Western Japan
January 2005

I studied Japanese briefly in 1984-85 and I wanted to try using it in practical circumstances. Fukuoka is the home of my favorite kind of ramen, abroad indiscriminately called tonkotsu or Hakata ramen, so I went there. In packaged forms, ramen is one of the most popular compounded foods in the world.

Tonkotsu ramen is a particular Fukuoka specialty. This type of noodles in broth is made with pork bones and is not kosher. Fukuoka is also well known for mentai, or Pacific cod roe spiced with red pepper.

One day, I took a municipal bus to a town called Yame, a center for practical crafts like basket-making, traditional sandal making, the construction of lacquered shrines, and paper production. I made paper there.

One day, I walked from the train station at Izumi to Asia's most important wintering grounds for cranes at Arasaki. 11 thousand cranes are there this year.

One day, I took a small ferry across the straits to Shimonoseki to visit a wholesale fish market, known for certain specialties, including slipper lobsters and a puffer fish that is called fugu in English. I had not eaten puffer fish before, and it seemed best to try it in the market most famous for its distribution.

Your  body

Are You Dandy? · Hakata Sta., Fukuoka Municipal Subway

A tooth is an organ · Hakata Sta., Fukuoka municipal subway

Facial body remover · Nishitetsu railway station Fukuoka (Tenjin), Fukuoka

Exhibit in preparation · Tenjin underground shopping passage, Fukuoka


Children's Study Castle indicator · Fukuoka municipal zoo

Food communication · Canal City, Fukuoka

Why don't you roast? · supermarket, Izumi city, Kagoshima Pref.

Not to be trusted · small loan advertisement

Time is Money · along route 3, northern Kagoshima pref.

Flux · Canal City, Fukuoka


Supermarket bento: eel, lotus, burdock, ginger. Bamboo surround with sub-gohan ventilation ports · Fukuoka

Soup for the group ·Hakata Riverrain center, Fukuoka

Fugu ready for sale · Karato wholesale market, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi pref.

Selection of seafood · Karato wholesale market, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi pref.

Fish for sale · Karato wholesale market, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi pref.

Just Cook Hot · northern Kagoshima pref.

Ramen at Ichiran · Fukuoka



Disposing of refuse · Izumi, Kagoshima pref.

Card-controlled loom, early 20th c. · Hakata Machiya folk museum, Fukuoka


Transport directions

It is hard to overstate the clarity of signage and printed material in the transport that I used in Japan. There were redundant signs and voice announcements for everything; overhead signs indicate where to stand and what to expect; even handwritten updates are lucid about what to expect.

On the train- and bus lines I took, every stop is announced, and on many trains and trams, the announcements are multilingual.

If you speak English or Japanese, you will more likely have trouble understanding what to do on an airline flight from Salt Lake City to Austin than on any train in Kyuushuu.

Two weeks after I got back from Japan, I flew to Austin, and the person beside me kindly explained each of the announcements. [Since people have asked: I am a hearing, first-language speaker of American English, I have Texan family, and I have visited Austin many times and Salt Lake several times.]

I ran into logistical bewilderment when I had ridden the Kitakyuushuu monorail to a stop, gotten off, and boarded the monorail going the other direction. The exit fare gate at the Kokura terminal rejected my ticket, telling me to speak to a station attendant.

He asked what I had done, and I showed him on a map. The attendant looked up the fare and explained that you have to pay for distance ridden, not for distance between embarking and dis- -- and he collected the fare from me. Often, this kind of transaction can actually be done in a fare-adjustment machine, but the Kitakyuushuu monorail is old fashioned.

In this sample of the Kyuushuu 'Swallow' shinkansen schedule, you can see that each of these fast trains is numbered, the stops are all listed, and you can see how long you have to make connections. The Kyuushuu shinkansen is only part built. It now runs from Yatsushiro to Kagoshima in Kagoshima prefecture. Along much of the Kagoshima main line, you can see the piers and earthworks for the new main line (shin kan sen in Japanese) out the window. The connecting train from Fukuoka's Hakata district, Relay Swallow (rirei tsubame in Japanese), runs express along the main line and is, if anything, more luxurious than the shinkansen. In the schedule depicted, I took Swallow #64 and at Shin-Yatsushiro crossed the platform to the connecting Relay Swallow #64.

The schedule has a picture of the kind of train you'll take, just in case you were at all confused.