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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Getting retro in ol' Nihon

Mojikō Retro 門司港レトロ district scenery, including the former Moji customs house 旧門司税関 on the left, and the Kitakyūshū International Friendship Memorial Library 北九州市立国際友好記念図書館 at the foot of the Mojikō Retro Observation Room 門司港レトロ展望室

Japan - where to begin? A good place would be with a few facts and figures, such as it was my first visit there in almost three years (when my family stayed in Kagoshima 鹿児島 during the 2015 Lunar New Year holiday); that we spent a total of eleven days visiting Kitakyūshū 北九州, Yamaguchi 山口, Tsuwano 津和野, Hagi 萩, Shimonoseki 下関 and Fukuoka 福岡; and that getting to that part of Japan from Vilnius involved three flights (Vilnius-Helsinki-Nagoya 名古屋-Fukuoka), followed by three subway/train rides to our first night's destination (Fukuoka Airport 福岡空港-Hakata 博多-Kokura 小倉-Mojikō 門司港).

It's something of an understatement to say that all three of us were pretty tired by the time we finally checked into the Premier Hotel Mojiko プレミアホテル門司港, just a short walk from Mojikō Station 門司港駅, following a two-hour train ride from the airport in Fukuoka. But hunger usually triumphs over exhaustion, so after dropping off our bags in our room, we headed out to Curry Honpo 伽哩本舗門司港レトロ店 for our first meal in the country. I had the Old Grilled Curry 昔の焼カレー, a grilled baked curry made from a recipe that originated back in the 1950's...:

...and washed it down with a welcome bottle of a local craft beer:

Afterward, we took a stroll along the waterfront, taking in the view of the Kanmon Bridge 関門橋 linking the islands of Honshū 本州 and Kyūshū 九州, as well as the Shimonoseki skyline (or what passes for one) on the opposite bank of the Kanmon Straits 関門海峡:

Walking back to our hotel at the end of a very long day (or two, seeing as we left Lithuania on the 21st but arrived in Japan on the 22nd):

The following morning we explored the Mojiko Retro district, located in Moji-ku 門司区, Kitakyūshū 北九州市. Mojiko Retro was created in 1995, reinterpreting the area's port history (since 1889) as a tourist destination. There are a handful of renovated old buildings plus the inevitable souvenir shops (and numerous curry restaurants):

The Premier Hotel in the background; in the foreground is the Blue Wing pedestrian drawbridge:

My wife is a devoted selfie-taker:

Enjoying lunch at the Mojiko Beer Factory 門司港地麦酒工房:

My daughter and I took a short boat tour, leaving from a dock next to our hotel:

Appearances can be deceiving - the Blue Wing wasn't raised to allow our boat to pass under the span (we easily cleared it heading out into the straits). Rather, the drawbridge goes up every hour for the benefit of camera-toting visitors; we just happened to return to port on the hour:

The old and the new, with the latter dwarfing the former:

Mojiko Retro is a pleasant place to spend a few hours, but in retrospect (no pun intended) it probably would've been better to have stayed in Fukuoka after the long flight(s) from Vilnius (and Helsinki), and instead visit the area as a day trip by ferry from Shimonoseki. On the other hand, the hotel was comfortable (with a good breakfast buffet), and our first full day in Japan was meant to be an easy one, to help us in getting over the jet lag. We left Mojikō in the early afternoon on Saturday, traveling by train (via Moji 門司駅, Shimonoseki 下関駅 and Shin-Yamaguchi Stations 新山口駅) to our next destination, Yuda Onsen. For our visit on the 23rd and the 24th, we splurged, going way over our usual budget to stay the two nights at the Nishi-no-Miyabi Tokiwa Ryokan 西の雅常盤. Our room was large, the kaiseki 懐石 dinner spread featuring fugu フグ impressive (my apologies for not taking any photos of our meal on our first night), and the indoor and outdoor hot spring baths soothingly hot:

The ryokan also offers a somewhat-bizarre free evening show, featuring an amazingly energetic senior citizen, and including taiko 和太鼓 drumming, dancing, magic, joke telling...pretty much the proverbial kitchen sink. I wish there could've been more of the drumming and less of some of the other aspects, but the audience appeared to have a good time. I was impressed with the way the star transformed folded pieces of paper into flitting butterflies through the use of her hand fan...:

...while my favorite moment was the way she attacked a koto 箏 a la Jimi Hendrix:

Full disclosure: yours truly was also briefly part of the show:


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