Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Random Fukuoka Street Scenes

The new year is upon us. 2011 was a pretty busy year for us. We got a dog. Umh....yeah that alone pretty much explains why we were so busy. Well, I`ve also been much busier with my thesis than I was in 2010 and Ena has been extremely busy with work too, so those also contributed.

Anyway, this is a bit of a melancholy new year for me as in all likelihood it will be our last in Fukuoka. I`ll be graduating in 2012 and in all likelihood wherever I end up working after that will not be here.

Its been three years since we arrived and the place has really grown on me. If you ever get the chance to live somewhere in Japan, make it Fukuoka if you can.

Far and away the thing I will miss most is simply riding my bike around the city and the countryside around it. I haven`t done as much of that this year as in the past (as I said, we got a dog), but just riding around on a bicycle surrounded by interesting things everywhere you go is an experience like no other.

I made a trip into town the other day and brought my camera along with me to photograph some of the random scenery that I pass. On the way in, the Gofukumachi area near the Shofukuji temple has some interesting old shops on very quiet streets:
This alley in Tenjin, which is actually quite close to where Ena works, has always interested me just due to the sheer volume of air conditioners that have been crammed onto the side of that one building:
The details are often what make things interesting:On the way back it is dark. The city looks quite fun after the sun has gone down, especially in Nakasu where the nightlife is kind of bustling:
Whenever possible I like to ride through Nakasu at night, but in all our time here I`ve never actually had a night on the town there. Not surprising I guess given my age and marital status.

This alley here is near Canal City. It is devoid of any interesting architecture so its the type of place nobody ever notices. Whenever I ride by it though I just have to look at it. Somehow the combination of everything in it I find very visually appealing. The distance between the buildings, the amount of dirt on them, the mess of signs and lights - it is like they are all perfectly calculated to look right. Everything is well balanced. Most such alleys don`t get it right. There is always something amiss - too much space between the buildings, not enough lights, a building that has been torn down to make a parking lot - something is always out of place and it ruins the image. This one somehow got everything right though.
This here is a really small shrine on a street in Hakozaki. I love riding past it at night because the neon sign next to it, which is an ad for a shop up the block, illuminates its white roof in a pretty way. Its another one of those pleasant accidents in the placing of objects that gives the city its charm.
This is the Nishitetsu Kaizuka Station. Its an ugly station and the only reason I photographed it is for my own memory. Ena returns home from work there everyday and when I go to meet her I usually wait in the spot from which this photo was taken. Its just another one of those little things that I`m going to miss.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in Fukuoka

Christmas season has arrived in Fukuoka. Ena and I decided to do some shopping last week in the evening so that we could take in the illuminated bits and pieces.
First stop: Daimaru department store
The big illuminated teddy bear and Christmas trees are made of plastic soda bottles. The lettering is done with the bottle caps:
We had dinner at a little cafe on the right of the picture up there. It was kind of nice:
After that we headed over to Keigo park, which is just behind the Mitsukoshi Department store. They have a skating rink (made of plastic, its way too warm here for ice):
Ena has never skated before and my last memory of doing so ended in me falling down and whacking my head on the ice when I was a kid, so we didn`t skate ourselves. It was kind of nice to see though.

We walked around the park a bit, which had a lot of trees and other Christmassy lights:
Got the last of my Christmas shopping done today, all we have to do now is countdown to the big day:
The dog really likes the advent calender.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Tree in the Road

Been a couple of months since I posted anything here. The only excuse I have is that I`ve been busy writing a thesis that was supposed to write itself but has thus far been entirely uncooperative.

I thought I`d once again try to revive the blog with a post about a tree.

Not just any tree. This tree:
This is a side street on Hakozaki campus, not far from the architecture department. I love this tree. Its existence is absolutely mind boggling to me. In any country having a tree growing in the middle of a road would raise a few eyebrows, but in Japan it is virtually unthinkable.

I once had a friend who was an engineer working for the Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure. He explained to me the difference in road building strategies between Japan and Canada.

`In Canada` he explained, `if they come across a hill when building a road, they just build around it. In Japan, we just get rid of the hill.`

An exaggeration to be sure, but anyone who has driven down one of the major expressways here probably knows what he was getting at. Which makes me wonder why they didn`t get rid of this tree when building this road.

Its not a particularly old tree, nor is it an endangered species or anything. Just your standard black pine.
And there it is, blocking traffic. Wonderful. I hope when they move the campus to Ito whoever takes over the land leaves this tree in place. It is probably the coolest thing on campus.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hawks Town Mall: Dead and Loving It

Yesterday I got to see the last regular season game at the Fukuoka Dome. This was courtesy of Ena`s employer, who gave her a pair of tickets. Unfortunately they didn`t give her the day off to go with them, so it was a bit of an empty gesture on their part as she had to work that day.

The seats were great, just behind third base. The Hawks lost the game 2-1, but it didn`t matter much as they had clinched the Pacific League about a month ago. After the game the team did a victory lap to celebrate the pennant win, which was cool to see:
After the game I made my way through the Hawks Town Mall,which is where I parked my bike. The Hawks Town Mall is something of an albatross in the Fukuoka landscape and I`ve been meaning to write something about it for the longest time, so I thought I`d use this post to do just that.
This is the story of what is slowly turning into a `dead mall`. Dead malls - that is to say malls that are either completely or partially empty and abandoned - are a relativly common part of the landscape in North America but they are relatively rare in Japan. Japan of course has tons of abandoned buildings, especially in the countryside, but malls are a relatively new phenomenah here so most haven`t been around long enough to have completely failed yet.
The Hawks Town Mall is pretty new, having opened in 2000. It was part of a larger development of the area on reclaimed land which included the SeaHawk Hotel and the Fukuoka Dome itself. The original plans date back to the late 80s during the height of the bubble when the Hawks first moved to Fukuoka from their old home in Osaka. The overly ambitious early plans envisioned two domes being built, though the second dome was later dropped from the plans.

The whole place was bought by a Singaporean fund, GIC, in 2007 and by the looks of it they have had some trouble trying to keep the Mall running.

I say this because when we arrived in 2008 it was very obvious that they were having trouble finding tenants to fill the place. Back then most of the shops were at least open, but there was an abundance of empty space. It seemed like they were giving massive stores to businesses that only had enough merchandise to fill about half the space they were given. This Hawks souvenir shop I visited yesterday would be one example:
Huge aisles and racks about half full. You almost never see this type of inefficient use of space in Japan, where shops are normally packed to the rafters with almost no elbow room.

Over the years though even this strategy proved incapable of keeping all the shops occupied and boarded up storefronts began to appear.
By the time I visited yesterday, it was apparent that the problem was spiralling out of control. Empty shops were everywhere.
Wandering around I discovered that a couple of entire wings of the mall had been closed off:
Behind the temporary screens, dozens of store sit empty and silent:The Hawks Town Mall has two floors and before these wings were closed off it had a rather sprawling layout. Just about everywhere you go you see bits where they have closed hallways off: I`m not sure why the mall has done so poorly. It is one of three major mall projects in Fukuoka. The first one, Canal City, is doing quite well and in fact just expanded. The second one, Marinoa, is having problems. It used to have the largest ferris wheel in Japan, but a few months ago the thing collapsed while workers were disassembling it, crushing a few cars and damaging a hotel attached to the mall.

Canal City, it should be noted, is in a very busy part of town right next to the Nakasu entertainment district, so it has no problem getting people in the doors. Hawks Town Mall and Marinoa, on the other hand, are in much less convenient locations on the periphery of town and neither has a direct subway or train link, which probably explains part of their problems. If you visit the Hawks Town Mall on a day when the Hawks aren`t playing a home game it is likely to be almost completely deserted. It also doesn`t help much that Hawks Town, despite what the tourist information says, is not a particularly interesting piece of architecture. While a lot of people don`t like it, Canal City at least has the benefit of looking interesting and having a lot of flair in its design. Hawks Town Mall is, in contrast, your typical cheaply made piece of functional dreck that most malls are built like. And the shopping isn`t particularly good either, other than a Toys R Us its largest shops seem to mostly be ones selling Hawks souvenirs, which do all their business on days when the Hawks have home games (less than 80 days a year) and are of limited interest to anyone the rest of the time.

Anyway, if you enjoy that sense of schadenfreude at seeing big, ill-conceived mega projects that have failed completely - a trip to the Hawks Town Mall is for you!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Resurrecting the Blog

Its been about 3 months since I updated this blog, which is skirting the edge of `dead blog` territory.

Part of the lack of posting has been time related - I`ve been quite busy lately. Another part has been dog related - since we got the dog we haven`t taken as many day trips as we used to and those were the type of thing I used to blog about here the most so without them, my blog material sort of dried up.

Anyway, I really like this blog so I thought I should post something - anything - to keep it afloat for at least a little while longer!

On the weekend Ena and I had a good day off together, which provided me with a little something to write about. October is a really great month in Fukuoka, the weather is perfect. We had lunch at this restaurant in Tenjin Central Park that is located in a historical building, pictured at the top of this post.
We had been meaning to eat there ever since we moved here 3 years ago but never seemed to find the best opportunity so we just said `screw it, we`re trying this place`. It was quite nice, they have a good lunch set which is reasonably priced. The interior is pretty cool too, very Meiji retro.

After that we cycled over to Ohori Koen where we rented a rowboat and did a half hour spin around the lake.
Ena let me take over the oars after a bit:
Hard to imagine a better place to be than in a rowboat on a pleasant lake in the park on a nice sunny day. All in all a very nice day!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Putting Stickers on Bikes and the Chiba Lotte Marine's Bus

The rainy season has finally finished and we had our first weekend with some sunny weather so the two of us headed downtown yesterday sans dog.
Ena suggested inaugurating my new bike with some stickers. So we went to the loft and I chose a sheet of 1970s style Marvel Super Hero faces:
And Ena got some penguins for hers:
I put Iron Man on mine:
and Ena put the penguins on hers:
I got a whole bunch of points on my card at Bic Camera when I bought my new bike, so we stopped there so I could splurge on some more bike swag:
My bike now has its own computer with speedometer, odometer, clock, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

We went for a pretty nice, though hot, bike ride out to Marinoa and back. On the return trip we rode past the Fukuoka Dome, where a game had just ended. The visiting team (Chiba Lotte Marines) were just leaving the stadium via their team bus as we rode by.
We noticed the crowd of fans swarming around and joined them for a few minutes:
Watching people slowly get on a bus one by one isn't a particularly entertaining activity so we only hung around for a couple of minutes.

We stopped for dinner on the way back at an outdoor patio along the river in Nakasu.
Its the perfect place to rest after a long hot summer's day:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Got M'self a New Bicycle Today.

If seven time Tour de France champion and suspected dope fiend Lance Armstrong were to come up to me one day and ask:

"Sean, tell me about your new bike. Describe it for me in three words or less."

I would say to him:

"Well, Lance, thanks for asking. The three words that would best describe it are: very, very yellow.''

And that would probably be the end of the conversation.
I didn't intend to buy a new bicycle when I woke this morning. I was supposed to spend this sunny day entirely in my study room looking at a computer screen.

Thankfully on my way in my old bicycle suddenly broke down. A spoke on the back wheel snapped, making a huge bang. The wheel started to wobble after that and the thing became un-rideable. This is the third time that bike has suffered a broken spoke for no apparent reason.

I took it to the nearest repair shop and they said it'll take them 2-3 weeks to fix it, which is what it usually takes them.

After leaving it there and pondering 2-3 weeks without wheels for a second, I decided it was time to get a new bike.

I've noticed that in Higashi Ku everyone rides really boring bikes. Functional and colorless. We are not a stylish people, us Higashi Ku-ians.

Go downtown though and it is wall to wall hep cats riding much cooler looking bikes. Sleek, colorful and smoove. I've always wanted one of them stylish bikes the city folk downtown ride. So I decided to get on the train and go around to some of the hep cat bike shops in Tenjin to see what they had.

I went to a few. I eventually decided on this one. Its just so...very very yellow. The grips on the handlebars are very very yellow:
The seat is very very yellow:
Even the chain is very very yellow:
It provides a refreshing contrast with my shoes, which are very very blue:
And if you ride it on those yellow bits of the sidewalk for blind people, it becomes completely camouflaged when viewed from above. Very useful if you are being chased by a helicopter:
This thing is the complete opposite of my old bike, which is all black and gray. On the down side my new very very yellow bike doesn't have a basket or fenders, so it can't completely replace the old one, which will still be doing shopping duties. This one weighs about half as much and I can go much much faster on it than can possibly be safe for me, so I'll just use it for high speed chases and that sort of thing.