Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not your College Ramen

For our evening meal in Fukuoka, several in our group chose to go to the 5th floor of a mall where all the restaurants there focused on different ramen specialities. This would not be your cheap college meal. 
In front of the particular restaurant we choose, each person tapped the screen to select their desired ramen dish and inserted the correct amount of yen. Ticket receipt in hand, we gave the receipt to the waiter. I would have to say, it was quite tasty!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hakata Gion Yamakasa

Amongst the neutral colors of the Kushida Shinto Shrine in Fukuoka, this colorful structure caught my attention.
Standing around 10 meters, the Hakata Gion is one of twelve Yamakasa scattered throughout the city. They are an integral part of a festival said to have originated in the 13th century in attempts to secure protection against the plague. Each July, seven portable (but tall) Yamakasa are carried five kilometers through the city to the Kushida Shrine. With the exception of the ones presently displayed at Kushida, both the portable and non-portable ones are destroyed after the festival. 

The brightly painted figures and ornaments are created by traditional Hakata puppet makers. Inspiration comes from history and myths.

The image above, with its  strong female figure, tiger, and grimacing male figure reminded me of the  Kali Puja displays I saw in Kolkata, India. No string of heads here, but plenty of flamboyant emotion. 
Kali Puja display (detail)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kurokawa Onsen Village

As part of the trip to Japan, our group visited Kurokawa Onsen. This picturesque town has 24 hot springs for its visitors to enjoy. Scattered around the town, the baths could be found along the river, within the central part of town, further along in the woods, and even in a cave. Rather than be "cookie cutter" settings, each hot spring location had unique features - such as rocky pools, wooden tubs, outdoor secluded setting, facing the mountain, and more. 

Most in our group chose to do the 1,200 yen package, which allowed a visit to 3 hot spring locations. The hot springs all were to have relaxing effects and skin benefits, but the mineral contents of certain ones were said to help treat specific illnesses and conditions. At a temperature between 40°C and 42°C, the springs felt good, but I couldn't stay in that long before it got a bit much. The ones my friends and I chose to go to were smaller and overall felt a bit more intimate. The cave location was very steamy and quite a few nooks & crannies - a great way to get acclimated to the experience. A few had mixed baths, but we didn't feel that adventurous. 

A very unique experience, I would have to say it was quite enjoyable. The time was relaxing, but went rather quickly. After an equally enjoyable lunch (which also served horse meat and ice cream floats), our time was done. Our next destination: Fukuoka.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ice Cream at the Temple

Up and ready with lots of time to spare before breakfast was served, I joined a few others for an early walk. A small tree in the clearing glowed with its early autumn warmth in the early morning rays. A multi-lingual sign indicated that Kongohoji Buddhist temple was just up a short gravel driveway.     

A woman who had been sweeping came to greet us. Although she spoke to us in Japanese, it was clear that she wanted us to follow her. After following her through a few rooms of the contemporary building, she slid a door open and welcomed us to come into the worship room. Each of us was given a candle to light and place before the altar.  
Back in the entry room, the woman gestured for us to sit around the table. She then proudly gave each of us a small soft-serve ice cream. My first at a Buddhist temple. Knowing we had to get going in order to be back at the hotel in time for breakfast, we thanked the woman for her hospitality. What a great start to another beautiful day in Japan.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Of Buddhist Markers and Suphuric Haze

With the sulphuric gases canceling a cable car ride to the main crater at Mount Aso, I did some walking around the mountain at a lower level. Even at this elevation, the haze from the gases enshrouded the area as if it were a foggy day. Dispersed along various ridges were clusters of Buddhist sculptures and markers. 

A stream from further up the mountain spilled into a series of small greenish pools. Despite the miniature size of the cascades, the sound of the falling water was quite relaxing. Several Japanese families enjoyed a picnic along the rocks. A few even enjoyed a quick dip in the waist-high waters. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Grassland of a Thousand Ri

Known as Grassland of a Thousand Ri, Kusasenri is part of a 785,000 sq meter grassland formed from the floor of an ancient Japanese volcanic crater. The crater itself is around 1 km wide and has two ponds. 
After a "picnic" lunch comprised of items purchased at a 7-eleven convenience store, we had a little time to walk around or to take a 5-minute horse ride for $15. The mound on the left of photo above was formed by a lava dome. Mt. Eboshidake, pictured in both images, is one of the five peaks of Mount Aso.
The scenic view was also enjoyed by some Harley riders. To my surprise, one of the riders was female.