Thanks to my Dad’s work travel, I found myself in Japan again in May, and once again reunited with my parents. The trip started in beautiful Fukuoka, a relatively small seaside city in the south of Japan, famous for its baseball team – the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The trip got off to an exciting start when I realised I was stopping off in South Korea on the way over (it was less exciting when I realised the terminal was 800m long and the stopover was 3 hours, but I still got some nice photos from the plane on the way in).
Other than my taxi from Fukuoka airport crashing into a cyclist on the way to the hotel – after checking on the lady, the driver got back in and assured me ‘it’s okay’ – all the travel went smoothly. Our hotel was situated right next to the sea and the Fukuoka Dome (home to the Sea Hawks), which gave us a perfect view over the city and its two main centres.
Since living and breathing China, travelling to Japan always makes me very aware of my identity as a tourist foreigner – not because of their unstable relations but because I’m once again thrown in the deep end with no language skills to speak of. I tried to speak in Mandarin to an embarrassing number of people (it’s my automatic “panic I’m in a foreign country” language now), which made me look a little crazy (or at best a confused, stupid tourist) but at least made me realise how far I’d come with my Chinese skills.
On the other hand, visiting Japan also gives me a sense of peace – I now associate it with spontaneous trips to see my family, and about the possibilities that travel offers us. Asia is truly a magnificent part of the globe and Japan and its people have been nothing but good to us whenever we’ve visited. I’m only sorry that I can’t return the courtesy of being able to communicate fully in their language in return! The best I could do was to learn some of their characters which came in handy when communicating with the entry guards at Universal Studios, Osaka (more later).
My Mom and I spent our first full day together wandering by foot around the city. Our aim was to get to the Tenjin Uniqlo, and on the way we stumbled across Fukuoka’s beautiful Ohori Lake, and the old castle ruins. Ohori Lake is a large and incredibly peaceful area, surrounded by a running track and also a little Japanese garden. Filled with luscious and beautifully manicured foliage, with delicate bridges surrounding a pond jewelled with Koi Carp, it was the perfect way to spend some time in the sun.
We has definitely been spoilt by the magnificent Osaka Castle in our expectations as the Fukuoka castle ruins were much less exciting. It did however provide us with a high vantage point as so work out our progress on our trip, and also gave us a great view of our hotel and the Dome. From here on in, it only took another 30 minutes of walking to get to the main city centre. Apparently, Fukuoka was ranked 10th of the world’s most livable cities in Monocle magazine in 2014, and our half a day of exploring has thus far confirmed this.
The road to Tenjin was tree-lined and home to many boutique art shops and cafes. After we reached our destination and did a spot of shopping, we were walking back to the hotel to give our poor feet a rest in the lounge with champagne and nibbles. Our next day was similar – we explored Hakata and got wise to Fukuoka’s subway system while improving our knowledge of the city. Our dinner was unfortunately not very cultural (we went to a Hard Rock Cafe near the hotel) but the pulled pork burger was divine!
Our next (and my final) stop in Japan was the fantastic city of Osaka. Having visited in November, we tried to fill the tourist gaps by visiting the other main attractions the city has to offer. This included visiting the Osaka Aquarium, and Universal Studios the next day. Unfortunately, we didn’t love the aquarium – whilst it is very famous we felt it was a little dated and that the tanks felt too small for the wonderful creatures inhabiting them. It was also a nightmare to find, so our evening drinks were well deserved by the time we made it home!
Our next day took us to Universal Studios. This was not only a lot of fun, but also really interesting as we soaked up the Japanese culture, seamlessly amalgamated with US influence to make for a very unique experience. Upon recommendation we purchased the fast-pass option (this was when my rudimentary Chinese/Japanese writing came into play) before entering the park. We experienced outer space, went back to the future, and even caught a glimpse of Jaws before making our way to Harry Potter land, complete with Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.
I was so envious of the little kids, for whom all this was evidently real. Hogsmeade held all the shops from the books, and while we waited for our slot for the Harry Potter ride we went into Ollivander’s Wand Shop. In a mix of Japanese and English, “Ollivander” picked a volunteer and helped her find the perfect wand (filled with broken vases and other disasters when she picked the wrong ones). The girl was obviously terrified when she “broke” the vase and then equally delighted when her magic trick worked when she finally found the right wand. My Mom and I only hoped that she was given the wand for free and that she wouldn’t have to pay £18(!) for it like everyone else.
Dressing up to visit Harry Potter land is obviously very popular, but we were shocked to see that the cloaks/gowns were selling for £65 a piece. My Durham one is nicer and cost a third of the price! The highly anticipated Harry Potter ride (we were given a slot of 30 minutes to use our fast-pass to skip the 210 minute long queue) was great until it broke down as we faced a fire-breathing dragon. It was a panicked few minutes as we got hotter and hotter as the dragon breathed more and more steam at us while we dangled. The good news was that when we finished the ride, we were able to get another go straight away without queuing. I took advantage of this while my Mom cooled down a little.
For my final dinner, we sought out the same teppanayaki restaurant that we visited upon my first visit to Japan. This was where the wonderful chopsticks photo was taken, and where cheese fondue is an integral part of the menu. It was a fantastic way to spend our last night together before we’re reunited on home soil (wow!) in July. One month tomorrow…