Where in the world…

Part 2. Kyushu!

Japan has four main Islands: Hokkaido – with lots of snow, Honshu – with Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, Shikoku – with not much, and Kyushu – with us! Kyushu, the most southern main island, means ‘9 prefectures’, but they amalgamated one somewhere, and now it’s left with 8: Fukuoka, Oita, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Saga and Okinawa.

Map of Kyushu

Map of Kyushu

Okinawa is actually a set of smaller islands far to the south of Kyushu, so it doesn’t really count either.

Fukuoka has the largest city and is the one closest to Honshu. Fukuoka city was voted in the top twenty ‘livable cities’ in the word in 2010, so not too shabby. It is also famous for Ramen and a weird food product, Mentaiko, which is marinated pollock roe. I tried it for the first time this weekend, and it will not be something I am trying again.

Below us is Kumamoto, which has a large and famous castle, and below that is Kagoshima, famous for its volcano. To the left we have Saga, which has a balloon fiesta every year, and Nagasaki, which is known for not only being the site of the second A-bomb dropping, but for it’s Chinese and Dutch settlement and extremely large hamburgers. On the right is Oita, famous for hot springs and Miyazaki, which has really nice beaches, and used to have the worlds largest indoor swimming pool.

Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle

So far Scott and I have been to Saga for Balloon Fiesta 2010, Nagasaki to see the Chinatown, Oita, where we visited the nine hells of Beppu, and Kumamoto for the castle and a beautiful garden. We plan on hitting up Miyazaki and Kagoshima this spring to complete the Kyushu set.

Scott and Aya at the Balloon Festival

I am very happy to be living here. It’s full of beautiful natural sites, history and culture, and an area of Japan I would have missed out on had I been a tourist.

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Nagasaki Peace Park

On our trip to Nagasaki, one place we all wanted to go was to see the A-bomb memorial museum and peace park.

The museum itself was an extremely sad and moving place. Immediately after entering, you see a reconstructed area of town immediately after the bombing. Artifacts such as clocks stopped at 11:02 and buildings with shadows of people burned on to them line the walls.  After an exhibit of the many horrible effects of the atomic bomb, there is a hall dedicated to information on the decelopment of the atomic and hydrogen bombs and nuclear testing around the world..

Standing at the hypocentre was a surreal experience. The city and land have changed so much in the last 65 years that it’s hard to imagine it being the same devastated place shown in the museum.

It’s difficult to put into words what it looks and feels like there, so here are some photos:


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Where in the world…

do Heather and Scott live?

Often Japanese people ask me “what do foreigners know about Japan?” They usually guess Samurai, Tokyo, Ninjas and Sushi. Which I suppose is mostly correct, if you add “Domo Arrigato Mr. Roboto!”

Scott Arrives!

So I assume most people don’t know where we actually are. When we were placed by the JET program they gave us our second choice prefecture, Fukuoka. Of course, when we choose it as a second choice, way back in November 2009, we didn’t know much, or anything, about it. I think my reasons were as follows: south Japan must have nice weather, I hear the mountains are nice, and Fukuoka is a big city.

Japan with Fukuoka in Pink!

When we landed in Fukuoka, I couldn’t look out the window at our new town because the airport is located directly in the city, and I was terrified we were going to hit the buildings. Yeah, I am a bit of a nervous flier. Fukuoka does indeed have a big city, 3 million people, but it turns out that there are mountains everywhere in Japan, and the weather here is not that great after all. In the summer it was hotter and more humid than any other place I’ve ever been, and now in the winter it is really cold, with no insulation or central heating in our buildings. I hear the rainy season is next…


Despite the weather issues, we love Fukuoka. The city is new and clean and full of Karaoke joints and good restaurants. Scott lives in the city, or at least on the subway line, and I live about an hour away from the city in the countryside. Or at least as countryside as Fukuoka gets. My city is called Chikugo, and has a population of about 40,000 people. I commute every day by bike or train to Omuta – a former mining town, and Setaka – a town famous for nothing and Scott takes the bus to his school in the mountains near the city.

Map of Fukuoka City

Fukuoka is also conveniently close to South Korea – only 3 hours by ferry, and on the Shinkansen line – 3 hours to Kyoto. So while we are not basking in the southern sun as I hope we might be, it turns out it’s a pretty nice place to be!

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Kurume Fireworks Festival

On the day I arrived in Fukuoka, my supervisor and Vice Principal picked me up from the airport. After taking me to the school to meet the Principal and staff while I was still soaked in sweat, they brought me to my apartment for the first time.  The apartment, or Jutakku, as we call it, is a large cinder block building located next to a junkyard of some sort. My first impression was… a year? here?

Luckily, there are 8 other ALT’s living in my building and I was not forced to suffer alone. Four of them are in their second year and immediately they took us under their wing and brought us to a festival in the nearest town. A fireworks festival. One of the largest fireworks festivals in western Japan.

Japan is obsessed with quantifying statements about tourist or other attractions. I have seen ‘one of the three best castles in Japan’, ‘one of the three best views in Japan’ and ‘one of the largest sake festivals in western Japan’. It reminds me of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival ‘the world’s largest outdoor, one day, maple syrup festival.

Anyway, the Kurume fireworks festival was an excellent introduction to the festival culture of Japan. We’ve been to a lot of festivals now, but the first was something special. Rows and rows of food I actually recognized as Japanese food, which was not the case at the grocery store, festival games, and beautiful, gigantic fireworks. Women and men were wearing yukata, or summer kimonos, and pensioners were showing us to seats along the river bank.

Festival Stalls

When the fireworks began, we Japan newbies were astounded by their length and beauty.  The show had two central points along the river, so people around the bend could also see. It went on for an hour and a half, and the finale was spectacular. Of course, on the way home I got completely lost trying to find that cinder block apartment, and wandered around my new town for over an hour. By that point I was glad to see the building and I have been happily, mostly, living there since. Just don’t get me started on the bugs…

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Nagasaki Lantern Festival

Here are some more pictures from the festival as I try and and learn how to slideshows!


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Nagasaki – Dejima

Model of the Island

Dejima is a small island in the bay of Nagasaki. It’s a fascinating place  because originally it was a peninsula, and was made into an island to house and contain foreigners during the Edo period, when Japan had no other contact with the outside world. Originally portuguese traders lived there, but it was later taken over by  the Dutch. For 200 years, workers lived on the island, unable to contact other parts of Japan except when, once a year, the controller made a 90 day round trip to Tokyo to report on trade relations. 

Now Dejima, which literally means exit island, is a Japanese national historic site, full of reconstructed buildings and exhibits on what life was life for the Dutch traders.  We almost decided to not to visit because of the 500 yen entrance fee (preposterous!) but I am glad we did. If only for the recreation of the controllers house, where I found the perfect wallpaper for my future house.

Wallpaper Love

There was also an exhibit on sweets and games of the period, and Scott’s favourite part was the museum where science and technology of the time was displayed. Because of the portuguese influence on the city, the popular omiyage, gifts to take back home, from Nagasaki is Castella, a portuguese pound cake. We tried it, but to us, it tasted just like omiyage cakes from every other part of Japan – somehow too sweet, and not sweet enough all at the same time.

Tanya oogles the sugar display

Oh well, there was still more Chinese food to try!

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