Wow, what an interesting trip this has already been. I guess I should start from the beginning.
As my original plan was to leave Kyoto on August 8th, I officially informed Ritsumeikan that this would be my move-out date from I-House 2. It wasn’t until much later that I learned the Kyoto Diamonji fire festival (which I’ve been wanting to see since I came to Japan) is held on the 16th, meaning that I’d have to wait until the 10th to activate my week-long railpass if I wanted to be able to return to Kyoto for the festival. I would be homeless for two full days prior to my departure.
Thankfully, at the last minute Hitomi told me that it would be alright if I crashed at her place until the 10th. It was during this brief 2-day period that I made a rather important last-minute decision. See, because I’m going to be on the road for nearly two months, I figured that it would be impossible to secure my next apartment in Kyoto this far in advance. I figured that after returning I could just move into a more expensive (and lower quality) gaijin専用 apartment for one month, during which time I’d search for a more suitable place to move into. But during my last day in Kyoto I decided that this was a stupid idea, and that I should have a more solid plan before next semester starts.
So together Hitomi and I went to a couple of real estate agencies, in short time locating a nearly perfect place for me to live. The good points: It’s even closer to Ritsumeikan than I-House 2, it’s on a 3rd floor with a large balcony, it has NO key money and NO deposit and super-low rent, water is included, and I don’t have to share it with anybody. The bad points: it’s unfurnished and right next to a graveyard (I don’t care, but that’s why the rent is so low).
But to complete the contract, I had to put down some money. Which meant that I had to get money from a bank. Which were all closed already. Which meant that I had to remain in Kyoto for one extra day, pushing my trip back to the 11th instead of the 10th. That’s alright, I feel a lot better knowing that I have a home to come back to now. So, one day later than planned, I rode my bike across town, parked it at I-House 2 where I would be leaving it for the duration of my trip, and walked half-way across Kyoto back to Hitomi’s. At 6am the next morning, I was off.
While I typically love looking out the window during these long rides, I figured it would be much smarter to start my trip well rested, and so I spent nearly the whole ride down to Kyushu asleep. I will say that I LOVE the shinkansen. It’s been so long since I’ve ridden one that I forgot how incredibly fast, comfortable, and quiet they are. There was even a power outlet next to my feet where I could keep my cellphone charging for the duration of the ride. Sweet.
Somewhere around 10am I reached my first transfer at Kokura, the northernmost major city in Kyushu. I sort-of woke up, sleep-walked my way to the next train, subconsciously translated the kanji on the schedule board, got on the train, and passed out again. I woke up a few hours later in Fukuoka, the wrong city. I guess my subconscious Japanese isn’t quite as good as I’d hoped.
But that’s OK, I was planning on seeing Fukuoka a few days later anyways. And since this was supposed to be my “roam around Asia randomly without any fixed plans” trip, I saw no harm in switching it around a little. But since I really wanted to be in Fukuoka on a Friday or Saturday night (apparently it has some of the best nightlife in all of Japan) I decided to first continue onward to Nagasaki.
Arriving in Nagasaki, I immediately shoved my overly huge and heavy backpack into a coin locker and began what would be an hour-and-a-half quest for a bank capable of accepting my foreign ATM card. Even though I had just been to a bank I’m limited to only withdrawing $500 per day, nearly all of which had to go towards my new apartment’s deposit. I’d left with less than $20 in my pocket, which in Japan doesn’t get you far at all.
But eventually I did find one, and feeling much more secure about my financial situation I quickly headed into a nearby restaurant for some sara udon, Nagasaki’s local specialty. The food was OK, more interesting however was the shop-owner who, upon seeing me read the menu and order in Japanese, invited himself to sit at the table with me and have a nice discussion about baseball. Seeing as I know less than nothing about the sport it was rather one-sided, but he seemed to be quite happy, and because my grumbling stomach was no longer waking up the woman next to me on the train so was I.
I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming around the city: Chinatown, Peace Park, the hypocenter of the atomic blast, etc. Although it was quite nice, my official recommendation to any prospective travelers would be to skip Nagasaki and visit Hiroshima instead. I’m guessing that any traveler who decides to go there is doing so to see the site of the atomic blast, and in all honesty Hiroshima is overall more impressive and way less out-of-the-way.
Anyways, I soon hopped on the express train back to Fukuoka where I would attempt to find a capsule hotel suitable to crash in for the night. Walking around that city with my huge backpack was no picnic, especially since I had been on my feet nonstop since nearly 11am (and by the time I arrived in Fukuoka it was around 10pm). What I learned is that one of the capsule hotels listed in The Lonely Planet no longer exists, and the other has significantly raised their prices. To the park I would go, and to the coin lockers my backpack would go!
But wait…what’s this? 久しぶり, it’s a drunken salaryman intrigued by the sight of a gaijin and seeking some friendly conversation. We walked and talked for about 5 minutes before I decided to ask him to recommend a capsule hotel, after which he shockedly exclaimed “You don’t have a place to stay?? Please, you can stay at my house!” Of course I turned it down – who knows what this drunken old man was really after. But a bit more discussion of his interest in foreign culture, seeing photographs of him and his wife and young daughter, and the realization that my legs were about to collapse, I agreed. Plus I needed a shower…badly.
We hopped on a train (for which he insisted that he pay the fare), and after a short walk through a quiet neighborhood were at his little apartment. His wife didn’t seem impressed that he had come home with a strange gaijin. Somehow I got the sense that he’d done something like this before. But I was grateful to shower and get clean – you can’t believe how sweaty one gets walking around Southern Japan in the summer with a 431573250798 pound backpack.
In the morning, the man’s wife seemed to change her tune entirely, and was as friendly and warm to me as anyone I’d met. The man soon headed out for work and the woman invited me to have breakfast with her, her daughter, and their tiny month-old puppy. I hung out for a little bit, thanked them profusely, and then excused myself.
I guess that in a country as homogenous as Japan a single white guy with a giant backpack tends to stand out a bit. I guess I’m not that threatening-looking of a guy. But it’s really refreshing to know that there are so many genuinely kind people still in this world, especially after I’d grown so accustomed to the nonstop crime that we see on the news in the US. This type of thing is exactly what made me fall in love with Japan in the first place – it simply hasn’t happened for awhile because I’ve been in Kyoto for so long, a city ridden with gaijin tourists. On top of that, I’m most often out in a large group – much more intimidating for an interested local to approach.
But the day’s kindness didn’t even stop there. Within five minutes of leaving their apartment building a car pulls over to the side of the road in front of me. A man pops his head out of the window and with a smile asks me in Japanese “Are you having some trouble finding your destination?” I told him I was fine, just heading to the nearby JR station. He told me that I was walking the wrong direction, and offered me a ride. Inspired by the kindness of my recent encounter I decided to trust him and hopped in. Apparently he had a son around my age who would soon be going abroad to Europe, and figured that by helping me out he’d sort of “pay his debt” to those who will undoubtedly help his son out on his travels.
I realize that it may sound a bit naive of me to be trusting people so easily, as either one of these encounters could have quickly turned into a significant problem given worse intentions. All I can say is, try living in Japan for six months and then re-read this post. My whole perspective on what’s safe and what’s not has changed since I’ve come here – as I’ve mentioned countless times, I often leave my laptop unattended in coffee shops while running to the bathroom, never fearing that it will be stolen. Perhaps this is also naive, but somehow in a half a year it’s never been a problem. That’s got to say something, doesn’t it?
And that brings us just up to date; I’m now writing you from a Starbuck’s in front of Hakata Station (the official name of Fukuoka’s train terminal). I’m not quite sure where I’ll go from here, probably spend some time walking around Fukuoka before I take off, seeing as I was completely exhausted when I arrived here last night and pretty much spent the whole time just walking along one main street looking for hotels.
So, all in all things have gone pretty much perfectly thus far. Despite my relatively reckless and unplanned travel, everything has somehow worked out for the best. I’ve had no problems activating the rail pass (even though I’m technically not allowed to do so with a student visa), no problems securing an apartment in a single day (thank you Hitomi!), and no problems finding an affordable (free) place to say. Let’s just hope it continues this way :)**