Journey in Japan Part 12: Udon in (three-hundred and) Sixty Seconds

72

With the sun directly above me, there is nowhere to hide from the heat. I knew it was going to be hot; the seat on my bright yellow bicycle was already on fire when I first set off. I had to pour a bottle of water over it to cool it down; the water began to boil on the pavement. The tarmac here blisters and broils.

As I head toward Tenjin, I notice that I have inadvertently chosen to wear a bright yellow shirt. I must look very odd being foreign, on a yellow bike, wearing yellow. I find a nice cycle path, the tarmac looking new, and my destination decides itself.

Inconsiderate pedestrians walk on the cycle path obstructing me without a care. I stop to let a taxi pass me, as I always do. The driver nods, as they always do. Oddly here, when the crossing light is a pedestrian green, motorists can still turn left, but they must first let the pedestrians cross. I always let taxis turn before me though, especially when they have a passenger. I like to think I am doing everyone a favour.

I cycle forever until I reach a place called Ohashi. Nothing doing in Ohashi. I see a sign for Hakata Station and head back. On the way, I see a woman holding a sign that says, “Time Sale.” I buy five minutes. I also see an army of Lightsaber men. Three people directing one vehicle. Insane.

I try to find some crazy Japanese electronics to write about, but everything seems rather tame. Instead, I find myself in a music shop on the seventh floor of Hakata Station, practicing the piano for about ten minutes. I drift away trying to remember how to play the only song I can in full, ‘To Zanarkand’ by Nobuo Uematsu. It eventually comes to me, but it was tough; mentally. The thought crosses my mind that I might have forgotten how to play the guitar by now.

I spend a while restaurant window shopping, stopping to admire the models of plastic food. A sign outside a Chinese restaurant catches my eye.

Instead of eating in Hakata, I decide Tenjin would be a better choice. With tired legs, I decide to hop on a subway train for the first time in nearly a month. I am surprised just how soft and springy the seats on the train are. Probably because the bicycle seat is hard and uncomfortable.

I get off at the last stop, Fukuoka Airport. I should have known. I got on the wrong train. Not to worry, I only traveled two stops and won’t have to pay for my mistake. Everyone gets off the train. I wait a moment while it is cleaned, and get back on the same train bound for Tenjin. A lot of people did the same, presumably making the same mistake as me. I like doing this on subway trains. Because the tracks are separate from the ticket gates, you can effectively ride the train all day, getting on and off and on and off for as long as you like. Not that there is any point though, except to forgive mistakes.

In total, I end up sitting on the train for a full thirty minutes. The time it would have taken me to walk. The fare, ¥200.

In Tenjin Station, there is a train made out of cardboard. The detail incredible. The photograph doesn’t do the quality of this cardboard art justice though:

I browse the thirteen floors of the train station. The initial overwhelmingness of this station from my first day in Fukuoka but a fleeting thought.

I leave the train station and head to an indoor shopping arcade near the much loved Reisen Park. I spot an Udon restaurant. I choose a mix of a healthy appetite and slightly unhealthy option. Ordering a big set meal of Udon served with vegetable and seafood tempura, on rice.

After my order is made, I am offered no towel, something that I have become accustomed to in Japan, when you sit down to eat at a restaurant, you are almost always handed an ‘o-shibori’, a wet hand towel to clean your hands before eating. I am also given no water. I sit waiting, very thirsty.

The drink I order takes five minutes to arrive, the food takes six.

The food is a bit of a puzzle. I have to make it myself. I pour the jug of sauce into the tempura, I then throw the egg on top, just for good measure. I start to tip the sesame seeds over the lightly battered vegetables and seafood, but the Japanese man eating next to me tells me to stop.

He lifts the tray of sesame and wasabi to reveal a dip hidden underneath. “This,” he points, “is for Udon,” I tell him I understand and thank him. At least I did the tempura right, I hope. After I finish my cold tempura on warm rice, I move onto the ice cold Udon. The dip for the Udon is warm. Everything is backwards.

I decide that these thick wheat flour noodles are a little bit dull. I dip them and slurp, chewing as I go. The noodles literally go on forever. As I eat, I stare at my reflection in the sauce. I mix some wasabi into the dipping sauce to add a bit of a kick, but it doesn’t make any difference to the dullness.

The food was not the usual standard I expect from Japan, not what I have become accustomed too. I shouldn’t have expected a lot though really. The total cost is ¥1060 with a drink; good value, average meal.

Outside the shopping arcade, the evening has set in. Dark. Starless. I take a stroll down the river, the area is packed with people and bars. I take a moment to admire the many yatai-style food stalls set up on the banks of the river. These small outdoor bars each serve their own type of specialty food. A great place to go after a busy day at work; or after a lazy Sunday afternoon in the sun.

As I walk back to Hakata Station to collect my bicycle, I pass the same busker for the third day in a row. He stands midway through my ‘usual’ route. Today we exchange pleasantries. From his voice, I can tell he is a fellow Englishman. Yesterday we said, “Hello” to each other. The day before that, we nodded.

Back at the hostel, I make new friends. An Australian guy tells me that he went for a walk on the beach today and the sand was so hot that it burnt the soles of his feet. Blisters and broils.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I continue to explore the city of Fukuoka by clicking here.

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