As my bus crawls into Fukuoka, I wonder what is going on. Traffic is at a standstill everywhere. Traffic lights linger on red a lot longer than usual. We pull into my penultimate stop. It is here that the bus driver explains to me in Japanese that it would take too long to drive to Hakata Station (the station I have paid for, albeit at a very reasonable discount). He suggests that I get off here and walk. Effectively, he is kicking me off the bus.
For some reason, the exit to the bus station takes me into the seventh floor of a department store. The sound here is deafening. Everywhere there are young women holding signs and screaming about whatever products they are trying to sell. I eventually find the lift and get the hell out of here. I can’t quite work out how I went to the seventh floor from what I thought at the time was ground level. Very confusing. I see a sign telling me not to blow up trees. Very confusing.
As I walk out of a Tenjin Station, I have no idea which direction to head. I would normally look at a map but I can’t find one anywhere. Instead, I see the biggest crowd of people I have ever seen on the streets. This might explain the traffic problems. It turns out that I am at a practice run for the Hakata Gion Yamasaka Festival speed run. A seven hundred and fifty-year-old history in Fukuoka. Apparently, it attracts up to a million spectators every year. Lucky me.
There are people here throwing buckets of water over the performers. It is a hot day, so I can understand why. I do, however, begin to get annoyed. I am trying to get to Hakata Station, and I have a very heavy bag on my shoulders. It is frustrating because there are no maps anywhere here. In the end, I have to disturb a policeman. “This way, this way,” the policeman says, not pointing in any direction at all.
I have an empty bottle of water but I haven’t seen a single vending machine since getting off at Tenjin. No vending machines mean no bins. So I have a heavy bag and a useless empty bottle, and I still can’t see Hakata Station. This is one of the few times in Japan that I am getting really irritated. To make matters worse, every place I go, the road is blocked by hordes of Yamakasa performers.
After forty-four minutes, I finally make it to Hakata Station. I wait what feels like three hours for the traffic lights to change to a pedestrian green, and take a walk through the station. There is a construction site next door that has been heavily decorated with baskets of flowers. A nice idea. After spending two weeks in quaint Beppu, I am now suffering from city shock. In Beppu I longed for crowds and nightlife. In Fukuoka, I want everyone to stop coughing, talking, getting in my way, and let me enjoy some peace and quiet. Please.
From Hakata Station the directions provided by my hostel are perfect. I pay the ¥28000 for two weeks in a four-bed dormitory; not bad. After sorting out hostel stuff, I remember that I haven’t had any food today. I walk back toward Hakata Station and enter a building full of restaurants. There are more restaurants in this building than the whole of Beppu. I see a sign for a restaurant selling horse meat, unfortunately for horses.
I see people queuing for restaurants. The first time I have seen this in weeks. I eventually settle on a vegetarian restaurant. Vege Style Dining. It turns out this is a pasta and pizza restaurant offering a mix of meat dishes and vegetarian style food. The menu, sadly, is in Japanese. I order a Suntory Highball and wait for a waiter. The waiter comes over and asks me in fluent English if I can read Japanese, but he speaks English anyway, making the exchange pointless. I order the Salmon and Broccoli Pizza.
The Highball comes out and is very strong. I drink it in one go and order a second. My not very vegetarian salmon pizza arrives with the second Highball, perfect timing. I didn’t expect so much broccoli, eight huge florets, one on each of the eight slices of pizza. I pay ¥1879 in total. Good value considering two drinks and a huge pile of broccoli.
I see a sign saying Namco. I take the lift to the seventh floor of the train station and find an arcade the size of a train station. Here I pay ¥100 for one hundred Pachinko balls, I lose. I am surprised to see AKB48 machines. They are next to the smoking area. Getting children addicted to Pachinko makes me a little annoyed.
There is a section of the arcade with fourteen Tekken machines. As I take photographs, a staff member tells me I am not allowed to photograph in here. I play another round of ¥1 a ball Pachinko, before leaving with my losses.
Heading back to the hostel, I count seven convenience stores. One Seven Eleven, three Lawson Stores, two Family Mart, and one Daily Yamazaki. All on the same road. Where I am standing right now, I can see three Lawson Stores. A panoramic view of signs bright blue. So many convenience stores. If you played the Konbini Hop drinking game here, you would be dead in an hour. I see a confectionery shop that simply makes me smile:
Back at the hostel, it is 8 pm. It really is nice here, the atmosphere superb. Everyone says ‘Hello’ when you enter a room. How it should be. I help a Korean man who has a job interview tomorrow with his English. His pronunciation is good, but slightly off. I spend six hours sitting in the common area chatting to the other guests, the hostel boss, and the many cleaning staff that work here for three hours a day in exchange for accommodation; not a bad deal.
Tomorrow I make plans to meet a friend I know from England, I am quite looking forward to seeing her. She has been in Fukuoka for a few weeks now. The plan is to do Karaoke until the early morning, then head to Hakata Gion Yamasaka Festival for exactly one minute to five, the start time for the main event. A very odd time to start a festival.
Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival by clicking here.