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True Japanese Hospitality

JAPAN | Friday, 8 April 2016 | Views [503]

Rachel's best friend's mother lived in Fukuoka. This meant that, even though Rachel's best friend was not there, the mother, Chiharu, still came and showed us around with traditional Japanese hospitality.

First of all, Chiharu had a car. So we met up with her outside the station, and for the first time since… the taxi ride to the airport in Paris? I was riding in a car again. Chiharu told us and we could leave our bags in the car and should go explore a grove that she was describing while she parked. Rachel and I kind of missed what she said, so we were still standing by where we'd been left when she arrived. In our defense, it was still a pretty area.

Chiharu led us to the grove she'd been describing with a lot of cherry trees. Unfortunately, it was not quite sakura season, so there were only a few trees in bloom. I imagine it would be beautiful in a few weeks, but I wouldn't really know.


We went from there to what may or may not have been the remains of a castle. All of the signs talked about how, although they were sure it used to belong to a feudal lord, they weren't sure if he'd actually built a tower there or not. But if he had built a tower, it was sure to have had a good view, because from the top of the hill alone you could see a lot.

From a hill

Next, Chiharu asked if we wanted to go to gardens. Rachel and I both thought that sounded good, so off we went. There was an admittance fee, which Chiharu paid without giving Rachel or myself a chance to argue. Since it was almost the vernal equinox, we each got a plant as well. Then we went and looked around the gardens, which really were stunning.

Tea house

Chiharu bought fish food so Rachel and I could feed the koi, and I relearned something I'd always kind of known: I hate fish. I'd always assumed that the greater part of this hatred was due to taste, but upon further reflection I'm pretty sure that's not true. Fish are just generally creepy and smelly things, and the more I can tell what they are, the more I hate them. This is why I like breaded fish but freak out every time someone next to me orders a fish and it comes with a head.

Normally I'm fine with fish in ponds and rivers and such because they're far away from me. And fish aren't the kind of scary that's going to come out of the water and eat you. And koi are pretty. Up to this point, if you'd have asked me my feelings about koi, I would have responded with something between ambivalence and slight interest.

Koi are not cool when they're being fed. Because over time, they slowly realize that there's something good going on by you, and then you have dozens of koi crowding themselves in the water next to you looking for food. And they're just opening their gaping mouths and closing them again. And again.


I spent most of the time answering questions like “how dumb are koi?” and “which nearby, more deserving animals should I feed instead?” The answer to the first question turned out to be “very,” since they would not swim to the food if you dropped it a couple of feet from them. Instead, they'd open and close their mouth and continue waiting for you to feed them. The answer to the second question was “pigeons and ducks.” Which should seem odd to the people who know that I also hate pigeons. But I have some respect for them and their abilities to beg and find food. Unlike koi. Freaking fish.

Koi aside, the garden was nice. And even with the koi, it still made for some beautiful pictures.


After that, we went to the tea room for a slight break. Chiharu ordered matcha and washiki for Rachel and I, then explained a little bit about the room and the tea. She usually came here once each season which, from the photos on the wall, seemed like it must be beautiful. Not for the first time, I felt a pang at not being able to see Japan in its fall foliage.

Then we got back into the car and drove to by Fukuoka tower. There was an ice cream shop which we stopped into, and Rachel and I split the flavor which Chiharu had recommended. She  brushed away Rachel and my comments that we could pay, and so we decided that we'd buy lunch when the time came.

From there, we walked around to the the beach, and Chiharu pointed out a church that was popular for weddings. So popular, in fact, that there was a wedding party gathering at that exact moment. Despite this, we were still able to enter and walk through to admire the ocean views.


It reminded me of southern Spain. (Actually, having no memory of Spain, it reminded me of the more European parts of Morocco, which I'm told is what Spain is like.) It was beautiful and instantly familiar in the way that certain beaches are. Apparently it doesn't matter if it's the Atlantic or Pacific- an ocean is an ocean, and certain coasts are the same.

Then the three of us went to Fukuoka Tower and looked around the base. The answer to that was, well, yes, but we really could pay… Chiharu thought differently, and although we tried to say we could cover it, she bought two tickets, told us to have fun, and she’d be down here waiting.

Fukuoka Tower

And that was how Fukuoka joined Chicago and Toronto (but not Tokyo, Osaka, or Paris) as cities I’ve seen from near the top of a very famous tower. It’s a kind of weird list by this point. But the views from the top were beautiful, and well worth the elevator ride up.

View from Fukuoka Tower

View from Fukuoka Tower




Then we went back down, met up with Chiharu, and went to lunch. Fukuoka is famous for ramen, so that was a logical place. Chiharu brought us first to a restaurant that was either the oldest or best-known, or both, but due to the length of the line, we ended up walking past it and finding a not-as-famous restaurant nearby. There, Rachel and I were foiled in our plans to pay for lunch by having lunch  be ordered and paid for beforehand, and Chiharu understanding how to order and pay much better than Rachel and I. So instead she paid for all of our lunches, in addition to everything else she had done for us.

Finally, she brought us to the hostel where we were staying, and we said our goodbyes and thanks. So many thanks.

Rachel and I both felt a little awkward about her having done so much for us without us being able to return the favor, but we also had to acknowledge the cultural understanding behind that. Rachel hopes to be able to return the favor in the nearish future the next time Chiharu goes to Singapore, but I don’t even have that option, since “You should come to Chicago and then…” is a rather empty phrase, and I likely wouldn’t even be there by the time she might get around to visiting.

“Next time someone visits, you’ll just need to pay it forward,” Rachel said. Which is a nice thought. Now to just get someone to visit, preferably a place that I can actually show them around… (I try and give family and friends guided tours of campus when they visit me at a university. It usually just consists of me giving the building names that I remember and elling them where I spend most of my time, which is invariably my dorm, an academic building, and the library. It’s a thrilling tour that’s almost as good as bringing them to and paying for the possible site of a castle, gardens, tea, the ocean, ice cream, the tallest tower in the city, and lunch.)

View from Fukuoka Tower

Tags: fukuoka, gardens, guides, ice cream, koi, sakura, towers

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