Friday 8 October 2010

Japan! Part 1- Busan and Fukuoka

Okay, so I know Busan isn't in Japan (it's the second largest city in South Korea) but we took a ferry from Busan to Japan so I'm including it in this post about our Japan holiday. Anyways, our trip to Japan was a revelation and possibly the start of what will be a long love affair. I think I had a few misconceptions about what Japan and it's people would be like. I thought that Japan would be all sprawling cities peopled by polite but reserved automatons but we found (on our short visit) that this wasn't the case at all. Maybe this says more about my ignorance than anything else! The countryside was beautiful and pretty much every person we met there was really friendly and helpful. Oh, and the food was amazing too.

We took a ferry from Busan to Fukuoka, the largest city on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

We went to Japan for 5 days over the Chuseok break. Chuseok is a kind of harvest moon festival in Korea where everything closes for at least 3 days (Tues - Thurs) and everybody goes to stay with their family, usually going to the oldest relative's house, which is usually out in the countryside. This means three things:

1. Time off (I got Tues - Fri off, Rowan got the whole week)
2. High prices for air/rail/sea travel as everything sells out very quickly
3. Serious traffic congestion on the roads

We decided to take advantage of the Chuseok break to go to Japan for a brief visit. Fearing that the traffic was going to be insane we got up early on Tuesday morning and allowed ourselves 2 hours to get to Seongnam Coach station. However, all the traffic was going in the other direction so it only took us 30 mins which is quicker than normal. We killed a bit of time wandering around the giant Homeplus store (which is part owned by Tesco) and tried some free samples of Chuseok rice cakes that weren't actually too bad considering they were rice cakes, not usually our favourite food.

At 9.10am we got on a cramped coach (unfortunately it was the worst coach we've been on in Korea) and spent the first hour or two on quiet, winding back roads so we didn't hit much traffic but once we hit the motorway things changed and we were going nowhere fast! 3 rest stops and 8 hours later we finally got to Busan - that's a journey that normally takes about 4 - 4.5 hours. Not fun, but we made it in the end and when we finally got there at around 5pm we visited the Beomusa Temple which is just one subway stop away from the coach station. It was beautiful and we were lucky enough to see the monks banging the huge drum at dusk. There must have been a lot of mozzies about though as I had 14 bites by the end of the day!

Beomusa Temple was a really lovely, peaceful place up on the hills above Busan.

Beomusa participates in the Korean Temple Stay programme. The folk in the black robes are temple stayers.

Stone pagoda at Beomusa.

A pavilion containing a huge drum.

The temple buildings had bells with fish shaped clappers hanging off them.

As we were about to leave these monks started drumming. It was an incredible, energetic display.

Close up of the monk drumming.

That night we found a really cheap motel for 25,000 won a room, the cheapest yet. It had been slated in the Lonely Planet guidebook but the room was clean and reasonable though there was no hot water in the morning. Next morning, we wandered down to the International Ferry Terminal and took the Beetle Ferry (a fast and cool looking hydrofoil) from Busan to Fukuoka, a large port city on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The Korean immigration officers were very thorough and seemed pretty grumpy. Presumably they were pissed off that they had to work over Chuseok. It was a really rough crossing to Fukuoka and I don't think I was the only one starting to feel a bit sea sick by the time we arrived. I noticed a few people actually seemed to be reading their emergency evacuation info cards rather than just using them as fans and Koreans never usually seem to care about health and safety!

The Beetle Ferry hydrofoil that we caught to Fukuoka.

We had to stay in our seats for the whole journey as it was so rough so we were relieved when we finally arrived in Fukuoka though the weather didn't look too promising. The Japanese immigration were more friendly than their Korean counterparts though even more thorough - they take your photograph and digital scans of your fingerprints when you enter the country. We caught a bus to Hakata JR train station, the main station in Fukuoka, and walked to our accommodation, the International Khaosan Hostel, which we had booked online for the 4 nights we were staying in Japan. The hostel was really good, the rooms were clean and the staff were friendly and helpful. There was loads of useful information on the walls about good places to go and visit nearby and they even had adaptor plugs that you could borrow.

We stayed ion a twin private room in the Khaosan hostel. It was tiny but cheap, very clean and with good air-con too. We had bunk beds!

That evening we went out to explore Fukuoka. It's probably useful to note here that Fukuoka actually comprised of two towns, Fukuoka and Hakata, which were merged in the late 19th century. Officially the modern city is called Fukuoka but apparently a lot of it's residents still refer to it as Hakata and the main rail station is called Hakata too. First we visited some nearby temples where we saw lots of bats, then we walked into the centre to take in the bright lights of a Japanese city before going to get some dinner. Hakata is famous for it's ramen (noodles in a flavoured broth), particularly tonkotsu-ramen, where the broth is made from pork bones. We went to a friendly little ramen shop called Hakata Ippudo Ramen and had some of the best noodles I have ever eaten in my life as well as some dainty little gyoza (Chinese style fried dumplings).

The bright lights of Fukuoka city.

Taxis in Fukuoka were pretty crazy looking - they looked like they would fit in better in Delhi or Marrakesh than sleek, modern Fukuoka.

The obligatory night time traffic shot in Japan.

This was the traditional Hakata style ramen in pork both - it was delicious with a real depth of flavour. We had it with extra sliced, barbqued pork on top which was delicious.

We also ordered a bowl of the house special ramen which was even better than the Hakata noodles (sacrilege!). It was quite spicy and again had an amazing depth of flavour.

Tiny fried gyozas - according to the Lonely Planet guidebook, they made them small so that well to do ladies didn't have to 'suffer the indignity of opening their mouths too wide to eat them'.

After our tasty meal we wondered some more around Fukuoka, visiting a crazy games arcade, a Japanese supermarket (has to be done when visit a new country) and Canal City, a huge shopping mall with an artificial canal and dancing fountains.

This guy was amazing on the drumming game, his hands moved so fast.

There were these weird pods kn the arcade that had a massive panoramic display inside, 2 joysticks, loads of random controls and pedals.

This is me inside the one of the pods trying to play the game. It was fun but confusing - don't think I managed to get the high score though.

A row of yatai stalls by the riverside. Yatai are food stalls on wheels replete witha portable kitchen, stools and drinks.

There's no smoking on the streets in Fukuoka so if you want to light up outside you have to go to one of these smoking shelters.

We eventually called it a night and went back to the hostel to get some sleep and get ready for the next day's adventures in Nagasaki.


  1. Hi you guys,
    I have been enjoying reading your blog. I can relate to it.
    I was wondering if you wanted to exchange links. Here is my blog,
    This is my email,
    Also, I was wondering if I could use the photo you have of the Beatle ferry?
    Thanks in advance,
    safe travels,

  2. Hi Leif

    Love your blog! Of course we would love to exchange links with you - I have put a link to your blog on ours. You're more than welcome to use our picture of the Beetle ferry.

    Happy travels and blogging,
    Sophie and Rowan.

  3. Coming from a place that had smokers just out and about anywhere and everywhere it's very courteous for Japan to make places for people to smoke in especially at the train stations.