What I learned in Fukuoka, Japan

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Back in late October, I made a visa run to Japan to set my work visa for Korea. As many ex-pats who make this run know, the closest point in Japan to Korea is Fukuoka. It’s a small, pleasant city full of food, shopping, and arcades. It is also home to a pleasant beach.It wasn’t my first time traveling by myself, but it was the first time I was going to a new country with no on the ground connections. I had a list of instructions and directions, a pocket with enough cash in it to get me to the consulate and get me some lunch, as well as a hotel booking print-out entirely in Korean. I was feeling very miserable, sick with a bad cold. The weather was also chilly and rainy there, so going to the beach was out of the question (but that’s probably not a great idea anyway, radiation, you know?).

It was my first time in Japan and my stay was brief, but I still learned a lot. I took some notes on the plane ride home about my new found wisdom, which I’ll share with you here.

–The people I met here seemed to have less “white people” shock than they do in Korea. Perhaps because in Japan, there has been more cultural exchange from the West for a longer time. Foreigners popping up on their shores is nothing new. It’s a more recent thing in Korea.

–There aren’t as many children on the streets and in public areas. Apparently there is a good reason for this. Fewer and fewer people are marrying and having children in Japan. A statistic quoted to me was that in 2013 Japan will have sold more adult diapers than baby diapers.

–Because of this, when I put on the tv in my hotel room, half the commercials were for those adult diapers, denture glue, and toupees.

–And unlike Korea, where cafes and shopping areas are full of couples being cute and couple-y, there were very few couples. Mainly it was groups of friends and flocks of business people in black suits hanging out after work.

–My experiences with the people of Fukuoka certainly endeared the place to me. On the whole, they were extremely helpful, kind, and patient with me.

–Japanese taxis are sinfully expensive.

–Many of the ATMs I found didn’t take my US card. When they do, they seem give money mainly in 10,000 yen (about $100) increments which is very confusing when you just came from a place where 10,000 won is about $10. Also, some subway ticket machines don’t take cards or 10,000 yen notes. This was a huge headache. In a bigger city or a different subway station, this may not be the case, but what a horrible morning it caused me.

–I think Korean kim (seaweed paper) is more flavorful than Japanese nori.

–I also feel that on the whole, structurally, Korean men are a bit handsomer than Japanese men. However, Japanese guys seem to rock facial hair and highlights better. A broad generalization of course.

–It is also incredibly easy to pick up with other travelers, especially when they’re there for a visa run as well. Arriving with no one to sped my time with wasn’t a problem. “Want to grab dinner?” was an easy thing to say to other people at the visa office. As was, “Let’s check out that arcade,” “Castle ruins? Let’s go there!” and, “Want to try and find a traditional tea house?” The third point we failed on unfortunately. But I didn’t have to tour Fukuoka alone. I had 3 other 20-something English teachers working in Korea to go along with. Though I collected a few email addresses, none of us seemed to feel very interested in staying in touch. I know I’m not. We shared an adventure because of convenience, not because of any compatibility that will lead to us being lifelong friends. I think that’s fine. I think that’s the nature of truly solo travel, picking up people, but putting them down again when the time comes.

I have plans for a longer trip to Tokyo and possibly Kyoto/Osaka this summer.  I can’t wait to see more of Japan and come back with more life lessons. Sorry it’s taken me so long to blog this. Things have been crazy and I’ve been neglecting this record of my travels. I must be more disciplined from now on.

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