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Nearly seventy years ago, my grandfather moved his family from Tokyo to Kokura, near the city of Fukuoka, on the southern island of Kyushu. He was working as an administrator for the Japanese Government Railways, and had some responsibility for building the Kanmon Railway Tunnel that connected Kyushu to the main island of Honshu. So, my father spent his grade-school years in Kita-kyushu (northern Kyushu), and held some remarkably clear memories of the area.
About ten years back, Donna and I had seen a show of Japanese ceramics at the Art Complex in Donna's home town of Duxbury, MA. Last July we returned to Duxbury to visit Donna's mother, and took a drive to the Art Complex. There was a small feature on Japanese ceramist Kozuru Gen, who keeps homes in Topsfield, MA, and Fukuoka. We got an extra copy of the older show catalog and sent it on to my folks.
When my parents asked if Donna and I would be interested in travelling with them to Japan over Thanksgiving Break, I mentioned our interest in pottery. So they suggested a trip to ceramic towns of northern Kyushu, and we readily agreed.
We set Fukuoka as our primary destination. Fukuoka is the south-western terminous of the Shinkansen (Hakata Station), and from there we could take day trips to the smaller surrounding towns. But we spent our first two nights in Japan in the Shinagawa section of Tokyo, in order to recover from the flight and attempt to adjust our internal clocks.
Shinagawa is the "next stop" on the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. It's not nearly as crazy-busy as Tokyo, and so a little easier to deal with. Monday was "Labor Thnksgiving Day" in Japan, which involves no turkey, football, or shopping whatsoever; the city was relatively quiet in any case. We used the day to take a walk around the Imperial Palace and to catch-up with my Uncle Shinpei's family (mother's youngest brother) at dinner. His eldest son, Eijin, is almost exactly my age, so I was surprised to be re-intorduced to his sons, Tomo and Kazu, who are now both in college. My cousin Bujin also brought his son Yujin, who is in the second grade - softening the "age hit" a little.
We planned our departure from Shinagawa for about 10AM to avoid the big morning rush, but the platform was still strikingly crowded when we left. The bullet trains that left Shinagawa every five or ten minutes were full. It was amazing to watch the coordinated work of the folks at the stations to keep everything rolling. My father gave me the play-by-play of the actions of the assistant station master as he bowed to the approaching engine, and went thruough a ritual check of the train; all learned from his own father, who started his railway career as a station master.
And the Japanese sure know who to queue - folks line up, get out, get in, and the trains just keep moving. To emphasize this, there seems to be a an irritating lack of seating in all the staions; you are not supposed to sit, you are supposed to stand and wait at the area carefully marked for each car as indicated on your ticket.
It takes less than a half hour to leave Tokyo proper, and the urban fabric falls away suddenly. Look down to check your guide book, look up, and you are in an area of manicured farms and patchwork fields filling the flatlands to the moutains nearby, all flashing past at 300kph. On the trains, the conductors and the young ladies pushing the bento carts bow before entering and after leaving each car.
We transferred from the Tokaido Shinkansen (the Tokyo-Kyoto main line) to the Sanyo Shinkansen at Shin-osaka. It's a perfect place to sell bento and snadwiches, but for whatever reason, all the stalls sold basically the same lunch. I suspect that there is some kind of concessions license in the stations; I cannot otherwise account for the lack of decent choices. Soon, we arrived in Fukuoka Station, and quickly found our hotel.
[read Part 2]