Monday, June 14, 2010

IMS and Kashii Shrine

Ena and I had dinner in town on Sunday. We didn't really plan anything as it was supposed to rain, but it ended up clearing up in the afternoon so we just hopped on our bikes and went into town.

We ended up at the IMS building. This is one of Fukuoka's big attractions that doesn't look like a big attraction. It is probably the only thing that rates a mention in the big Lonely Planet type English guidebooks in Fukuoka that I haven't posted something about on the blog.

This is probably because on the outside it just looks like any other office building in town. On the inside though it is a giant mega shopping mall with 14 floors wrapped around a central open space:
We went up to the top 3 floors which is where they have the restaurants. There are a lot to choose from, we went for one of the health food options. We got seats next to the window which had some really great views of the city:
We could watch the sunset as we ate:
And the lights of the city came alive as it got darker and darker:
On the very top floor there is a "sky garden"which we went up to after dinner. We had the place all to ourselves:
We could see the city from up there too:
Today we had a day off too and went over to Kashii shrine. We stopped at a cafe along the way and had cakes. My dad and I had gone to this same place when he visited last year. In the summer though you can sit on the sidewalk and enjoy the tree-lined boulevard:
Kashii shrine was nice as usual:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I had two brushes with death today

Summer is now upon us and if, like us, you live in southern Japan next to a wooded area that means one thing: giant, poisonous bug season.

I had two separate run-ins with large poisonous insects today, which quite frankly scared the crap out of me though in fairness only one of them had enough poison to kill me.

The first was in the morning when I went to the window to shake some sand out of my backpack. While I was there I met up with a Vespa mandarinia japonica, or as it is commonly known, the "Japanese giant hornet".

In Canada we think of bees and hornets as hazards but not life threatening hazards unless you are allergic to them. The Japanese giant hornet, however, is a totally different species. It has a wingspan of about 6 cm and is about the size of a hummingbird. And it kills about 40 people a year here. As wikipedia says:

"It has a very potent venom which is injected from the 6.25 millimetres (0.246 in) stinger and attacks the nervous system and damages tissues of its victims."

And guess what! They've made a nest in the trunk of a tree near our building! Lovely!

So anyway, usually these things keep away from me and I keep away from them. But as I'm shaking out the bag one of these things buzzed me and looked like it wanted to come in the window with me. I fell over backwards in sheer terror and slammed the screen shut so hard I almost broke it.

Then this afternoon when I came home from work I discovered a massive mukade, or "Japanese giant centipede" on our doorstep. Again, in Canada we don't think of centipedes as big hazards, mainly because we don't have ones FIFTEEN CENTIMETRES LONG! Oh, and poisonous too of course, though their venom isn't strong enough to kill an adult human (it will screw you up royally though - the poison attacks the whole body and it can take weeks to recover from one).

I've had run ins with these before too, but never one so big as this one. They like moist places and I think it was under one of my planters when I startled it or something. You would think that, caught out in the open on a flat slab of concrete as it was I would have no trouble just stepping on it to kill it. You would be wrong. I brought my shoe-clad foot square down on it with all my might, but it just ran off like nothing had happened. It went under a blue garbage can, which I then removed and delivered the coup de gras, which was absolutely disgusting.

I didn't have my camera ready for either of these encounters so no pictures (the smashed up centipede carcass wasn't particularly photogenic).

This is what the Japanese giant centipede looks like though (this is about the same size as the one I dealt with): LINK

And here is a cheerful article from National Geographic about our hornet neighbors which reassuringly tells us that they have venom "which is powerful enough to disintegrate human flesh": LINK

So I am now in full-blown paranoia mode. First thing tomorrow morning it is off to the store to buy every single insect poison ever made.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Circuit around Shikanoshima

The weather wasn't too bad yesterday - warm and hazy but with no rain. So we decided to head over to Shikanoshima island with a picnic.

We've been to Shikanoshima a lot of times before but yesterday we decided to take a ride along a coastal road that does a full circle around the entire island.
From a cyclist's point of view, Shikanoshima isn't as pleasant as Nokonoshima, the other big island in Hakata bay. This is mainly because Shikanoshima is connected to the mainland by a spit of land and a bridge while Nokonoshima can only be accessed by ferry. This means that on Nokonoshima there is virtually no vehicular traffic. So on Nokonoshima you don't have to be constantly looking over your shoulder while riding on the roads and (more importantly) the roads themselves are rather quaint country roads that blend in well with the scenery.

Shikanoshima's roads on the other hand get a fair amount of vehicular traffic on the weekends. This in turn has invited a lot of unsightly "improvements" such as massive concrete retaining walls that mar a lot of the island's natural beauty. These "improvements" did not, unfortunately, include a paved shoulder so we had to battle it out with traffic. Fortunately the speed limit is 40km/h and the traffic goes quite slow, so it wasn't particularly stressful.

That said, the road does offer a lot of really great views of both the open sea (north and east) and Hakata Bay (south and west).
We got off the busy road at the northern part of the island to do a little walking along the beaches up there:
After coming around a corner we discovered what all the traffic was there for: the obligatory big beach resort hotel:
The beach was pretty crowded but quite nice (and of course you don't need to be staying at the hotel to enjoy it). We spent an hour or so just enjoying the view and relaxing there:
I walked further along the coast away from the beach and came across some nice rocky coastline:
The water was quite clear:
After that we continued on our loop around the island, stopping to take some pictures here and there:
There is an interesting park that we went past. We didn't feel like climbing up, but I took a picture of Ena in front of it:
This is the Kin'in park, which commemorates Shikanoshima's main claim to fame in Japanese history. In 1784 a peasant was breaking some ground on the site of the present park and discovered a gold seal. The seal had some writing on it indicating it had been a gift from the Han dynasty to an ancient ruler in the Japanese archipelago almost 2000 years ago. This is several centuries before the beginning of recorded Japanese history (they didn't get their writing system until about 1500 years ago) and is the earliest evidence of a Japanese political entity that was organized and strong enough to have some sort of relations with mainland China.

Anyway, shortly after that we completed our loop of the island and went home!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Najima: A (short and incomplete) history

Najima, the little "town" that we live in is today (if I'm perfectly honest) little more than a few rather drab square blocks of Fukuoka's sprawling suburbs. It doesn't have any dramatic coastline or high mountains, nor does it have any particularly interesting sites. It does have an interesting history though. Well, interesting to people like me who live here anyway.

This is how Najima was depicted in the 19th century:
As you can see it was just forested hillside back then. The shrine visible on the right is Najima shrine, which still exists and is just a few minutes walk from our place.

The little island in the foreground has been swallowed up by land reclamation projects and is now just a small hill indistinguishable from the rest of the land.

This here is a print from the Taisho era (1912-1926), which I really like. I've marked Najima's location in roman letters on it:
In the foreground you can see Higashi park, Hakozaki shrine and Kyushu University campus, which all look pretty much the same today (except they are surrounded by lots of tall buildings now). Najima on the other hand was still sparsely populated countryside, though the railroad had made it out there by then.

This is an interesting pre-war photograph of Najima:
The building with the 4 smokestacks was a steam power plant. It survived the war but no longer exists, there is a park on that location now (the only spot in Najima to go from industrial use to green space rather than the other way around!) The hill immediately behind the power plant is the hill that we now live on.

This is another interesting pre-war photo of Najima:
There was a sea-plane tender on the waterfront. The little island visible on the left is the same little island visible in the 19th century print at the top of this post. This is all reclaimed land now with apartment buildings on it.

A very interesting photo from the same location is this one from the early 1930s:
The pilot getting out of the plane is none other than Charles Lindbergh. He came for a little-remembered visit to Fukuoka and landed his plane right here in Najima.

Another important Najima landmark is the Najima bridge, which spans the Tataragawa river. This is what the first Najima bridge looked like in the Meiji era (1868-1912):
This was later replaced by a stone bridge:
That bridge still exists today:
This is probably the most interesting old photo of Najima I've been able to find. It was taken by an American air force plane right after the end of the war as it dropped relief supplies (note the parachutes):
I've numbered a few spots of interest on the above photo to compare with what they look like today. As you can see, even in 1945 Najima was pretty much still open countryside with very few buildings other than the power plant. This is what the numbered points on there look like now:

1: Higashi Najima intersection:
2. These are just some old houses. I include them because after doing a ride around I believe these are the last buildings in the 1945 picture which are still standing:
4: Najima Shrine:
5: Najima bridge:
6: Technically not in Najima, but that is where "Island City", the biggest land reclamation project in Fukuoka, now sits. The biggest site there, visible from miles around, is Island City Tower:
So despite being little more than a few blocks of uninspired urbanscape that people zip past on the train on their way into central Fukuoka, Najima does have a bit of an interesting past.