Three weekends ago, during the Lunar New Year holiday, I took a trip across the East Sea to Japan. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so I was excited to finally go.
Instead of flying, I took the Beetle speed ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. A round trip ticket cost about 200,000 won ($185) and took just under three hours. The port worked much like an airport. Passengers go through security, show their passport, and present their ticket at the gate before boarding.
I naively expected Japan to be similar to Korea, but the two countries are quite different. The most obvious differences are cultural and not aesthetic. Japanese people seem to be more aware of the people around them, which makes public places in Japan much more pleasant than in Korea. There was a noticeable absence of pushing, spitting, and loud cell phone conversations. When I made an effort to be polite, like holding the door for people, they didn’t look at me like they caught me fingering a cat.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the weird sexual stuff for which the Japanese are so famous. With the exception of a few women in costumes and a baby-themed liquor bottle at the hotel bar, I didn’t see any weird stuff.
I stayed at the Crowne Plaza ANA hotel in downtown Fukuoka. Ordinarily out of my price range, I was able to stay at an upscale hotel by using credit card points. After checking in, I went out and explored the city. I tend to travel with a loose itinerary, so most of my time was spent wandering. I managed to incorporate a few of the heavily advertised local tourist attractions into the trip.
My favorite place was Maizuru Castle. This 400 year-old defensive structure was built on a hill in the center of town. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city. The original wooden buildings are gone, but the stone walls remain intact and some replicas wooden buildings have been constructed.
Not far from the castle was an indoor street market. I never learned the name of the market, but I spent over an hour walking around and checking out the shops. It stretched the length of six city blocks and included several hundred businesses. The shops ranged from fresh produce to traditional clothing to touristy trinkets.
At the far end of the market was a Buddhist temple complex. I walked inside to look around and realized that I had seen the golden steeple of the temple’s shrine several times before. It is visible from several other places around town, including my hotel room.
The most surprising thing I found while walking around Fukuoka was a familiar face.
My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the city – especially the nightlife. I was so tired from walking that I wound up in bed early both nights. Next time, I”ll budget more time for relaxing during the day and hitting the town at night.
Until next time.