands of people) and we stopped at one of the first ones to buy a chocolate banana:
We decided to bring the chocolate banana with us as we made our way towards the shrine proper:
Eventually we got to the end of the line of thousands of people waiting to toss a coin into the Shrine's inner sanctum and make a wish:
It moved pretty quickly though so we got through the final tori in no time, still with our chocolate banana:
A few minutes later we were in the crowd moving into the Shrine's main building, everyone was quite civil and nobody shoved or anything:
We tossed our coin in and posed for some pictures. I've been to this shrine loads of times but usually you can't get inside this part so it was a bit of a novelty to be there:
After that we went and got our Omikuji, litte fortunes that they sell for a couple of hundred yen each:
Mine was "Kichi", which is pretty good and Ena's was "Shokichi", which also wasn't too bad:
That was pretty much the end of our shrine visit, except for eating our chocolate banana friend. We felt bad to do it, having grown attached to her during our day, but were glad that she got to experience a new year's shrine visit - something few chocolate banana's get to do in their short lives.