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.


Dude looks like a lady

Kayo Satoh, a fashion model, cosplayer, and game presenter, confessed earlier this month that she had been born a man. The confession of the 22-year-old model came as a shock to her modeling agency and the fashion magazine Tôkai Spy Girl for which she worked as a cover girl. Both had assumed the 172-cm tall model was a woman.



Puss in Boots


In what may be one of the oddest collaboration efforts ever, Doctor Martens and Sanrio have come together to produce the Sanrio Kitty-chan 8-eye boot to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the two companies' founding. Retailing at ¥22,890 ($266.77), the limited edition leather boots come in three versions, white, black and Kitty-chan motif. Slip on shoes are also available. 



The Beach in September

It may still be hotter than hell outside, but you won't see many bikinis at Japanese beaches after the Bon festival of the dead (Aug.15). By late summer, when the kurage (jellyfish) arrive, people keep to the sand, huddled under parasols and tents, and come September the seashore is virtually deserted. You can't help but feel lonely at this time of year.






When I was barbecuing the other day, one of the corn on the cobs I had on the grill rolled off and fell to the ground.

My wife suggested rinsing it off and tossing it back on to the grill. I would have, I replied, if the corn hadn't landed right next to Pyonkichi's toilet.

After a moment, she said, "If this were a time of war, we would probably eat the corn anyways."

"If this were a time of war," I shot back, "we would have eaten Pyonkichi long ago."

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