Sunday, July 21, 2019

Dazaifu 太宰府: Of shrines and umegae mochi

Dazaifu 太宰府 used to serve as the administrative center for Kyushu island in the late 7th century. Nowadays it is a small city on the outskirts of Fukuoka.

Getting to Dazaifu from Fukuoka
There is a bus connection from Hakata bus center to Dazaifu but I took a train. Daizaifu is served b Nishitetsu's Tenjin Omuta Line, next to Tenjin subway station. So i took a subway from Hakata station to Tenjin station before connecting to Tenjin Omuta Line. Train fare from Nishitesu Fukuoka station to Dazaifu costs ¥400.

I only visited the few places near Dazaifu station so I only walked. This was the map I got from Dazaifu tourist info.

Daizafu Tenmangu Shrine (Dazaifu Tenmangū 大宰府天満宮)
Daizaifu Tenmangu Shrine was built on the site of Sugawara Michizane grave. Michizane was a scholar and politician in Heian Period, who was exile to Dazaifu following unfortunate rivalries. Michizane became the guardian deity of academics and believed and respected by many. Up to today, many students visited Dazaifu Tenmangu to pray for passing exams and for better grades.

It is a very busy shrine
On the grounds of Dazaifu, you'll see many statues of an ox. According to legend, when Michizane died, his disciple wanted to move his body using an ox carriage but the ox would not move and he was buried instead. The ox statue is meant to represent the sacred ox or goshingyu. You would also realised that certain parts of the ox is shinier as it is believed that you would be smarter if you pat the head of the ox.

Komyozenji (光明善寺, Kōmyōzenji)
This is a Zen temple just south of Dazaifu's Tenmangu Shrine. The door wasn't shut so I went through the gate but afterwards saw a sign that said it was closed. So I left, I like the look of the zen garden.

Tenkai-inari Shrine
This is a small-ish shrine accessible from Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. Along the route, the area nearer to the shrine were lined by tori.

Kyushu National Museum
This is the fourth national museum in the country. The other 3 are in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara. I walked passed but didn't go in, though I went through the Rainbow Tunnel Travelator on my walkabout.

Umegae mochi
This crispy outer layer with red bean filling is served hot and it is quickly becoming my favourite type of mochi. The top of the mochi has an imprint of plum blossom.

Despite the word "ume" as part of the name, it is not actually plum flavoured. Legend has it that Sugawara no Michizane moved a plum tree that he loved from Kyoto to Dazaifu with him. Another version of the story was Sugawara no Michizane was given a mochi cake wrapped in a plum twig when was demoted to Dazaifu.

One of the famous shop selling this local delicacy is Kasa no Ya. There was a queue if you do a takeaway.

It was lunch time when I wanted to get one, so I ate inside. There is also option of matcha umegae mochi set served in the restaurant. I ordered a bowl of "saifu udon", ¥550 and a umegae mochi, ¥120.

Just before I walked back to Dazaifu station, I queued and got another one to munch.

Dazaifu's shopping street
This street leads all the way to Tenmangu Shrine and flanked with souvenir and food shops. There's also a modern Starbucks shop, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The man in red shirt stood in the middle of the shop for a long time. It was quite a sight to see many people holding cameras on the other side waiting for him to walk away. Nobody said anything but stood there and waited. After awhile he walked to the side, not sure if he realised people were waiting for him to move away from the shop. I didn't want to wait any longer so this picture...

On the day of my visit, there was no direct train back to Fukuoka/Tenjin but it only took one train change so it wasn't hard.

Getting to Fukuoka International Airport from Fukuoka city
The easiest (no transfer) needed way is via bus. I got on from 4-chome and paid ¥270. There would be more options if you get on from Hakata bus center.

Side note: There are also other trip options from Fukuoka like Miyajidake Shrine with spectacular Path of Light, Nanzoin TempleNokonoshima for some flower event, Itoshima for oysters, Shikanoshima Island for some cycling for Daihonzan Naritasan Kurume Temple

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Fukuoka 福岡: A somewhat history and culture course plus Kawachi Fujien

The title is in reference the suggested route on the leaflet that came with the subway pass. This particular route is named as "Fukuoka's History and Culture course".

I didn't visit all of them but ended up in 2 shrines, 1 museum, yatai and shopping in Hakata and Tenjin. Here goes.

Kawachi Wisteria Garden (Kawachi Fujien 河内藤園)
Opening period: late April - beginning of May (subject to weather)
Opening hours: 08:00 - 18:00
Entrance fee: ¥500 (could be more depending on flowering situation)

I was there at the beginning of the season and luck wasn't on my side. The wisterias were still in buds so no magical low hanging wisterias on the famous tunnel. A couple of things to hopefully assist when and if you decide to give it a try in future.

  • Please check when the garden would be open for visiting. I was there on 20th April 2019, the first day when the shuttle bus starts running
  • The shuttle bus is said to run during peak season so I was hopeful but as you can see, it wasn't really peak. 
  • Tickets are not on sale at the garden itself, but you can buy them at convenience store or Japanican and this doubles as the ticket to get on the free shuttle bus. 
  • If shuttle bus isn't running, you can still get to Kawachi Fujien by public transport albeit a bit more difficult. In short - train to Yahata, transfer to bus and then walk. This site has good explanation of this.

Here are some links for Kawachi Fujien

Waiting for shuttle bus

Entrance to Kawachi Fujien
Here are some photos on how it looked like when I was there...

and this part was where the flowers were "most bloomed" which was nowhere like how the famous photos looked like. Wisterias smelled great though.

Even though Kawachi garden is more famous as a garden for wisterias, it is also open for autumn leaves viewing. I was there in spring, the green vivid colour was great so I would imagine it would be in amazing orange gold colour in autumn.

Lunch at Shin Shin
Of course the more famous ramen store is Ichiran and I have never been to Ichiran, but since I was in Fukuoka, I opted to go to one that I can't find outside of Fukuoka yet - Shin Shin. I went to the one at Hakata Station Ramen Street. There were many ramen shops to choose from and I joined in the line for Shin Shin. It didn't take long although I don't remember how long I waited. I was tempted to get the ramen + gyoza set but it could be too much and the ramen included in the set came without the eggs which I wanted.

Hakata Shin Shin ramen with eggs, ¥750

Fukuoka City Museum - The Ghibli Expo (From Nausicaä to Marnie)
Fukuoka City Museum

I stumbled upon a Ghibli expo in Fukuoka City Museum which ran on 15/3 to 23/6 (Oops, I took too long to blog that the expo has already finished). Likewise the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, photography is not permitted. There was one area that one could take pictures is at the cat bus area.

It was much more crowded as there was no time allocation but I finally had the chance to sit in the cat bus! Both adults and kids were allowed to be on the bus but there were so many people to get a good photo plus my selfie skill is negligible.

The exhibition contents were different and it was exciting to see models of ohmu model in one of the rooms.

Kushida Shrine (Kushida-jinja 櫛田神社)
Getting here: 10 minutes walk from Canal City Hakata or a few minutes walk from either Gion or Nakasu-kawabata stations of Fukuoka subway

Kushida Shrine was founded in 757 and is famous for hosting the biggest festival in Fukuoka during summer - the Yamakasa Gion Matsuri. One the last day of the matsuri, giant floats (kazari-yama) is brought out. These floats can go up to 10 meters tall and one of the floats are on displayed at Kushida Shrine even though the norm is said to be destroyed and re-built yearly.

Eto-eho-ban (eto: Oriental zodiac, eho: lucky direction, ban: board)
The arrow is revolved on the last day of every year and that it points to a lucky direction of the next year. You will see this board if you look up when you walk into Kushida Shrine.

Chikara-ishi (Stones to show power)
This is as obvious as the name - ability to lift the stone indicates strength. This started off in the past when a sumo wrestler demonstrated his strength by lifting a large stone and dedicated it to the god of Kushida Shrine. Not all the stones is to be lifted, only one that has the Japanese character of "shiseki" (試石).

Sumiyoshi Shrine
Getting here: 11 minutes walk from Hakata station

This shrine is bigger than how it looks from the outside. I visited it because I walked passed it daily on my commute between hostel and Hakata station. This shrine is dedicated to safe travel by sea and it is said that in the past people would come here for prayer before departing from Hakata Bay. I didn't take many photographs as there is a sign near the main shrine to indicate that it photography is not allowed. I didn't notice the sign till after I took this one on a sumo wrestler statue.

According to the introductory sign near the statue, said touch the body and palms to feel its energy and spirits.

Yatai 屋台
Yatai is small, roadside stall for food which is popular in Fukuoka. It is mostly found in Tenjin area or near Canal City. Some are really popular with a queue forming next to the yatai, others not.

I didn't want to queue so I settled for one without the crowd after reading their menu. I guess yatai meals aren't the cheapest but it was yummy. I paid ¥1,300 for all the below. I wasn't a big fan of mentaiko before this (I don't dislike it but I don't fancy it either) but after my trip to Kyushu I find mentaiko to be delicious.


Mentaiko tamago yaki


Side note:

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Fukuoka 福岡: Transport, Stay and Orientation

Hakata station
Fukuoka 福岡 is the capital city of of Fukuoka Prefecture. Interestingly though, the JR station that serve this city is JR Hakata station, and not Fukuoka station. Story was that Hakata and Fukuoka were 2 separate city, one with strong culture and econonic base and the latter a castle town with samurai culture. Between them was the Nakagawa river. When the 2 cities were combined, after heated debate and arguments, Fukuoka won the title and hence the city name is Fukuoka-shi. A new train station that was being built at a similar time was named Hakata station instead.

Getting to Fukuoka from Beppu
I took a non-stop shinkansen Sonic 48, scheduled 17:18 and estimated arrival at 19:30. Very straightforward. It felt a little strange when I arrived in Hakata Station as this was by far the biggest station of all the ones I've been, and the difference was obvious even though Hakata is nowhere as big as the stations in Tokyo.

Fukuoka City Subway 2 day pass
I stayed in Fukuoka for 2 nights and picked up a 2-day subway pass. There are a variety of options to choose from depending on your needs. I went for a 2-day subway pass, ¥720. As indicated by the name of the pass, only subway but for 2 days.

It came with a guide book with map, suggested course and some discount vouchers.

Source: Fukuoka City Subway (exclusive to overseas tourists) 2 day pass guide book with special benefits

Hostel TOKI
The obvious areas to stay are Tenjin, Hakata or the ones in between the two. I stayed in Hakata because I would be travelling out of Fukuoka via train and access to Hakata Station would be more convenient. I stayed in Hostel TOKI which was at least 15 minutes walk away because the reviews were very good. 15 minutes walk isn't long but long enough that if I forgot something I would be lazy to make a trip back. I just had to make sure I don't forget anything, I guess.

I stayed in the 6-beds female dorm and all the beds were occupied on the days I was there. It was comfortable and clean. No breakfast or towel provided but toiletries, coffee and tea were included. I was also given a voucher upon checked in to redeem a drink. Options were orange juice, umeshu and another drink that I cannot remember, probably cold tea.

Side note: I wish flight tickets during Christmas-New Year period is less expensive!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Beppu 別府: Sea and blood pond hells

Beppu 別府 is another of Japan's most famous hot spring resort. After Kurokawa Onsen and Yufuin, I didn't stay a night in Beppu but made a stop to visit the some hot springs, the ones for viewing rather than bathing - Hells of Beppu.

Getting to Beppu from Yufuin via Yufuin no Mori (ゆふいんの森)
Yufuin no Mori is a themed JR Limited Express train travelling from Hakata to Yufuin which is only on reserved seats. This "Forest of Yufuin" runs 2 round trips a day between Hakata to Yufuin and once a day from Hakata to Beppu.

Yufuin no Mori are not the only train that runs between these stations, so if Yufuin no Mori is out of service, Yufu operates on the same schedule. If there is a specific seat that you want to get on Yufuin no Mori (example, the first seat on the first car), there is an option to reserve the seat online but this comes with a booking fee of ¥1,000 even if you hold a JR pass. I didn't want to pay the additional fee as this train is covered by JR pass so I only made my seat reservation when I arrived in Nagasaki. I took Yufuin no Mori 3 from Yufuin to Beppu; 12:39 - 13:36.

I mentioned in the previous post that I missed getting B-speak's swiss roll when I was in Yufuin, however, I found it again on board Yufuin no Mori. Of course I bought it to try and a bottle of cider. Swiss roll at ¥500 and cider ¥260. I prefer the taste of the swiss roll I got from Kurokawa Onsen, this one tasted a little more egg-y. I guess each to their own.

Hells of Beppu
The hells or jigoku of Beppu are a collection of seven hot springs for viewing. Five of them are located in the Kannawa district and the other two in Shibaseki. One can opt to do a "Jigoku Meguri" or "Hell Tour" by visiting all 7 hells for ¥2,000 (though some website stated ¥2,100). I only went to 2 (Umi Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku) and bought individual tickets for entry at ¥400 each.

Getting to Hells of Beppu
I arrived at Beppu station, dropped my bag in a small size locker, ¥400 and went to Beppu's tourist information center.

There are 2 tourist information centers in Beppu train station, one for Japanese speaking and the other for non-Japanese speaking. They are opposite of one another. Obviously I went to the non-Japanese speaking tourist info and the lady whom I spoke to was super helpful.

I told her I wanted to visit Umi Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku before catching a shinkansen later in the evening to Fukuoka. She checked the timing of the buses, let me know which bus to take and latest time to catch the buses. I also bought a bus pass from her and she scratched the date for me as well.

The bus pass is called MyBeppuFree 1 day mini free passport and cost ¥900. It comes as a side folded pass.

Outside of Beppu pass

Inside of Beppu pass
At the time of my visit, the fastest bus to get to Umi Jigoku was bus #41 from bus stop 3 at 13:55. This was different from recommendation of most website which mentioned that bus 5, 7 and 9 are the fastest. So I think it's worth to drop by the tourist info for a chat!

Summary of some attractions via bus. This is from Beppu tourist info!
Here's the breakdown of the bus trip I took, including single trip bus fare.
Beppu station - Umi Jigoku (bus #41): 13:55 - 14:13, ¥330
Umi Jigoku - Chinoike Jigoku (bus #16): 14:58 - 15:04, ¥190
Chinoike Jigoku - Beppu station (bus #16): 16:25 - 16:57, ¥390

As you can see above, Umi Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku are not at the same location but reachable by bus. It so happened that I wanted to visit one that is in Kannawa District and one in Shibaseki District.

Kannawa District
Umi Jigoku 海地獄 - cobalt blue "sea hell" of 98°C that was created 1,200 years ago following the eruption of Mt. Tsurumi.

The area where Umi Jigoku is located isn't just confined to the hot spring. There are also a greenhouse, restaurant, foot bath and a shrine. There is also a smaller red Jigoku (Akaike Jigoku) in the same area.

As you can see, the cobalt blue shade of Umi Jigoku is beautiful. It does look that colour! Next to the hot spring is an observation deck to enjoy the view of the spring.

This is Akaike Jigoku. The colour isn't really red. My first thought of the colour was "rusty" or mud like, obviously am not creative if I am to name the pond.

I didn't visit the remaining jigoku in the area though, so I can't don't know if they are as beautiful.

Oniishibozu Jigoku 鬼石防地獄 - A mud bubbles and the boiling mud pools said to resembled shaven heads of the monks.

Kamado Jigoku かまど地獄 - This hell's name origin stemmed from ancient times of using fumes of hot springs to cook offerings of rice to the guardian god at the Kamado Hachimangu Shrine Festival. The spring is at 90°C.

Oniyama Jigoku 鬼山地獄 - This "monster mountain hell" is named after Oniyama district which is also known by its moniker Wani-Jigoku ("crocodile hell"). The crocodiles were first bred here in 1923 and spa temperature is at 98°C.

Shiraike Jigoku 白池地獄 - When the natural water from the ground combines with the pond water, it turned to a bluish white shade following temperature and pressure drop. This sodium chloride hot spring containing boric acid is at 95°C.

Shibaseki District
Chinoike Jigoku 血の池地獄 - This is one of Japan's oldest natural jigoku known as "Akayusen" due to hot clay resulting to red-coloured steam. The spa temperature is at 78°C. The name of this hot spring is translated as "blood pond hell" due to its hot and red water.

Similar to Akaike Jigoku, this reminded me of "rusty" or mud colour. Nothing like the colour on the entrance ticket, which is also a postcard.

Chinoike Jigoku is at a smaller area compared to Umi Jigoku and there isn't any observation deck but there is a pathway that leads to a higher area so one can also view chinoike from atop.

I picked up a "blood pond" pudding from Chinoike Jigoku, to which my sister blatantly commented it's basically coloured pudding... which is completely true.

Tatsumaki Jigoku 龍巻地獄 - This "spout hell" features a boiling hot geyser. The interval between each spouts are short, around 30-40 minutes. 

After that I returned to Beppu station, collected my backpack and got on to the platform to wait for Sonic 48 which interestingly was late. My seat reservation was for Sonic 48, scheduled at 17:18. Unfortunately the shinkansen before Sonic 48 was still at the platform passed 17:18.

I met a mother and daughter waiting at the same platform. Her daughter ran down to ask someone at the office and when she came back, she told her mother to get on the train. I approached them to ask and was told that Sonic 48 was delayed but no indication as to how long to wait before it would arrived at Beppu station. I decided to also get on the train as well. They very kindly found me a seat on a non reserved seat car before they were seated themselves.

Side note: There's a sand bath in Beppu which I contemplated to drop by but obviously didn't have enough time and also decided I would wait till I made my way to Ibusuki.

Dazaifu 太宰府: Of shrines and umegae mochi

Dazaifu 太宰府 used to serve as the administrative center for Kyushu island in the late 7th century. Nowadays it is a small city on the out...