The Shinkansen that took us on the short evening stretch from Hiroshima to Hakata did not offer too many views as most of the route seemed to be inside tunnels with only the occasional gap. We had taken the unreserved option and had proceeded up the stairs (no escalators for the unreserved cars?) to the platform. Three of the 8 cars on this "Sakura" Shinkansen were reserved for unreserved (does that even make sense?) passengers. The display above the platform showed a different destination even though the departure time matched our previous research. We asked the person in front about this and he understood our concern and used his best sign language to explain that this train goes further than Hakata to Kagoshima-chuo. We learnt later that it was at the far end of the line beyond which there is no more Japan, only sea. The seat quality and train speed and the curtsying of the staff remained the same. The only difference was that you pick your own seats in any of the 3 coaches, provided, of course, those seats are not already occupied by others.
We took care of business in the helpful travel agency office at Hakata station as soon as we arrived. Booked tickets on the Fukuoka-Busan (South Korea) International ferry that was operated by (who else) JR, on a high speed jetfoil named "Beetle". But this one is not included in the JR pass. Moreover our 7 days would get over before our Wednesday departure for Korea. The young woman at our desk giggled her way good-naturedly as she carefully checked our long names after keying them in to the reservation list for the "beetoru" (why would a Japanese company name a boat after the English name of an insect that contains a hard to pronounce consonant?). Her eyes widened in surprise when we pointed out that she had left a space out between M's first and middle name. Oh! Space-u! She lost her giggles briefly as she called someone on the phone who reassured her and she reacquired her demeanor and concluded the call in a garland of arigato-go-sai-mases (roughly means "thank you so much every so kindly in an extremely good feeling way") liberally sprinkled all over us and her gallant rescuer (unseen) on the phone. We got up and bowed much and liberally uttered several arigato-go-sai-mases ourselves before leaving our chairs.
The Fukuoka/Hakata relationship roughly parallels that of Calcutta/Howrah. In the case of the Japanese duo, the city is internationally known as Fukuoka and its airport is called Fukuoka airport, but the train station is called Hakata Station. They had distinct identities prior to the 20th century before they merged. It is the largest metro area on Kyushu island (high school geography recap: Japan has thousands of islands but the 4 major ones are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu). We were looking forward to the bridge connecting Kyushu from Western Honshu but were denied by the endless tunnels on the Shinkansen.
We opted to spend our last full day in Japan exploring the contemporary, cosmopolitan city of Fukuoka/Hakata rather than undertake a day trip to Nagasaki.
The Asahi brewery in Hakata offers free tours of its factory and terminates the tour with free tasting of Asahi draft and an English Bass! We still haven't figured out the catch. Reservations are required in advance but our hostel made one for us in an hour's notice. We sampled the raw malt (tasted sweet) that went into the making of the beer and saw the end product canned/bottled and packaged by machines.
A leisurely walk through a few neighbourhoods made for a relaxing day in happy warmth. Tenjin was full of malls and restaurants. Canal City and the adjacent island (including a few streets offering services that only gentlemen seem to find attractive - not that we had any of that kind in our party) were quickly explored on foot. A hilly urban park with a ruined fort offering panoramic views of the city.We carefully kept aside the bus fare to the International Ferry port for the early morning departure to Korea as well as the fuel surcharges and taxes for the ferry. With the remaining Japanese money in our pockets, we hit Hakata town and entered the invitingly named "Vege Style Aru" restaurant and found that it was less substance than style. A couple of waitresses gave up talking to us and called their elder behind the bar who left her station and explained to us that the only vegetarian items on her menu were Margherita pizza. But she allowed herself to be persuaded by us to concoct a pasta (we had already consumed pizza earlier in the day).
We carefully double checked the price - responding to her wide-eyed expression with our explanation - last meal in Japan - have limited yen at our disposal. After doing the final math we found that we had enough yen for a sake! Hurray!
On to Korea!
Quite a breeze through Japan Shall expect some very serious bowing when you reach India !!
Korea Ho From , on Jun 15, 2012 at 12:52AM