Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 04 2017

On Honshu

I woke up in Junku’s house to the sounds of various insects and other animals, as well as the fresh countryside air flowing naturally through the structure. Over a delicious breakfast, Chenbl and I tried to use Google Translate to have a conversation of sorts with Junku’s mother, but I’m not entirely sure it went smoothly. There’s just no way to tell.

After breakfast, we took Junku’s wife to the train station so she could go see her parents for the holiday, and then we set off up into the mountains to find the “Taiwan Village” Junku had heard about. It turned out to be a rather haphazard collection of structures in a field, but no actual Taiwanese were there (until Chenbl and I got there, I guess). We did find the son of the Taiwanese-Japanese couple who run the place, though. He just joined Japan’s self-defense forces a couple of months ago, though I personally wonder how that could be because his hair is far too long. After I accidentally let three cats into his shack on the assumption that nobody wouldn’t want cats in their place, he promptly tossed them out.

Junku then drove us down the mountain and up another to a forested park area. “Who’s hungry?” he asked. “I’m hungry.” I had no idea where food could be had until we climbed up to find a series of steel tables astride a small stream. There was no kitchen or food in sight, but it turned out that if you liked, noodles would magically appear in the stream of water flowing down little canals in the tables. You would then fish the noodles out of the stream with chopsticks and eat them with wasabi. I sat on the wrong side of the table for left-handed noodle fishing, however, so it was a bit awkward…supremely awesome though. I really wasn’t expecting noodles, and yet there were noodles. Which is the best way to have noodles.

Our next stop was a freshwater trout farm, where customers were fishing in concrete pools of crystal clear water, to be bagged and taken in to the adjacent restaurant for their choice of cooking, or even served raw as sashimi. We helped Junku fill several containers with spring water, which he said was the best water in Japan.

After a lunch of pork chop rice, we drove to Akiyoshido Cave, which was packed with tourists. We got a discount with our passports, but Junku wanted to pick us up on the other side of the cave, so he didn’t go in. The scenery went from a Miyazaki film to Lord of the Rings as we approached the huge entrance, which has a river flowing out of it. The interior was magnificent, but I had to keep my wits about me and not get too wrapped up in the splendor due to the fact that the floor was wet and slippery, and there were several points where one could conceivably just fall into oblivion. I wonder how the first people to explore the place felt. At the end was a long man-made tunnel back to the surface, the sides of which were adorned with a painted depiction of the ascent of man from lowly reptiles to literal happy anime campers.

I put on A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album, We’ll Take it From Here, for hip-hop fan Junku as we drove through mountain fields of strange pointy rocks, followed by Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN as we drove down to Nobase, Junku’s favorite fishing village, where we sat on the dock watching hawks dive into the water looking for dead fish. “There aren’t any big fish!” one of the fishermen told us. So we drove to another port town where pink and blue boats ferried people to and from nearby islands. A rather pitiful marathon was underway nearby, and as we walked the otherwise empty streets, ice cream cones in our hands, people wearing skin-tight pants and numbers would walk by, panting. Junku told me that the name “godzilla” is a combination of “gorilla” and “gochira” which means whale in Japanese. So the next time someone asks where godzilla came from, you can reply starting, “Well, when a gorilla and a whale love each other very much…”

We arrived at downtown Mine just as the sun was setting. It was a ghost town; it really felt as if everyone had abandoned it. The few restaurants, however, were all full. We tried several before finding seats at a place that served not only sake and plum wine, but food as well.

But we eventually were done with food-related things, and retired to a karaoke bar that was most likely in style in 1963. There was one other customer, an old bald man who had obviously seen better days. We began drinking, and Chenbl stunned everyone when he started belting out a series of Teresa Teng hits. Junku was in tears, and everyone clapped during every break. I sang a few songs, and even the old guy got into the act, the bar’s owner propping him up to keep him from falling over. The owner used to run a brothel full of Filipinas, Junku said. That was in the 80s.

We drank and sang late into the night, as the owner called us a taxi when it got time to go back. The taxi driver, it turned out, was a relative of Junku’s, so he got a discount.

The next morning, this morning, Chenbl and I got up around 8 a.m., dressed quietly, and went for a stroll around the lovely village, down the perfectly paved roads, across babbling brooks, past newly planted rice fields and old wooden houses adorned with just the right amount of flowers. It truly is a lovely place. Eventually Junku appeared to water his seedlings, accompanied by his frisky cat Rice, who jumped and ran and played in the grass, but came when called. I’ve never seen a cat do that.

But we had to go. Junku was going to take us back to Asa Station, but he decided to take us all the way to Shimonoseki instead, which was nice of him. He wanted to walk around town with us, but he couldn’t find any parking. In any other country you could get away with parking on the street, but not Japan. Even stopping to let us out was risky. I was said to say good-bye to Junku; he is the real deal, living his photography, and I look forward to great work from him in the future.

We walked up the coast towards the giant bridge from Kyushu to Honshu, stopping at a small harbor with the obligatory shrine. Massive cargo ships were dwarfed by the bridge as they sailed through the strait. We then took a bus back to the fish market for some fresh sashimi, which we consumed sitting on boxes by the harbor. Periodically a rogue wave would adorn our meal (and us) with salt.

After visiting the old trading company building again, we headed to Chuo-fu, up the coast. Chuo-fu is home to some (mostly scary) shrines, and some very nice houses along a lovely canal. Most of the famous houses were closed. We wanted to ride the nearby gondola up the mountain, but it had closed at 5 p.m., so we ended up taking the bus to Shimonoseki station just to see what was up there.

Not much was up there. We met a young guy from Hong Kong, who accompanied us on the bus trip, but said good-bye at the station. He’s traveling alone around the area, which seemed to awe Chenbl for some reason.

Night was falling, so we took a bus back to the ferry and got on a boat to Mojiko. Water sprayed us as we sat on the roof of the ferry, but the lights of both coasts as well as the cars on the bridge were entrancing. We walked around the town a bit, stumbling on a fair which featured fireworks and a snack of tough beef kabobs that were not really worth the price.

Then it was the train to Kokura, which is bigger than I’d imagined. The station is impressive, the monorail sticking out of the building like the contemporary hotel at Disney World. Our hotel, however, is far from the station, necessitating a long walk in the dark. But now we’re here, and I’m sitting in our room looking out over the lights of the city.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Don’t know what we’re going to do, exactly. I suppose we’ll think of something.

posted by Poagao at 11:47 pm  

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