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Sunday, 4 November 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 14 ~ Fantastic Fukuoka Family Friendliness

27-Sep-2018 – 1-Nov-2018

Now, in the last third of my stay in Japan, I should aspire to visit all the remaining main islands of Japan, beginning with…

Kyushu (九州 "Nine Provinces", after the nine provinces which once made up this land, although today there are only seven separate prefectures remaining) – more accurately pronounced as Kyuushu – is the third-largest Japanese Island after Honshu and Hokkaido, and the second-most densely populated one after Honshu (also ranked by region, both Kanto and Kansai beat Kyushu's population density of 397 people/km², which is roughly the equivalent of Israel). Size-wise, Kyushu is the 37th biggest island in the world with 37,437km², ranking it just a little bit ahead of Taiwan. 14-and-a-half million people call this place their home, which is a little less then Zimbabwe, but more than South Sudan. In terms of both size and population, Kyushu ranks fourth among the regions of Japan. As for its location... depending on whether you count the remote island group of Okinawa as a separate region, Kyushu is or is not the southwesternmost region of Japan. Politically, Kyushu incorporates Okinawa, but geographically, they are two vastly different entities.

Kyushu is composed of a healthy mix of mountains and plains, with the majority of the mountains being located in the central prefectures of Miyazaki (宮崎 "Hall Cape") and Kumamoto (熊本 "Bear Origin"). I for my part am staying in Fukuoka-Ken (福岡県"Lucky Hill Prefecture), which is the northernmost prefecture of Kyushu.

Fukuoka-Ken has its fair share of mountains as well, but it also incorporates probably the lion's share of flat land in Kyushu, as well as the two largest cities of Kyushu: Kitakyushu and Fukuoka, the latter of which should be my home for this next month.

With a population of 1.5 million, Fukuoka is the largest city west of Oosaka, and the sixth-largest city in Japan after Sapporo, and one of the fastest-growing ones. In fact, only ten years ago, it was only the eight largest city, but has since managed to pass Kyoto and Kobe. The landscape of Fukuoka is quite remarkable too: To the north and east, there are many interesting mountains and valleys, and to the west there are two islands bordering Hakata-Wan (博多湾 "much esteemed gulf"), one of which has been artificially tethered to the mainland by means of a causeway.

I for my part am staying in a part of the town known as Kashiidai (香椎台 "incense mallet pedestal") , which is one of the easternmost wards of Fukuoka. It is a rather mountainous part of town, and my home is located in a valley between two hills, the northern of which is still covered by greenery, while the southern one has been swallowed up by the city in its entirety.

Latitude-wise, I'm at about 33.6°N now, which is the southernmost I've been thus far in Japan, and puts this place at a level with Casablanca over in Morocco. In fact, allow me to visualize this for you by activating The Device™ and creating a copy of Japan pivoted around by 180° onto the eastern hemisphere, which puts it conveniently in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where I figure Atlantis might once have been. So why don't we call this newly created landmass "Japatlantis" then?

As for the climate… technically it's autumn now, but I shouldn't feel much of that yet this far south. If anything, it feels more like late summer, and the temperatures follow suit by only very gradually dipping to lower degrees. This month should also see the end of the Typhoon Season, and unlike September, during which I had to carefully pick from the few sunny days for my adventures, during October I should have absolutely no shortage of fair weather. Altogether, climate-wise this might be one of the most pleasant months I should have during my stay in Japan. Not too hot, not too cold, not too dry, not too wet, and I shouldn't contract any sunburns either.

This time, I have once again found a host in need of my assistance, and as a direct consequence I should spend my month here in Fukuoka…

Hyper and Happy

The place I'm helping out at is known as English place Eigokko (英語っ子 "Child-of-English", a play of words on Edokko江戸っ子 "child of Edo"/"true Tokyoite"/"person born and raised in Edo"), which for all purposes is the private home of a woman who, among other things, also works as a private English teacher for both children and adults.

Said woman goes by the name of Sumire, and is the proud mother of two boys, one of which has already left the house and is now studying in Germany. At one point, Sumire was able to sustain her family exclusively through her English teaching – and she is still doing that today…

…but due to a decline in business there, she has since chosen to expand the scope of her career in unconventional directions: One being a night job as a forklift operator, and another a career as a taxi driver. In fact, she is just in the process of starting out on that road during my stay, and while the taxi driver education and exams keep her busy, she is more than happy to have another hand in the house to help her with her pets, as well as her 10-year old hyperactive son.

Incidentally, one of the features that I should most remember her for are her impressive zero-punctuation-rants that her son should occasionally… uhhh… inspire her to have, such as this one that I was able to witness on one of our occasional trips to a restaurant. And please don't ask me what she's ranting on about. I may be able to speak some Japanese, but my skills are still a long shot from deciphering tirades delivered at this speed. I'm just happy that none of them would be directed at me.

The name of her aforementioned hyperactive 10-year old son is Hikaru, and he is a very special kid in every sense. Having an American for a father, he looks a bit Asian, and a bit westerner, the most striking of his features being his blonde hair, which earned him his name, Hikari (光) meaning "Light" in Japanese.

Like most kids here in Japan, he spends the majority of his time at school, followed by a day care or extracurricular activities such as calligraphy class (to learn how to write all those Kanji neatly) or soccer, and thus should rarely come home before 18:00 on any given day of the working week. While at home, however, he is a regular goofball, and spends most of his time performing random acts of craziness and the likes.

And then is Colin, a real dearie of a dog, and a proper Shiba-Inu. Of all the household's inhabitants, he should be the one to steal my heart over the course of the next month.

The affection is mutual too, or maybe it's Colin's continuous displays of love, trust and affection towards me that managed to win me over. For one, he regularly abandons his warm bed to curl up behind me while I'm working in my room, and so I soon find that I'm actually more surprised if I don't find Colin behind me when I'm turn around.

Just like Hikaru, Colin does have a hyperactive side to him as well, and so occasionally he goes into "Hyper-Mode", where he pretty much bounces of all the walls. Interestingly, Hyper-Mode is one of the few times that I should hear Colin bark, the only others being when a stranger is at the door. Apart from those circumstances (and the one time he should run off and thankfully come back), Colin is a remarkably quiet and well-behaved boy. And let's face it: It's those little quirks that make him even more endearing to me.

A tomcat by the name of Mokka – whom Sumire found one day meowing in front of her doorstep and decided to take in – also lives in and around the house. At first, he is not permitted outside, but after being equipped with a GPS to track his whereabouts he is allowed to explore the great outdoors more often. He is also an interesting combination of needy and cheeky, alternating his nap-free time by being in places he's not necessarily supposed to be – such as the kitchen table, the bunk bed above my one ("How did he even get up there", asks Sumire), or between me and Liete, begging for attention and bellyrubs.

He is also easily the noisiest cat I've ever met, and should regularly flood the house with an indiminishable torrent of meows. And believe me, Hikaru, Sumire and I have tried everything to make him stop (although Hikaru's methods regularly result in "That's not a sound a cat should be making").

Colin and Mokka, by the way, get along just fine. They don't interact much with one another, but they don't bother each other either. It's more like they peacefully co-exist, and if one of them is seeking interaction, it's usually needy Mokka rubbing up on Colin.

Sumire also owns an aquarium populated by four goldfish, as well as one little black fish that would often seek refuge in one of the big spiral seashells. Interestingly, both Hikaru and Sumire insist that this one is actually blue, and while it is true that under the right light conditions you can make out the faintest shimmer of blue on its scales, I don't think anything with an albedo thislow deserves to be called any colour other than black.

And finally, there's one more creature that is an officially recognized member of the household, and that is a mantis who has made him or herself comfortable some time ago, and whom Sumire and Hikaru chose to tolerate for his/her talent at catching smaller bugs. In fact, they go so far as to worry about him/her if they don't see him/her for a while.

It's already quite a big specimen, but you know the saying… There's always a bigger mantis.

Now then, my stay here was definitely an eventful one, so before I can show you about the place, I'll have to insert a short interlude to tell you about…

Interlude: A Vulpine Birthday

Distance: 18.1km
Ascents: 112m
Duration: 2.25h
2 (1🦊); 0/1🎁︎ (3 revisited)

Once again, I am celebrating a birthday abroad, and this time it's my 31st one. To make this occasion special, I decide to bake chocolate chip cookies, since Sumire's household conveniently features a device that functions as a combination of microwave and baking oven. There's now electric mixer in the house, but I won't let that stop me (I'm glad I didn't go for the cheesecake though – boy that would have involved some ferocious mixing).

As a result, this household should soon enough feature a bowl of tasty chocolate chip cookies to share and enjoy with everyone – including some of the English students.

Now, for this next segment, I'm going to have to do the Time Warp®. So for now, please just assume that I have already told you about the following two things:
  1. This place features a bike
  2. I helped get it fixed and went on a little stray around the area in the meantime
…otherwise I'd have to do three interludes in a row, and I don't want that. Anyway, with the newly fixed bike, I decide to go on a little ride back to the vulpine Shrine I visited before to check out if the sign I saw there indicated any sort of special activity on this day. And while I'm at it, I figure I might as well go and check out the surrounding area, and see if I can find some more Shrines and Geocaches.

On the way, I come across a very interesting bridge-cross-balcony construction. I'm sure my architect would like that as well.

The Shrine in question is Najima Jinja (名島神社 "Prestigious Island Shrine"). Unfortunately, there don't appear to be any festivities going on, but at least my approach this time allows me to see a piece of artwork at the back of the Shrine featuring a snake and a turtle-like chimera that I missed the last time.

Also, since this time around I head for the Shrine from the northeast, I do get a good look down on the north of Fukushima from the top of the hill.

And finally, I also manage to find one vulpine Side Shrine that I missed earlier, having mistaken the path leading there for a round circuit to the sumit, or possibly the bottom of the hill. Go foxes! Thank you for this nice birthday present in the form of another fox Shrine! =^,^=

Subsequently, I proceed to the Island City central park in order to "tag" the Geocache I found there last time while wearing my geocaching tails, thus officially visiting it with my trackables, and also being able to put one of my business cards and Euro cent coins inside. On the way there I should come across a very intuitive solution for labelling the sides of bicycle paths.

My next milestone is the Aitaka Bridge, a pedestrian and bicycle only bridge connecting the Island City to the mainland.

Interestingly, it leads me right to an amusement park in the middle of the city. However, for one reason or another, there doesn't seem to be much business today.

Moving on, on top of three revisited caches, I have one actually new Geocache that I want to try today. Unfortunately, it is at the top of a red piste.

And I don't have much luck there either. Instead of a Geocache, I find dozens of mosquitoes who are not much deterred by my Hello Kitty Skin Vape®, and then it also starts to rain. So I decide to call it a day, and head home to enjoy some tasty cookies instead.

Later that same day, Sumire should invite me to dinner at a place of my choice. I decide on a place that we talked about earlier, and that both Sumire and I wanted to check out one of these days: A chain of steak houses known as Ikinari Steak (いきなりステーキ "Sudden Steak"), where they serve The Very Steak.

On the inside, it has a very interesting table design, with the tables being separated by horizontal barriers featuring the condiments.

They also have a very interesting business idea: Instead of selling people wine, they allow people to pay to bring their own wine. Only 1,000¥ per bottle! Now if only they could figure out a way to make people pay for bringing their own steaks as well…

And then the steak arrives. I have chosen a WILD STEAK, and it is served in a very original manner: On a hot iron plate so hot that you can actually see and hear how hot it is. Better be careful eating this.

After that, we quickly drop off by the post office to pick up the parcel that I missed today. That one was actually quite annoying: I did actually see the postman outside and was waiting for him to knock so I could open the door… but unfortunately, he never did, because our doorbell is defect and apparently he tried that (I should consequently craft a sign "Doorbell defect, please knock on the door" to prevent any repetitions of that). And before I could react, he had dropped a "failed delivery" notice in the mailbox and driven off on his motorbike (which, by the way, are common delivery vehicles for mail in Japan, and can even carry a few average-sized parcels). More annoyingly, I should later the same day learn that my father Peter and his girlfriend Doro had sent me a parcel that was scheduled to be delivered today. Now, fortunately, the Japanese post system is superior to the German one in this department, and you can actually pick up your parcel on the very same day at the respective post office, and that is what we're doing now.

Once at home, I should gladly open up my other birthday gift for today, and gleefully find it filled with all sorts of tasty chocolate, that should easily last me for the rest of the month – even with me sharing it with Sumire and Hikaru to give them a taste of European sweets. Incidentally, my absentee voting forms should also arrive today, and I should not miss the opportunity to present them to Sumire and Hikaru to give them a taste of how voting works in Germany. By contrast, in Japan you simply write the name of your favoured candidate on a piece of paper, and that's it.

Now I only have to figure out a way to stow all those delicious sweets in the already pretty crowded refrigerator.

And that's it for my birthday! Now then, let us continue to one of our permanent categories, namely the one where I tell you about…

The Place

Without any further ado, let me take you straight on a tour of this little home.

This place also features a cute little garden. At one time, Sumire was growing vegetables here, but after having taken an extended Europe trip with Hikaru over the summer vacation, now the only notable thing that grows in here is one of those alien autumn flowers.

As for my room… I already mentioned it, but more often than not Colin should keep me company in here while I work on my blog, or do software development for Netfira.

Once again, one very important feature of this place is the Air Conditioning. This time, however, should be the first time that I'd be using the same AC for cooling during the hotter days in the beginning of October, and heating during the latter, cooler days. For you see, this house is once again one of the not-so-well-insulated ones, and thus just like back in New Zealand, this place should cool out considerably during the nights, to the point where I don't want to get out of the warm blankets in the mornings.

Now then, with a ten-year old boy in the house attending fifth grade, it comes as no surprise that there should be Kanji learning sheets all over the place, including in the bathroom, where you can get some learning in while going about your business. Now good luck with those 400 Kanji, because they can be a tough nut to swallow even with all the cute illustrations.

I am, by the way, far from the first person to stay at Sumire's place. At one point, she ran this place as a couchsurfing venue, and had many a people from all over the world over – including one person from New Zealand who gifted her this adorable Piwakawaka plaque. Boy, do I miss those little flitting insect-eaters from the land of the long white cloud.

Other curiosities to be found in this place include an Anpanman-clock in Hikaru's room…

…and Gegege no Kitaro merchandise in the living room. Those two particular characters are Medama-oyaji (目玉のおやじ "Eyeball Father"), Kitaro's father who died of a disease and reincarnated into Kitaro's detached left eyeball, and Nezumi Otoko (ねずみ男 "Rat Man"), a shifty character who is often seen switching sides, and usually ending up on the wrong one.

Also, looking around the house, it's spectacularly uncomplicated to guess what Sumire's favourite animal is.

One last interesting thing in the house is this water filtration pitcher. Basically, you pour water into the top, and it runs through a filter, gradually dripping into the bottom canister, from whence you can pour it into your glass. Now this may seem like a bit of overkill to me given that the tap water looks and tastes perfectly fine, but then again I don't know what sort of stuff they do have in their water here. So I figure "better safe than sorry" and use it as well, especially since it's not usually a bother if you consequently ill it up right away after using it. Otherwise you might have to wait for a few minutes or so.

Moving on to the outside world. Sumire's place is located at a minor thoroughfare – not yet a major road, but big enough to occasionally feature traffic lights. As such, it's a good deal more noisy than in Daisen, especially since the single glazing windows do a poor job of cancelling out the noise. However, the award for main noise factor number one at night should still go to Mokka as opposed to the cars. He would keep the rest of us awake more than once.

Much to my delight, there are a number of Shrines and Jizou located in the immediate vicinity…

…the largest of which is Kashiigu (香椎宮 "Incense Mallet Hall"), after which not only the nearby Kashii Jingu-Eki (香椎神宮駅 "Incence Mallet God Hall Station"), but also the districts of Kashii and Kashiidai are named. In fact, this would be one of the few complex-sized Shrines I should see on my journey.

One of the most remarkable things here is that Kashiigu not only has an Inari Shrine with foxes… but also a chicken Shrine, and right next to it too! I can't make up my mind about whether that's genius or stupid. But one thing is for certain: It sure makes me go: "DAFUQQ?!???!??!?"

And then, I should unexpectedly also find the fabled fountain of youth, right here in Fukuoka. It goes by the name of Furosui Oomyoujin (不老水大明神 "Perennial Youth Water Great Gracious Deity"), and was discovered and utilized by Takenouchi no Sukune (武内の宿禰 "Lord of Warrior House") in the third century AD. Sukune is said to have lived up to his 300th birthday drinking from the waters of the fountain that still bubble up copiously today. Back then, the water was presented to the imperial family, but today even commoners and lowly foxes such as I are permitted to drink from it. Naturally I should leave a little donation as a way of saying thanks.

There's also all sorts of strange city-block sized pits dithering the neighborhood at regular intervals, the purpose of which I do not understand until the first rainy day, and then it becomes clear: Those are actually temporary reservoirs to catch excess rainwater coming down from the mountains and prevent the many rivers from flooding the city.

Naturally, Fukuoka also has its own set of Manhole covers. This time around, there seem to be two different variations of the same design, presumably one of older make than the other, as well as a smaller and different design.

The main supermarket in this area goes by the illustrious name of "Sunny", and is about 7 or 8 STEPs away. Getting there can be quite tricky actually, since you can't just go there directly because of the hill, but rather have to take a bit of a roundabout way one way or the other.

Also, remember how I said there are no chains of Supermarkets here in Japan? Well, it turns out that's not entirely true… and yet it only serves to add another layer of confusion. You see, there are chains of Drug Stores that have expanded their assortment to include supermarket-like commodities, and are as such not much different from actual supermarkets, apart from maybe a little smaller selection and a bigger drug and hygiene department. There are a number of those around, and it turns out I have actually shopped in some of them in the past, taking them just for normal supermarkets. The closest of those around here is the Drug Store Mori, which features an energetic little apple as its mascot.

Finally, there are also the ever-present Konbinis around. This time, however, I should get to shop in a new type, which I had last seen in Ishinomaki. This one goes by the name of Mini Stop, and its selection is pretty much the same as in any other Konbini.

Well then, now that I have told you about the place, it's time to go out for some…

Interlude: Dazaifu Dabbling

Distance: 7km
Ascents: 160m
Duration: 4h
43 (7🦊); 3; 2/4🎁︎

Being taken by my interest in Shrines and Temples, Sumire should schedule an excursion to Dazaifu Tenmangu (太宰府天満宮"Big Rule Office Whole Heaven Hall") early on during my stay. This is yet another famous Shrine complex of the area, built around Tobiume (飛梅 "Flying Plum"), a plum tree with a history. You see, in olden times, Sugawara no Michizane – a gifted student who composed many poems dedicated to his favorite plum trees – was banished from Kyoto to Kyushu by his rivals. After his death, his body was pulled by an oxen cart, which stopped near a Buddhist monastery, and unable to move his body along, one of his followers buried Michizane right there and then. Seeking to be reunited with its master, Michizane's favourite plum tree flew subsequently flew over all the way from Kyoto to watch over his grave – or so the legend goes – and is still standing in the middle of the Shrine today.

The town of Dazaifu, which surrounds the Shrine, is actually about 50 STEPs away from Fukuoka…

…and so on one of Japan's few public holidays – Taiiku-no Hi (体育の日 "Health and Sports Day") – Sumire, Hikaru and I athletically drive all the way to Dazaifu by car.

Well, at least I for my part should still get a good amount of exercise that day, for while I complete part of the tour together with Sumire and Hikaru, I should do the majority of hardcore straying around the area on my own terms while Hikaru and Sumire have a more relaxing time.

The two main attractions here are Dazaifu Tenmangu (duh!), as well as the Kyushu National Museum. The two of them are on opposing sides of a hill, but never mind that, for the people of this area have long since built a tunnel through that hill and equipped it with fancy travelators. However, these moving walkways are so terribly slow that we eventually decide that simply walking will be faster than standing behind the people on the travelator.

Thus we quickly arrive at Dazaifu, which owing to the holiday is pretty full of people. Being a Tenmangu Shrine, the themes of this shrine are "learning" and "knowledge", and so many people come here to pray for success in exams or other learning situations.

Naturally, the big one (which would become the next complex-sized Shrine in my list) isn't the only Shrine in this area, and at least while I stray around the general vicinity to visit local Shrines, Sumire and Hikaru patiently put up with my pilgrimic passion.

And let me tell you, there's all sorts of them around, maybe most interestingly of which this Daikokuten-Shrine which interestingly features a rat in its interior design.

Theres also quite a curiosity: Not a topless pagoda, but rather a pagodaless top, just standing at the side of the forested hill next to Dazaifu.

And then there's Side Shrines until everything is too late. Normally I'm a fan of many Shrines, but this is ridiculous, especially since these Shrines look like they've all been bought off the shelf at IKEA. Some of them even have the same names!

To compensate for this, there is also quite a number of vulpine Shrines to be found for the more adventurous fox who is willing to stray a little bit further afield. Only two of the vulpine Shrines here should be visited by the three of us together, while I should venture out to visit the others all on my own.

But enough about Shrines. Dazaifu naturally should also have its very own manhole cover designs. These ones are only simple floral designs, but they are still a good deal more fancy than the average manhole cover back in Germany.

During the middle of the trip, we should meet at the Oishijaya (お石茶屋 "Stone Tea House"), and old, traditional tea house with interesting kneeling tables in the garden. There, we should stop not only for a serving of wholesome and yummy Kitsune Udon, but also a tasty Mocchi (rice dumplings filled with bean paste) dessert to go with the traditional tea.

During this stray I should notably also introduce both Sumire and Hikaru to the secret world of Geocaching. The first cache on our route is inaccessible, but the second one is quickly found and leaves both Sumire and Hikaru thirsting for more. Regrettably, we shouldn't be able to find the third cache, but Hikaru and I would after some exertion eventually found the fourth cache hidden cleverly on top off the forested hill next to Dazaifu.

After I finish my long, southern bonus loop, the three of us rendezvous in the Lobby of the Kyushu National Museum…

…and while Sumire takes five to get some direly needed studying time for her theoretical taxi driver's exam in, Hikaru and I proceed to investigate the interior, which features all sorts of items of cultural significance – scrolls, painted wall screens, urns, poetry, paintings, armour, weapons… you name it. Photography is prohibited throughout most of the museum, but there are a few exhibit halls where taking pictures is explicitly allowed (sorry, all of the weaponry was in the restricted sections =u,u'= ).

With that, our family trip to Dazaifu comes to an end, and we return back home to Fukuoka. Now then, I suppose that was quite enough relaxing on my part, so for now, let me elaborate about the things I do to arn my worth at this place and tell you about…

The Job

My work here should include… lots of things really. I should keep myself quite busy helping with this and that in the household every day, but there are a few things that take up notably more time than others, and the first of that is taking care of Hikaru. For starters, the boy has quite some trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, and so it is my job to get him ready for school in time on every single school day.

And guess what? I actually manage to do it. Using my mighty powers of Game Design, I whip up a live action game known as the Morning Race, where Hikaru earns Points depending on whether he can complete his morning tasks on time. The Points are then added up over the days, and once he has accrued enough points, he wins a prize. Sounds trivial, but it actually gets him out of bed each morning. As for me, apart from having set up the rules, I serve as the game's referee, and am in charge of cheering Hikaru on when he's ahead of time, and likewise hounding him when he's late.

He actually misses quite a lot of the deadlines and ends up losing points as a result, but this is where my vulpine prowess comes in: Cleverly, I designed the deadlines with a generous grace period each, so that even if he fails a goal by a wide generous margin and consequentially loses lots of Points, he is still in time for school in the end. As a result, Hikaru should not be late for school on even a single day during the entirety of my stay here. And I shouldn't even have to use the Chemical Club® all that often.

After Hikaru comes home around 18:00, it's study time. Most of the days he is able to do it on his own, but on other days, it should be up to me to get him to do his homework.

But it's not all school work. Occasionally, we should have time for a quick game of Ecchnasi. Despite his young age, he grasps the basics of the game quickly and gives me quite a strong match.

After that, we're going into the crafting corner, starting with Minecraft! Hikaru is actually already somewhat familiar with the game, but hasn't played it much on his own yet. Imagine his delight when I let him play it on my trusty Liete!

In fact, his fascination with the game should become a powerful tool for me to leverage, and so one Point in the Morning Race should come to equal one minute of Minecraft time as a short-term goal, while Sumire and I agree to get him Minecraft for the household tablet if he manages to reach a thousand points. And imagine that: Hikaru actually proves his capability of pursuing long-term goals, and eventually stops playing Minecraft altogether in order not to lose any Points he needs to progress towards his ultimate goal. He should eventually manage to clear that threshold barely a week before it is time for me to move on, and Sumire should stay true to her word and get Hikaru Minecraft for the household tablet.

And now, it's my time to get crafty. Sumire told me that Hikaru really likes chess, and while we do have a chess board, we lack the appropriate figures. Now then, those of you who know me in person probably know that it shouldn't take me longer than a few hours to fix that problem, using common household crafting supplies such as discarded cardboard, paper, glue, scissors and a printer, I have prepared a perfectly usable set of chess tokens within the space of an afternoon. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all those triangles that always seem to come out as a side result of me crafting games…

Anyway, naturally Hikaru should want to test his mettle against me right away after coming home, and he turns out to be a good opponent, and after two games we come out even at one win each.

My next crafting project should be somewhat more complex. At some point during my stay I should get it into my head to design a fun little English learning game for Japanese people of all ages, and before I know it I'm writing complex game design documents for a game by the name of "Lord British", which is pretty much a quiz-based race around the United Kingdom, with a good amount of chance in it to mask the fact that it's actually a learning game at its core.

The trickiest part here should actually be finding the materials for this. Especially flash cards are hard to come by here in Japan – even in specialized stationary shops – and cardboard isn't that easy to find either. I should spend quite a bit of time during my explorations looking for these things in various stores, before I finally end up finding them for 108¥ each at the nearest Daiso 100¥-shop.

And the most time-consuming card is hand-writing all these question cards. I briefly consider printing them, but quickly discard that idea since I don't know if the printer is able to handle cardboard that thick, and also because I'm not at all confident we have enough ink for this sort of thing. So, hand-crafted it is.

Not much later, there's the awful moment of truth when I first play the game with Hikaru to see if it works. Much to my delight, it turns out not even good, but great! Hikaru is very excited by the game, and thanks to the handicap system I built into the game, he even manages to beat me by a hair's width. I should never get to play the game together with Sumire, but since the rulebook is only three pages long, I'm sure she'll be able to easily pick it up if she so chooses.

Once again, the prolonged journey should take its toll on my clothes, and so I once more end up with needle in hand, fixing my trusty old pants…

…and while I'm at it, I also go the extra mile to fix one of Sumire's cushions that has clearly seen better times. I wonder if a certain tomcat whom I regularly have to shoo away from my backpacks is to blame for that?

Next up on the crafting side, Hikaru one day complains about a broken Omamori (お守りprotective charm from a Shrine). It should take me my Vulpine Prowess proc for the day, but I would eventually figure out a way how to get it fixed for him.

Now, back to the point where we did the Time Warp®. This place features a bike, and that bike has a number of problems. For one, it is locked with a 4-digit number lock, the combination of which Sumire has forgotten. Fortunately for her, she now has a fox in the house, and that fox knows a number of ways how to game such locks (most of which start with "humans suck at choosing secure passcodes". As such, it should not even take me five minutes to find the correct combination for the lock.

The next problem is that both tyres are flat, and while I manage to fix the valve-issue on the front tyre without much of an issue, the valve-issue of the back tyre is… somewhat more extreme.

So, sooner rather than later, Sumire and I take the bike down to the nearest Aeon Mall by car, which conveniently features a bicycle repair shop.

They are not particularly busy today, but they still need a few hours to get around to fixing that issue. Sumire – busy as always – doesn't have that kind of time on her hands, so I volunteer to pick up the bike when it's done and ride it back home, the Aeon Mall not being all that far from her place. In the meantime, I take this chance to stray around the general area, making a little circuit that is, as usual, probably just a little bit bigger than it needed to be, but oh well…

"What?!? Another stray righ in the middle of the Job section?!?" I hear you ask incredulously. But don't worry, I promise I'll make this quick. First, I go along the side of Mishima Suiiki (御島水域 "Honourable Island Waters"), where I find not only a Geocache, but also an inaccessible aquatic Shrine populated mostly by birds these days. There's also a 5.8km long jogging course going around the bay.

Next is the Island City Park, home of yet another Geocache, as well as the very iconic Tri-Towers, which feature convenient connecting terraces every eleven floors. Why doesn't anyone in Germany ever think of cool and practical ideas like this? I mean, on its own, each of the towers is only a boring old square tower, but the connecting terraces instantly turn it into something special! I bet the design is really stable in an earthquake too, like a giant tripod.

Next, in a crazy fit of "MUAHAHAHAHAH!!!", I decide to extend my trip even further south, and as I cross the bridge into what turns out to be mostly a commercial harbour district, the slowly setting sun reminds me that I don't have a lot of time left today.

Naturally I don't let that deter me from continuing to defy good reason, and visiting a number of Shrines and Temples along the Promenade, perhaps the most notable of which is Najima Jinja.

It is there that I come across a cryptic message at the vulpine Toyogawa Inari Jinja (豊川稲荷神社 "Bountiful River Inari Shrine "). I can't quite make out what it says, but the date on it is 4-Oct, the day of my birthday. Naturally, that arouses my curiosity, and as such I determine to come back here on that day to find out if there's a festival or something going on.

After that, it's high time to go. Half walking, half running, I eventually manage to make it all the way back to the Aeon Mall pretty much exactly at sunset.

Good thing my ride is repaired and ready to roll, right?

Beep! Wrong! Much to my dismay, my routine check of "Air-In-Tyres?" results in a negative on the back tyre, and so I go back into the shop where they take another 15 minutes to figure out what went wrong and re-fix it.

And only after that it's finally time to ride the finally repaired bike finally back home again along and across busy streets via those convenient pedestrian overpass crosses and through the giant Torii that marks the entrance to the Kashiidai District. Finally!

Moving on to household duties: One of my regulars is washing the dishes. Fortunately, this home, too, comes equipped with one of these nifty little dishwashers, so instead of having to wash the dishes, dry them and put them away, I only have to wash the dishes, put them into the dishwasher, take them out of the dishwasher and then put them away. Waaaait… why does it feel like something doesn't quite add up there?

Occasionally, I should also get to cook for Hikaru (not for ever-busy Sumire though), and Dragon, there is no way for me to describe to you how much it lifts my spirits to hear him go "YAAAYYY!!!" when he knows I'm cooking tasty Gamm Ligeral or Naleiayafero for him.

And that's not even the pinnacle of my culinary achievements here! Since Sumire's place features a small but perfectly functional oven, I should get to make Legendary tri-Tail Piza for the two of them on not one but two occasions. They love it, and it's not only a treat for them, but also for myself. The last time I had a chance to prepare my Legendary tri-Tail Pizza was back in the lair of the dreadful witch Anna Morita back in Yudanaka (see Book II ~ Chapter 11 ~ The Yoke of Yudanaka), where I prepared it for my fellow Flirials. That time is now almost two months in the past, and in all likelihood, I should not get to prepare another one of these savoury delights for the remainder of my time here in Japan… and possibly even longer. So I savour every single bite of it now!

At one occasion I should also try my hand at baking… uhhh… let's call it "instant bread" from a mixture called "Brödmix Flerkorn". However, I think I might have gotten something wrong, for it doesn't properly rise in the oven. Oh well, it's still plenty good to eat, if a little bit compact. Instant noodles are definitely more foolproof.

Sumire also occasionally goes shopping at a large wholesale store by the name of Costco, which I've seen at a number of other big cities thus far, such as Tokyo and Sapporo. Apart from large quantities of affordable goods for her own needs, she also regularly picks up orders for one of her friends who owns a restaurant in town. As such, she is glad to have someone along to help her push the second large trundler.

In addition to cheap access to wares, Costco also provides a range of goods that can't be acquired anywhere else in Japan, and so it happens that here in Fukuoka, after 8 months of abstinence, I finally get to taste my beloved salt-and-vinegar flavoured chips again. Yay!!! Happy!!!

But now for the one task that should take up the lion's share of my working time here in Fukuoka, and is quite possible one of the most enjoyable jobs I've ever had: Walking Colin! With both Sumire and Hikaru being out of the house for most of the day, the poor dog doesn't get a lot of exercise. That, however, should change during my stay here, and the energetic little Shiba-Inu and I should consequently go on daily dogwalks often exceeding an hour. I remember the last time I had a job like this was in Cambridge, in New Zealand (see Book I ~ Chapter 27 ~ The Circuits of Cambridge), and that was already over a year ago now.

Maybe a little bit too energetic, that is. More often than not, we start of our walks with a run up or down the street. One Saturday morning, however, while we're waiting for Hikaru to be picked up by the day care, Colin gets to excited, and the moment I open the door to greet the person from the daycare who has come to pick up Hikaru, Colin runs past us and out the door like a yellow flash, and down the road. By the time I get my shoes on and go after him, he is already well out of sight, and even a search of the nearby Aoba Kouen (青葉公園 "Fresh Leaf Park") doesn't turn up a trace of him. Fortunately, this little tale of excitement should have a happy end: After I briefly return home to equip myself for an extended search and leave the house for the second time, I spot Colin coming my way as if wondering where I was all the time, not a hint of regret in those loyal canine eyes of his. Oh well…

Apart from that little incident, our walks together should be quite relaxing…

…and after over a month at this place, we should have walked a total distance of 130km over the course of 40 hours, and climbed a total of 2km in these hilly parts. Also, Colin's territory should grow to quite impressive proportions, encompassing an area of roughly 8.5km² and 73 parks. That's not quite the territory size of a wolf pack, but easily ten times that of a fox.

And yes, I counted the parks! They should actually make it really easy, as every official park here in Fukuoka – huge or tiny – has a sign board somewhere, detailing its official name, and often also its exact size in m². I think the smallest I've seen was 120m²…

By contrast, the biggest one is the nearby Aoba Kouen, which among other things also features a multi-purpose sports field on the top of the hill, as well as a water-well staircase that Colin just loves to dip his paws in.

Also, there's lakes littering the landscape like holes in Swiss cheese. I assume they serve a function as secondary reservoirs, for bathing – or even accessing them – is forbidden for each single one, and high fences surround them. Look, but do not touch!

And then there's Maimatsubara Kofun (Gesundheit! …I mean 舞松原古墳 "Circle Pine Meadow Old Tomb"), an ancient tomb mound from the 4th century, located atop a forested hill. I don't know what it is about forested paths like this, but whenever Colin should see one of these, he should start running at top speed, and I – being a good sport – should follow along… to the point where I feel like just dropping into the tomb myself having just climbed about 200 steps in a record time of about two minutes.

On one occasion, Hikaru should also join me on my dogwalks. However, despite his alleged, hyperactivity he should be the first of us three to complain about the long walk.

Near the end of my stay, Colin and I should range further and further afield, occasionally breaching the psychologically important 2-hour mark for our strays, and going as far as the fabled Green Hill Zone (みどりが丘, Midorigaoka "Green Hill")...

…as well as crossing to Kyushu Shinkansen tracks both below and above.

One last curiosity that I should observe on our walks is that Colin does occasionally stop to allow himself a salad. He doesn't do this too often, but still every now and then.

And those are the diverse tasks that should keep me occupied during my stay here. Yet even with all of that, I should still find the time to go on…

Interlude: The Eastward Extraterritorial Exploration

Distance: 41km
Ascents: 310m
Duration: 7.5h
40 (4🦊); 7; 2/9🎁︎

This should be the first of three extensive rides I should go on using the newly repaired bike, and it should be quite unique since it is the one ride that takes part predominantly outside of the official Fukuoka city boundaries. Instead, it should take me, in that order, through the Municipalities of Hisayama (久山 "Old Story Mountain"), Sasaguri (篠栗 "Bamboo Grass Chestnut"), Sue (須恵 "Necessary Blessing"), Umi (宇美 "Beautiful Heaven"), Shime (志免 "Dismissed Hope") and Kasuya (粕屋 "Scrap House"). It is also the one that should feature the most ascents, though I should be required to occasionally push my bike on all three rides.

Incidentally, Umi is also the municipality right north of Dazaifu, so with a little extra time on my hands, I could have made the connection to the place I visited earlier with Sumire and Hikaru. However, since my work in this place pretty much takes up the mornings, that leaves me just a few hours short. Nonetheless, I should still get to see a lot on my rides.

Hence, I set off into the hills of Fukuoka, taking to narrow and idyllic side streets at first…

…and naturally running into the first Shrines and Temples before long.

My milestones for this ride are a combination of Geocaches and Inari Shrines, and the first of those is a cache supposedly hidden at the Nagatani Dam (長谷ダム "Long Valley Dam"), a hydroelectric dam that has created a very interestingly-shaped lake, Unfortunately, I shouldn't be able to find the cache there, but I would still get a great view on the area.

Moving on, I should enter the town of Hisayama. And that means… new manhole covers!!!

Hisayama is one of those places that I can't quite decide whether it's cool… or creepy. You see, for one reason or another, they have realistically dressed straw dummies all over the place. I could imagine they are meant to be more contemporary versions of scarecrows, or maybe a very elaborate art project. One way or another, I'm sure moving around this place after nightfall would be… interesting.

The next milestone is an Inari Shrine, which gives me some trouble at first, but eventually, I manage to find it in here.

That's right: For one reason or another, this Shrine is located on the grounds of a garden supply store. Oh well, I've also seen Inari Shrines on top of shopping malls after all (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working).

Afterwards, it doesn't take me long at all to reach Sasaguri…

…where yet more Shrines and Temples await me.

Of those, Oimatsu Jinja (老松神社 "Old Pine Shrine") is particularly notable for its impressive gnarled old eponymous pine growing at an impossible angle over the Shrine entrance.

It is also there that I devour my lunch. Having taken into account that I would be going into more remote regions, I have prepared myself a sandwich prior to my departure that I would be able to eat at any time. I originally planend to make a cheese-and-ham sandwich, but since we were fresh out of ham, it instead ended up being a cheese-and-cheese sandwich.

After that, I have to cross a 90m-high hill pass, which is great because it gives me a good view of the city below... but also not so great because there's no way my humble 6-gear city bike can tackle these slopes, so I have to push.

So now I'm in Sue, and I'm starting to realize that the people of this area must really like flowers as part of their manhole cover designs.

For once, I shouldn't find any Shrines here at all… just kidding. Naturally, Sue also has its fair share of Shrines, although one of them appears to have been converted into a gardening shack.

And then I reach Umi, and surprise! More flowers on manhole covers! Who would have guessed! Still, every single design is creative and unique, and thus superior to the bland, abstract designs seen in most of the rest of the world.

Another landmark with an alleged geocache that I should not be able to find beckons here. This time, it is Koushouji Kofun (光正寺古墳 "Correct Light Temple Ancient Burial Mound")…

…from which I should be able to get a great panorama overview of the area. Dazaifu, by the way, is in the direction at 0:30, just behind the hill on the horizon.

And I should get closer yet, for the turning point of today's exploration is Umi Hachimangu, where it seems I have just missed a Matsuri today, since everyone is pretty much packing up already. still, there are quite some people (and a few foxes) around.

After that, all that's left is the way home, which naturally features yet more Shrines and Temples…

…as well as the only two Geocaches I should actually find on this tour – both of them featuring standard-issue Japanese Geocaching containers.

I also come across these curiously patterned fences…

…which only make sense once you see them from a distance and at an angle.

And then, I find another one of those "Peace On Earth"-Pillars, this one being written in as many as four different languages.

One point of interest is the historic Shime Mining Shaft Scaffold, which remains standing as relic of a bygone era when coal was mined in this area. At the time of its construction in 1943, this concrete scaffolding – also known as Tatekou Yagura (竪坑櫓 "Mine Shaft Tower") – was cutting edge technology, and as such is considered a culturally important landmark up to today, even though the actual mine closed down long ago, in 1964.

By now, however, I have to hurry since night is rapidly approaching. Once again I am cutting it close, but in the end I should be able to make it back home before nightfall.

And now, after all that work and scuttling around the area, let's talk about…

The Food

Breakfast at Sumire's place usually consist of bread, toast or bagels with something on top (such as, say, Nutella)…

…but should occasionally also feature other dishes, such as soup, various baked goods, eggs, instant pancakes, Nokori (残り "leftovers") or Arcturian Mega-Muffins.

Most notably, however, this should be where I would figure out a new breakfast recipe. One thing that many Japanese people find unbelievable about me is that I – an European – actually like Natto. The typical way I've seen people eat it around here is on top of rice, but since I usually don't have the patience to prepare rice for breakfast, I have long since tried to figure out something that goes well with Natto at breakfast time. The answer to that conundrum turns out to be pretty simple: Just combine toast, margarine and Natto, and BAM! You have Natto on Toast! This should henceforth become one of my preferred breakfast meals for the rest of my trip.

Lunch should end up being mostly pasta. Hikaru and Sumire usually are both out of the house at lunchtime, and so I generally end up preparing myself a double-portion of something pasta-ish – one for now, and another one for the next day.

Occasionally, however, the sequence should be broken up with Nokori and/or soup.

And if you ask where all these Nokori come from, then it's dinnertime. This is the most varied meal of the day, and is usually prepared by Sumire, who cooks up a variety of authentic Japanese as well as Korean dishes such as ① Chanpon (a pork, vegetable and seafood noodle soup), ② Chidchimi (a Korean pancake of sorts), ③ Subuta (sweet-and-sour pork), ④ Oden (a one-pot soup with all sorts of ingredients in a rich broth), ⑤ Oyakodon (親子丼 "parent child bowl" = chicken & egg bowl"), ⑥ Okonomiyaki, and ⑦ totally-not-curry-rice (actually, it's more like goulash).

Occasionally, however, we should also take the easy way and go with frozen pizza from Costco. Maybe it's because Costco is an American chain, but this one is actually quite good. I still miss the tasty, affordable and convenient German frozen pizza though…

In addition to the generous selection of birthday snacks which my family sent me…

…I also help myself to a full set of Meiji chocolate, including White, milk, BLACK and Himilk chocolate.

In addition to that and the tasty tasty tasty salt and vinegar chips, Sumire should also occasionally treat me to some other snacks, such as these chocolate 5¥ pieces, the design and name of which matches their price (Goen ga aru yo ごえんがあるよ "It's 5 yen!".

Also, there apparently is a campaign at McDonald's this month where the give away free cheeseburgers with every purchase, and while we do not go to eat there, Sumire occasionally gets something from there for lunch by herself, and then brings the extra burger back home for me to eat…

…though something tells me that if I weren't around, that burger would still find at least one other grateful recipient.

And then, no other host should take me out dining as often as Sumire would. Even averaged out over the duration of my stay, it's still a new all-time record. Be it in a Ramen shop…

…an Udon-ya…

…or in her Mexican friend's place Sancho Panza, where I try a number of interesting exotic things all in one evening, such as the clear Inca Kola or a desert that consist of ice cream in a solid chocolate shell that you first have to crack open quite forcefully.

The highlight, however, should be another automatic Sushi restaurant like the one back in Morioka (see Book II ~ Chapter 9 ~ Amicable Appi-Kogen).

This time around, thanks to Hikaru, we would get to play a little game of chance: For every five finished plates you put into the return slot, a short video sequence shows. The sequence randomly features either a good or a bad ending, and if you get the good ending, you win a little prize from a capsule machine installed above the conveyor belts. Clever marketing, really.

Now that I'm well nourished, it's time for me to undertake…

Interlude: The Shikashima Shenanigan

Distance: 60km
Ascents: 200m
Duration: 9h
74 (10🦊); 10; 4/7🎁︎

[To be continued…]

The Flair

Interlude: Going Geoshrining

Distance: 6.1km
Ascents: 133m
Duration: 3.25h
38 (1🦊); 2/3🎁︎

The Retrospective

Interlude: Around the Airport

Distance: 51.5km (49km ride; 2.5km stray)
Ascents: 170m (160m ride; 10m stray)
Duration: 9h (7.5h ride; 1.5h stray)
62 (39🦊); 16; 3/7🎁︎

The Road Ahead