On this day I took at train a short distance to Dazaifu, site of a welll-known shrine dedicated to a Heian-era scholar, and thus popular with those wishing to pass exams. Why don't more scholars get their own shrines, I wonder? Sugawara-no-Michizane, the man in question, apparently fell out of favour at court and was sent to rule Dazaifu as a kind of internal exile, like Ovid among the Goths. He died of grief, and after various mishaps at his funeral and in its aftermath it was decided that his angry spirit needed to be appeased - and what better way to do that than by building him a magnificent shrine and worshipping him as a deity? Whatever doubts you may have about that choice, it seems to have been effective in appeasing the outraged man of letters.
There's a short approach road to the shrine, lined with souvenir and fast-food shops (a Buddhist monk too, of course):
Considering that the street is full of fast-food shops, many of which generate waste paper, yakitori sticks and so on that need to be thrown away, it's surprising that there are no waste-paper bins - the lack of which is something of a feature in Japan, as I noticed last year when I carried a random piece of waste paper through the streets of Ginza for about 45 minutes before finding somewhere to leave it. True, there are things that look like waste-bins, but like a desert mirage they reveal themselves on being approached only as random pieces of baffling street furniture, the one definite purpose of which is to proclaim that whatever else they may be, they are not bins:
It's strange that the people who went to the trouble of commissioning several dozen notices of this kind didn't also think, "Actually, perhaps we should put in a real bin or two as well, since people are clearly looking for one?" This step does not appear to have occurred to them, however. I wonder whether Japanese people don't get quite fond of their waste paper after carrying it around for long enough, perhaps even leaving it to their children in their wills - but can bring you no definite information on the matter.
To get to the shrine you have to take a Buddhist-built bridge over a carp and turtle pond, Taiko-bashi. The shape of the bridge - a hump at either end and a flat bit in the middle - apparently symbolizes the past, present and future. Or the future, present and past, if you're coming the other way. In any case, the point is to remind you to concentrate on the here and now, rather than encumber yourself with hope or regret. It's said that if the flow of Chinese tourists crossing the bridge ever ceases the world will end, but I don't think there's much chance of that happening:
Back in Fukuoka, I could hold out no longer but immediately hied me to the Owl Cafe. You have to book ahead, so I hung around for ten minutes till the clock struck five, when I filed in with ten or so other owl enthusiasts and was led past a couple of dozen owls to the cafe upstairs where we were given a safety talk and a drink. The drink was unimportant, though - I barely had time to sip mine before we were led down again for the main business of the day, which was owl petting. I have many photos, of which I think this is probably the best:
But obviously owls are at their most interesting when sitting atop the heads of young children. And yes, in case you're wondering, this one did take a shit moments after the photo. The little girl was very game about it.
There were big owls too, for which gloves were required:
But the biggest of all I was shown right at the end. When the staff heard I was British they immediately assumed I'd want to see their Hedwig lookalike. Too big to hold, it was just the right size to kneel and admire from a safe distance:
I had a really good time at the Owl Cafe - not, I have to say, because I'm actually that interested in holding owls but because the staff were really nice and chatted away with me in Japanese (which isn't the case everywhere - as I will probably explain in a future post). That said, the owls did seem healthy and fairly content, considering they were in captivity.
That evening I went to one of the outdoor food stalls, or yatai, for more ramen. To be honest that night's ramen was bland by comparison with the previous night's. I should probably have asked them to make it spicy, but I didn't think to - nor did they ask how I wanted it. The occasion was saved, however, by the chance to try another Fukuoka speciality, the mentaiko - a pink sausage with chilli and cod roe. And if that doesn't sound very nice (and I freely admit it doesn't), hold off your judgement till you've tried one - they're great. I apologize for these pictures being so crap - my camera was showing its limitations in low light once again. After this, I decided to switch to the camera on my tablet.
I believe I've already proved to most people's satisfaction that I'm obsessed with Japanese toilets and with translation issues, but now let's combine the two for a moment. When I considered possible causes of mistranslation yesterday I neglected to mention cultural differences, and it so happens that the toilet in my current hotel room offers a good example of that, as I noticed today.
The bilingual instructions seem clear enough, but one vital word has been mistranslated. What the English renders as "SPRAY" is "oshiri" in Japanese, which actually means buttocks. Presumably someone realised that "Push the bum switch" wouldn't sound good in English, so changed it to something politer, if vaguer. The diagram on the toilet itself, however, leaves nothing to the imagination:
So here the translator is simply catering to the mores of English speakers, and no doubt something similar happens in the opposite direction on occasion. I notice that the Japanese themselves are rather coy when it comes to the bidet option (the word in Japanese is the same), since the "bidet" is actually designed specifically for washing female genitalia. Why don't they write "vadge", and show a diagram to match? Everyone has their squeamish points, I suppose.
Much as I admire hi-tech, I take perhaps even greater pleasure (albeit childish) in simple mechanical ideas such as this clever reuse of water, which turns the top of the ryokan toilet into a handbasin. (This and the following two pics are actually videos, if you wish to click through...)
Heath Robinson food-making machines are always attractive, too, for example here:
The second of these is making umegae mochi, which is sold frrom several of the stalls on the approach road to the shrine in Dazaifu. What do they taste like, I hear you ask? Well, let's buy one and see:
Ah, like so many things in Japan this is filled with red bean paste. Not that I'm complaining!