Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer Vacation in Kyushu 2010

I usually go back to the US to visit during the summer but this year, tickets were too expensive, so Ryoko and I decided to travel to Kyushu; one of the small southern islands of Japan. Our destinations would be Fukuoka and Nagasaki. We planned things a bit late, so airfare was already pretty high, so we decided to just take an overnight bus.

August 5th

We left for Shinjuku on the train I always take. Our bus would leave from Shinjuku station. Before heading there, we stopped in Takadanobaba and I took Ryoko to the good kebab place we usually eat at. I had a beer and Ryoko tried this Turkish liquor similar to Greek Uzou (which is like a black licorice flavor). We had a little time to kill so I popped my head into Mikado. A GG ranbat was going on. I was too late and didn’t have time to enter but I played a few games of casuals. Also, Akinori was there playing so I introduced him to Ryoko. The first game of casuals I played, I grabbed the stick and the whole thing caved into the cab lol. I played a few games on another cab and then we pretty much had to go cuz our bus would leave soon. We headed to Shinjuku and made it on the bus like 5 minutes before it was ready to leave.

The bus was a lot nicer than the ones I usually take when I travel to Kansai. There were only 3 seats per row (as opposed to 4) so the seats were wider and there was more room between them. This would be about a 15 hour bus ride. I brought a few beers on the bus. I played some Phoenix Wright on my DS and listened to some music. The rest stops didn’t sell any beer so I had to make do with the few cans I brought on, but it was enough to get a buzz before I fell asleep eventually. Also, after a certain time, they put like these curtains around all the seats so that everyone was blocked off from each other in their own private cubicle. It sure would make it easy for someone to fool around in those if they wanted to. Just sayin… lol

August 6th

We arrived in Fukuoka at about noon. We couldn’t check into our hotel until 3 pm, so we started off by just looking for it for the time being and exploring the area cuz Ryoko had a big luggage and we wanted to see if they could at least hold our bags for us. We found it after a bit of walking and a few beers on the way. They were nice enough to hold our bags.

After dropping off our bags, we got some ramen, which supposedly is one of the foods famous in Fukuoka. It was pretty good but I think Hokkaido ramen is better, and honestly even the place near Mikado is better but it was still good. After eating, we went to this one shrine called Kushida-jinja. Took a lot of pictures. Then we found a shopping arcade and walked around in there. I found a really good looking US style burger place. We didn’t eat there but I kept it in mind for later.

Eventually 3 rolled around so we headed back to the hotel and checked into our room and got to take a shower finally after that long bus ride. After getting ready, we headed out again and went to Canal City.

Canal City is a huge famous shopping mall. They had all kinds of cool stuff in there. I found this one store with micro brew beers so we got a few of those as we walked around. Also one of those caricature artists like you find at amusement parks was there so we paid like 1000 yen or something and she drew our pictures. It was pretty cool. Though she made my hair black and my eyes brown. I guess shes not used to drawing foreigners. Otherwise it looked good and we are even holding our beer bottles.

After exploring Canal City for quite a while, we were hungry so we went back to that shopping arcade and tried that burger place which was called LA Diner. For some reason they had a Miller beer sign but they didn’t even sell Miller beer (not that I would want some anyway cuz they had better beer than that there). I got a big burger with lots of shit on it and the meat was really good and I also got these giant onion rings. It was some of the best greesy food Ive had in Japan.

After that, we went drinking. We kinda just walked around this one area near the hotel and found like this one decent bar. The atmosphere was kinda nice but not many people. I asked them if they had any rock and the closest thing they had was visual K so they played some of that which was OK I guess. The beer was good and the prices were decent. It was like a 400 yen table charge but then EVERYTHING on the menu was 400 yen. The guy who owned it was younger than me and said his business was really successful. Sorta gives me hope for the future about opening my own bar someday. Also some group of people came and I guess it was this one girls birthday and they sang to her and gave her a cake. Ryoko was a little worried about my drinking all day so we had a long talk about that too, but I assured her that I felt fine and promised id cut back if it started to hurt, so after that it was all good.

After we left that bar, we found a small arcade. I was already drunk by now. They didn’t have GG, but they had vanilla SFIV so I tried to play that but the guys on the machine wouldn’t get up when they lost so I just said fuck it and left. We then went to this one other bar that had a lot of foreigners and it was a little more western style I guess. The DJ there played some Michael Jackson for us cuz they didn’t have any rock heh. We got some drinks and also some pickles (like regular western style pickles which are sorta hard to find here so I enjoyed it a lot). After that, we headed back to the hotel.

August 7th

We woke up and ate at this one restaurant where I ate some really good fish. Then we headed to the Hawks Town Mall which is another big mall. The Hawks are the local baseball team. We came here today because they have a trick art museum inside the mall with all kinds of cool optical illusion art and stuff. You can see some of the artwork in the pictures we took. Lots of the stuff looks like its 3d but its not. Other things look like one thing and then another based on how you focus your vision. It was pretty cool. We also found this one store at the mall and Ryoko bought a pretty hot bikini there for cheap cuz it was on sale. I got a cool t-shirt too. There was an arcade in the mall but the only fighting game there was Tekken 6 so Ryoko and I played a few other games together. Also I did Purikura for my very first time. (Purikura stands for pring club and its those photo booths targeted at young girls you find in Japanese arcades that you can like decorate the pictures after you are done). Ryoko and I did it together and had fun messing around with it and then she got some free hair scrunchy thing for whatever reason. There was also this cool bungie cord trampoline thing at the mall that looked fun as hell but the line to use it was fucking long so we gave up on that but it would have been cool to try.

After that we went to a very famous temple called Dazaifu. We took a lot of pictures there. Not much to say about it other than it was pretty cool. You can see it in the pictures.

After leaving there, it was already getting late so we went to get dinner. We found another really great area with lots of bars and restaurants and stuff in the Tenjin area. We walked around a bit there and I found a Taito Station. I could tell it was a good place cuz SBO quals were held there (they still had the sign up for it). I went to the basement and they had tons of fighting games. They had 2 GG cabs and someone was playing on one so I got on and fought him. I was already pretty buzzed at this point from drinking all day but whatever. It was a Ky player and I beat him twice. Then this HOS player got on and beat me. It was 2 credits for 100 yen so I used my other credit to rematch him and won. Then he played me one more time and I lost. He seemed pretty good. I probably would have won if I hadn’t drank so much but its all good. Ryoko was playing UFO catchers on the upper floor while she was waiting for me. I didn’t wanna make her wait long so I just played those 5 matches and then found her and we left. She won a few small stuffed animals which was cool though.

We walked around a bit more looking for a place to eat. We eventually found this really good looking yakitori place. It was huge and packed as hell. There was a small line to get in. 2 foreigners waiting in line said the place was good as hell and that they go there often. We decided to go eat there. We only waited to get in for about 10 minutes. They all kinds of great food and the prices weren’t bad either, and they had black kirin on tap which is always good. Ryoko drank an entire bottle of red wine too while we were there.

After that, we went looking for bars. We then found this one other bar that was all like tropical looking and they had a big screen TV sorta like at PSY where they were showing a DVD that was just like beautiful scenes of nature and stuff as like background. Ryoko ordered another wine and the glass ended up being HUGE. I got some beers. By the time we were done drinking there, Ryoko was already really drunk.

After we left there, we stumbled down the street and found like this park area that no one was in. We sat down there for a bit. Then some stuff happened that I will not write about in this blog but it was fun times lol.

We eventually made it back to the hotel and passed out.

August 8th

Today, we woke up and checked out of our hotel. It was time to head to Nagasaki for the 2nd half of our trip. We took a limited express train so it took about 2 hours but it was nice and comfortable. The view from the window was awesome with lots of great scenery. I knocked back a few beers on the train too.

After we arrived at Nagasaki station, we took a cab to our hotel, which was a little far from the station, but ended up being in an area that was way better than the area near the station anyway. Our hotel was also literally right next to Chinatown which was cool. We stayed at the Washington hotel. Since it was already like near 3 pm when we got there, we were able to check in right away.

This was like honestly one of the hottest days I have ever experienced. The heat was scorching and it was humid as hell too.

After checking into our room, we walked to this Wharf area called Dejima Wharf that was lined with bars and restaurants and there were lots of cool ships parked there with a nice sea view. It was early in the day so not many people were there but we got a quick icecream and a hotdog.

Then, we headed to this place called Glover Garden. It’s a historical site left from Thomas Blake Glover who came to Japan from Europe in 1859. You can click that link if you wanna learn more about him but basically he was one of the key people in the industrialization of Japan and he also helped to found Japans first brewing company which would later become Kirin Beer co. The place was full of nice gardens and old houses. They looked very western with old European influence. Nagasaki was one of the only places in Japan that often did foreign trade a long time ago and they often trade with Holland. As a result, there are many buildings there with a Dutch looking influence and Nagasaki also has street cars (like trolly style, the train bus hybrid looking things, which is the only place I have seen them in Japan).

After leaving Glover house, on the way out, there was an area with a bunch of shops. We went inside for a bit and I found some more different local micro brews. I got a bottle of the Dunkel and it was pretty good. There was also this other shop that had crazy Halloween type masks and trick stuff. Like they had various devices that shocked you like those joy buzzer things. The dude tricked me into trying the fake lighter and Ryoko got tricked into using the fake pack of gum.

After that, we headed to Chinatown for dinner. We looked around a bit and then decided on this one restaurant that was pretty awesome. I got the sweet and sour pork and it was pretty fuckin good.

Then we went lookin for a place to go drinking. We figured we would go back to Dejima Warf and see how it was at night, and it ended up being full of people so it was pretty cool and the night view was pretty awesome. We had a few beers and sat by the water and enjoyed the view and nice weather. Then, we went inside another bar over there and had another drink. It was all sea and ship themed. The tables were like glass on a big wooden barrel and you could see inside and it was full of shells and stuff like that. It was a nice atmosphere.

Then we walked around a bit trying to find more bars away from the Wharf. We found a decent area but most of the places around there ended up being snack bars and hostess bars.

We found this one bar called Lock Stock. It ended up being empty (aside from the bartender) when we went in but we figured we would at least have one drink. The atmosphere was actually really cool and they had all kinds of cool figures and stuff decorating the bar. It reminded me of like a rock bar mixed with a manga culture bar I guess. They were showing anime on the TV. Anyway so were drinking, and suddenly the power just goes completely out. The bartender checked the hallway of the building outside and it seemed to only be the bar we were in. He tried to flip the circuit breaker to get the power back on a bunch but he couldn’t get it to work. We sat there in the dark for like 10 minutes until we finally just finished our drinks and said we were gonna leave. The bartender said the drinks were on the house but told us how much he would have charged us and between the small mini sized bottle of wine and the one beer I had, the charge came to almost 3000 yen which seemed ridiculous. There must have been a table charge and that wine must have been really expensive or something. I felt bad for the guy so I gave him some money anyway (but not the full 3000 yen. That was pretty steep given the wine was pretty standard and all I drank was one regular beer).

After that, we ended up going to this one place that was a darts bar. Ryoko had never played darts before but I taught her how and she ended up loving it so we played several rounds of darts and just drank a bunch and it was fun.

After that, we headed back to the hotel.

August 9th

Today, we woke up I turned on my TV in the hotel room to see that there were all kinds of reporters at Heiwa Koen (Peace Park), which is basically a big memorial built on the remains of an old prison that was demolished by the atomic bomb. The park was built very near where the center of the atomic bomb blast hit Nagasaki in 1945. We were planning on going to see this today, but we had no idea that today was August 9th, the exact day the bomb had dropped on Nagasaki, so everyone was going there in memory of that day for its anniversary.

Before heading to Heiwa Koen, we ate at Sasebo Burger, a sorta small but famous burger chain in Kyushu. The place was just a tiny little stand but the burgers were fuckin AWSOME! Id say the LA Burger place had slightly better meat, but Sasebo just had awesome ingredients and the way that they made it was overall just a little better, and it was HUGE! It had like everything on it plus egg, cheese, and thick Canadian style bacon. We also got fried cheese potato things and thick garlic fries with it too which was really good. The place wasn’t even indoors so we sat outside on patio furnature. The weather was a little overcast so it wasn’t hot out today thankfully. There was like this little shop next to where we were sitting outside and they were showing Tom and Jerry episodes on the TV so I could hear the sound effects and music from that the whole time we were eating lol.

After eating, we headed to Heiwa Koen vie the street car trolly things. It was really cool and was only 120 yen for a ride. When we got there, the place was PACKED with people and tons of reporters and journalists both Japanese and foreign. It was raining but we had an umbrella with us (and so did just about everyone else there). It was hard to even walk around. They had a bunch of pictures with wreckage from the bomb and victims and also lots of statistics and historical facts. I was actually feeling pretty emotional seeing all that stuff. It looked so devastating and being there really made it hit harder. Things like this just make me hate the current wars going on right now even more. When all those civilians died it really was a tragedy. There was another area with TONS of paper crane origami chains made by people in memory of the tragedy. Then there was this huge tent with tons of chairs and people. They probably had some more official speeches and stuff going on there earlier that we missed. Beyond that was a huge statue. I took a lot of pictures. As we walked back, there was this huge bell and this old man was talking in front of a large group about how things went down back then. Then the old man gave the rope to pull the bell out to the crowd and a bunch of people all rang the bell together. The ringing of this bell was at the EXACT moment that the bomb fell on that day. The fact that we came here on accident this day and walked by the bell the exact time the bomb dropped is pretty nuts. I taped this on Ryoko’s iphone and will upload the video later. After this, we headed out.

Our other plan today was to go to a small village WAY out there by the ocean to board a boat to see wild Dolphins. The journey there would take a while though. First, to get back to Nagasaki station, this time we took the street car trolly things. We got to the station easily and then we had to take a train for about 6 stops to another town. From there, we had to take like a 2 hour bus ride to get out to this sea side village. However, our timing kinda sucked cuz the bus wasn’t gonna come for another 40 minutes when we got to the bus station, so we walked around a bit to kill time. We tried to find a combini forever cuz I wanted a redbull and the grocery store by the station didn’t sell it. We eventually found this weird combini I had never seen before called Every One. It had a blue and yellow sign with this pac-man looking dude on it. I got my redbull and then it started pooring outside so we got an umbrella too. We only had 10 minutes to get back to the bus station at this point so we hurried a bit. We ended up making it in time and then the bus was like 15 minutes late on top of that.

The bus ride seemed like it took forever. The scenery was fucking amazing though cuz we were driving by the ocean and stuff. We drove through this one village called Obama. It’s the same village that perhaps you have read about in the news before when Obama was first elected president that likes him so much cuz they have the same name. There were all these banners along the road that said “I heart Obama” with this goofy cartoon looking Barak Obama pic on it. I managed to snap a photo of one from the bus.

After a while, I started to feel a bit sick for whatever reason. I really wanted to get off the bus. Also, we had a 4 pm appointment to ride on this boat. Basically it’s like a tour guide kinda thing. You pay something like 2500 yen a person and the boat takes you out to a spot in the ocean where tons of wild Dolphins can be seen. We had a reservation but it seemed like we weren’t gonna be on time. We called the place and they said we were pretty close so they would wait for us.

We eventually got off the bus and we were about 10 minutes late, but we rushed to the place and thanked the other people for waiting and then we all got on the boat. I felt better once I got off that bus.

There the other passengers on the boat were all together in one group (there were about 7 of them) so they all sat together in the front and Ryoko and I got the whole back of the boat to ourselves which was cool. The view from the boat was great. I took lots of pictures. We went about 10 minutes out from the shore. There were tons of other boats out there with people doing the same Dolphin watching thing too. It didn’t take long for a bunch of Dolphins to show up. You could see them in large groups swimming around, many of them diving up from the water and then back into it. It was a pretty cool experience and we took some pics and I video taped a good 10 minutes of it on Ryoko’s i-phone. I will upload it to youtube and post it later. Overall it was just a really nice relaxing time and we both enjoyed it.

After we headed back, Ryoko was feeling sea sick. The other group asked us to take a bunch of pictures of them so we did. We looked around in the dolphin place gift shop for a bit and the checked the bus time for the next bus back. It was coming in one minute so we rushed back to the bus stop and made it in time. Ryoko slept most of the ride back. I just checked out more scenery from the window.

After we FINALLY got back to Nagasaki city, it was already late so we looked for a place to get dinner near the station. We ended up going to a fish restaurant and I got some good fish with rice and soup.

After that, we decided to look for a new place to drink. Ryoko wasn’t gonna drink at first but was feeling better after she ate. We walked for a while from the station but there wasn’t much around there so we ended up taking the street car trolly thing back to the area near our hotel. We walked around a new area we hadn’t discovered yet. There were tons of bars but most of them were snack bars once again. I was almost ready to just give up and go to this one so-so lookin blues bar but then we decided to go down another street just down from where our hotel was cuz we saw some lights. It turned out that this street had a bunch more bars and we ended up finding this one really awesome bar called ExcaliBar.

This place was pretty small, maybe a little bigger than PSY. There were about 4 people sitting at the bar and 2 guys working there. They were playing all kinds of rock and metal and the place was decorated pretty cool. This foreign couple was sitting next to us so I asked them where they were from and stuff. They were from Italy and were traveling on vacation. They told me that after this, their next destinations were going to be Kyoto and Nara and then Tokyo. The dude likes rock bars so I recommended him all my usual spots back in Tokyo like Current, PSY, and Godz. I also recommended some good places to see in Kyoto. They seemed like pretty nice people. The staff was cool too. The owner told me that he once owned 3 rock bars here but his employees were being sloppy with drug use and the cops busted them so he shut the other bars down. ExcaliBar was still going strong after 10 years and he said the place was really profitable. He said opening a rock bar is easy, you just have to find a good location. He said opening one in Tokyo is rough, but in a place like Nagasaki its easy to do, Another thing for me to think about in the future.

The bartender saw that I liked Alice Cooper so he put on this one CD called Butchering the Beatles. I never heard it before, but basically it’s a cover CD of all metal versions of Beatles songs. Lots of awesome people were on there like Alice Cooper, Geoff Tate from Queensryche, Yngvie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Lemmy, and more. We ended up listening to the whole thing, and I just kept slammin beers and Ryoko was drinking some pretty big high balls so we both got good and drunk. We talked to the staff a bunch and he said how like hes not used to foreigners going there that can speak any Japanese and its always just tourists so he was really surprised and happy to have a foreigner come in there that he could have a conversation with. It was my best drinking experience of the whole trip and I would go there again for sure if I ever went back to Nagasaki.

After finishing up there, we took a short walk back to our hotel and…

August 10th

This was the last real day of our trip. We woke up and decided to check out Confucius Shrine and Museum of Chinese History. I took a lot of pictures so theres not really a need to go into too much detail but it was really beautiful. Lots of awesome statues and architecture. We went inside too and there were lots of historical artifacts on display. Ryoko bought some souvenirs at the gift shop there as well.

After that, we walked back through China town again and got the best pork bun I have ever had in my life, and also a mango shaved ice thing. We also went into this Chinese fireworks store. They had tons of awesome stuff. Im not talking about like sparklers and bottle rockets (well they had those too but…), they had the heavy duty serious shit. As a Ryoko and I stocked up and bought a ton of those to use later when we got home. This one old lady came up to me when I was looking around at stuff and starts making these ridiculous fireworks gestures and sounds, and then I just bust out some Japanese and she felt dumb for trying to communicate with me like that lol. The staff was all a bunch of old Japanese ladies and they were really surprised that I was speaking fluent Japanese to them cuz they said they NEVER see foreigners speak Japanese around here. I guess Nagasaki doesn’t have many foreign residents or something.

The hotel was holding our bags for us cuz we had already checked out at this point, so we went back there and got ready to leave and then headed to the station. We bought some souvenirs at a shop at the station but had to hurry cuz our train was leaving in like 10 minutes.

We had to take the bus back tonight from Fukuoka so we went all the way back there again on the limited express train for another 2 hour trip. Ryoko started to not feel so good again and slept most of the way. I played some DS mostly.

After we got back to Fukuoka, we didn’t really have much time to do a whole lot. We went to a place to buy some souvenirs near the station there. Then we went to go find a place to eat. I wanted some pizza and found this one restaurant in like this basement part of the station. It looked so-so from the picture but the pizza ended up being fuckin great! AND I got this GIANT frosty mug of dark kirin half and half with it which went down nicely. Ryoko still wasn’t feeling well so she just got a cheese omelet and some tea.

We now had about 20 minutes before we had to get on the bus. I wanted to buy some quick beer before we got on. We searched and searched but we couldn’t find a combini ANYWHERE! It didn’t make sense cuz there were tons of shops and we were near Tenjin station, one of the biggest stations in Fukuoka. Ryoko was getting really tired so I told her to wait cuz we found the area where we had to go for the busses. I told her to watch the big luggage and I would be right back to buy beer for me and water for her. I eventually found a Family Mart WAAYYY down the street. At this point we only had 10 minutes before we had to get on the bus, but I figured if I hurried we would be ok. I sorta ran to the Family Mart, got the beer, and then headed back to where the bus station area was. Problem was, I couldn’t remember exactly how to get back there. It was a big sea of buildings and everything was sorta blending together. Then I started to panic. There was only like 3 minutes before our bus would leave. If we missed it we would be stuck here. I tried to call Ryoko but she didn’t pick up her phone. I was frantically sorta running around trying to find the station. I saw the sign for the station and the all of a sudden Ryoko bursts out of this department store attached to the station and yells “Mike!” and then sorta starts frantically running around and then she leads me through the department store, we run up like 4 escelators, im lugging her huge heavy luggage, and we run down this hallway and somehow the bus station is on the 3rd floor of the building we were in. As we are running through there, we can hear them calling our names on the loud speaker cuz the bus was about to leave. We dashed up to where the bus was (Ryoko had gone to find it earlier when I was looking for the combini), gave them our tickets and got on the bus, and it left like 30 seconds after we got on. I was so out of breath and sweaty and tired, but I was so fucking relieved we didn’t miss the bus. After I caught my breath, I cracked open the frosty beer and thought about how glad I wasn’t stranded there. In retrospect, buying that beer wasn’t really a smart idea, but when we first planned to go buy it, it seemed like we had tons of time. It just turned out that there were not combinis anywhere around. I felt bad cuz Ryoko had to run and wasn’t feeling well but in the end we made it and she wasn’t mad at me, but it didn’t take long for her to fall asleep after we got on the bus even though it was only 7 pm.

On the way back on the bus, I stayed up for the next 5 hours playing Phoenix Wright on my DS. I eventually slept at midnight and then didn’t wake up again until we arrived in Shinjuku.

August 11th

We got back to Shinjuku at about 11 am. We were both exhausted and just wanted to get back home. Ryoko was still feeling sick. I got some quick Burger King to bring with on the train and then we got on the usual train I take home and made it back to our town after a 3 hour ride. Ryoko’s older sister picked us up from the station and then we went home.

Overall it was a really fun trip and I got to spend a lot of quality time with Ryoko and we had a lot of good memories. Aside from her getting sick at the very end and us almost missing the bus, everything went pretty well.

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