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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Voyage to Japan 2: 29 March

" Ah! if there were no such things as partings in the world! "

(The Tale of Genji is already providing my epigraphs...)

After breakfast at the ryokan (somehow we neglected to photograph it - what a dereliction!) Chiho drove me to the station, where we had to part, alas. That wasn't easy: we had such a great time in Kagoshima, but it was less than two days after all, which wasn't enough; and now I was to revert to being a solo traveller, a status that has its interesting side but is a very different proposition from hanging out with one's nakama. Apart from missing Chiho herself, I regretted not speaking more Japanese with her while I had the chance, but such is human folly/laziness, I suppose.

I took the shinkansen to Fukuoka, at the opposite (i.e. northern) end of Kyushu. I slept most of the way, having caught the sun the day before. ("Hiyake" - sun-grilled - turns out to be the Japanese word for this.) On arrival in Fukuoaka, however, I immediately went out to explore the city a little, having known very little about it beforehand. Fukuoka did not disappoint. Within five minutes' walk of my hotel I found:


A shrine that has a festival every July, during which huge floats (like this one) are carried through the streets by devotees in various states of undress, celebrating all the local relgions. Even the most ecumenical wing of the C of E would jib at this, naked or otherwise, but it's their loss.


An owl cafe. Having just helped crowdfund Bristol's first cat cafe I made a mental note to investigate further. If we can twin them, a wedding may be on the cards in due course...


A disturbing indication that this part of Fukuoka has a problem with alien abduction.


Canal City, a shopping centre that does a pretty good impression of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Like last year, I've seen quite a few examples of strange English on signs and so forth. It's not surprising, of course. In many cases the use of English is largely decorative rather than functional, there to add a "cool" vibe to a local product. This might be one example:


Other times a local shop or stall-holder has done their best to write something informative and simply made a mistake. Take this bar, for example, where two different kinds of delicious time are to be had (albeit perpendicularly to each other):


I can understand both those phenomena. The ones that confuse me are signs like this, from a posh store in Canal City:


This is a functional message, presumably aimed at least in part at English speakers, but it's like they've taken a bunch of vaguely relevant words and scattered them onto the canvas in the style of Jackson Pollock.

Sometimes mistakes can pay dividends, of course. Take this boy band, which formed in 1994 meaning to call themselves "Cowards Strike Back". Only something went wrong with Google Translate Babelfish the dictionary, and they ended up being Bump of Chicken. I saw a poster of theirs today: it doesn't appear to have harmed them at all, if they're playing stadia:


Fukuoka has some claim to be the ramen capital of Japan, and since Japan is the ramen capital of the world, and (as far as we know) even further afield, that makes Fukuoka a pretty big deal for ramen fans. I'm no ramen expert, but obviously I wasn't going to pass up the chance to try it, so that night I went to Ichiran Ramen to give it a go. Ichiran is now a chain, but it started in Fukuoka, and is a favoured spot amongst tired salarymen who don't want to have to talk to anyone as they slurp the night away. Having queued and paid at a machine for your various options you are sent to sit at a bar, separated from those to left and right of you by wooden panels, a bit like horses waiting in the stalls. Someone behind the bar brings you your food, then whisks a curtain down to complete your isolation, so that it is just a question of human versus ramen. This is what mine looked like - though I should warn you that my camera is nothing like as good as Chiho's, and the picture doesn't do justice to the food:


If you're still hungry when you've finished, and/or you have some stock left and want something more to soak in it, you just press a button and (almost) unseen hands replenish your meal, until you end up a bit like this...

I'd like to say that I walked it off, but in fact I went to the cinema to watch the live-action version of Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi (aka Erased), which I've just been watching as an anime. Unlike Attack on Titan, this was actually improved by the change of medium, I think - perhaps because it had less to do in the way of special effects. The child actor who played the younger version of the main character was particularly good - especially as he had the tricky task of playing a child with the mind and memories of an adult. If you ever get the chance to see it, do so. And bring some hankies.

Why is it so hard to find yuzu in the UK? You can find them in ponzu sauce, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a yuzu in the shops. It’s a shame, because they’re really delicious. In fact, as I walked through the market I found the following hum taking shape in my brain. Think Cole Porter channelling Winnie-the-Pooh:

There’s a fruit called the yuzu I eat all the time:
It’s bitter, but better than lemon or lime.
If you too like yuzu, feel free to share mine:
Will you do the yuzu with me?

On the other hand, perhaps a citrus fruit isn’t a sufficient foundation for a long-lasting relationship.

I am not a ramen expert either but I think I approve of that sort of restaurant! Especially when travelling, because while obviously I like going out for meals with other humans as a social thing, and I don't mind going on my own, I think I would like to try a place with an expectation of solitude.

Yes, I found it very simpatico!

Heard of "Fresh, fresh, tough beans" (whatever) and offered to correct a menu in Belarus "Not important, foreigner never come here".

offered to correct a menu in Belarus "Not important, foreigner never come here".

But, but, then why have an English menu at all...

Ooh, now I want to mix the yuzu rhyme with "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo." Can't quite make it work, though. Or of course "Do do that yuzu that you do so well," a la Sinatra.

Going by "Suzanne," I expect Leonard Cohen agrees with you on the insufficiency of citrus. "She feeds you tea and yuzu, that come all the way from Nippon, and says don't dare call me Suzu..."

You've just reminded me that when my children were small and given to watching 101 Dalmatians I often sang this little ditty around the house, to the tune of "We'll have a dalmatian plantation":

I am a satsuma consumer,
Consuming satsumas all day.
It's not just a rumour,
Consuming satsumas
Has chased my blues away.

How things change! Now my citrus loyalty is given over to yuzu, and I consume Satsuma only as a tourist.

When my daughters were small, they used to mingle the names of persimmons and satsumas, talking about "satsimmons" and "persumas."

My favorite personal encounter is still the one in Beijing where someone must have asked how to translate the name of the fungus, been told where to look it up, and misunderstood, so that the menu listed it as "Wikipedia fungus."

That reminds me of this road sign in Wales...

Edited at 2016-04-02 12:02 am (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Thanks for the tip! Next time I'm in London I'll take a look. (All the same, I feel they should be in every corner shop.)

Edited at 2016-04-01 11:59 pm (UTC)