My heart goes out to Kumamoto and the people living in Kyushu who are deeply impacted by the earthquakes. We visited Kumamoto late October last year and it is hard to imagine that many areas of the beautiful prefecture are now badly damaged by the earthquakes.
As part of our 10-day Kyushu driving holiday, we spent half a day in Kumamoto city enroute to Mount Aso where we spent 2 nights in a ryokan. We visited the Kumamoto Castle and had a lovely lunch at a sushi place in the city. We then spent the next two days driving around the scenic Mount Aso countryside and mountain plains, and one of our stops was the Nabegataki Falls.
The Nabegataki Falls is a small waterfall nestled in the Mount Aso countryside. The place is so pretty – it looks like a watercolor painting, or like a frame out of a Japanese anime.
The attraction is easily accessible by car and thereafter, a short walk down to the waterfall area via a flight of wooden stairs. No hiking is necessary but best to wear sneakers with anti-slip soles as you have to walk across some slippery boulders and stone slabs to get from one side of the waterfall to the other side. Although the Nabegataki Falls are nowhere as spectacular as some of the other more well-known waterfalls sprinkled throughout Japan, like the Kegon Falls in Nikko, I feel that it is worth a visit if you are in the Kumamoto/Mount Aso area.
Note: A small entrance fee is required to enter Nabegataki Falls.
I ate one whole ika sashimi, with eyes, tentacles and all, for the first time at Kawataro, a well-known restaurant located in a traditional shophouse between Canal City and the yatai street.
One order comes with two big ikas. They were fished out of the pond in front of my table just after I placed the order. For those who are not fond of sashimi, it is squeamish to have the eyes of two big ikas looking at you from a plate. But for ika sashimi fans, I tell you, it is heaven on a ceramic plate.
So fresh. So sweet. I ate the body of the ikasashimi-style, and after I had eaten the body, the restaurant cooked the remaining cartilage and tentacles in two ways: grilled lightly with salt and fried in a tempura batter. So so so good.
I visited the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum many years ago and came out of it a snivelling mess. The exhibits and audio-visual materials were so well put together, I walked out of the museum shuddering from the horror that took place 70 years ago. The images of what I saw in the museum stayed in my head for quite a while.
During my recent trip to Kyushu, I made it a point to stop by the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. I wanted to learn about what happened to Nagasaki during the aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city. While people in my generation did not live through the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II, we probably grew up listening to war-time stories told to us by our grandparents. Well, I did. My maternal granny who looked after me when I was a child used to tell me stories of her life during that difficult period of time. It will do for us to remember that the ordinary Japanese, and not just the people living in Japanese-occupied terrorites, also suffered greatly during the war.
These are photos of the interior of the museum, before entering the exhibit halls. It is a beautiful modern piece of architecture, with a dome roof and curved walls.
I rented the audio-machine which was an excellent device for talking you through the history and aftermath of the Nagasaki atomic bombing and the various exhibits in the museum. Kokura, and not Nagasaki, was the intended target on the day the Americans decided to drop another atomic bomb on Japan. However, the visibility of Kokura from the sky was extremely poor that day, so the Americans changed its target to Nagasaki.
A chain of one thousand paper cranes folded by a Dutch paper artist.
Cafe that was strangely empty. If I wasn’t in a rush for time, I would have sat down for a cup of coffee.
Shadows on the floor that were created by the glass dome roof.
The dome structure housing the museum is situated next to this brick building. I highly recommend visiting this museum to my friends, for the quality of the exhibits and to learn about a devastating piece of modern day history.
Nagasaki is well-known for champon and Castella cake. Unfortunately, I did not get to try either when I was there ‘cos I ran out of time and tummy space. What I did try was the chawanmushi at Yosso, a restaurant that has been around since 1866. My friend (a chef by profession) who had recommended Karo no Udon to me highly recommended this restaurant. He told me that the chawanmushi is so good, he ate several bowls by himself when he visited Yosso.
I managed to find my way to Yosso quite easily, thanks to Google Maps and the portable wifi. Yosso is a traditional restaurant and customers are required to take off their shoes and change into indoor slippers. I like this practice even though it can be a little bothersome at times, especially when you are wearing laced-up shoes.
I was led to the dining rooms located on the second floor. I was glad that they gave me a Western style table, ‘cos I am not used to sitting down at Japanese tables. I always feel like a clumsy oaf trying to sit down and get up gracefully, not to say the inevitable cramps that I get from sitting with my legs folded under my butt.
After perusing the English menu, I decided to order one of the chawanmushi teshokus. As my friend warned me that the chawanmushi came in a big serving, I should be mindful not to over-order my food. I had intended to order only a bowl of chawanmushi first, before deciding if I wanted more food. But looking at the tempting teshokus on the tables around me, I decided to order one for myself too. Plus a small bottle of sake. I love drinking at lunch time – it is more fun and more indulgent than drinking at dinner.
My teshoku came with a bowl of soboro, a bowl of chawanmushi, a slice of stewed pork belly and several side dishes containing pickles and stewed vegetables. Despite knowing that the chawanmushi would be a fairly huge portion, I was still surprised at how big it was. It was probably three times the size of the portion that we are used to. Three times more to eat!
The chawanmushi was incredible, unlike any that I have tried before. The texture was soooo silky smooth, it just slided down my throat. Courtesy of the bonito that was used to make the broth, the flavour of the custard was very good – light and very tasty. I savored every bit of the chawanmushi with utter delight. I could understand why my chef-friend raved about it. I would have ordered another bowl of chawanmushi if not for the bowl of soboro that I was obliged to eat.
The tri-coloured soboro (basically, ground chicken over rice) looked so attractive, it was impossible for me not to order it. Ground chicken, julienned omelette and I cannot remember the item in pink – I think it is a kind of fish flakes – over rice. The soboro was very delicious but after eating the big bowl of chawanmushi, I really struggled to finish it. I stumbled out of the restaurant, satiated from lunch and a little high from sake, happy as a bunny. I meant to visit one of the shops selling Castella cake and buy some to eat back in the hotel, but in my slightly tipsy state, forgot all about it! I managed to make my way to the Spectacles Bridge though.
Known as ‘chirin chirin ice cream’, this delicious sorbet-like ice cream in a cone is sold at ice-cream carts located at tourist attractions around the city. The ice-cream seller would usually shape the ice-cream into a pretty rose design.
I bought my ice-cream right outside the Atomic Bomb Museum. Only 100 Yen!
To me, ice-cream somehow tastes better in cold weather than in hot weather.
I went to Nagasaki on a day trip for two reasons – to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and to eat chawanmushi at Yossou, a famous restaurant that was established in the city over a 100 years ago. After visiting the museum in the morning and eating a huge lunch afterwards, I went to see the Spectacles Bridge, the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan that was constructed by a Japanese monk in the 1600s.
The twin-arch reflection in the waters of the Nakajima River produces an image that resembles a pair of spectacles. The bridge is a lovely piece of construction, simple yet manages to produce a beautiful imagery.
A small diversion for Japanese salarymen in suits. They seemed so happy laughing and waving at their friends standing at the bridge watching them taking photos from the stone slabs on the river.
Nagasaki needs more than just a day-trip for one to see most of the sights that the city has to offer. After spending most of the day at the Atomic Museum, walking around the Peace Park as well as going to the Spectacles Bridge, I did not have very much time to see some of the other attractions, such as the Kofukuji Temple and Chinatown, before heading back to Fukuoka. It is always good to leave something behind for the next visit.
When I was researching what to eat in Fukuoka, one of the things that kept popping up was ‘motsunabe‘, or cow’s intestines hotpot, a Fukuoka delicacy. I love eating offal (tripe being at the top of my beef offal list) and this dish was something that I would definitely want to try in Fukuoka. As I was on my own in Fukuoka, the only problem was whether the famous motsunabe restaurants would cater for a one-person portion. I wouldn’t be able to eat a standard size hotpot on my own and I didn’t want to waste food. I had to look for a place which serves the dish in a small portion.
Every evening, I walked from the Hakata train station or Hotel Nikko (the hotel where I stayed at, which is a stone’s throw away from the train station) to Karo No Udon for my daily bowl of udon. Along the way, I would pass by this shop called Uma Uma which had a stand outside the shop, displaying that they serve motsunabe for one person at 1,000 Yen. It was perfect for a solo traveller like me. So I popped into Uma Uma one day for dinner (instead of going to one of the more famous restaurants in the city). The first floor of the shop had space for only a narrow bar counter that sits no more than 10 people, but they have more seating space on the second floor. Besides motsunabe, the eatery serves quite alot of other food, such as ramen, yakisoba, yakitori andmizutaki.
Besides me, there was only one other customer in Uma Uma at 6pm in the evening. I ordered the motsunabe for one, and contemplated the yakitori skewers sitting in front of me. I figured that I could always order some later on if I still had stomach space after eating the motsunabe.
Ever since I read Ekiben Hitoritabi, the food manga about a train enthusiast who went travelling around Japan to eat the various bentos sold at Japanese train stations, I have been wanting to do an ekiben trip myself someday.
Like Oishinbo, Ekiben Hitoritabi is an interesting food (and also train) manga where an English translated version should be in print. But sadly, this is not currently available in either print or digital format. I bought the English digital format on JManga, an online manga website, some years ago and enjoyed reading it so much. Pity that JManga has shut down and all the digital mangas distributed by them also bit the dust with the business closure. I am just glad that I had the chance to read this manga once, in English. I am hoping that someone will license it for distribution again some day.
My recent trip to Japan involved quite a bit of travelling around on the Shinkansen and other JR trains, and I looked forward to eating ekibens during my train rides. Choosing an ekiben from the display sets at the ekiben shop was a lengthy exercise, albeit a very pleasant one. I felt like an excited child standing in a candy store with too many choices and limited resources. There were so many ekiben options to choose from! I would decide on one because I liked the food, then change my mind because I liked the shape of the box in another set, then change my mind again because the food in another box looked more delicious. The indecisiveness lasted all the way till it is time to dash to the platform to catch the train.
Dazaifu is accessible from Fukuoka by train. Since I had the JR Pass, I took the JR train instead of the more convenient route via the Nishitetsu line. Using the JR route required me to take a train to the JR Futsukaichi Station (about 15-25 minutes) and from there, hop onto a bus to go to the Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station, where I connect to the Dazifu Station via the Nishitetsu Dazaifu Line. It was quite a bit of a bother.
Immediately after I exited the train station, I stepped onto this shopping street, flanked on both sides by vendors selling traditional sweets such as umegaemochi, souvenirs and knick-knacks, clothes, cafes, soft serve ice-cream in old shops. This street leads to the Tenmangu Shrine.
It is a lovely street to take a morning stroll, with an umegaemochi or ice-cream cone in your hand, popping into the shops to browse their wares. It was a good thing that I arrived early ‘cos groups of tourists started to turn up somewhere between 10.30am and 11am, making strolling leisurely along the street impossible.
I love red bean soup. When I was a kid, red bean soup made a regular appearance at home during the weekends. My mom liked to serve this dessert because it is easy to prepare, tasty and the ingredients are inexpensive. She would add a little dried orange peel to the dessert just to give the flavour some zing.
I found this little shop called Nakashu Zenzai in the next alley from Karo No Udon that serves an excellent oshiruko, a sweet adzuki bean soup with mochi. I would hop over for dessert after getting my fill of udon. I have tried oshiruko in several places in Japan, and found them too sweet for my liking. However, the version served in Nakashu Zenzai is perfect for me, and comes with shiratama dango. My eyes instantly light up whenever I see or hear the word ‘shiratama‘.
This Starbucks in Dazaifu has the most visually arresting architecture in a Starbucks store that I have ever come across. Nestled between shops selling traditional sweets and handicrafts, you cannot miss it on your way from the train station to the Tenmangu Shrine.
I Googled this store on the Internet and learnt that this iconic store, with 2000 wooden strips criss-crossing one another, was designed by famous Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, to reflect the area’s traditional artistic roots and the modern energy of this world-famous tourist destination.
The service staff in this outlet were friendly and personable. They greeted customers with a huge smile, chatted with me and wrote a simple ‘Welcome to Fukuoka’ note on my cup when they found out that I was there on vacation. It was a really nice touch.
Also, I swear the Japanese Starbucks add more coffee to their drinks as compared to the Starbucks here. The hot cafe mocha tastes waaaay better than the ones back at home.
After I visited the Tenmangu Shrine, I came back to this Starbucks to indulge in another cup of hot cafe mocha and people-watch. I could hang out in this place ALL DAY LONG.
Visiting Yanagawa, a former castle town approximately 45 minutes away from Fukuoka city by the limited express train, was not originally on my itinerary. As the lady-owner of the o-zenzai shop recommended that I visit Yanagawa to experience the canal boat tours, I decided not to go to Yufuin, the popular onsen town in Kyushu, and spend my last day in Fukuoka at Yanagawa.
I have just spent five lovely days in Fukuoka, eating piles of yummy food, pounding the streets in perfect weather (neither cold nor windy), and making day trips to Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Dazaifu and Yanagawa.
I like Fukuoka.
It is a city that is not too big and intimidating, one which you can easily get around on foot, bus or subway, without feeling that that you are lost in a sea of moving bodies. It does not have the glamour and excitement of Tokyo, or the Zen beauty of Kyoto but it is very comfortable to be in, with warm and friendly people and a slower pace.
The city has plenty of physical space and I don’t feel boxed in by human beings, vehicles, skyscrapers and shopping malls, or feel overwhelmed by its history and sheer number of temples, castles and attractions to explore.
I have moved on to Kyoto, and will post more about Fukuoka later.