“Amidst the ten-thousand things”: Day six, seven, and eight of Kat’s (not quite) Epic Christmas/New Years 2008 (and technically 2009) Trip (of wonderfulness)

The quote at the top, in case you were wondering, is a reference to the Dao De Jing.  The “ten thousand things” is an oft-used phrase in old Chinese philosophy to mean everything in the known world.  I use it as a reference to that, and because on New Years Eve/New Years Day, I stood in a teeming crowd of at least 10,000 people–most likely more if you put it all together.

I left Kumamoto early on December 29th, heading back to Shimabara.  Insert more wonderfulness of hanging out with my friends there, and then the following day we headed up to Fukuoka for New Years.  

Me and Christine decided to stay with her friend Naoko, a ridiculously nice Japanese women with two (so I’ve been told) adorable sons.  Her sons were with their father on Iki for winter break, and the house was lonely, so–she said repeatedly–she was happy to have us around.

Fukuoka is one of my favorite cities I’ve visited.  Not just because it’s the perfect size of big city–just big enough to have everything I want, not too big to get easily lost, but also because it’s beautiful and really close by.  🙂  After meeting Naoko and Christine at the Iki ferry port, we trekked on over to Tenjin for some food and shopping.  (I bought more books–Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Tales of Beedle the Bard–as well as more Starbucks.)  On our way through there, we spotted some HI-larious vending machines…

In case you can't read katakana... that's a ramen vending machine.

In case you can't read hiragana... that's a ramen vending machine.

Yes, you too for only about three dollars can purchase a steaming hot can of instant ramen.  Just pop open the top, sip, and walk.  


For dinner I ate with my friends from Shimabara (actual ramen this time, thank goodness) and then we prowled the city, got lost several times (mostly my fault), and eventually I took a taxi back to Naoko’s, excited for the day to come.

Both Christine and I slept in.  We had a hair appointment in the afternoon.  Lemme tell you, although the language barrier is always a problem (I wanted bangs!  Where are my sexy side-swept bangs?!), they certainly know how to treat you at the salons in Japan.  For only a measly $50 (…), I got a full head and shoulder massage, absolutely delightful, and the attention of two, TWO!, hair stylists for over an hour.  I grant you, Japanese hair and White-person hair are two different beasts, but still… it was nice.  

We did some shopping and some more walking, and before we knew it, dinner time had arrived!

Naoko’s father, a seventy-year old who doesn’t look a day over fifty with his awesome Elvis hair, invited us to eat soba for our New Year’s feast.  It’s traditional to eat soba on New Year’s Eve as the long noodles signify having a long life, and maybe the fact that they’re made from buckwheat is to symbolize you staying healthy?  I dunno… but the noodles were delicious.  The little back-alley restaurant we ate in was adorable, and Naoko’s father was a hoot!  The guy’s great.

Naoko, Christine, and Naoko's father at the soba bar.

Naoko, Christine, and Naoko's father at the soba bar.

I remembered how terribly long the lines in Tokyo were when I went to ring the bell with Tomo-chan back in 2006, so I knew we should get there early. Naoko had recommended that we go to a shrine called Dazaifu.  

There’s a long, gorgeous history associated with it, that can pretty much be summed up as thus:  this dude named Sugawara was once a very popular member of the Imperial Court.  He was supposedly a genius–composed a beautiful, symbolic haiku at the age of six.  Somehow he lost favor with the court and so was shunted as far away as possible, i.e. into Kyushu.  He died a lonely, sad man, but with many disciples.  During his burial procession, the oxen suddenly died right where Dazaifu now stands.  One of the disciples, a few years later, decided to build the shrine right over his Master’s grave.  It is said, too, that a beautiful plum tree that used to sit in front of his house up in Kyoto then flew to join the man who’d tended it so well.

There is a pretty nice plum tree at dazaifu, though it wasn’t in bloom yet (they are blooming now).

We ended up arriving at Dazaifu sometime around 11pm.  The line was already past the first tori–there are four total, separated by about 100 or 200 meters each.  I estimate that, during the time we spent waiting and joking and freezing our tushes off, that at least 50,000 people either arrived or left the shrine.  It was chaos, but that beautiful sort of chaos that finds itself rooted in tradition.  Well, I had fun at least.

We'd passed the second tori at this point, headed for the third.

We'd passed the second tori at this point, headed for the third.

It was already past midnight at this point--probably closer to one or one-thirty in the morning.

It was already past midnight at this point--probably closer to one or one-thirty in the morning.

A-hah!  The pinnacle is in sight!

A-hah! The pinnacle is in sight!

So what you do when you reach that ever important center is: 

  1. Toss in some denomination of money.  This could be as small as a single yen (I went for big money and threw in a whole thirteen yen) or as big as 100 or 500 yen–about one or five dollars.  
  2. Clap your hands twice and bow your head over them.
  3. Pray or make your New Year’s Resolution or what-not.
  4. Open eyes, clap hands again.
  5. Push your way out of the crowd and go buy yourself a souvenir!

I know it seems really odd to wait for so long (all told it was about four hours) just for a minute of praying, but there really was this extreme serene moment for me after I threw my money and clapped my hands.  It was nice.  And going to one of these shindigs is an experience I think everyone visiting Japan should have, if just to see how awesomely insane it is.

Note the police officer in the right corner.  He's wearing a riot mask to protect him from the flying coins.

Note the police officer in the right corner. He's wearing a riot mask to protect him from the flying coins.

I ended up buying just a generic charm (to protect me from harm).  It looks quite nice on my cell phone, thank you, and it makes for a good story when my Japanese friends/coworkers see it.

As we left the main courtyard, it began to snow.  Some of my company were grumpy at that point, understandable as it was very late and very cold, but I could barely believe the beauty.  Despite the loud and celebratory atmosphere in the shrine beyond, behind the coin tossing, the world just became silent and still.  

Christine, Naoko, and I walked back to the car feeling exhausted but satisfied.  (Christine also bought me some anko, red bean paste, which is Teh Delicious.)  I tried my best not to sleep in the car on the way back to Naoko’s, but it was a struggle. When we finally arrived back, Christine and I had a nice, surprisingly long, chat, and then we drifted off to sleep.

Didn’t wake up until past noon, stomach grumbling and ready to book it.  Christine and I had a day of shopping ahead of us!  YAY shopping!  What is life if not to spend extra money?

The main point of the day was to go to… (drumroll please) Costco!

I love Costco.

I have been able to order from Costco Japan online (The Flying Pig), but it’s just a whole better (and cheaper) experience to be able to go to the store.  Costco, Fukuoka, is about an hour outside of the city proper, but it was nice to take the trip.  And, as we climbed altitude, the snow that had fallen the night before turned into an actual blanket on the surrounding hills and trees.  

We arrived in triumph and went to lunch.  Costco Hotdogs!

Only bad thing: they're not Hebrew National.  :(

Only bad thing: they're not Hebrew National. 😦

After Costco we did Uniqlo (clothing), Tully’s Coffee, some sort of backpacking shop with very expensive hiking attire, browsed amidst the silly Engrish t-shirts for kids, and even had someone hawk water purifiers at us.  We eventually made our way to the nearby movie theater for something else I’d been look forward to for awhile–seeing WallE on the Big Screen.  And, plus for us, because it was the first day of the month, it only cost 1000yen.  (Cheap for Japan.)

I loved WallE, in case you were wondering.

I should buy it…

No, I shouldn’t.  Scratch that.


Me and my robotic hero.

Me and my robotic hero.

The following day was more shopping and a return to Iki.

Perhaps one might view the end of this “Epic” adventure as a bit anti-climactic, but I like a little bit of break after a lot of travel.  It was also great to get to know Naoko, to chat with Christine, and to do the guilty pleasure that is a Shopping Spree.  

So that’s it!  (Took me long enough.)  I do have some photos from my day back from Iki, seeing the dolphins, but that’s technically not part of my New Year’s/Christmas trip.  I hope you found it educational.

Next up at the end of the month: Hiroshima and one of the Three Scenic Spots, Miyajima.

And now back to your regularly scheduled broadcasts…