Last weekend I made the trip to Fukuoka. I have never been to Kyushu before, so it was exciting to visit a part of Japan new to me. Although I often travel and fish alone, this time I would be meeting up with long-term Fukuoka resident, jigging expert, Tsurishop Japan owner and all-round nice guy Mr. Nigel Paquin. We met via Fishing Japan, his website for English-speaking sport fishermen based here in Japan. I jumped at the chance to go fishing in Kyushu and indulge some of the local specialties at the same time.
Curiously enough the price is roughly the same whether you go by plane or train, but since I had all my fishing gear with me, and also because I like travelling by train, I took the shinkansen bullet train. From my apartments it is a very short trip in a taxi across the river to Tokyo station, then once I get on the train, there is no need to move until Hakata station. There are no stairs to ascend/descend with lots of luggage and no trip to/from the airport either. I think travelling by air would knock an hour or so off the total time required, but the train I think was the better option with less hassle.
It’s been a while since I have been on the Tokaido Shinkansen, and even longer since I have got on the Nozomi. This is the N-700 model. It was very hot waiting on the platform at Tokyo station and very pleasant to get on board and enjoy the ferocious air conditioning.
Since I have never been west of Hiroshima on the Tokaido, I spent a lot of time staring out of the window and enjoying the view. After a bento, reading my book (The Recollections of Skinner of Skinner’s Horse) a bit and a short snooze, I arrived at Hakata station. On the train I resisted the temptation of drinking a beer or two – despite the siren advertisements of the dainty young train attendants – as I knew I would regret it later in the heat outdoors.
Fishing World, the biggest fishing store in Fukuoka. The staff were nice and there was a huge selection of gear. It was just round the corner from my hotel, the Comfort Hotel Hakata, a place I would highly recommend to anyone. It is very conveniently located and for the price (5,400 yen a night including breakfast) excellent value for money.
Nagahama yatai. Rather touristy admittedly, but being a tourist, I can’t complain. I guess I had to try the ramen at least once. The whole street has rather an all-pervading reek of rancid pork fat, but after a few beers you get used to it.
Aside from the usual kushiyaki, we were recommended mentaiko and kibinago tenpura by the old lady in charge, both of which were quite excellent. Mentaiko is a preserved food made from cod roe that has been salted and steeped in chilli; it is a specialty of the region (for tourists, mostly).
The proceedings were brought to a close by a bowl of ramen. The noodles were of a very thin variety, almost like somen. The soup was white and cloudy and with quite a lot of pork fat sat on top of it. I took Nigel’s advice and drank only half of it. In the middle of the picture you can see the sushi restaurant-style refrigerated display cabinet showing off the various kushiyaki that can be grilled to order: big kuruma prawns, slices of minke whale, yakitori and many different types of pork like pork belly, thin strips wrapped around cherry tomatoes, heart, liver and intestine, shishitoh green peppers, shiitake mushroom and spring onion. The mess hall-style tin in the right background contains oden.
I then went for a wander around Fukuoka’s notorious red light district, Nakasu. Although I did not indulge the services on offer, it was interesting just to walk around and take in the sights and sounds. It was a surprise to see everything so open, even for Japan (where almost every shopping street or arcade seems to have at least one ‘Soapland’ or massage parlour), like some students, very obviously no older than about twenty, bickering between themselves over the cost of a woman in the street with no more concern than if they were buying a meal or groceries, all within earshot of the police (who kept quite a strong presence in the main street) and passers-by. There were many ‘information centres’ where punters could go in and be shown catalogues of women they could buy, much in the manner of shopping at Argos or the local DIY store. For obvious reasons most of the whoremongers are not keen on people taking photographs of them or their establishments, so I just spent most of my time walking about. If you head off the main thoroughfares you can find the rather more sordid variety of brothel, and there were ramen and Chinese restaurants everywhere. I must say at no point did I ever feel in danger and even as a very obvious foreigner and tourist, was not made to feel unwelcome at all (some of the more practised girls spoke English, and many doormen offered me help with directions and anything ‘special’ I may be looking for). It was still pretty warm out in the late evening and after walking about for an hour or so I developed a slight thirst, which I dealt with by stopping off at a yatai and having several glasses of shochu. The next day would be an early start, so I jumped in a cab and got back to the hotel at about midnight.