Journey in Japan Part 11: Bike to the Fuchsia

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A cloudy day, but hot, with a cool breeze. The perfect day to cycle. Today I have a lot of motivation. My first stop is a small park on the way to yesterday’s failed destination, Dazaifu.

Inside this lovely park, three old ladies play Bowls on a synthetic lawn. Beautiful Fuchsias wave in the wind near a natural stream. There are currently almost 110 recognised species of Fuchsia in Japan. These particular flowers are the classic blend of purple and red.

As I arrive at Dazaifu, the time is 3 pm. The first thing I see is a hill with ruins on top. I have to park my bicycle and climb the hill. The view from the hill is of traditional Japanese houses in the distance. At the bottom of the hill is Gakugyouin Temple.I cycle around admiring the greenery and scenery. When I was in Tokyo, the greenery was always spoilt by the buildings. Here, the mountains are spoilt by the temples. A swarm of dragonflies drifts around above an open allotment. This place is tranquil, and probably not in any guidebooks. This is exactly the style of Japan I have been longing for since I arrived, but hadn’t yet experienced.

Kanzeon-ji is a seventh-century temple. It was once the chief Buddhist temple in Kyūshū; and houses a number of historical, artistic, and religious treasures. Beside it lay the ruins of the once marvellous seven-storey high pagoda.

Dazaifu begins to remind me a lot of Kyoto. In eight days, I will be heading to Kyoto for one week, then I have two weeks without plans before I head back to Tokyo. The thought has crossed my mind to cycle back to Tokyo from Kyoto; stopping off at interesting places along the way. The two cities only 367 kilometres apart.

The sign next to the temple says that the pagoda was restored in 741 A.D. at a scale of 1/10. This is available to see outside Dazaifu City Fureai Cultural Hall. Handy, that’s my next stop.

I go into the Cultural Hall, the woman at the desk just looks startled that someone has entered the building. I ask if I can look around, she says it is fine. It is also free. There are objects encased in glass, mostly old roof tiles. I take a tour of the building then leave.

Next, I cycle to Komyoten-ji Garden to see the Government Ruins. The ruins of the medieval Dazaifu Administrative Buildings. They are inside a huge public park at the foot of Mount Ono. Some boys play football with bags for goalposts. The rush goalkeeper dribbles the ball past six players before scoring an excellent goal. Everyone applauds.

All of the children in Dazaifu say, “Hello,” to me.  There is a distinct lack of tourists for such a historic place. Perhaps I am the first westerner they have ever seen. “Kon’nichiwa,” I reply to them with a wry smile.

Insects chirp loudly as I cycle by one of the men employed to direct traffic. There is no traffic on this road though; I don’t sense there has been for hours. He smiles at me as he signals me on with a wave of a hand and a deep nod.

As I pass Kaidan-in Temple, I see a sign for an Exhibition Hall. Carnival Cutouts wait for me outside. Inside the Exhibition Hall, there is nobody here. No tourists. No staff members. No one to take my money. Just more objects enclosed in glass. A sign says no photography, but I snap a cheeky shot; no one will ever know.

My final stop in Dazaifu is the Kyūshū National Museum. The museum appears to be tucked away in the woods. I leave my bike, I should really lock it up, but I don’t bother. There are more temples here too.

I sign simply saying, “Museum,” points up a mountain path. I try the path for a good ten minutes before finding a new sign telling me the museum is 2.1 kilometres away. Very odd. I retrace my steps to my bicycle and head off in the new direction.

I cycle up and into the mountain and find the museum car park; the sign says last entry 4:30 pm, exhibitions open until five. The time right now is 4:28 pm. I quickly park my bicycle in one of the bays intended for cars and begin to run up the many steps to the museum.

A man with a red Lightsaber appears from nowhere. He tells me I have to cycle all the way to the top and park my bike in the designated parking area. I tell him, “But the museum closes in two minutes,” and, “I came all the way from Hakata!”

He makes a phone call and speaks in Japanese for a few minutes. He tells me that they can still let me in. Lucky me. As I make the final approach to the Kyūshū National Museum, the sheer size of it almost knocks me off my bike.

Opened in 2005, it is the first new National Museum to open in Japan in over 108 years; and the first to elevate the focus on history over art. It even has an on-site conservation centre, the biggest in Kyūshū. The museum itself focuses on prehistory to the Meiji era.

Once inside, I take the escalator to the 4th floor and pay ¥420 entry fee. Inside, the rooms are immaculately clean; the glass looks polished on the hour. The museum huge. Individual rooms house various collections of historic artwork or fossilised ruins. There are no photographs here, not even an opportunity to take one; two members of staff stand guard in every section. I have twenty-five minutes to look around. I leave dead on closing time.

After the museum, I cycle 18.2 kilometres back to the hostel. It takes me two hours, stopping once for a bottle of Pocari Sweat; and a second time to photograph this building:

At the hostel, I realise that I am starving. I decide to keep my stomach empty and write up some of the day’s events. At 8 pm, I head back outside and run on my empty stomach. The red lights of an intersection providing nice little rest stop from time to time.

I run for almost fifty minutes, passing packed restaurants offering any choice of cuisine you can imagine. Although it has been twenty-three hours since I have had any food, nothing really draws me in; my appetite oddly missing.

I see a random square:

As I run, I see some red lights in the sky; they look like a tower. I head in that direction. As I get closer, planes float by in the distance. I get the horrible feeling that I might be back at Fukuoka Airport, and the tower used for Air Traffic Control. I didn’t see any signs for the airport though.

To my relief, my assumptions are false. I arrive at the Hakata Pier. The tower is Hakata Port Tower. I calculate that I ran for 5.7 kilometres to get here. Earlier today I cycled at least forty. I have never had so much energy.

Fishermen line up along the pier. My appetite for food finally returns, specifically for fish. The only fish I find here are sandwiched between glass. Another small aquarium, this one is free. I scout out the area and find another temple. I have been finding a lot of these today.

The pier looks good at night with its many lights. I go inside the food court. The only place here with any appeal is a French restaurant. As I approach it, the lights go out. Closed at nine o’clock sharp.

I head back to Hakata, stumbling upon the all too familiar Reisen Park. Other runners are doing laps around the park so I decide to join them for a while. When I find the camera shop, I get my bearings.

The area around the park is bustling at night. Outdoor Izakayas littering the streets. The smell of barbecued meats fills the air. I quite like the monument in the park. I take a photograph (but it doesn’t turn out so well), before skittering back to Hakata Station.

I reverse all the hard work of the day and eat at McDonald’s. Like a death-row inmate having his last meal, I decide this will be my last time eating junk food for a while. ‘Death’ was probably the optimum word. ¥986 for what is effectively fish and chips.

As I walk from the station back to the hostel, it unexpectedly starts to rain for a total of exactly five seconds. Umbrellas go up. Umbrellas go down. I don’t carry an umbrella on hot days, I get ever so slightly wet.

Back at the hostel, I still have so much energy. I am very satisfied with what has been a rather productive day. I do some more writing for a few hours, followed by a bit of reading. Then I go to bed; stone cold sober.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I randomly stumble into a giant cardboard steam locomotive by clicking here.

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