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Journey in Japan Part 15: Towering Above the Rest

The day starts with a ¥1000 haircut. This is actually quite cheap for a haircut. I am a little worried about asking for it in Japanese, but the barber understands what I want, and actually does a very good job. After he finishes cutting my hair, he hoovers my head with a vacuum cleaner. I wasn’t expecting that.

With nice new hair, I decide to check out some boat racing. At Kyotei Boat Racing Stadium the security is very tight. In fact, the whole perimeter of the 1397 capacity atrium is littered with security guards. Today is the 28th Ladies Championship Boat Race. I pay my ¥100 entry fee and take a seat on the steps outside that overlook the racecourse.

This is one of 24 boat racing stadiums in Japan. A sport that is unique to the county. The race starts up so I pull out my camera. Instantly one of the security guards taps me on the shoulder. “No photography is allowed here.” The above photograph of no race happening was the only one I could steal.

The six boats do three laps of the 1,800 meter long course. The red boat, boat number five, gets bumped by another racer and ends up stalling. It reminds me a lot of greyhound racing. I am not sure why but betting is going on here too. Boat number one is the winner. A 1-4-2 tricast wins ¥1590 from a ¥100 bet. Pretty poor odds if you ask me.

After the boat racing I swing by Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome.

The dome is the official baseball stadium for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. It was Japan’s first stadium with a retractable roof. It seats 38,561 spectators and seats cost anywhere between ¥1000 to ¥14000. Baseball is a hugely popular sport in Japan, and from what I can tell from the games that I have seen shown in bars, the Hawks are a pretty good team.

Beyond the dome in the distance is Fukuoka Tower. I park my bicycle near the tower and take a closer look.

Fukuoka Tower kicks Beppu Tower to the dirt. As I go inside I am told that because I am foreign I get a twenty percent discount; so in total I pay ¥640. As I enter the main area of the tower, I am asked to look up. So I do. Above me, a 108 meter shaft.

“The lift takes seventy seconds. The tower is 234 meters tall. The viewing platform stands at 123 meters. The tower has been built to withstand magnitude 7 earthquakes,” the attendant says like a robot. Just doing her job.

On the fifth floor of Fukuoka Tower, the view of Fukuoka City is wonderful. In the distance I can see Hakata Bay, in the opposite direction I can see the Sefuri Mountains.

I take the stairs down to the third floor, then ride the lift down. At night the tower will be illuminated in ‘Milky Way’ colours; whatever that is supposed to mean. The illuminations change for each season.

My next stop is in the building opposite the tower. On the second floor I go to Robosquare. This is absolutely the place to be in Fukuoka if you like robots. If you want to learn about robots. If you want to take part in robot workshops.

It is free to enter. Inside they have a robot museum and a little shop selling robots and other kits. Some robots you can play with, others you can talk to. Sadly, I have missed the 2pm performance by twenty minutes. Me and my bad timing.

After Robosquare, I head five minutes to the Fukuoka Disaster Prevention Center. It is a facility that realistically simulates various disasters for visitors in case of emergencies: an excellent way to promote citizen safety. It also contains a museum of fire fighting and earthquakes.

Entry is again free, and so is the one hour tour. During the tour you can watch a video about safety, before learning how to react in a number of simulations. Strong winds, how to extinguish a fire, how to deal with a room full of smoke, and escape safely. There are doors that simulate water pressure; a car door sits under water and you have to push to see if you would be strong enough to escape. Photographs of earthquake disasters hang on the walls. It is all very macabre.

Finally, there is an earthquake simulator. You are given the opportunity to hide under a table with a pillow on your head and to get rocked by an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale. I am late for the tour so don’t take part in the simulations. I consider waiting for the next tour, but it doesn’t start for almost an hour.

I return to my bicycle, only to find that it is about to be clamped. The security guard has fastened seat clamps to other bicycles here, and is currently inspecting the bicycle two from mine. I casually walk to my bicycle, and with adrenaline pumping through my body, I unlock it as fast as I can.

I shoot off in the direction of Ohori Park. Me and my impeccable timing.

Ohori Park is nice. It has cycling, jogging, and walking paths. Flat concrete, my favorite. Each of the paths have distances marked out on the floor. This is the sort of place that athletes come to practice. The route encompasses a huge lake in the middle of the park. I cycle the route a few times, before deciding to head back to the hostel for some food.

Down a random side street near Tenjin Station something incredible happens. I see one of my favorite YouTube personalities, Micaela Braithwaite. She is pleasantly ambling along. I say Hello to her rather coyly as we pass. “Hi,” she replies to me, albeit slightly hesitantly. The adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I look behind me, and then she is gone.

The very reason these two weeks in Fukuoka are even on my itinerary, is because of her. Before I started travelling across Japan, I spent a fair amount of free time trawling through YouTube videos about Japan. Micaela’s videos would always tower above the rest. Based in Fukuoka, her videos on the area made me want to visit. If it wasn’t for her videos, I would never have considered Fukuoka.

I carry on cycling, starstruck. I can’t stop thinking about the events of the day. My mind draws up endless possibilities. If I had stayed for the disaster tour, then I would have definitely got my bicycle clamped. The rest of the day would have been miserable. I would have had to explain it all to the hostel staff; pay a fine, waste all day sorting it out. How two minutes made such a big difference. I spend so long thinking that I am completely lost in my own thoughts. I have been cycling instinctively for ten minutes without noticing. I have no idea where I am or how I got here.

Back at the hostel Ged shows up. An Englishman I met back in Beppu. He is staying here tonight, but leaving Japan tomorrow. He hands me his Seishun 18 Ticket. He has used three of the five days on it. I offer to pay for the ticket but he refuses my money. This ticket will allow me any two days unlimited travel on any Japan Rail local line. Amazing. I can get from Kyoto to Tokyo with this ticket, essentially for free. Thank you Ged.

I head out for some food and a couple of Highballs at my favorite bar. I try to read my book but I feel a little troubled. I think about the alternate me; the one standing there trying to explain himself to the bicycle traffic warden. Every thing since that moment hasn’t felt real to me.

I leave the bar after only two drinks. As I gaze at the sky, I see a star, for the first time in eight weeks.

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