On the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka Ferda and I met a young Japanese woman who was returning to her country after two years on the road. One of the things that she missed most was nato. Indeed it is very difficult to get nato outside of Japan, and I was looking forward to tasting it again as well. So the first thing that Ferda ended up eating on her first trip to Japan was a nato roll! A tad unusual, I imagine. If you don’t know, well, nato is fermented soybeans which are kind of sticky and extremely stringy. When you take nato with your chopsticks, there’s always a long thin string of nato paste that seems to stretch infinitely. It’s interesting stuff.
Welcome to Kyushu! After a visit to an ATM and the aforementioned nato rolls — both taken care of at a 7-11 — we started our one day of sightseeing in Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city. It’s all fairly exciting your first day in Japan.
Fukuoka Castle ruins
As we were looking for a bicycle shop to buy a spare tire, we ran into Arman from Turkey whose mother lives quite near us in Antalya! Arman ended up being the only Turk we met in five weeks cycling in Kyushu (yes, I’m unfortunately so behind in writing this that I already know that). Before leaving the city, I wanted to try Fukuoka’s specialty, Hakata Ramen, and Arman knew just the place.
He then took us on a quick tour of Fukuoka’s very nice Ohori Park.
That’s the only photo I have of Arman. He’s following Ferda across the bridge.
Our second day in Japan was a Sunday. That seems to be the day that the Japanese flock to the shrines. We found the crowds in Dazaifu.
The long line in this photo is to touch the ox statue:
It must be more important than these two ox statues which you could touch with no waiting:
The story goes that when the exiled (from Kyoto to Kyushu) poet, Michizane, died, his body was carried by an ox. When the ox couldn’t go any farther, Michizane was buried, and a shrine was constructed there. That’s this Shinto Shrine, Dazaifu, dedicated to Michizane. Or something like that.
In five weeks Ferda and I visited quite a few Shinto shrines and learned a very little about Shintoism. A single shrine can be dedicated to or used to worship many things. It’s mostly about nature — streams, trees, rocks, mountains — but shrines can also be dedicated to important people, like poets apparently. People pray or ask for different things at different shrines. The Japanese (or at least the ones we saw at the shrines) seem fairly dedicated to this on the weekends.
Ferda and I learned even less about Buddhism while we were in Japan even though we visited a few temples. After Dazaifu we pushed on the same day to the Buddhist Temple at Nanzoin, home of (perhaps) the largest reclining Buddha in the world.
In addition to the huge reclining Buddha we found a number of other interesting statues around the site.
It was a very fun ride over the mountains from Nanzoin to Iizuka on roads with no traffic. For lunch we were hoping for the first sushi of the trip. Being Fukuoka, however, all we found was ramen, this time with gyoza.
Crossing another set of small mountains brought us to Soeda where I was excited to see Ganjaku Castle. It was closed, but I managed this photo:
At the grocery store we ran into sweet Miyako who graciously invited us to her house for lunch. What’d she fix? you’re wondering. Ramen, of course!
Miyako lives with her 90-year-old mother, has two grown kids who live far away, and speaks good English. When Ferda mentioned that she was thinking about buying a kimono before leaving Japan, Miyako went to another room and came back with bundles of her mother’s kimonos which mostly hadn’t been used in years. Both Miyako and her mother insisted on Ferda taking one (or more, but we said one was more than enough). Ferda, Miyako, and her mother all enjoyed looking through the kimonos and having Ferda try them on.
Wow, so generous.
As we pedaled through Kyushu, Miyako kept sending messages wondering where we were, making sure we were ok. She’s a wonderful woman.
We left Fukuoka Prefecture on a brilliant mountain road with so little traffic that I wondered if we wouldn’t be turned back at some point by a collapsed tunnel or something.
This was a welcome sight, our portal to Oita!