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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. Now, the good news is that this bike has a clip-on torchlight, and the even better news is that Hikaru helped me replace its batteries, and we tested it to confirm it works.

…the bad news is, that clip-on torchlight is still lying on the kitchen table where we replaced the batteries right now, which I realize at a decidedly inopportune time.

Fortunately, I should still manage to make it back home before it gets too dark, and there my first course of action should be to grab the torchlight off the kitchen table and clip it onto the bike where it belongs.

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🎁︎

East of mainland Fukuoka lies Shikashima (志賀島 "Aspiring Joy Island"), a tied island connected to the mainland by a causeway. Being made accessible to me in such a way naturally means that I just have to go there by bike eventually – especially since it's a place of historic importance to boot: You see, it was this island where the Gold Seal of King Na was discovered in 1784. One of Japan's National Treasures today, the solid gold seal was a gift bestowed by Emperor Guangwu of Han (ancient China) bestowed upon the King of Han's vassal state Na (names sure were simpler those days), and notably mark the earliest documented instance of Kanji being imported from China to Japan.

Knowing that speed is of the essence on a long trip like this, I take a pretty much straightforward approach to the first part of the trip, sticking to larger roads, and before long I'm at the waterfront, and on the bridge connecting the Aqua City island to the peninsula pointing towards Shikashima.

The next part along the length of Umi-no Nakamichi (海の中道 "Road in the Middle of the Sea") should be either more or less straightforward than I had hoped for, depending on how you look at it. You know I hate repitiions, and so I should (ironically) repeatedly try to get off the main road and go along the peninsula on a side road. However, each attempt to do so should be thwarted, be it by a Juvenile Detention Centre inconveniently placed in the way, or a private seaside park where I would have to pay a fee to enter. As such, I grudgingly end up returning to the main road every time.

Eventually, I reach the town of Saitozaki (西戸崎 "West Door Cape") at the end of the peninsula, from where I get a great view on Hakata-Wan...

…which also includes Nokonoshima (能古島 "Talent Old Island"), the biggest "true" Island in Hakata-Wan.

And then, I'm already on the causeway connecting Shikashima to the mainland. Actually, I'm not quite sure whether this particular causeway was artificially created, or if it was naturally deposited by tidal effects and only later reinforced by humans, but either way, today there's only a small bridge near the end of the causeway to allow water to pass beneath, and even the channel below is dry as of the time of my visit – probably due to low tide.

Thus begins the approximately 10km long segment of my trip around the island, leading me mostly along very beautiful and not very busy coastal roads.

The first curiosity I should come across is an ancient Mongolian mound erected here during the 13th century, and eventually expanded by this neat memorial.

"Wait… Mongolian?!?" you ask, "isn't that about 2,000km that's-a-way?" And yes, you're of course absolutely right, but history sometimes has its way of surprising us, In fact, this little video animation by Bill Wurtz (full Version: history of japan) neatly brings it to the point.

The a bit longer version is: After conquering Korea and parts of China, Kublai Khan repeatedly demanded the voluntary submission of Japan into a vassal state of the Mongol Empire for six consecutive years from 1266 to 1272. Having been continuously rebuffed, Kublai Khan eventually began preparations for an invasion of Japan, which he staged in 1274. The Mongol army had superior numbers and combat experience, and quickly made it all the way to Hakata-Wan. They would have likely won the war and subdued Japan, had it not been for what the Japanese interpreted to have been divine intervention on their behalf. After the Mongols had retreated to their ships after a day of battle (in order to prevent being outflanked by the Japanese who had superior knowledge of the terrain) and retreated some distance onto the Ocean, the Mongol ships were caught in a Typhoon that sank the majority of their fleet. The Japanese, being accustomed to the stormy conditions, immediately took advantage of this and used their smaller, better manoeuvrable vessels to board the remaining ships in the dead of night, and defeat the remaining Mongols in close combat, where their superior horsemanship and bows were of little use to them, thus bringing the first Mongol invasion to a halt.

Not one to admit defeat so easily, Kublai Khan launched a second invasion in 1981, striking for Hakata-Wan once again. By now, however, the Japanese had fortified the bay with 2m high walls and were able to prevent the Mongol army from properly landing. Given enough time, the Mongols might have overpowered the heavily outnumbered Japanese, but it should never come to this. On 15-Aug-1281, yet another massive Typhoon hit Kyushu, completely obliterating the Mongol fleet and bringing Kublai Khan's ambitions to an end. These two instances of divine intervention reinforced Japan's image as a nation blessed by the gods, and the winds that arose to defend their homeland eventually became known as Kamikaze (神風 "Divine Wind").

And the moral of the story?
Try invading Japan during the Typhoon season and you'll be sorry!

Oh yes, and there's also a Geocache here. Don't you just love it how these little thingies always end up leading me to the most interesting of places?

Moving on. Up until now, this ride has been surprisingly Shrine- and Temple free, but that should soon change, and I would visit a number of Shrines and Temples right here on this Island, including what just might end up being the westernmost vulpine Shrine I should visit in Japan.

And then there's this fish shop that is going to get full points for design.

By the way, you might think that this being a trip around the island means that for once I would not face any steep ascents. However, at one point the road should cut across a peninsula via a relatively low saddle… but still at an incline which my bike is unable to handle, and so it's push once again. Also once again, the Japanese traffic planners should demonstrate their complete lack of understanding of how bicycles work, for I only find the following sign at the very top of the slope. Gee, thanks! And here I was thinking that instead of going up and then down, this particular slope was just going to continue going up for a change!

It is at the far point of Shikashima that I sit down and enjoy my lunch while looking out towards a Shrine I cannot reach. This time around, I have augmented my sandwich with a few little cucumber slices to add a bit of colour.

Whereas the road to here on the southwest side of the island mostly ran past beaches and through villages, the road back around the northeast side of the island runs mostly along steep cliff faces. Also, large parts of I appear to be undergoing renovations, and thus I should find myself having to stop in front of traffic regulation lights such as this one more than just once. The flashing characters on the… uhhh… "Traffic Clover"… read Migi He (右へ "to the right"), by the way.

And after a number of interesting coastal rock formations…

…I eventually reach Shikaumi Jinja (志賀海神社 "Aspiring Joy Sea Shrine"), the main Shrine of the island. Interestingly, "Shika" can also be read with a different Kanji, namely 鹿, which changes its meaning from "Aspiring Joy" to "Deer". Reading it like that would change the island's name to "Deer Island", and a statue prominently displayed at the Shrine implicates that this notion might not be all that far-fetched.

With that, I have gone full circle around the island, and thus my way now leads me back across the causeway and onto the peninsula.

On the rebound, I should scour the aptly named Kotake (小岳 "Small Peak"), Kyushu's officially lowest mountain, for yet another Geocache – a task that should not be as easy as it sounds. For one, the mountain is not really all that accessible, and I should have to make my way through several dozen meters of completely undeveloped underbrush (and anyone who has ever tired that will know that's not an easy feat), and up a loose-earth mountainside to the 21m high "peak. And for another, the Cache turns out to have been annexed by a local ant colony, and careful thought I approach the issue, I should contract quite a number of bites getting to the log.

And then it's back the length of Umi-no Nakamichi again. Notably, a railway line also runs the length of the peninsula, connecting the town of Saitozaki to central Fukuoka. A total of three trains should pass me by before I make it back to the mainland.

Now then, since I've come this far, I figure, I might as well continue north along the coast, visiting a good number of additional Shrines and Temples that just happen to be standing around here.

It is in one of these that I fulfil one of the goals of my journey, and to explain that, I will have to do a bit of exposition: You see, after finishing my study of Game Design in 2012, I started working for a Facebook Games company by the name of MegaZebra. It was my first long-term work experience, and thus it took me a while to realize that the conditions there were rather abusive seen from an objective perspective. Despite other employees quitting after 18 months on average, I managed to last three-and-a-half years before the continuous mental cruelty imposed on me by management and its lackeys had me ready for the nut house. I spent six weeks in therapy, during which MegaZebra tried to unlawfully fire me. Having anticipated as much, I let my lawyer handle things from there, and ended up with an agreement that had the company pay me for several more months and then see me off with an adequate severance package. It was precisely after that, in 2016, that my travels – and with it the Travelling Fox Blog – should begin.

Now then, it was during my time in therapy that I carved a little fox statue, taking the Japanese fox statues found at Inari Shrines as an example. Naturally, I inadvertently chose a particularly hard stone, and as thus my progress was limited, and the result not very artisan, but it was something, and that's all it needed to be. I kept that little fox at home during my time in New Zealand, but took it with me on my Journey to Japan, carrying it around all the way, up until now.

I have been meaning to give this little fox a home at one of the Shrines here, but it took me a while to find the right one. It had to be a remote, rural Shrine where even a crude little carving such as mine would be welcome as part of the family, and now, here in Fukuoka, I finally find a Shrine like that while also carrying the carving around and thinking of it at just the right time. And so, I take a minute to pour all my wishes, hopes and dreams into the little carving, and then send it off to Inari, so it may join the other foxes in their family. I dearly hope my prayers will reach her.

Moving on, I leave the borders of Fukuoka once again – out the north this time around – and enter the town of Shingu (新宮 "New Hall"), which should be the only non-Fukuokan district on today's ride. Of course you all know what that means.

It is here that I should find one of the most cleverly hidden Geocaches so far… although the rusted thing should prove quite difficult to open up, but I would get there in the end.

…although the fact that I have to push my way through a burdock thicket should take its toll on my tails. It should take me an hour to get all of those little things out of my fur. On the other hand, I should have something to do while waiting at traffic lights for the next couple of times.

Moving on, I find yet another Geocache in front of Isozaki Jinja (磯崎神社 "Rocky Beach Cape Shrine"), this one not quite as cleverly hidden as the last one, but still definitely up there near the top of the spectrum of clever hides.

And then, I bring my bike to a screeching halt as I completely unexpectedly ride by something that turns out to be a rose bed planted in the memory of Anne Frank (the translation "souvenir" is sort of inaccurate, I think "memento" would be more fitting), all the way on the other side of the planet. It reminds me about my Bachelor thesis which also very briefly went around the world. That one was about the prospect of creating a game depicting the life of Anne Frank as an interactive experience. It caused some stir back in the day and roused some interest, but sadly none of the people and institutions who said the y would get in touch with me about the prospect of turning my prototype into an actual media experience ever reached out to me in the end, and so this remains a shadow at the end of a road that did not open up to me. Oh well.

The northernmost turning point of my ride today is the Nishitetsu-Shingu-Shuuten (西鉄新宮終点 "West Iron New Hall End Point" = "West Railway New Hall Final Stop"), which is not quite as terminal as the final stops I've seen in Nikko (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together), Wakkanai (see Book II ~ Chapter 6 ~ A Hokkaido Homerun) or Aomori (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story), but still definitely and end of the line.

By now, it's already well in the afternoon, and I realize that I have to cover quite some distance on my way back home. So, I return on a more or less straight course, visiting only the bare minimum of Shrines that are directly on the way, as well as some Shrines that are kinda on the way, and also a few that appear to be on the way if you rapidly spin around for fifteen times or so and then cross your eyes a just little bit.

However, despite all the haste*, night reaches me before I reach home.
* might not actually have been all that much haste

Now the good news is that this time around I have a fully charged torchlight, and it is even attached to the bike…

…the bad news is that even though it worked perfectly fine back at home, now there appears to be something wrong with it and I can't manage to determine the cause or fix it: Instead of staying on like it's supposed to, it goes to full brightness at first, and then gradually dims back to nothing over the course of a few short seconds after I let go of the button – and since I can't very well cycle using just one hand on the curvy and hilly roads making up the back streets of Fukuoka, I end up using it as a headlight flasher of sorts, flashing it whenever a car is coming my way to make my presence known to it.

Good thing I'm not too far away from home by now, and so I manage to make it back safe and sound.

And now, to talk about all the other curiosities that sparked my interest here in Fukuoka, let's proceed to…

The Flair

Let us begin with the one time Hikaru and I visit a friend of Sumire's. His name is David, he originally comes from France, and he lives only about 10 STEPs away together with his children, who sure enjoy having a good time. I can tell why Hikaru gets excited about visiting.

Tonight, however, the main event should be a board game by the name of Jamaica, where I win a very second solid place against Leo, David's older son.

Returning back home… NO!!! NOT THERE!!! ANYTHING BUT THAT!!!

Anyway, there's a number of interesting objects to be found in the house, such as this ultra-slim fork that's certainly great for getting olives out of the glass…

…or this really cool dragon pen that would probably be sold out within half a nanosecond at any furry convention, regardless of stock size.

Also, here's something extra fancy:

Next, I learn about another hidden aspect of Japan that I didn't know existed: Bell Points! On the back of many Japanese foodstuffs, there's a little bell symbol printed with a point value, and if you collect enough of those, you get a prize. Individually, it takes a long time to collect enough points, but as a collective effort, it becomes feasible. For example, Hikaru's school class collects bell points as a unit, and so Sumire tells me to watch out for them, and suddenly I start noticing them all over the plalce, like on instant Ramen packs, the Meiji chocolate I bought, and also my very favourite Suppa Muucho Umeboshi chips!

And then, one day Sumire brings me back a little something that she just knows I'm going to love: It's a Kitsune and Tanuki noteblock freebie given away by the nearby Seven-Eleven Konbini with purchases of Kitsune and Tanuki Udon cup noodles. Incidentally, this puts me into the terrible dilemma of being torn between "I want to use it all the time!" and "It's too cute! I don't want to use it up!" Isn't it just adorable how the fox is using a piece of Inari-Age as a blanket while the Tanuki is lying beneath a piece of Tenpura Batter cake?

By the way, remember the Tokyo 2020 Olympic craze that I've mentioned several times? Well, it's spreading, and by now you can buy postcards themed with the official mascots – called Miratowa (未来永久 "Future Eternity") and Someity (named after Somei Yoshino (染井吉野 "Colour Well Good Luck Field"), a type of Japanese Cherry Blossom) – at the post offices!

Speaking of mascots, I should also notice one other particularly notable mascot character during my dogwalks with Colin, and that is Kenketsu (献血 "Offering Blood") the blood donation mascot.

Speaking of dogs, I have long since wondered if the classical "Cave Canem" also exists in the Japanese language, and now I have an answer! It goes "Mouken-ni Chuui" (猛犬に注意 "beware of fierce dog").

On the other hand, there are also signs advocating more positive attitudes towards these canine companions.

Naturally, there still are signs around asking owners to take care of their dogs' droppings (which is part of my duties as I walk Colin every day)…

…but personally, I think the signs telling people to wash up every time their dog marks his/her territory are going a bit overboard. And yet I've seen people do that, as if the next rainshower wouldn't do the very same thing way more thoroughly anyway.

I mean, seriously, if some people feel that strongly about it, they can always outfit their property with elegant anti-canine-urinary devices.

Yet another curiosity among my dog walks is this cat house…

By the way, I think you remember me telling you about the ineffably horrible Japanese address system? Well, here's a map of a Choume (丁目 "Section View" = "Town Clock) illustrating the point. How long will it take you to find this typical Japanese address?


And if you manage to do that, next imagine you're in a village where you don't have a convenient Choume-Map like this standing around, neither a Kouban where you can ask for direction, and all you have is the address (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape).

I have already mentioned the apparently very dangerous lakes around here that are all fenced off. Apparently, that is due to Kappa living in them and pulling unwary swimmers under. These turtle-like humanoids are another frequently recurring Japanese creature found all over the country, and are easily recognized through their frog-like faces and water-lily-like plate on top of their heads. Not generally antagonistic to humans, they are nonetheless dangerous and may kill humans by stealing their Shirikodama (尻子玉 "Butt Child Jewel"), a fictional jewel-like organ located inside a person's anus that contains his/her soul.

Why, if creatures like that dwell in these bodies of water, than it's no wonder they are fenced off. Otherwise people might dive right in, or even drive their cars into one.

Oh… I guess they already did that. I suppose the fence surrounding that particular lake must have been rather buggy.

Well, I guess it’s the cars own fault. I mean, why would it go and jump into a lake when it could instead have taken a spin on the new car happy highroad?

And while we're at the topic… let me once again stress that Japanese traffic lights are weird. Like this one: At first it looks pretty okay, but the longer you think about it the less sense it makes.

Also, there's this system which has me stumped the first time I come across it: It's a push button for bikes at induction sensor traffic lights. At first I don't realize what it's for and end up waiting a long time at a traffic light while cars queue up behind me, and eventually a person having watched my folly for long enough from a nearby building comes over and presses the button for me. I guess it makes sense, being the logical consequence of a bad system thought through to the end, but it nonetheless didn't occur to me. Instead, I thought the button was for the perpendicular crosswalk or something.

Not far from that traffic light, there's a company with a cute Cacomistle-mascot (at least that's what I think it might supposed to be) , which specializes in… uhh… "Controlled Pressure Liquidation"???

And now: Houses! Starting with the Hebel Haus, which is as of yet under construction.

By contrast, this house an absolute MAST-Have!

Now here's a model for people who can't decide between wanting a pitched roof and a flat terrace.

And finally, a special type of augmentation for any child-friendly house: These little plaques can be found all over the place, and designate houses that children can come to if they have a problem. They are known as Kodomo Ichi-Juu-ban-no Ie (こども110番のいえ "Children One Ten Number House"). Sumire's house also bears such a plaque, though the only children to come to our place apart from Hikaru should be Sumire's students, so I guess it's more pro forma, or "just in case".

One thing I do not find outside, however, are widespread signs of autumn. While there are a few trees the leaves of which are turning red, for the most part the Konoha (木の葉 "Leaves of Trees") should remain green during the duration of my stay instead of turning Kouyou (紅葉 "Red Colour" = "Autumn Colours"), and I should have to look hard in order to find some traces of autumn.

Another time, however, is rapidly approaching, and that is election time! Already people are putting up billboard spaces for the election on 18-Nov, and I hope I should already be on the move again by the time the election tanks start cruising the streets again.

Before the election, however, it should be time for Halloween, and already people are starting to decorate their houses and the palm trees on their lawns accordingly. Not all, but some.

At the same time, the supermarkets are starting to sell Halloween goodies. And unfitting to the occasion as that might seem, they are, like everything in Japan, cute as a button.

Also exceedingly cute is this fox notebook for learning Kanji that I find on my quest for crafting materials for Lord British. Unfortunately, I have no use for it as all my Kanji learning is digital – using programs on my tri-Comm and Liete – and my zipper binder is already threatening to burst as it is from all the fliers and pamphlets I've collected thus far, so I leave the store with only a picture of it.

By contrast, here's an article I'd have serious doubts about purchasing… or how would you feel about putting something named like that in your gas cooker?

And don't get me started on how difficult it is to find flour in a supermarket here! Unlike in Germany, where you usually have an entire aisle selling this essential-for-baking article and you'd have to be blind not to find it on your first round through the store, here I end up making several systematic tours through all the aisles before I finally find the flour located on the bottom shelves of a random aisle (a good distance apart from the baking powder and chocolate chips which I easily located during my first round), located between sauces and cooking oil, and below Okonomiyaki ready mixes.

Finally, as I walk ut of one of the stores, I run right into a capsule café – a part of the floor dedicated entirely to capsule machines.

Now, normally I consider myself immune to such temptations – especially since I understand the psychological mechanisms of such games of chance. However, this is Japan, and that means that with such a large selection, it is not surprising that at least one of them manages to hit my critical weakness.

Now, the other reason why I consider myself immune to such temptations is that I know my luck. The last time I tried one of these machines, It should take me three tries to get one of the four-out-of-five vulpine prizes. This time, the chances are only 50% in my favour, and it should take me a total of 5 attempts to get one of the vulpine results. I guess that means that I have to multiply any chances in my favour with 40% in order to get the actual likelihood with my luck…

In fact, I should have to try so many times that I end up running out of 100¥ coins. However, the designers of this Capsule Café have seen this coming, and have placed a money changing machine conveniently in the middle of the place, those cunning foxes!

And yet, despite knowing that I've been played, I can't help grinning like an idiot because FOXES!!! Oh well, better get out of this place quickly an concentrating on a less resource-intensive activity, such as…

Interlude: Going Geoshrining

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

On one of these days, Sumire takes Hikaru and me to visit two Shrines north of Fukuoka, and delightfully, David and his younger son Louie also find the time to join us. And to make the party complete, Colin is also allowed to tag along this time around.

Our goals today are fist Miyajidake Jinja (宮地嶽神社 "Palace Ground Peak Shrine"), and then Munakata Taisha (宗像大社 "Religion Statue Grand Shrine"), both of which are located well out of cycling range, and so I welcome the opportunity to visit those two remote Shrines, as well as attempt a number of Geocaches while in the area.

Our first stop of Miyajidake should already be quite impressive per se…

…and also feature quite an impressive number of Side Shrines, some of which are exceptionally vulpine and… what do you mean "We don't have enough space for all those Torii"??? Well, think of something!!! We've got to put them somewhere!

However, the main attraction at this Shrine is its massive Shimenawa, which is claimed to be the biggest in all of Japan – though Izumo Taisha (出雲大社 "Exit Cloud Grand Shrine") also claims the same title.

It is also famous for having a direct view of the sunset over the sea from the Shrine gates twice a year, and since that view got recently popularized by a television add, and today just so happens to be that very day, it is not surprising to see countless people congregate, even though it's only afternoon yet and the sunset is still hours away.

Anyway, we didn't come here to join the flock in waiting for the sunset, and so, while I go paying my respects at the various Side Shrines to be found around here…

…Sumire and David should take the chance to have a relaxed chat for once, while the kids are distracted watching an artistic monkey show on the Shrine grounds. Incidentally, the major part of the show should consist of the larger monkey making noises that closely resemble language, while the smaller monkey should only occasionally perform a short trick or two.

Afterwards, we should fail to find the one Geocache that is supposedly located here, but instead find this very peculiar sculpture with the amazingly elaborate description. Based on that, it could be pretty much anything from an abstract art project over a religiously important icon or a 1:3,000 scale model of a Shinto Borg Cube. I, however, having researched the culture of this area by now, happen to know that it is a monument modelled after the King of Na Gold Seal that was found on Shikashima. The central parts of each of the cube sides depict the bottom of the seal with the stylized seal-script Kanji "漢委奴國王" reading "Han Wa Yatsu Kuniou", which translates to "China Dwarf Vassal Kingdom", "Wa" (Dwarf) having been China's old name for Japan.

In the nearby park and mini zoo, both Hikaru and Louie do their best to bring the trip to an untimely end, first risking getting bitten by emus, and then chasing each other madly across boardwalks. Fortunately, they fail to have an accident on either occasion, and thus our trip continues.

Oh yeah! Almost forgot: Manhole cover!

And I know I've already mentioned the cute cars they have here in Japan, but this one really drives the point home.

Anyway, after that, we continue along the road to Munakata…

…where yet another collection of Shrines awaits our coming.

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22 Side Shrines and almost two hundred gods later, I re-join Sumire, Hikaru David and Louie, who have meanwhile already gone on ahead, and grab them by their tails, dragging them to and gently lead them to the location of the nearest Geocache. Sumire and Hikaru are already familiar with the concept from our trip to Dazaifu, but David and Louie are as of yet new to the idea, and quite excited about the prospect of a treasure hunt. And working together as a team, we should quickly find the two Geocaches hidden in this area.

Much to my delight, I should find one particularly clever hide (this one being one segment of a multi-cache, containing the coordinates for the next leg), and subsequently be able to share the cleverness of this game with the entire family. Incidentally, we should al lget to this spot in sequence, thus allowing me to first find the Cache by myself without any intervention, then guide Hikaru and Louie who would arrive next into finding it, and finally having Sumire and David look for it as well.

Totally unrelated to Geocaching, there is also this one tree not far from one of the hides, which simpley proves impossible to resist as a family climbing challenge… at least for the four males.

We continue straying around the area for some while, doing the usual things: Visiting Shrines, looking for more Geocaches, taking pictures of manhole covers…

But before long it gets dark, and se we proceed to return home to Fukuoka, with Sumire and me idly chatting the drive away in the front, while the rest of the troupe, exhausted, take a nap in the back.

To make a good day perfect, we wrap up the trip with a joint dinner at a local Katsudon restaurant, eating away at fried pork, Tenpura, and other fried goodies until we're all full to the point of bursting, and have the res wrapped up as a treat for Colin, who is patiently waiting in the car.

And that wraps up this particular trip. I know there's still more to tell, but just to break things up a little, this is where I want to make some room for…

The Retrospective

Looking back on all my travels so far, Sumire's place should set a new all-time record.

The accommodation was comfy, warm (or cool during the hot days), featuring a private (if just a little bit uncomfortable) workspace, the food was regular, plentiful and yummy, and we ate out in more restaurants than I did with any other host before. The work was relaxed and reasonably varied, and best of all: I could play out my game design strengths at this place! The atmosphere was nice too, with Hikaru – while sometimes choosing to be difficult – generally being a shining sun, and Colin an endearing cutie. Okay, so Mokka would fill the house with meows, and Sumire would sometimes be difficult, demanding I take showers on a daily (!) basis and rotate my clothes at dizzying speed, but after getting used to this, this should end up being one of the nicest places I've been to. The facilities were good too, lacking only a clothes dryer, and recreation wise I not only had a trusty bike to take me all around the city, but Sumire also took me on a couple of family trips to boot. I should struggle to do enough work to repair her for all this… and ultimately fail, earning her a top score in the work-value ratio as well.

Congratulations, Sumire, on having become the second host to which I feel I can without any second doubts award a full ★★★★★ rating, and thank you for the wonderful time I've had at your place. I didn't think it possible that I would find a better place in all of Japan after Pension Mutter (see Book II ~ Chapter 9 ~ Amicable Appi-Kogen) but apparently, I was mistaken.

As such, It is my very great pleasure to draw a piece of gift artwork for them which I feel that they have more than earned…

…and present it them, once again feeling overjoyed at their happy reaction. Especially Hikaru is exuberant.

But what's more… this place has become something special to me on a very personal level as well. Having wanted to find a mate and start a family for over a decade now, Hikaru is in a manner of speaking the hyperactive son I've never had, and even if it's not official or anything, I should somehow still somehow come to experience the joys and pains of fatherhood, if only for a short month. One way or another, I have become a part of this family, and I already dread the day when the winds of fate will pick up and take me away again.

That time is already close at hand by now, but there should yet be time for one last ride…

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🎁︎

On my last major ride around Fukuoka, I should seek not only to visit the main part of the city, but also pursue the following additional goals:

☐ Find and purchase crafting materials for Lord British
☐ Find and purchase an Island Seal for Kyushu
☐ Purchase a Nimoca

Let's see how I'd fare in my quest to achieve these objectives. Theoretically, it should not be impossible to fulfil them in the very heart of the city, and so this is where I'm headed.

Another of my declared goals would be to go and visit the airport of Fukuoka. Fukuoka is arguably the city with the most integrated airport in Japan, since the airport is surrounded by the city on all four sides – beating even Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Yonago's Kitaro Airport, both of which border a large saline body of water on at least one side. As a result, I should constantly observe planes landing seemingly in the middle of the city during my stay here.

And so, one morning after I finished seeing Hikaru off to school and walking Colin, I set off on my last major ride, this time through the roads of Fukuoka.

Even before reaching Hakata – the central ward of Fukuoka – I should already come across quite a number of Shrines and Temples.

Along the way I pass directly beneath the airport's air corridor and pause in awe as a plane thunders by right over my head at an altitude that I'm not used to for planes passing over cities. I'm sure the rent in this part of the city must be pretty affordable with one of those boisterous metal birds passing overhead approximately every 5 minutes.

After that, the going gets slower as I enter Hakata-Ku. Not only do many traffic lights and masses of people impede on my progress, but the Shrine density also skyrockets, and on top of all that, I run into a conglomerate of Buddhist Temples where an entire city block appears to consist exclusively of separate Buddhist Temples, with more of them across the road and one block down. I have by now been able to understand the reason behind this phenomenon of clustering of competing businesses in one sector: Similarly how competing products are displayed next to each other in a supermarket so that people can compare them and then choose one, competing businesses open stores (or Temples) right next to each other because they know that if people are looking for a certain thing, they are going to come to this part of the town to look for it. So if you're, say, an entrepreneur and want to open up a shop selling Guitars and Banjos, you do it in a part of the town where there's already lots of other shops selling Guitars and Banjos. People wanting to buy Guitars and Banjos come to that part of the town and see your new store, hopefully decide to try it out, and bam! Profit!

Eventually I arrive in Tenjin (天神 "Heavenly Gods"), the very core of Fukuoka, and one of the busiest section of Fukuoka. It is here that I hope I'll be able to fulfil my goals, but first, I have to find a place to park my bike. Since this is the centre of the city, I can'T just put it anywhere. Fortunately, I come across a very peculiar facility that I could not have located at a better time: A bicycle underground garage!

The staff quickly explains me how it works, and then I find my bike a spot to wait on the second underground floor of the extensive and well-used facility. Going out I receive a ticket for picking it up again later, and am told that it's free if I return within three hours. That should be way more than enough time for me to do what I came here to do.

The last of my three objectives should actually turn out to be the easiest to fulfil, and after visiting some local Shrines and failing to find another Geocache, I manage to locate a Jidouhanbaiki near the ticket gates of Nishitetsu Fukuoka Tenjin Eki that sells not only tickets, but also the Nimoca, which is yet another IC card, and by far the one with the cutest design yet, featuring a cute little Itachi (鼬 "weasel") as its mascot..

After that, it's time for me to go underground and explore the extensive tunnels of the Tenjin underground mall, by now not only looking for crafting materials and an Island Seal, but also for a bite to eat. Unfortunately, I am out of luck in all three regards, as the entire area features almost exclusively clothes stores, with a heavy bias to women's products, and what few food stores I find are hopelessly overcrowded. I should have made myself another sandwich...

Finally, I manage to find an interestingly looking Soba-Ya in a side tunnel, and while the portion is of somewhat disappointing proportions, it is certainly tasty. Incidentally, a local woman sitting next to me teaches me another thing I didn't know about eating in places like this: You see, there are thermos bottles of hot water all around the counter, and apparently, after you finish eating your Soba by dipping them in the sauce, you dilute the sauce with hot water, maybe add some batter, and then drink it as a soup. Interesting.

I spend some more time looking around the various stores in vain, finding neither crafting materials nor an Island Seal. I do find my second Geocache for the day, however, but eventually I realize that time is once again eluding me, and since I have not even reached the turning point of my ride yet, decide that it is time to return to the bicycle garage and be on my way. Interestingly, they have the smallest conveyor belts I've ever seen to help you push the bike up the slopes. However, those belts are so slow that I decide it's faster just to push my bike at my normal walking speed instead.

So far, I've pretty much taken the scenic route. However, with the clock ticking now I pretty much make a beeline to the western turning point, stopping only briefly on a notable little Shrine beneath an impressive huge ship, which is currently either being constructed or decommissioned. At any rate, people are hard at work up there on the steel giant.

And this is where things get good. First, I run into Kurose Jinja (黒瀬神社 "Black Currents Shrine"), which fails to become the fifth Golden Fox Shrine by this close because there aren't any foxes at the main Shrine. However, all of the Side Shrines (and notably not one of them being an Inari Shrine!) have been overrun by foxes, so I end up emptying all my loosing all my loose change on the Side Shrines of this particular Shrine.

However, it should yet get better, for all I need is walk up the slope to Nishikouen (西公園 "West Park"), which is located atop a hill overlooking the city…

…and I come face to face with Magotarou Inaka Jinja (孫太郎稲荷神社 "Hellgrammite Inari Shrine"), the true deserver of the title of fifth Golden Fox Shrine.

Whereas Jouzan Inari Jinja in Matsue earned that title by having a few Side Shrines with an incredulous amount of foxes, Magotarou Inaka Jinja goes the exact opposite way and features a stupid amount of Side Shrines (22 in total) each with a small number of foxes, causing me to go "SQUUEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!" and literally bounce from one Shrine to the other, taking 370MB of digital memories with me, and eventually leaving a 1,000 ¥ bill in the offertory box of the main Shrine in exchange for not having been able to place coins in the offertory boxes of all the little Side Shrines. I've occasionally seen 1,000 ¥ bills in offertory boxes before, so I know that this is more or less normal behaviour, even though it's the first time I've done it myself.

After that, I decide it's time to make a beeline home. There are still more Shrines I wanted to visit, and there's a Shrine on this very hill, but I don't care. My mind has been overwritten with foxes, and it feels like the equivalent of having eaten an eight-course dessert consisting of all your favourite dishes. I am full of Shrines, full of foxes, and can't possibly take anymore. Also, having spent almost half an hour at this Shrine, briefly praying at each individual Side Shrine and taking pictures, it's slowly but surely getting late, and have I mentioned I am currently at the farthest point of my ride? Hence, I had straight home. And when I say straight I mean actually not all that straight. Actually, not really straight at all. The first waypoint on my way back is Ouhori Kouen (大濠公園 "Big Moat Park"), which is conveniently located just down the road, and features a peculiar island chain through the middle of its lake, connected by bridges that I simply have to go across (note for the psychiatric record: I might also have a problem with Island Chains connected by bridges).

One notable thing here is that the track around the lake is divided into three lanes: One for walking, one for cycling, and one for jogging! That's something new!

After that, my next goal is the airport of Fukuoka, and getting there is not a simple feat at all. The city layout in Fukuoka, while certainly interesting, doesn't exactly make it easy to get from A to B, and so my route ends up being just a little bit eclectic as I gradually make my ways up and down hills, but also over the many channels and rivers permeating the city.

But I manage to make it in the end, and do not only witness one of many takeoffs, but also find my third and last Geocache for the day hidden at the end of the runway.

Now, what does the time say? Uh-oh…

Okay, so I guess I can forget about the "get home before sunset" bonus goal too. Oh well, might as well drop by this conveniently placed half-stationary store to see if at least this one sells the supplies that I need.

Naturally, it doesn't, and by now it's dark. Fortunately, however, Sumire after my last ride exerted her divine presence upon the bicycle's strap-on flashlight (aka "I checked it and it works just fine"), and now I actually go a light in the dark! Yay!

Thus, it's not particularly troublesome that I have to cover the rest of the way during dusk, and I eventually arrive at home tired, but proud, and full of foxes.

Now then, let's draw the balance of this ride:

☒ Find and purchase crafting materials for Lord British
☒ Find and purchase an Island Seal for Kyushu
☑ Purchase a Nimoca
☑ BONUS GOAL: Found a Golden Fox Shrine

Oh well, two out of four, I guess that's okay. And Now I got a total of three different types of IC cards, each one cuter than the last. If this trend keeps up, the next one has got to feature foxes.

And that completes my last long ride here in Fukuoka. With that, my adventures in this part of Japan are officially complete, and after this experience I feel culturally satiated as well, to the point that I actually decline Sumire's offer to take me to see more Shrines. With that, it is now officially time to look forward to…

The Road Ahead


On the day of my departure, I get up as early as 3:00 AM, for I have a long distance to cover today. The remainder of the family is naturally still sleeping at this time, and so I have my final breakfast at this place alone.

Well, not all alone. There's always Colin to keep me company, and saying goodbye to him brings tears to my eyes.

I spend the rest of the early morning hours packing up the remainder of my bbelongings, and clearing out my room, leaving it as empty as I found it…

…and come 5:30, it is time to leave. No way around it. Sumire briefly wakes up Hikaru so I can say goodbye to him, and then proceeds to give me a ride, which she has generously offered to do despite the ungodly hour.

Sumire takes me all the way to Chihaya-Eki (千早駅 "thousand early station") – the next station down the line from Kashii, where I arrived – where it is time to say my farewells to her as well, and thank her for the wonderful time I had at her place. I just barely manage to avoid crying outright, so deep has my affection to this family grown in the last month.

But once again, the winds of fate have now risen up to take me away, and this next segment of my journey should be the longest yet. As thus, I am going to cover it in its own chapter, which is to follow Very Soon Now™. So stay tuned for the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!

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