Journey in Japan Part 13: Canal City, a wedding, a Japanese massage

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Today is Marine Day, but nobody let me know. The purpose of this public holiday is to thank the ocean for all the fish. Stock markets are closed, so are some shops. The weather is nice and everyone has taken a day off and a trip to the beach.

I spend two hours of my Marine Day celebrations cycling between closed post offices. I wonder why they are all closed? After finding the fourth post office to be open, I conclude my business and leave with great dissatisfaction. These three police officers on one-speed bicycles soon cheer me up as they chase after a fugitive:

My legs are starting to hurt after days of excessive exercise. I have an eight-kilometre route that I cycle every morning and every evening. I have been doing it for four days now. I have it down to about forty minutes. Good by my standards, considering one-speed and masses of pedestrians that slow me down.

I head to Hakata on foot. Outside Hakata Station, a stage has been erected and god knows what is going on. People on stage finish up singing, “We are the Bridge.” The theme song for the Asian Pacific Children’s Convention; a non-profit organisation that ‘connects dreams around the world’. I recognise the song, but I am not sure how or where from.

I head to a place called Canal City. This place is huge. 234,460 meters squared of shops, restaurants, a theatre, a Taito Station video game arcade, a cinema, two hotels, and an indoor canal running through the middle. The nickname for Canal City is, ‘the city within the city’, and it certainly lives up to its name.

There is also a water jet show. The water sprays up into the air from the fountain below. There is a mat of synthetic grass where children can get absolutely soaked as they dodge the water as it falls toward them. A woman stands with a huge water pistol, shooting the children; a grin on her face.

If you look closely, in the window beyond the water, a bride and groom are getting married.

Back at the hostel, the manager asks me if I ever eat. I was asked this question yesterday by another member of staff. It turns out none of the staff here has ever seen me eating. I try to explain to them that ten years working nights have reduced me to just eating one meal a day. They don’t understand.

I head to the Nakagawa River. On the way, I stop and talk to Alan, the busker. He is taking a break, sipping on his Royal Milk Tea. He is from England. Made homeless eight years ago. He sang with a banjo until he made enough money to buy a one-way ticket to Australia. For the last eight years, he has spent six months at a time in various countries. The money he makes busking every day covers the costs of his accommodation and meals.

As I walk across the river, my calf muscles are hurting. I decide to have my first Japanese massage. The type is Shiatsu, a finger pressure massage. I choose to have 50 minutes full body, with emphasis on my neck, back, legs and Achilles. After which, I have a ten-minute head and eye massage. The massage is performed fully clothed and is amazing. It costs me ¥4,470.

I don’t have any photographs from the massage, as I didn’t have my camera with me. Instead, lazily, here’s a photograph I took of televisions earlier today:

I leave the massage feeling great, but the darkness has fallen on Fukuoka, and I don’t know where I am. I buy a bottle of green tea and walk for a while in the vague direction of Hakata Station, before giving up and asking a young Japanese man which direction it is.

He says to me, “I am going to Hakata, come with me.” I follow him until Japan turns into a Monty Python sketch. “Come along, come along,” he tells me, “over here.” I follow him for ten minutes, at each intersection he checks to see that I am still following him. “This way, come on,” he says, “nearly there now.” We do indeed arrive at Hakata Station. I thank him and we go our separate ways.

I have had no food today, just water and green tea, and it is 9 pm. Thirty hours without food, but I don’t feel hungry. I force down a Family Mart dinner before heading out to do my laundry.

As I open the dryer door, a voice inside greets me with, “Irasshaimase!” I sit in the Coin Laundry reading, every now and again glancing up to watch my clothes spinning. I only write about my laundry because I enjoyed the orange sign above the dryer. “Help!” shouts the shirt, about to be gobbled up. After the dry cycle is finished, the machine cleverly switches to ‘Cool Down Mode’. Five minutes later my laundry is at room temperature, fascinating. The dryer door thanks me as it opens, “Arigatou gozaimasu.”

Back at the hostel, I speak to an Italian girl. She left Italy with no money or job and used whatever money she had to fly to South Korea. She quickly found a job and has made a new life for herself. I tell her about Alan, the busker; his story has some comparisons. She tells me that she knows Alan, about four months ago she met him in Seoul. “An Englishman with a banjo, right!” She exclaims.

A lot of people I have met in this hostel are here from South Korea on a visa run. Visa expires, they fly to Japan, stay for one day, fly back out. This earns them another three-month tourist visa. As a tourist, it is legal to trade work in hostels for free accommodation, as long as no money exchanges hands. This makes it possible to continue travelling forever, and some of these people have been.

A guy from Canada has a big carrier bag full of jet-black volcanic ash. “A souvenir from Kagoshima,” he proudly tells me. It weighs a tonne.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit Ainoshima cat island by clicking here.

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