I had a 5 day vacation in November thanks to the Korean holiday Chuseok. This vacation ultimately took me to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. I had wanted to visit Kyushu while I was living in Japan, but it was just too far from where I was in Fuji City and too expensive to reach; a 5 hour bullet train ride that would cost upwards of ¥20,000 (~$250 USD) each way. It's actually closer and cheaper to get to Kyushu from Korea than from Tokyo.
I took the bullet train from Seoul to Busan, Korea's biggest port city on the southern tip of the peninsula and the country's second largest city. From Busan, I took a hydrofoil ferry to Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu. The ferry ride was surprisingly smooth, more so than a plane ride, even despite arriving amidst a passing typhoon and its looming gray clouds.
Fukuoka is a medium sized city by Japanese standards, a population of about 1.5 million, first tier pro sports teams and subway system are tells of this. It isn't a cities of extreme modernity or metropolis-ness like Tokyo or the traditional history of Kyoto. It's a city that isn't trying to hard to be unique and seems quite happy just being a normal city.
A city of rivers.
A house and restaurant amidst the apartment buildings.
Fukuoka is famous for a few things, primary these things have to do with ramen. Fukuoka's ramen style is tonkotsu ramen, distinctive due to it's thin, straight noodles and white, pork bone broth. Tonkotsu ramen is popularly eaten at one of the many ramen stalls, called yatai, that dot the side walks. Yatai is are such an amazingly unique thing in Japan, street food isn't entirely common throughout the country and being able to sit by either the Naka or Hakata rivers that run through the city. These yatai actually remind me a lot of food stands that are ubiquitous in Seoul, only much more social and a much largers emphasis on alcohol.
I went to one of the most famous ramen chains in Fukuoka, Ichiran, and it was the perfectly unique Japanese experience. The chain prides itself on a purist ramen experience. You are seated in your own private booth to prevent distraction. Your order is taken by a staff member on the other side of the counter whose face is obscured by a curtain, to ensure further privacy. You then fill out a checklist to customize your ramen experience: noodle size, broth richness, garlic content, special sauce, pork preferences, and too much more. When your food comes, the curtain lowers, cutting off your view of the kitchen altogether, leaving you with an intimate ramen experience. And God, was it ever delicious.
Note the personal water dispenser, an addition I would like to see in every single restaurant.
A man painting festival lanterns.
An enormous festival parade float.
Delicious, delicious okonomiyaki.
My first night in Kyushu, I wandered into a yatai near my hostel, I was enticed by the novelty of its draft beer setup. I had a seat and ordered ramen and beer, it quickly became very interesting to the other patrons that I speak some Japanese and even more quickly, as more and more drinks were poured, we were chatting it up and having a grand time.
At around 3:00 AM, one of my new friends told me there was someone he wanted me to meet and escorted me to just outside the tented eating area, where I was promptly met by a police officer, apparently our grand time was bothering the nearby residences and I was being offered as the offending groups spokesperson. The cop was probably just as stunned to see me as I was to see him, I said some apologies then excused myself back into the tent, to where everyone was laughing their asses off as the cop continue to talk to the actual staff. Keep in mind, this is the first time I've ever heard of a noise complaint being filed in Japan, never mind that this is the only time I've ever seen the police actually have to do some sort of law enforcement.
Oh yeah, and also, this happened.