Walkabout - Hakozaki


Unfortunately, little remains of Hakozaki's former charm.

The university has become all but a ghost town since the opening of the Itoshima campus on the extreme opposite side of town. What will happen to the campus's Taishô and Meiji Era buildings is yet to be known, but you never can underestimate Japanese government officials' ability to turn architectural heritages into dreary, unkempt parks that no one ever visits.

The thousands upon thousands of wooden houses that once stood along Hakozaki's narrow streets have all but disappeared, torn down and replaced with shabby apartment buildings, prefab houses, and parking lots. The few that do remain are more often than not covered with ugly plastic or tin siding.


It's a terrible shame, but nobody seems to be shedding any tears over it. Most Japanese have come to accept it as "normal", and in a sense it is: the same thing has happened virtually everywhere in Japan.

There's a lot of talk in Japan these days of machi-tsukuri (街作り), town building or community development. I come across the word a lot in my translation work. The fact of the matter is, however, that government has been willingly complicit in what I call machi-tsubushi (街潰し), the wasting, destruction and crushing of towns in its misguided rush towards "modernity" and "development". 


With that now off my chest, I went for a long walk around Hakozaki and Maedashi while I was waiting for the Tama Seseri Festival to begin at Hakozaki-gû Shrine several weeks ago.

 One of the nicer homes in the area. Modest, yet sophisticated. 

A small, nicely maintained shrine I found at the end of an alley.

A shime-nawa is hanging above the doors of the shrine. 

The wall surrounding the old Kyûshû University campus. The sign says "No Parking".  

The front gates of Kyûshû University, constructed I believe in the Meiji Period. 

 Mandarin oranges 

 Another small shrine, a block away from Hakozaki-gû. 

A nicely maintained private residence in, I believe, the Maedashi neighborhood.


Trimming Nails - 1

If novels had director's cuts, this chapter would be in it. 


I thought an evening at home for a change would do me some good. I'd cook myself some dinner, then settle down to write the pages which had remained unwritten for too long. They'd collected in the course of days and weeks, so much so, they'd become a growing nuissance, cluttering my mind. And so, a warm meal in my belly, I sat down at my table to the long neglected task of writing another chapter in a novel that seemed to constantly rewrite itself. Pages of digressions and tangents, of love and hope, hate and despair. I opened a bottle of cheap vodka and placed it within easy reach in case inspiration became elusive. I wrote as quickly as the words could be dragged unwillingly across the sheets of paper. When I'd come to the end of the bottle and the end of my thoughts, I stretched my aching back, uncurled my numb legs from beneath me and read what had flown out of me over the last few hours.

With a rare sense of satisfaction in my heart and beginning to lose myself in the fog of drink, I retired to my futon to reread what I had written and dream of things bigger than myself lying on that thin cotton pad. I thought about the friends I missed, the friends about whom I often dreamt, about the Saturday nights two, three years before when I'd scrape together what little money I could, buy something cheap to drink then head downtown where I'd soon be staggering on all fours on the dancefloor. I missed my old friends so badly that merely visiting them in my thoughts was painful. It was even worse on nights such as these when I'd wanted nothing more than to stay at home with my thoughts and compose. Little by little the confidence I'd so strongly held on to would slip through my fingers, and the itch to get out of the thoughts that clouded my head and into the night would be enough to drive me mad.

I finished the last of my vodka and walked into town. It was an unusually warm November night, so I took my time meandering the dark and narrow streets that I had trudged/treaded in various states of insobriety a hundred or more times before in the sad, concise history of my miserable life in this city of Fukuoka.

I followed my nose, my heal and toes, to The Big Apple, a bar I hated for all the memories I wanted to disown. How many months had I tried to avoid the place? Since my heart had been thoroughly and unequivocally broken by Mie? Oh, I'd been there since then, in times not so much of weakness, but for a lack of anywhere better to go. A group of gregarious Australians brought be back into the gaijin fold and there I was gravitating to the bar as natural as if I'd always been going there. From then on, I'd pass, stick my head in from time to time to see if I knew anyone, and stay if I did. Little by little over the course of several months going would become a kind of  habit, drinking with aquaintances because real friends were not to be had, drink until five a.m. only to walk home alone, again, sometimes with the burden of heartbreak lightened, sometimes feeling as if its weight would crush me.

By the time I arrived the vodka I'd drunk had befriended me enough to warm a smile on my face and soften the furrow in my brow. I entered through the tinted glass door, then squeezed through the press of black sailor trying to endear themselves to the young Japanese girls, back on through to toilet in the rear where I found Mario. 

He gave me a genuine smile when I greeted him. We talked about things that didn't matter, insignificant things, then I asked him whether he was really Italian. He admitted that he wasn't, that he was Iranian, something that neither the Japanese nor the Americans would easily accept. I sat down next to him on the step and talked to him about history and culture, the Japanese and ignorance. It was one of the best conversations I'd had with another foreigner, though we'd had it in Japanese, and when I stood up to go I felt as if I'd broken through the insufferably thick layer of ice that most foreigners protected themselves with.

Many foreigners maintain a distance between themselves and others, perhaps from arrogance, perhaps from the knowledge that most of us in Japan are only here for a short time and developing any friendships outside the usual circle is a waste of time and energy. I wasn't innocent, I'd been harboring similar sentiments and had been handicapped by a selectivity that had prevented me from investing myself in relationships often because of severely limited choices. Therein lay the root of my problems. Torn between a real and concrete loneliness and a paucity of acquaintances from which to develop friendships. 

When I went back into the mob of mutually exclusive groups, dancing couples and the occasional loner like myself, I found Brian, an American whom I'd met in my neighborhood only a few weeks earlier. I'd thought he'd left and told him so. "Nah, I can't leave until I've sold everything." By everything, he meant drugs. Hash, X, pot. The night we first met in my neighborhood, I invited him back to my apartment where he got me high for the first time in ages. He offered to treat me again. I couldn't refuse and followed him out of the Big Apple and across the street to a different building where we took the elevator to the top floor, ascended a short flight of stairs to the roof and smoked hash for the next half hour.

Despite his generosity, he was in a sour mood. He mentioned that Patrick, the Swede I had originally met him with, had ripped him off, but that really wasn't what was bothering him. In his line of business, he was used to people trying to rip him off. He'd never trusted the guy in the first place, and besides it was only money, something he seemed to have no shortage of. 

We talked about all sort of things, going off on tangeants to see where they'd take us, and suddenly in the middle of our discussion on biblical myths such as the virgin birth he said, "God, what am I doing with my life? I haven't been home in eight years. I'm a fucking drug-dealer. Sometimes I just wish the police would fucking arrest me . . . "

There was nothing I could say but suggest we go back to the bar and get another drink.

When we returned to the Big Apple, we found Patrick dancing with two foreign women. I suspect that someone as tall, blonde and gregarious as him had little trouble getting laid by the sexually frustrated foreign women you inevitably found in the gaijin bars. He could have them as far as I was concerned; I'd lost interest long ago.

Brian and I got our drinks and stood to the side of the dance area continuing the conversation we'd been having earlier. "Nothing interests me anymore . . . I've seen it, I've done it, I've been there already . . . Eighty countries, man. I've been to eighty countries in the last eight years, but I haven't been home . . . "

"Wooh!" Patrick was dancing with the two foreign girls, with bare arms raised above him twirling in the air. "Yeah!"

"Look at that idiot," Brian scoffed. "Thinks he's the reincarnation of Jim Morrison."

Patrick took turns kissing the two girls who clung on him. If the girls had been remotely attractive, I might have been envious of the tall Swede rather than merely disgusted. 

"Oh, Yeah!" he said and began clapping above his head. "Mmmm, yeah!"  I suppose he wanted us to clap along with him, but no one did. Even the others who'd been dancing stopped, turning away as if they were embarrassed by the spectacle he was making of himself. A lack of audience was no matter; he continued hamming it up all the same. 

"A true artist is never really appreciated," I said to Brian. 

"Especially, a con artist."

 Just then someone tapped my shoulder. When I turned around, I found Aya. I didn't think I'd ever see her again after I'd moved closer into town. Six months had passed since we last met when she had tried to communicate through a verse in the Book of Mormon that she was in love with me. 


"I lost your address when I moved," I said hugging her. "It's so good to see you again."

I bought her a drink, then sat down at the bar with her so we could talk about everything that had happened since that warm Sunday afternoon in April.

"I often thought about you," I said taking her hand. It wasn't entirely true, though. I couldn't say that I had really consciously thought of her. I wondered what she was doing or where she was. And it wasn't that often that curiosity would make me wonder about her. No, it was on only the rarest of occasions that she would visit my passing thoughts. Drunk as I was, it was tempting to even say that I'd missed her. But then the thin veil of credibility I was wearing would have been torn off.

Why hadn't I contacted her? Was it because of her age? She was only fifteen the first time we met, sixteen when I ejaculated all over her breasts six months ago. No, age never factored into the equation. Too young wasn't necessarily a minus. Not in Aya's case, at least. Had she been older, I might not have given her the time of day. No, Aya's age, and the breasts she'd been so generously endowed with were all that had ever interested me. But at the time my heart still carried the unhealed wound of Mie's departure from my life. Though the wound hadn't quite healed, time had allowed me to put her absence further and further from my mind. I'd grown used to the feeling nothing the way you can get used to the silence. I suppose I hadn't contacted Aya because I still wanted desperately to fall in love with someone again, but now all I wanted was to fuck like a dog.

"I had a birthday," she said.

"Oh, you did? Congratulations! So, you're now what? Twelve? Thirteen?" She punched me softly in the shoulder. Really, what did another birthday mean when you were so young? Only that you were still young. I turned twenty-seven since we had last met. A year closer to thirty. A year closer to death.

"You don't know how old I am, do you?" she asked.

I knew. How could I forget coming on the breasts of a sixteen year old? Coming on a girl ten years younger than myself. The thought had made me smile, had even warmed me on the odd cold night. She was seventeen now. "Yeah, I know," I replied. "You're seventeen."

 She asked me where I was living now. She asked me if I had a girlfriend, but didn't believe me when I said I didn't. I didn't believe myself, to tell the truth. It'd been more than a year since I'd had a proper one.

"I have a boyfriend," she confessed. "He's black."

I took Aya by the hand to the back of the bar, then through the fire escape to the exposed stairwell then led her up the ten flights to the roof where I tried to kiss her. 

"You just want to have sex with me," she said, pushing me away.

"What ever gave you that idea?" I asked. I turned away from her and looked across Oyafukô-dôri to the building where Brian and I had shared a spliff earlier. I could barely make out what looked like the ember of a joint rising, glowing brightly, then dimming and falling slightly. It looked like a firefly. 

Aya had accused me of just wanting to screw her. Of course, I wanted to have sex. Would I have been up on the roof catching a cold with the girl I didn't really care a whole hell about if I weren't interested in sex? No way! Wake up, Aya! Reality awaits you! 

"Aya, I don't want to have sex. I just want to be with you." I took her into my arms again and held her tightly. "I don't want to have sex," I said kissing her neck. "I don't want to have sex," I said biting her neck and feeling the weight of her breast in my hand.

I did want to have sex. But I wanted something more, too. Something that she would have never been able to give me. Aya would never know anything about that, of course. I wasn't about to open up a Pandoran box of emotions before the girl.


We descended the stairs and walked hand in hand back to the bar which was deserted all but for the staff who were starting to clean up. Looking at the clock I saw that it was almost five. Where the hell had the time gone? We couldn't have been on the roof for more than half an hour and I'd arrived at the bar around midnight so I had two, no three hours that I couldn't account for. Or could I? Had they merely drifted off into heaven with the smoke each time I took a hit off Brian's spliff? No, time had only been slightly compromised by the hash I had smoked, and been made completely forgetable by the drinks that Aya had been ordering and placing one after the other before me. A few weeks later Brian would say, "It's not often you see a chick trying so hard to get a guy drunk so she could fuck him." 

"Live and learn." I would reply.

Aya and I jumped into a taxi and headed back to my place where I lost no time in getting undressed, lying in bed and falling fast asleep.

A few hours later I was woken by Aya. 

"Wh-what the fu . . . ?"

"You're snoring and I can't sleep."

"Huh? Me? Snoring?"

"Yeah, you. You're really loud."

"Nah, not me."

"Yes, you."

"I don't snore."

"You do, too!" She imitated me. It sounded like a boar in the throes of death. She crawled above me and grabbed my neck. "I want to kill you."

"So kill me," I said slowly pulling her sweater up and over her head. 

Although her forhead and nose were just as tan as they'd been in April, her shoulders were milky white as if they had never once been kissed by the sun. Under the sweater her huge breasts were held in place by a simple cream colored bra. Some girls with smaller breasts were able to get by with a single clasp, others with more shapely figures reguired two. Aya's breasts, however, were precariously contained with three industrial sized clasps which groaned with stress fatigue. While I might have been able to undo a single clasp bra with a adroit snap of my thumb and index, undoing Aya's bra was a major undertaking requiring a foreman, joices, pullies and hard hats. When the last of the third clasp had given way, I could feel the weight of her generous bosom drop heavily onto my chest. 

It was amazing how firm they were, how small and pink her nipples were, but then she was only sixteen. Seventeen, that is. What was the age of consent in Japan? Who knew? Who cared? Why was I even asking questions? All I wanted was to fuck Aya, but not necessarily because I wanted her. No, I wanted to fuck so that I might forget, to fuck myself into a reprieve, to put yet another body between the memory of Mie and myself. And so we fucked, fucked for hours, fucked as the morning light was beginning to sneak into my room, as the sound of pidgeons and crows was beginning to break the silence of a Sunday morning, fucked until the odd car could be heard passing slowly by, fucked until the voices of children and their mothers reminded us of the time, fucked until I came again into the deep valley between those majestic peaks.

I rolled off of Aya and fell asleep. When I woke up, she was dressed and in the kitchenette doing my dishes. Great country, I thought. When she finished, she hung up the dish towel on its hook and sat down on the bed beside me. 

"You have gray hairs," she said running her fingers through my hair.

"Thank you!"

"I'm supposed to meet my boyfriend today, but I don't feel like it."

"So don't." I pulled her towards me and kissed her, then took her hand and bringing it under the covers, placed it on my cock. "Why don't you stay with me?"  She nodded her head slightly, then proceeded to remove her clothes.

I suppose it was her age. This poor girl had been blessed with a body that demanded and got your attention, yet lack of experience meant that she hadn't yet learned how to use the gifts the gods had given her. She straddled me, then waited for sex to happen. When it did, she never let go of her composure the way that Rika would. Rika was lost in epiphanies each time we had sex. One day, I thought as Aya whimpered softly above me, she'd be a great lover, but I didn't have the patience to teach her. The excitement you might feel screwing someone so much younger than yourself fades sooner than you'd think. I lay Aya down on her side and tried to evoke something more than the pathetic whimpering, but success was elusive so I gave up and consentrated on myself, instead, and before long my own pleasure produced a short strand of pearls on her back. 

We took a shower together to wash the smell of each other's sex off our skins. I shampooed her hair, then later dried her body with a towel. We returned to my bed where she cleaned my ears with a mimikaki. It was the first time since I'd dated Mie that anyone had done that for me. It was one less memory Mie could no longer monopolise. 


We spent the afternoon in Dazaifu, visiting the famous Tenmangû Shrine. I'd suggested going as I'd been wanting to see the Japanese maples at the nearby Komyoji temple. And with the Shichi Go San soon approaching, I knew there'd be many parents taking their dolled up children to the shrine to pray for their health and happiness. More than anything, I wanted to go to Dazaifu ostensibly to see these children and take their photos, but there was a deeper wish, too, a wound that hadn't yet healed. Looking at the little girls in their colorful kimono, with their black hair combed up in hoops and ornaments and flowers dangling out in every which way, their skin white with powder and small lips as red as pickled plums on a bowl of steamed rice. Looking at them when they were so adorable like this made me think of the children I could have had, but had so far chosen not to. The reasons for past decisions, though made with the best intentions, and often the only choices I could make at the time, could hardly comfort when I look into the bright eyes of these children.

"They're so cute," I said to Aya. Would she have understood how the regret stung when I looked into their precious faces? 

We sat down on a low bench that was covered with red carpeting and ordered umegamochi manjû and green tea. Aya ran her fingers through my gray hairs.

"Everytime you do that you make me feel old."

"I like older men."

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"I don't know. They're more interesting, I guess." She placed her hand on mine and rested her cheek on my shoulder. "I think you're interesting, too."

A three-year-old girl walked clumsily by in her platform zori. Her kimono was more decorative than the others I'd seen and there was a collar of white fur around her neck. She looked at me, turning her head as she passed, then paused and waved her short fingers before continuing awkwardly on her way.

When I told Aya that I wanted a child she replied, "You are a child." It was true and I knew it, knew it all too well, but coming from a high school girl ten years my junior made it all the more ironic. Hardly a day passed when I didn't ask myself if I would ever manage to grow up and do the things that I, myself, and so many others had been expecting me to do. But as often as I thought about it I could never quite come to choose between living life one day at a time without regard to the consequences of my actions and without concern for what others were expecting, and giving in to those pressures and leading a responsible, normal life. As lonely as I was, as keenly as I still felt the solitude of being so far from family, friends and love, I did not live entirely within a vaccuum isolated from the world and people around me. My breath fell upon others both near and remote, upon Aya next to me on my shoulder and Mie so far away, but still in my heart. My thoughts return to the fulcrum upon which my emotions are balanced. Love. Love found. Love lost. Love killed. Love desired. Love. Love. Love.


© Aonghas Crowe, 2011. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A Woman's Nails is now available on Amazon's Kindle.

Read more excerpts from A Woman's Nails here:


jóie de vivre

Unfortunately, the Japanese have chosen to abandon their charming wooden homes and live instead in soulless concrete boxes like these:







Art of Living in Fukuoka

It's been with quite some dismay that I've watched neighborhoods lose their architectural treasures over the years. When I first came to Japan almost two decades ago it wasn't hard to find a traditional Japanese home or shop or even a cluster of such buildings here and there. Over time, however, these jewels have been torn down only to be replaced by ¥100 parking lots and apartment buildings which lack the soul these dwellings have. The trend has continued unabated and so as I walk through town, I try to photograph the traditional Japanese homes I come across just as a zoologist might try to record a dying species. 

 In Imagawa, Chûô-ku


Daimyô, Chûô-ku 


The entrance to a gorgeous home located in the affluent Sakurazaka neighborhood of Chûô-ku. 


As the sign says, this is a rather unassuming shichi-ya, or pawn shop, located in Imaizumi, Chûô-ku. Curiosity had me poke my head inside once where I found a teller window of sorts. Unlike most pawn shops which display and sell items forfeited by customers unable to pay off their loans, nothing was on sale inside. Considering the size and location of the property this house sits on, business must be good.


Nishijin, Sawara-ku


The former residence of the owner of Jôkyû Shôyu (soy sauce), in Daimyô, Chûô-ku. The house was renovated several months ago is now home to a popular soba restaurant called Yabukin



The view from the second floor of the kura and roofing.




Hakata Magemono

Wooden craftwork, known locally as Hakata Magemono, was originally produced solely to be used as implements in sacred rites at  Hakozaki-gû, a shrine famous for the Tamaseseri and Hojoya Festivals. Over time, however, magemono grew in popularity among commoners who found practical uses for them as rice containers, lunch boxes, and so on.

Today, only two ateliers producing Hakata Magemono remain today, one of which is Shibata Toku Shôten located in Maedashi in Fukuoka's East Ward. Shibata Toku Shôten produces some sixty different types of magemono, including the popo zen tray which has enjoyed an enduring popularity over the years. Given as presents during Shichi-go-san (7-5-3) celebrations, popo zen trays are painted with auspicsious items, such as cranes and turtles. Since ancient times, the trays have traditionally been crafted by men; the pictures painted by women.

At Shibata Toku Shôten, great care is put into choosing the materials. "If the grains aren't straight, it won't make good magemono," says Shibata. "You get a sense of how it works after years of experience."

To produce magemono, slats of hinoki (Japanese cypress) are first arranged according to their measurements. Next, the part where the two ends meet is planed. "If you make the joining parts too thick, the line won't be straight," Shibata explains. "If you make it thinner, then it'll be too sharp."

After the ends have been planed, the board is soaked in water overnight. The following morning, it is soaked into hot water for about 4 hours, making the baord more pliable. Once the board has been softened with hot water, it is bent with a special machine and then assembled. 

When asked what he found most pleasurable about the work, Shibata replied, "When a customer who's been using one of our products for several years comes in to have it repaired. If used with care, they can last for several decades."

Hakata Magemono which have been produced for some 300 years have been designated as an intangible cultural heritage of Fukuoka city.




Sunday's Walk 1


Built in Meiji 43 (1910), this lovely building was originally intended as a reception hall for foreign and other dignitaries visiting the Kyûshû-Okinawa region. It is one of the few buildings that remain in Japan featuring designs influenced by the French Renaissance. It is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm, Tuesday to Sunday. 



Three Maiko

A bronze replica of a work created by master doll artisan Kojima Maichi in Taisei 14 (1925) when the artist was thirty-eight years old. The original dolls were a third the size of this statue and won the silver medal at the Paris Arts and Crafts Expo.


An ugly side street off of the Kawabata Shopping Arcade.


The rear entrance to Kushida Shrine.


"Sacred water" for washing your hands and mouth before entering the shrine. Having once seeing a family of pigeons bathing in one of these things, I've never been able to use them since. 


Torii gates.



This well water is supposed to cure all sorts of ailments. If you can believe that, then maybe you can convince yourself that it tastes wonderful, too.

O-mikuji (paper oracles)


Dosanko. Located midway through the Kawabata Shopping Arcaade, this is my favorite place for Hokkaidô style miso ramen in Fukuoka.


Miso Râmen.

Fried Rice. Oh so good.


And, on the way home, we passed by Nakasu Taiyô, Fukuoka's very best movie theater. (Nobody believes me when I say this, but it is true. Have a look for yourself.)


Throw me a feckin' bone, will ye!

   We’d just had a three-day weekend, so I asked the kid if he had done anything fun.

   “I went out,” he replied.



   “Where to?”

   “The park.”

   “You went out to a park.”


   “By yourself?”

   “No. With my friend.”

   “You went to the park with your friend?” I said. “What for? A walk?”


   “Then, what?”


   “Baseball? Were you and your friend playing catch?”

   “No. We played baseball.”

   “The two of you?”


   “No?” The conversation was going nowhere fast. “Who else were playing with?”

   “Pardon me?” he said, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. They were so clouded over with smudges I don’t know how he could possibly have seen through them.

   I asked him how many people he was playing baseball with.

   “Ten,” he answered.

   “Well that makes more sense. So you went to the park with some friends and played baseball.”


   “Friends from school here, from this university?”


   “Friends from high school?”


   “Who were you playing with, then?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “What d’ya mean you don’t know?”

   “Do they go to another university?” I asked, wondering if he had taken part in some kind of inter-collegiate game, or something.


   “Maybe?” I gave my head a good shake, and tapped the side of it as trying to dislodge water from my ears. “Who the hell are these people you played with? Are they strangers?”


   “No?” C’mon, throw me a feckin’ bone! “Friends?”

   “Yes, friends.”

   “And they don’t go to school here.”


   “Yes, they do?”


   “No, they don’t?”



   “Okay, let me get this straight,” I said, taking a deep breath to keep my blood from boiling over. “You went to a park with ten of your friends to play baseball, right?”



   “And these friends, where did you meet them?”

   “At the park.”

   “Agh!! I mean, where did you first meet them?”

   “In kindergarten.”

   Let me tell you, teaching English in Japan can sometimes feel like dentistry.


鹿島本館 Kashima Honkan


  Back in the 1930s, there were a number of Japanese-style inns located in the vicinity of the former Hakata Station (present day Derai-Machi Park, Hakata Eki-mae), and Taiseikan was one of them. During the Second World War, the inn was used by the Japanese military to accommodate kamikaze pilots during their final days before departing for Chiran, Kagoshima, the main sortie base from which attacks against Allied ships were launched. After the war, the inn was requisitioned by the occupational forces and in 1952 reopened under its present name Kashima Honkan.

   Designed in the sukiya manner, Kashima Honkan was designated as a tangible cultural asset in 2007, the first of its kind.

  With 27 Japanese style rooms, the inn can accommodate some 18,000 guests annually, a fifth of whom are travelers from abroad.





   Crowe's works are now available on Kindle. You can follow Crowe's tweets @AonghasCrowe or friend him on Facebook.

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