Fukuoka, Japan – bonus material!

As a reward for sifting through my holiday snaps, I’d like to share a video of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – or, to go by her full name, Caroline Charonplop Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Despite highlighting Gangnam Style on this blog in early August, I’m not usually ahead of pop culture trends – and this video already has over 11 million views. But for those of you similarly without your finger on the pulse of contemporary music, you can still share this with the kidz and gain much-needed street credibility.

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The morning before my flight, I went to Tenjin Core, a 10-storey fashion mall in downtown Fukuoka. It was billed as being the centre for youth fashion, which seemed accurate. Had I been less shy, I would’ve taken photos of the staff and shoppers in all their goth-warrior and punked-out glory. But Kyrary’s video suffices, first because she’s like a fancier version of what the civilian-shoppers wore, and second because I saw her video playing in a shop on the eighth floor, and was so taken by it I filmed a minute of the tv screen on my phone. It seemed inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and despite the kawaii-ness, stayed true to its original dark tone.

This posed a problem, because the identification was only in Japanese. When I got home I googled an English name that had flashed across the screen – UnBorde – which wasn’t Kyary and whose singing edged past cute to creepy. Instead I demonstrated the finely-tuned research acumen that seven years of grad school prepared me for and googled “music Alice in Wonderland”. I was pleased to discover that someone on wikipedia had also made the link to Kyary’s Alice-imagery. The music is okay – it’s a little too trebly for my tastes, plus it took me about 10 listens before I realized she was saying “Fashion monster” – but the video’s cramped, grotesque aesthetic is what makes it worthwhile. Enjoy:

Update: two days after I mention her and she gets a nod in The Guardian. I take back my prior qualification: this blog is the place to go for au courant youth culture references.

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Fukuoka, Japan – Sunday, January 6 to Monday, January 7

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday in Fukuoka was as bright as Saturday. Keep in mind this is January. I headed to the modern art gallery and relaxed with a soy latte from Starbucks, by a little lake, watching middle class Japanese people walking their children and dogs. The gallery itself was great, with a small collection including a Warhol, Rothko, and one of those 1960s artists whose paintings look like a pinball machine. Afterwards I walked through the grounds of a nearby fortress, whose riverside reminded me a lot of a mini-Central Park:
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In the park opposite, a blurry couple posing for wedding photographs in traditional dress:
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I’m not sure what this is about, or why it was in the park grounds, but I love the graphic:
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Cars, bicycles and pedestrians, all with their separate paths. Notice how clean and uncrowded everything is:
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Just to the right, a pool of wilted flowers:
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Further on, what looks like the head office of the cult of Happy Science:
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Across the road:
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Further on, Futata The Flag, apparently a mall of high-end menswear:
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Later I found a used goods store with rows and rows of impossibly cool men’s jackets arranged by colour from bright pink to bright green, very few of which fit me. Upstairs in the more sedate book section, this creepy offering:
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I find the idea of missionaries going anywhere to be galling, but at least they’re not going to do much damage on the Isle of Man:
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I’ve asked myself this many times:
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The shop had a huge section of vintage toys, most from the last 20 years, but I particularly liked the older, retro robots, tin trains and plastic figurines. The design sensibility was simpler and more direct:
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Wandering back to the hostel, I went through the host district again. This gives you a sense of how loud pachinko parlours are. It was a small one, and I’m not inside it, but the cacophony is still a little overwhelming:

The same temple from Saturday, this time at night:
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A forlorn little building directly opposite:
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A philosophical pachinko parlour:
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All fixed set patterns are incapable
of adaptability or pliability
The truth is outside of all fixed patterns

On consideration, knowing life has no fixed patterns could put me in the mood for gambling.

At this point it was dark out, and I noticed a strange red swirl in the road:
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Upon closer inspection, it was a revolving circle of LED lights in the middle of a small intersection. I still can’t divine its purpose, but it was pretty:
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An empty lot! The fact that it struck me as strange and a little mysterious showed me how used I’ve gotten to Seoul, where every inch of space is used:
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Monday, January 7 2013

Today I was to fly back to Korea to begin my second six-month stint as a tourist. I was anticipating a lot of hard questions, which gave my last day in Fukuoka a special poignancy. It felt like I was enjoying my last moments of freedom. This photo encapsulates it – the narrow plots stretching into the distance:
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While dragging my suitcase reluctantly along the even streets, I chanced upon a vintage Danish home furnishing store. I instantly wanted to furnish my house with everything inside this place. Well, and to have a house which I could furnish:
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I saw this logo on trucks, which makes me think it’s a very cute moving company:
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Those are green roofs:
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City hall has a forest on top. Birds were actually circling the trees before I took this photo:
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A James Brown monster:
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In the event, I got through customs without problems. I wore a tie: when travelling, it helps to look like a professional. This also helps me method-act, in this case making myself believe that I’m a professional-in-waiting, rather than an unemployed PhD living off a bank loan. The customs officer was polite, friendly and efficient, and I got back to Korea with a renewed resolve to find work, seek out new experiences and blog more.

Fukuoka, Japan – January 5, 2013, Part Two

To continue, my walking tour of Fukuoka. It was one of the easiest places to take pictures because Japanese design was everywhere, very well done and slightly off-kilter to my western sensibilities, even – particularly – when it used western motifs.

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This was a jazz bar I came across in my search for coffee. In fact, I was drawn to the coffee advertised; but when I came in I discovered a dark, leather-and-wood decorated cubbyhole lined with records. I ordered coffee and the proprietor set about making it on a small burner: it was just drip coffee but seemed to take an awful lot of work. In the meantime, cool jazz from the 50s and 60s played via a turntable, an expensive vacuum tube amp, and two giant, five-foot-high black speakers next to the door, which looked like they were suited to stadiums but provided remarkably clear, mellow tunes. It was one of the coolest bars I’ve been in, in a long time – sadly, it seemed the preserve of older men, a few of whom filtered in after 5pm and who seemed to be on good terms with the barman.

Suitably refreshed, and one bowl of udon noodles later, I found another multilevel mall, the bottom of which was an interesting retail concept:
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Different artists, some famous (I recognized Tofu Man on the right) and some not, had display sections. Their merchandise – iphone covers, badges, notepads, etc. – were standard, all made by the same company. At first glance everything looked riotously different, but on closer inspection there were only a few things to choose from.

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Contrary to the label, these were not union-made. At least, I don’t think so: I checked the label and they came from all over the world. Unless the manufacturer sourced union shops in China, Korea and elsewhere, it was just a marketing gimmick: they sold ‘tough’-looking goods. That was a first for me: unionization as marketable nostalgia.

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This was an interesting idea: retailers put a number of items in a bag, sealed it, told you in general terms how much each item would cost if bought separately, and then gave you 60% off if you bought the entire bag. But you couldn’t choose the items yourself. Apparently it’s met with mixed success.

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Judging by the decor, this is a love hotel. A very fancy, neon-y one.

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A Japanese cross between a Lada, Skoda and Mini.

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This was a bar; but the sign’s placement, font and neon reminded me of the 1930s. Or, more accurately, a contemporary statement on modernity, using 1930s themes.

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This gives an idea of the urban layout: multiple levels, up to about 10 storeys; narrow, evenly-paved streets; and as quiet as it looks. This is in central Fukuoka, too.

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Bottle-cap bear.

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Some sort of frog.

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Public space is non-smoking. Or at least, non-making smoke come out of your finger.

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The train station.

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Choose your poison: imperialist or anti-imperialist? Despite my desire for British beer on tap, I restrained my colonial impulses and chose neither.

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A temple close to the hostel. Again, it really was as peaceful as it looks.

Fukuoka, Japan – January 5, 2013, Part One

The sunlight, and the fact that it was so warm that I didn’t need to zip up my jacket, put me in a remarkably good mood. I took the train to what the tourist handbook advertised as the largest underground recreation of a 14th century European street in Asia. Which presumably means there’s more than one?
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It was basically a big hallway with brown metal latticework on the ceiling. But I liked this connecting hallway:
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Fukuoka is a port city, so there were rivers to cross. They were decorated with iron lamps and brick walkways, giving them a European feel:
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I was trying to get a sense of how quiet the city is, but the highlight of this video is the cosplay woman – or was she just dressed up? The fashions in Japan were crazy for both men and women – not for everyone, but the costumed ones really stood out.

Nearby there was a long, sedate tourist market:
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But I preferred walking outside better:
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Cats were everywhere! These were patient enough to let me take a few pictures before dispersing.

Street posters

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I think that’s a heavily photoshopped photo.
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On the wall of a small pachinko parlour.

I visited one of the many shrines, still very much in use by the locals:

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A detail from a 30-foot high statue-totem.
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An approach to a spot to pray. These lowered slightly as you walked – possibly I’m the only one who noticed due to my height, but that gave them a powerful, oppressive quality, despite their bright colouring.

And, nearby, a rather offensive appropriation of a black power slogan:
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Some contrasts

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Pepito, the biggest cat in the whole wide world, by day:
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By night:
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Pepito was across the river from the red-light district, full of host clubs. I picked up a host magazine and will blog about it separately. But for now, who’s your favourite? I like Kouichi for his waterfall-hair:
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Opposite, the most unexpected anti-capitalist graffiti I could imagine:
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Particularly since Fukuoka felt nothing like Babylon.

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They’re everywhere and more serious here. They feature a wide selection of ready meals, interesting candy and rows of magazines. Of a weekend-night, men can be found reading them, standing evenly spaced by the window.

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Fukuoka, Japan – January 4, 2013

It seems that Neil Young is my patron saint of blogging. I heard him was at the last cafe I blogged in; today, my chosen venue is playing Southern Man. Which, by the way, is vastly superior to, “Sweet Home Alabama“, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s riposte. While Neil observes,

I saw cotton
And I saw black
Tall white mansions
And little shacks.
Southern man
When will you
Pay them back?

Skynyrd answers:

Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Later he references Muscle Shoals: basically – he listens to music from an integrated studio band, so he can’t be racist. It’s an essentially Homer response.

But I digress. My tourist visa ran out on January 6, which meant I had to leave South Korea for a few days and then return. I chose the closest destination, which turns out to be Fukuoka, Japan. The idea of taking a one-hour flight to Japan is still thrilling: years of anime, Kurosawa and Ozu have turned it into a mysterious travel destination. I was nervous, not knowing any Japanese beyond ‘domo arigato’, for reasons I won’t get into here. But nearly everything turned out fine.

Joys to come (Late Autumn)
Late Autumn

The first thing I noticed was the temperature: Seoul was -10, Fukuoka was +5. The air is clear: unlike Seoul, perpetually shrouded in a haze of pollution, I could distinctly see the surrounding mountains. Many Japanese speak English and, despite their reputation as being reserved and shy, people smiled and helped me find my hostel. Transport was easy: I took a five minute subway ride to the city centre, then walked 15 minutes along clean, straight, quiet streets where bicycles outnumbered cars. Having expected the frantic pace of a big city – Fukuoka has 1.5 million residents – I was pleasantly surprised to hear the silence punctuated only by sound of my footsteps and the soft hum of vending machines.

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(Now the cafe is playing Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway”. What explains this Korean fascination with Canadian folk-singer-songwriters?)

The hostel itself was a disappointment. It was clad in institutional white, from the fading walls to the bedsheets. Only parts were heated. Despite there being other guests, I had the distinct feeling I had wandered into a forgotten hospital. And the tight-lipped proprietor didn’t smile once. I had to ring a bell to get him to come to the front desk, otherwise he hid behind a door. I asked him if I could boil water to cook some eggs in the morning – hostels provide kitchen facilities – but he said no. He agreed to my request to use the microwave in the (unheated) dining room. But I had to get a bowl from the kitchen and, being a responsible guest, I had to wash it too. The next day I found he had locked the kitchen door.

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This is a picture of a taxi burning oil. It was as smoggy as it got, and that still wasn’t very much.

But besides the surly host, I had a great time wandering the gridlike streets, finding it impossible to get lost and admiring the many small details along the way. So, to return to the original, lazy purpose of this blog, namely showing my travel photos:

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This is Fukuoka without smog.

The first night I was starving and went to the restaurant recommended on my little tourist map. It was ramen noodle, which seemed safe for a vegetarian. It turns out it was tonkotsu, or thinly-sliced pork, ramen. I was too hungry to go elsewhere and ate around the pork. In a misguided effort to adapt to local customs, I tried a bite, but animal flesh just doesn’t agree with me.

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From the ramen restaurant bathroom: this, as I came to appreciate, is an auto-bidet. The toilet seats are heated, too.

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Put your hands at the back, and warm water comes out. Put them at the front, and they get dry.

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Surely this contravenes some labour laws?

Feeling slightly ill from the pork soup, I took a long walk and found a late-night multi-level mall, with different retailers on the many levels.

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iPhone covers. I’ve never seen so many in one place.

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I have no idea what this is, but I want it.

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Plastic monsters weren’t this cool when I was a kid.

Another level up was an arcade:
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Pachinko, or gambling machines.

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These were fully closable pods. I have no idea what goes on inside.

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There were many machines you could pay 200 Yen and try to nab a prize – in this case, Asuka Langley Soryu, “the third most popular female anime character from the 1990s.”

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We girls love fashion so much!
Our motto is being wonderful at all times.
I gonna go shopping in Shibuya with you,
My best friend… as usual.
Let’s talk after shopping.

This is so over the top, how can it not be camp?

Groceries in Japan

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The local grocery store. It felt more North American than its Korean equivalents, maybe because there weren’t people forced to shout “Hello, thank you for coming!” from food counters. The only problem is that I kept thinking I was buying red cabbage, since it was on every label.

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The first night’s haul. The beer was passable and the hamburgers were small cookies. The only problem was the lemon candy: it came wrapped in plastic that I tried unsuccessfully for 20 minutes to remove. Later my girlfriend pointed out that the wrapping was, in fact, edible:

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