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[personal profile] japester
This is the longer, un-expedited version of the trip I did to Japan in early June.
"What? You went to Japan," you ask?
Why, yes, yes I did. It was a little spontaneous, and a little stressful. Until I got there and then it all just came together.

As many will know, I went to Japan for 1994, and lived there on student exchange. I gained a wonderful host family and got suckered into all the Japanese cultural things. Well, I realised that my grandfather was turning 90 in early June, and realised that I might not be able to see him for very much longer. Visiting has been something on my mind for a few years now, so it was good to finally make it happen.

I went for 5 days, and two days of travel. Singapore Airlines provided a surprisingly cheap and short trip, being significantly shorter in duration than all the other carriers, at a measly 18/19 hours and on an A380 to boot.

I made note of some of the places I visited, and care about over at Google, a la - A map! and a collation of photos. Photos behind links as well.

Visiting my family

My grandfather remembers my name and my face, but nothing of the times we shared together. That is so much better than not at all. He is well into dementia though, his short term memory is measured at about 3-4 minutes, and then it's the same conversation again. I can see it taking its toll on my family.
We had a small family dinner, with a few extended members. Not everyone that I spent a lot of time with, as work and distance claimed a few people. This trip, seeing my grandfather was the important thing, everyone else was secondary. There'll be other times for them.
Writing this now, just brings back how much I miss them.

Temples

There is a Buddhist temple half way between Iizuka and Fukukoka which I discovered by hopping off the train at a random stop, and going for a walk. It's one of the more well known temples of the region, because of its giant reclining Buddha, something I discovered days later. It's a skill, finding places like this.
Walking all over the temple was fun, and calming. It has the right smell and atmosphere. I wanted to walk out into the forest, but all the tracks out of the temple land were marked as "please do not, it's dangerous."

I did discover a way into the countryside via a short road a couple of hundred metres up the highway. That led to a 2.5km walk up the mountainside. The only type of tree I encountered in that entire time was bamboo. The ground was covered in a layer of leaves which astounded me for a couple of reasons. Mostly, it was wet and squishy, with occasional dry patches. In summer! The water surplus of Japan still gets to me. The other reason is that in Australia, so many leaves would be a fire hazard. I found random wildlife as well, which really stunned me. Crabs. Tiny crab! An a mountain!
Back near the train station, I walked through a creek, and sat there for some minutes, appreciating the sounds. And the kittens. A few kittens, lounging on a wall in some shade. I would have liked to scritch them, they didn't seem fearful at all, but the paranoid in me said no. but kitties!
One thing I believe that I will never get over, is just how lush and green everything is in Japan.

Taiko Friends
While walking through Honmachi - the main suburb/block of Iizuka, I bumped into one of the guys I used to play taiko with. We sat and chatted for nigh on two hours. This was the first day I was in Japan, and my conversational skill went from sketchy to mostly fluent. It came back. and that quickly. He told me about the regular practices, and of course, I went along. They made me play a bit too, but ohmigod, so rusty.

We organised to meet up again before I left, and that happened on my last day there. We caught up, talked again and then went for a walk through the Honmachi mall, where we bumped into a few other shop owners who also played taiko (1:40 onwards), or ran the yamakasa. My caucasian face wasn't always enough to trigger memories but my eyes were. They do seem to be causing a lot of conversation these days.
Dinner was then organised, and a few more of us caught up, ate yakitori and drank the night away. ALL the best times happen with friends. So did not want to part ways that night.


Searching for people

There were other people who I wanted to find and catch up with and while in Japan, felt it would be easier. There are too many people who I have lost the contact details for, and that has at times made me inconsolable.
I walked to my high school, and asked for my home room teacher. While she had not been there for 9 years, one of the teachers there knew where she was teaching now, and gave me the school's phone number. I called from my hotel and got through to her. That was incredibly happy making. Gaining her address, even more so.
We talked for a little while, but she had meetings to go to. Letters have been written and sent, however.
I went walking, trying to find my tea ceremony teacher, and I think I found her house, however, there is nothing behind the wall that used to front the block, but a tangled garden. No tea house. Nothing which fitted my memories. I fear that she has become no more. (can't write more on this, as my eyes just flood)


Wandering around Fukuoka

On the Sunday, I went into Fukuoka, and wandered around Hakata train station, and its surrounds. I found a plaza of tasty food stores - ALL the delicious traditional sweets, and more. I spent so much money in such a short time. I found sweets for eating with tea, which made me ecstatic.
During my wandering outside, I found a couple of temples, and a tea ceremony garden. It's not a small garden, either! I received delicious matcha, and the most adorable little sweets. All for a paltry 300円 ! Too cheap.
I did not find the Hakata ningyo (doll) shop that one of my friend's father owns. I didn't expect to, as I have truly lost all my geographic orientation around Hakata.



I did achieve what I went for - to see my grandfather. The bonuses were re-opening lines of communication with several friends who I thought I had lost. There are more people I need to find, but I think that will be feasible, if not necessarily easy.

I'll be back, and regularly.
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Jean-Paul

August 2013

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