The Truffle Chuffle, again and again and...
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Where I stayed
Couchsurfed with Yu-Ching
Firstly, a big thank you to Bev and Barrie from Canada, Aunt and Uncle to my sister in law Kim. They used to live in Japan and gave me a great list of helpful tips and suggestions for daily itineraries. Also, thanks to Kim who also gave helpful suggestions especially about Hiromshima and the rest of Japan. I value her insight as a fellow traveller, so I altered my plan to include Hiroshima.
Fukuoka was first. My ferry docked around 8am and the immigration process was quick and painless. I found free wifi at the port so played with the itouch for a little while. I'm not meeting my host, Yu-Ching, till 8pm, so I had around 12 hours to kill with both my rucksacks. I downloaded a whole host of podcasts and set off for the train station. One initial irritation in Japan is that very few ATMs take international cards. Only Citibank and Postal bank took my card. This became a pain throughout most of my time in Fukuoka! It was similar in South Korea as well, they are set up for tourism but financially, don't support those that decide to holiday or travel in their country. I was in search of some cash as my stomach was growling and breakfast was eventually found. I killed the 12 hours by reading, listening to podcasts, slowly wondering around and going back to the port to use the free wifi and to charge a few items as well.
I met Yu-Ching at the subway station near her apartment which is about a 20 minute ride from the city. Yu-Ching is from Taiwan, she is studying a PHd in chemistry in Japan and is fluent in many languages. She's 24 years old and has a long distant 22 year old French boyfriend. She was a little low about the relationship so we spent some time talking about it and trying to give her some positive messages. She cooked me some fantastic dumplings, with spicy sauce, for my supper with some iced tea. Her apartment is small but extremely safe and comfortable. One walks in through a narrow kitchen, there is a bathroom to the left and the narrow kitchen leads to the box bedroom/lounge/dining room all combined. She has a futon that folds out and I enjoyed a very comfortable night sleep.
The next day in Fukuoka, I did something very unique, I sat on my arse for 8 hours! However, I have fond memories of watching Trans World Sport on a Saturday morning on Channel 4 as a child and I was always fascinated by the highlights from the Sumo wrestling!! I was lucky that the Sumo tribe were in town for two weeks and I managed to get the cheapest ticket and turned up at 9am. I have to admit, there were only 5 people in the crowd at that time, but the Sumo guys kept coming out and for the next 8 hours, that was my life! The lower league guys come out early and the big guns come out near the end! My ticket was still about 18 pounds, so there was no way I was going to budge!
I'm not going to explain the rules but here is a useful link to read http://www.crystalinks.com/sumo.html
An interesing aspect is that before each battle, a man enters the stage and sings a poem in Japanese to announce the fighter. Each fight has two sumo guys so two poems are sung. The announcers take it in turns after 30 minutes or so. When a higher class of Sumo wrestles, they walk together to the stage depending on whether they are from east or west and then in order of their ranking. The line up on the edge of the Dohyo and perform a small ceremony. Amazing to see, never have I seen this before.
Later in the day, there is a seperate ceremony for the Sumo Champion, the Yokozuna. I remember years ago a big fat guy in the USA called Rodney who performed in the WWF and named himself Yokozuna, I never knew, at the time, the significance of the name. He is joined by a guy with a samurai sword and performs a small dance before receiving a standing ovation from the excited crowd! Amazing scenes! Later in the afternoon people were shouting, raising flags and going nuts. The funny thing, before 1928, there was no time limit on when the fight would start. So an example from the day, Sumo guys enter stage, few actions, leg in the air, face each other, walk off for a wash with the flannel, throw some salt, face each other, get up, throw some more salt, more leg action, walk away, throw some salt, drink some sacred water, throw some salt........and this went on and on. Though in 1928 a limit of 11 minutes before the fighting had to commence was enforced and now it's down to 4 minutes, I genuinely believe the crowd would go on the stage and fight them if they took any longer. I see it being similar to a big contest in football, there is all the build up, the tension, the stats, but when they get down to it, all that is forgotten. Some fights lasted seconds as a Sumo would fall over, though some lasted a couple of minutes, I'm sure they lean on each other for a breather!! One fight ended with an unclear winner, so the 5 judges convene on the Dohyo and discuss who they thought fell out first, no TV replays here! One guy fell out the Dohyo and landed sharply on his back, so he was wheelchaired away.
On the way to the Dohyo, I actually walked behind a Sumo wrestle in his gown, walking to the stadium, he was pretty slow but incredibly large.
Let's not assume I watched for 8 hours. I took a nap in the morning and then finished reading a book. Stupidly, it was a book about how a library in Iowa was transformed by a ginger cat. I dropped D H Lawrence Sea and Sardinia for Dewey when I was in Irkutsk but took a long time to get around to reading it. The obvious happened at the end of the book and tears were streaming down my cheek. Reminds me of my little Sam and how he is still not forgotten! I also nipped out for a lunch of crisps and ice cream, I just didn't want to lose my seat!
A day of Sumo was exhausting but will live with me for a long time. I met Yu-Ching back at the apartment and we went out for some famous Fukuoka Ramen. Noodles in soup with meat and veg and lots of free extras, like bean sprouts, radish, sauces, tea, water, it was very tasty and my first Ramen experience.
My last day in Fukuoka involved waking up to a breakfast of tomatoes with raisins and some milk. Yu-Ching also made some eggs. I must have talked about cake quite a few times as Yu-Ching took me to a fancy cake shop and treated me to an expensive slice. It was a national holiday in Japan so her PHd could go on hold and we could eat some delicious cake. She was going to be at the Sumo all day so I wondered around Fukuoka by myself.
I spent time at Kushida shrine, Ohori park, an apple store in the crazy Tenjin station area and people watched. I walked past a group of young baseball players, joggers, young mothers with their children, food stall vendors and like most Asian cities, plenty of traffic and full trains on the subway. I feel at peace in Japan, the people are very honest and friendly and to my surprise a great deal of people speak English.
Yu-Ching is such a sweet girl that she finds it tough to say no to couch requests, so a big Polish guy turned up on my last night. He met her at the Sumo but already looked sleepy, sweaty and unwell. We figured out his diet was very poor but he looked terrible. A pretty poorly opinionated young guy, instantly took a disliking to me because I have travelled for a long time, rather than where I have been travelling. Stated that being English and a man means I don't cook and hate cooking?? Very confused. He put down the UK for not having an ID card, I explained to him why we don't and the costs associated with having one but he was a little annoying. He also told us he came to Japan for the beer?? What!!? While Yu-Ching went off to get some food for a home made hot pot, I took him and his bags to her apartment. He knocked over the cutley holder and then sprayed a bottle of fizzy water everywhere. He just wouldn't relax, or chill, or sit down. So that put us all on edge, ie what will he break next. I like to find a spot and relax, chat to my host and not be awkward. It was Suze in Daegu that commented that I was clean and tidy and that her lounge didn't smell like boy (I was helped that a rabbit lived near the living room) but to me that is just normal, but I see what Suze meant now in that she is nervous about what the person will be like. This guy also then didn't want to eat any of Yu-Chings delicious hot pot even though she bought enough for 3 of us. Anyway, the look on his face when he found out before lights out that he had to share the futon with me!! HAHA. Yu-Ching warned me a few days in advance and even asked if it was ok, but for me, it's her place, she can do what she likes. So, not the best night sleep I ever had, hugging a wall nex to a big sweaty and smelly kid.
Sadly, I didn't get to say a proper goodbye to Yu-Ching but I had a wonderful time with her. Fukuoka for me was all about the Sumo and slowly slipping into the Japanese way of doing things.
On couchsurfing, once you have been and gone, my host writes a reference about me. These are available for anyone to see and I've picked up 37 now but the reference Yu-Ching left me particularly interested me. In particular her thoughts on why I travel is what I enjoyed reading most. Anyway, so as she shared this comment with the couchsurfing world, I will share it with you.
Reference left by my friend, Yu-Ching.
'During Tony's visiting,i was a bit upset for my relationship. he shared a lot of stories about his past. and he help me a lot by his way(im not sure did he notice it or not) i met some couchsurfers,but he is very different from them. the reason that he travel around the world is NOT just wanna be stronger or catch eveyone's eyelight. its more like enjoy his life and share happyness with everyone. he is very gental,care,trustworth,wise and has a lot of humor. i felt happy and peaceful during his staying.'
Next stop, Hiroshima, Japan.