I had wanted to see the Shofukuji Temple and Naoko had said we could do that on the Sunday. But with Yasu offering to show me some places and Naoko – along with Noel and Ned – needing to head to Tokyo then the temple dropped off the agenda. It didn’t matter because I had no checklist as such and I had also experienced other shrines.
On the saturday night I tried to get some cash from a machine and the machine said No. I emailed Jacqui who spoke to the bank and Visa who assured her it should have said Yes. She had done this before I went so the card being used abroad wouldn’t set any bells off. So Sunday started with me a little concerned over the money but a machine that said yes then a Starbucks and then some food meant that as I headed around shops to try and buy the girls something I was feeling pretty good. It’s not a tourist place which is excellent and not excellent and I was struggling – they didn’t even have any Hello Kitty gear in the right sizes. I was meant to be outside the office by 12:00 and I had left at 09:30. I gave up around 11 and settled for some jewellery. Not a bad choice in the end and it was the same type of gift I brought back from my first visit to San Francisco but I would have preferred something slightly more japanese. Anyway, by 11:45 I’m sitting on the kerb sharing some cake with the pigeons.
Ishibashi appears and a few minutes later Yasu does in his car. Turns out it’s his brother’s but he is in China. We drove across the city and after stopping for coffee (they do a lot of chilled coffee over there. Each time I ordered coffee anywhere I had to say I wanted it hot) we met one of the other guys from the company and he was with – I think – his girlfriend. Off to a train we went.
Getting the tube to Wordcamp there had been barriers between the platform and gates between those barriers. Those gates said to stand in 2 lines. Of course the train stopped in perfect position. This overland train probably did too but I didn’t notice. The station and journey were unremarkable and we hopped off at Dazaifu.
I think that if you went to Japan with a checklist of the types of things you wanted to see this would hit several items – stone carvings, shrines, ornamental bridge, blossom, koi, trees, history and a huge museum. My camera battery ran out after a couple of pictures.
It was busy being a Sunday and it was obviously a tourist spot for many japanese. Tea was called for. Into a cafe(?) where you took your shoes off, sat on a platform at chair height then swung your legs around to be under the table. It would look like you were sitting at a very low table (as if you were sitting cross-legged at a table). I passed on the food and instead had a bowl of green tea then a larger bowl of better green tea. It was surprising seeing elderly men and women doing the serving and moving up onto and off the raised platform. Refreshments done we slowly made our way up to the museum pausing briefly on the ornamental bridge to see the huge koi swimming below. At the museum Yasu found a guide who spoke english and after I said I’d like to know a little about everything off we went. It was incredibly good of Yasu and the others to not only take the time to show me but also to probably walk around a place they would have been at other times. It took a fair amount of time to get round because it was a big – and perfectly clean – place. On the way back down to the train station we passed a shop selling chopsticks so I bought a pair (black, cherry blossom pattern) and I also got to see some other of the structures.
The plan had been to go bowling then to a yatai for food. Time had crept on though so bowling was skipped. Instead we headed to a car park in the city after the train brought us back. This car park was several floors high and free to park. It was free because it was the carpark the pachinko players could use and so not having to pay for the car can only have helped the people who ran this place. Going down in the lift I was asked if I’d ever heard pachinko. At the first floor I could hear a machine-like noise. On the ground floor it was really loud and when the doors opened it went straight into Health and Safety territory. Very very loud. Lanes of players all sat in their bright chairs, almost all with several boxes of the steel balls stacked behind them – boxes that cost 5000 yen which at the rate I got would be Â£37 / $56 a box. The noise was incredible and the machines were all coloured and flashing brightly. I managed to get a couple of pictures and started to video but that had to stop when we were told to so it is very brief. I knew about pachinko but it wasn’t something I felt I had to do. I had walked through a couple of arcades but this huge hall was really amazing. We left and walked around the corner to what was effectively yatai lane – lots of stalls all the way down on one side. In the city it might be one of two together but here they were next to each other. In we went for food.
From the left: Fish paste inside something. Not sure what it was but it was edible. The grey item is some sort of boiled vegetable extract I think. Very rubbery indeed. The yellow is mustard which actually does taste like english mustard. The skewer is the beef tendon. See the bit at the bottom? The one that looks gelatinous? That was mine… Other dish is tofu and a huge chunk of radish which I assume is horseradish.
I’m all for trying new food. And I did here. It was amusing that Yasu said all the food was good. No matter what I pointed at he said it was good. Even when the others proclaimed something that suggested strongly was wrong he insisted he was right. The mood around the table was really good, friendly and funny. One item was ‘fish paste’. I said I didn’t like fish that much and Yasu said it didn’t taste like fish. Others laughed, he insisted so I ate some. He was wrong and everyone – including him – laughed again. He indicated a skewer of what looked like raw meat. I’d be eating some but it didn’t look like beef. He is pointing to his arm and he couldn’t get the name he needed. One of the ladies used Excite translate (no-one used Google translate) and as I picked the ‘best bit’ up toward my mouth I was shown the translation. Beef tendon. That would explain the ‘no meat’ appearance. It was an opaque but shiny orangey lump of what looked like firm jelly. I ate it. It did not taste of beef at all and it wasn’t actually that bad. Not sure I’d repeat the experience but if I had to it would not be a problem. I was pretty good with the chopsticks by now too. Other highlights were chicken (which looked like chicken) and lots of fresh shredded ginger too. Was a good meal and I insisted I paid – least I could do for the day they had given me. Back in the car park I said farewell to the other couple and I was dropped off at the hotel.
That day really does rank as one of the best I have ever experienced. It had everything in it I could want. I got back to the hotel room and felt so relaxed, fulfilled and just so damn great. And it was all down to the people I was with – how do you thank people like that enough?