Sunday, August 16, 2009

Afternoon Trip: Munakata Taisha

Today I finally decided that I need to start exploring, around my own neighborhood and beyond Fukuoka city limits. Yesterday was a bit rainy and gross, and I was physically whipped from swimming laps for the first time in ages the night before. I went to see a movie (that will be $20, thank you) that is a continuation of a popular TV drama series I have watched in the past. It was entertaining, though still a bit like watching TV on a really big screen.

This weekend is Obon, the three days when most Japanese people return to their birthplaces to clean family graves and honor their ancestors. A lot of people also take off time from work to do this, so my office was really quiet on Thursday and Friday, and the two people I would otherwise hang out with this weekend are away in Nagasaki and Kagoshima, respectively. One of the most interesting things that happens during Obon is the okuribi in Kyoto, which I hope to see in person one day. The biggest of the five burning characters (which, not too coincidentally, means "big") is the 大 dai on Daimonji-yama, really close to Kyoto University. I have lots of pictures of it from last year. I guess I will watch it on TV tonight. And while I would like to be in Kyoto right now, I also am glad I'm not, because Osaka and Kyoto have annual daily temperatures hotter than Naha, the capital of Okinawa, which is waaaay south from here. It is plenty hot in Fukuoka, thank you.

So anyways, today I journeyed just a bit northeast of here to Munakata, a city where my friend KBH studied abroad when she was in high school. She wasn't kidding when she said it was nearly straight up countryside. It only took about 20 minutes to get there from Kashii station, which is a 10-15 minute bike ride from my apartment. I left lots of time before my train because, as expected, I got lost on the way to the station from here. But now I know my way, which is good for when I want to go somewhere on JR trains without taking the bus into Tenjin (downtown).

My main reason for going to Munakata was to see the Munakata Taisha, which is apparently a quite old and important-ish Shinto shrine. It was pretty to be sure, but suprise! It looked like almost every other shrine I've been to, plus it was quite small. But I still had a nice trip there on the train/bus, and a little adventure getting back to the station. Buses in the bufu only come once an hour, and I had just missed one, so I decided that I didn't want to wait for the next one and began walking back to the station. Which was 5.5 km away. My plan, of course, was not to walk the whole way (especially once the sun came out and it became unbearably hot), but to catch the bus at a closer stop. I popped into a little store selling soft cream (like soft-serve ice cream) and when the store owners saw how hot I was, they asked me if I was out walking. I told them yeah, I was going to walk towards the train station. Before I could explain that I was only going to walk a few bus stops closer, an older woman and her 40-ish daughter offered to drop me off at the station, which was right around the corner from their house. They were done with their errands and heading back anyways, and so I gratefully accepted their offer. They were incredibly nice, and very excited to speak to a foreigner in Japanese. The daughter explained that the foreigners who teach English at her child's school don't really speak any Japanese, so it was the first time she had ever had the chance to have a real conversation with one of my kind. That made me feel kind of cool, heehee. I thanked them profusely when they let me off at the station, and they drove away smiling and waving. It was a nice Japan moment ^_^

While I was at the shrine, I bought an obligatory omikuji, which tells you your fortune in respect to all kinds of things (health, work, love, travel, etc.). I was pretty lucky and got 吉 kichi, which means "good fortune." The best you can get is 大吉 daikichi, which is "great fortune." If you get a daikichi, you are supposed to fold it up and put it in your wallet so that your good luck will go with you, but for all the other fortunes (especially bad ones), you tie to a tree. My fortune came with a tiny amulet, which in my case was a little gavel that, when shaken, grants a wish and helps one amass a great treasure. Doesn't sound too bad to me.

When I got back I bought an inexpensive hot water pot so I no longer have to use the Iron-Age tea kettle that my pred left. I also cut down the old gross clothes line out on my veranda and replaced it with a nifty pink one that holds clothes hangers in place (from the 100 yen store, of course). In a continuing effort to make this place feel like my own, I reorganized all the glasses so that all the old ones left here that I have no intention of using are way up high, and the ones I do plan on using, including some I have bought myself (100 yen store), are within easy reach.

I think there is a cicada on my veranda, because it is VERY LOUD. I will investigate, and then it's dinner time!

** Oh, and because I haven't figured out how to write captions for my pictures here on blogger, I will explain the photos here. The first photo is of a sign I encountered during my walk from the shrine, which encourages people to eat locally grown, Fukuoka-prefecture rice. "It's delicious!" The second is of the sassy seat covers on the train. Next, a lovely scene in the middle of nowhere. Then, of course, the shrine, and my omikuji.


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