The Streets of Fukuoka - MEGA: A Three Year Journey FREE Chapter
Published August 30, 2021
This is a free chapter from my memoir - MEGA: A Three Year Journey
Purchase the book here
The room was light but the light felt far away, my tatami mat tucked into the wall had stolen some darkness from the light in the room.
I adjusted to the artificial lighting, sat up and looked across the dorm. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and focused on the window. The night sky outside was slowly turning a deep shade of blue, it took a moment to realise its significance.
I had slept for most of the journey across the Korea Strait and with the morning sun about to rise I would soon be on Japanese soil.
Despite the deep sleep I had fallen into, I woke groggy with my head muddled. It was as if my brain couldn't accept that I had actually been able to sleep on an overnight ferry in a room full of people.
I stood up and left the dorm for a morning cigarette.
I was hungry, finding myself in the same situation as the night before, only having Won and not the yen the vending machines and restaurant on the boat liked. I would have to wait for breakfast.
I smoked most of my pack of cigarettes in place of a proper meal and readied myself for at most an hour of bullshit before I could eat and sleep.
As the boat docked in Hakata I was smiling at the thought of coming to Japan by sea and not air. I took some celebratory selfies out on the deck and then made my way off the boat and into immigration and customs.
It’s always a tense situation when customs search through your entire bag. Especially when they can barely speak English and your bag is stuffed full of nine months worth of receipts and tickets and all kinds of other bits and pieces.
I took my bag from my shoulders and placed it on the table, unzipped the pockets and turned it on its head. The mementos roared out along with my half clean, half dirty clothes. It all came to a rest as mountains on the table.
The pair of Japanese customs officers clawed through it all.
Travellers and homecomers passed by as I explained my story, “I’ve been on the road now for a long time, these are my mementos.” I said.
The smiling officers were in awe of the mess. I imagine it's the same jackpot smiles they have when they find a big lump of cocaine or hash secreted away in a shoe or sleeping bag.
It was a strange kind of attention to have.
Whenever I would go through the routine I felt an adrenaline rush, there was nothing to ever worry about, I never had that lump of cocaine or hash in a shoe or sleeping bag, but with the uniforms on me my mind would wander to the worst-case scenarios of crooked cops, planted drugs, and elaborate conspiracies.
Immigration and customs are always an enemy even if you're innocent of anything overtly nefarious.
The two officers wore blue uniforms adorned with an array of badges and insignia with obligatory hats, the costumes of delegated state authority.
They were taking their time deconstructing the mountains. They combed through it all, picked out a coin, a lighter and quizzed me. I would give the story of each highlighted item and the process would repeat.
‘Just a bit longer.’ I thought as my body asked for caffeine, a plate of greasy food, another cigarette, anything to bring me out of the state of sleep more completely.
Ten minutes later and with no coke or hash found, their attitudes changed from edgy and suspicious to smiley and kind.
“Do you have an umbrella?” one of them asked, the question threw me, “It will rain today.” he added with real concern.
“I don't,” I smiled, “I'll buy one later.” and with that I was free to push the exploded mountains back into my bag and make my way through the sliding glass doors into Japan.
I left the ferry terminal and headed towards civilization, forming a plan in my head.
I jumped into a convenience store - not a hard find in Japan - withdrew my first stack of yen, admired its regal design and stuffed it into my pocket.
Find the way to the Presidents Hotel
Get to the Presidents Hotel
It was now in motion.
The rain started just as the concerned customs officer had predicted about 20 minutes out from the port. I took shelter under a roofed car park and watched planes takeoff above the small residential houses.
I smoked a cigarette to warm me and then kept walking.
I had no idea where I was going. This didn't look like the Fukuoka I had seen in pictures, I was far out from the centre of town. I knew I would have a long walk ahead of me. Without WiFi and not being able to read a word of Japanese I had no idea how the buses or trains worked or where they were going. So walk it was.
The excitement of being in Japan and the sweet euphoria of a few more cigarettes wore off, replaced by an aching whole body tiredness. My backpack straps dug into my shoulders, my lower back was tense as if I were balancing on a highwire. I had been walking aimlessly for an hour since I left the car park behind, I was wet and smelt wet.
After walking for a while, I came to a stop.
I had one eye on the Starbucks and another on the long street ahead, I was debating it.
Go in and face an awkward encounter of Anglo-Japanese language barriers or stay out on the streets lost and wet. I slid up beside it and peared inside, ‘Fuck it!’ I thought. I went in.
Thankfully the girls behind the counter understood me just enough to exchange yen for coffee.
I sat down and connected to the WiFi to get an idea of where the hotel was. It was as I thought, from the Starbucks it would take another few hours to reach the hotel. I saved the directions, munched on the free snacks being handed out by one of the young workers and drank up my drink.
Outside the rain had stopped but the grey clouds hung around waiting to release another offering of misery. A few minutes later as I made my way down the street, the wet misery arrived.
I don't mind rain, it can be nice sometimes but this wasn't one of those times.
I thought of the mix of smells I would be carrying once I made it to the hotel, overnight boat smell, the body odor and rain combination.
I'm not sure if it was the rain or the free Starbucks snacks not being enough or I just wanted to try my luck again but the restaurant looked enticing.
I walked in and was shocked to find it deserted, no customers in sight in a large restaurant capable of seating at least a hundred diners. The waitress showed me to a table and put the menu down in front of me.
I wasn't sure exactly what the yen in my pocket was worth, was the hundreds of yen I was about to spend on this breakfast a great deal or a ripoff? I stopped caring, I needed the energy, so I ordered some egg dish and tucked in.
After the long walk through the rainy streets of Fukuoka, sometime in the early afternoon, I caught my first sight of the Presidents Hotel.
The receptionists stood frozen and nervous as if they had the real receptionists tied and gagged on the floor behind the desk.
“We can give you a room, but…”
I was waiting for the bad news…
“You have to pay us ¥8000.” he said with a look of apology on his face.
I ran it through in my head for a second. I had booked a hotel room online that cost ¥8000, now I was being informed upon arriving at that hotel that I had to pay ¥8000 for the room. Something seemed exactly right.
I put the strange statement down to the language barrier and handed over the notes.
something about them.
Suspicious and a touch surreal.
I'm still not entirely convinced once the elevator doors closed behind me and I was out of sight, they didn't go to work picking up the lifeless bodies, stuffing them into a van and driving off like mad through the streets, escaping with that ¥8000. Could have happened. Probably didn't.
I only spent a night in the comfort of the Presidents Hotel. The next day I began my real time in Fukuoka, a time of both magic and suffering.
The lifestyle I fell into was not an easy one. That one night in the Presidents Hotel and a few nights in a hostel were the exceptions to my Fukuoka living situation.
I spent most of my days outside with a limited budget and the nights on the floor of a net cafe cubicle. Doing it for a month without going insane was the challenge.
I had never been homeless before, I was becoming homeless in Japan.
Then again who needs a home when you have an internet cafe and ALL YOU CAN drink and eat coffee and ice cream?
Crashing back every night into my open roof cube of a room, I would sometimes ponder the question.
It was one of Japan's best inventions, the net cafe. Why waste money on a hotel when I could go on an urban adventure all day then rock up at 10pm to Manboo, get my own private space, eat all the ice cream and drink all the coffee I could, search the internet for an hour and fall into a deep sleep, waking in a puddle of slimy drool.
I tried to see the positives of it but I was deluding myself. It was taking its toll on my body more than I let myself admit.
I was aching, my back ached, my shoulders ached, my legs and heels and souls and toes ached. I was losing weight too. I was starting to look like a stick, a stick with shoes.
It wasn't just a physical toll either. My mind was becoming agitated with the same circles I was making.
A walk around every floor of Canal City, an hour in MOS Burger or 30 minutes in the curry house CoCo's, visiting the same sights around Fukuoka again and again and again.
The list of repeated activities took up some of the hours but only small chunks out of the day, and the days were getting longer.
I needed a way to spend my longer days.
In Seoul, I could spend the night getting drunk on the rooftop or at a bar in Itaewon, come home at 5am and sleep until the afternoon. I had 12 to 14 hour days. In Fukuoka I was only getting blocks of sleep, rationed out in five hour increments at the most.
I needed something both challenging and creative for the 18, 19 hours out on the streets.
I'd walked to the beach a few times before and liked the three hour stroll through the different unique areas of Fukuoka.
I chose the walk from Canal City to Seaside Momochi as my new daily routine.
'You will just have to deal with it!" I told my protesting body.
'I'll find longer-stay accommodation in Osaka and rest there.' I reassured myself.
Each day this walk was a new variation of a real world video game. The days blurred into each other so much that to tell the story of one walk would be the most impossible thing in this universe…
I've mixed a few of the moments of the walks into one story and will change to the present tense to capture the feel of it.
The Residential Maze
I wake up in my own drool. Not unusual, something about these net cafes makes me spill liquid throughout the night.
The black sleeping mat is now conformed to my body shape and stuck to the exposed skin of my legs, I scan the small cube still half asleep, my bag is where I left it last night, tucked safely under the computer desk. I stare at the ceiling lights above the open top cubicle before sitting up and clearing some saliva coating my cheek.
'Another day of this.' I think.
I unzip my bag and search the mess inside for a clean shirt but it's no use, all my clothes are equally wrecked. I judge my current shirt to the smell of another and choose to stick with the one I'm wearing.
I slide into my shorts and check the time.
I have a few minutes before the hour ticks over and have to pay the charge for another hour in the cube.
I gather up some things I took out of my bag the night before, drop them to the bottom of the bag's front pocket and stuff in the nastier smelling shirt. I zip up the bag and stand up.
I look over the tops of the open plan cubicles, check my pockets for my phone and money and slide open the cubicle door.
The floor is quiet, a few coughs sound off, some mouse clicks and keyboard stokes and the hum of background music. My fellow residents of Manboo are mostly all up and gone for the day, I wonder what their days are like, are they also globe hopping hobos? How do they spend the hours between visits?
I step into my shoes and walk to the reception area, crossing the border of the more dimly lit cubicle floor and into the harsh bright light of the reception. I pay the thousand-something yen for my night's sleep to the worker behind the desk and leave the cafe.
Outside the world is still breaking out of night and into day, no longer black or blue but a darkish grey.
I open my box of Luckies and pull out a cigarette, the sleep has done little to repair my body. My back aches, my feet protest at again being forced into action by sending shots of pain to my brain.
I light my cigarette, inhale and wait for the drug to kick in. As the fire burns down to the filter I've forgotten about the pain in my back and feet.
I store my bag in a coin locker next to Manboo then go for breakfast, a hotdog curry at CoCo’s.
As the early morning meal digests, I sit by the river before the long push toward the ocean begins.
The main building of Canal City is behind me, its circular floors stack up into the sky like a cut up soft boiled egg. I like the colour of it, a mix of red and orange that you rarely see.
The red egg gets smaller as my temporary home and base of operations is left behind and I cross the bridge to Nakasu Island.
I can't turn back now, I must make it to Seaside Momochi by sunset.
The seediness of the notorious area of Nakasu is boarded up and pushed out of view until nightfall when the prostitutes and pimps will again ply their trade.
The island on the river is the perfect spot for debauchery. The laws of Japan are kept out by the moat on all sides and the law of Nakusi rules within.
In the morning it's only use is as a road to get to the downtown business district of Tenjin.
Tenjin is always the busiest part of the trek. Crowds of salarymen and neatly dressed women scuffle along the wide boulevards, bubbles of statistics and perfume, bubbles that float and crash against one another but never pop. I'm the odd one out, the only one without a social uniform.
As I leave the mosh pit of Tenjin and arrive into the quiet residential streets beyond, I'm presented with a new problem. Japanese women on bicycles. As one bike passes, another attacks out of nowhere, the constant judging of direction and speed makes it hard to finish a thought before another comes at me.
The women are all beautiful, even the ones that aren't beautiful are beautiful, their speed and elegance on the bike overcome any physical distractions. The ones who are beautiful beautiful are burnt into my eyes and I daydream about them, until another angel on wheels comes by to claim her place.
I'm tiring now at the halfway point. I visit the ruins of Fukuoka Castle, some days I'm alone here, today a few people mill around but it doesn't bother me, I still feel alone in a good way.
The view from the top of the castle relaxes my tired body. The panorama is unobstructed and takes in a large chunk of the city, for a spot so ideal it always surprises me to see it so empty.
From the castle I cross the street and make a turn into Ohori Park. I walk to my bench, a dugout in front of the lake with a view of Fukuoka Tower off in the distance.
As my tired legs begin their recovery, turtles swim up above the lake a few feet from me, planes fly overhead and the sound of joggers with dogs and babies on the back of bikes pass me in an endless loop.
I find the most peaceful music I can on my phone and listen. The songs and my daydreams flow into each other and by the time I check my phone again an hour has already passed.
These hours of dreaming in the sun have been the cause of several bad cases of sunburn. It doesn't bother me so much, in the park, on this bench, every trouble or worry in my head leaves for a little while.
I play another song before bidding the turtles farewell for another day.
I get a cold drink at one of the park's many vending machines, I choose the grape Fanta.
I light a cigarette and smoke while looking out across the deep blue lake.
In the centre of the lake are several islands connected by bridges. I haven't been there yet. It’s still early so I decide to go for a walk across the islands.
The rest of the park seems far away from me on the islands, it's as if the islands are their own park separate from the ring of grass, trees and running tracks on the other side of the lake.
As I walk back off the islands an elderly man approaches and asks, “Where are you from?”
I hesitate, not quite sure how to answer the simple question, “England.” I say after a long pause.
“I have visited over 50 countries.” he tells me proudly, “How do you like Fukuoka?” he asks, his face full of pride and anticipating the answer.
“I’m surprised, I thought it would be just another port city but there’s something about the place.” the answer produces a beaming smile on his face.
I ask how long he's lived in Fukuoka, he's a retiree from another city up north and points to a building with a blue rooftop, “That is my apartment,” he says, again beaming with pride, “it overlooks the lake.” with nothing more to talk about we part ways.
There are many routes from Ohori Park to Seaside Momochi.
Today I take a new route, I pass the US consulate building and enter into the maze of residential streets, the streets each have their own stock of small cube shaped houses, most of them white and made with small bricks which are standard in Japan, electrical wires hang in a chaotic elegance in all directions.
I take my time walking through the area studying the homes. Japanese streets are unlike any other.
I break out of the narrow streets and onto the boulevard leading to Fukuoka Dome that sits near Fukuoka's man-made beaches. The dome is a giant and shows its imposing magnificence even from this distance. It will take another 20 minutes until I'm close enough to smell the ocean but from here the dome has already firmly announced itself.
Fukuoka Tower and the Hilton hotel are located near the dome, both facing out toward the ocean. The area has the potential to transform into a Chicago type skyline with a CBD facing the ocean, skyscrapers lining the beaches.
I see these visions of the future as I cross the final few streets. The strong smell of the ocean hits me.
I'm now sunburnt and the souls of my feet feel like a hammer has slammed into them repeatedly.
I breakthrough to the beach.
I lay down on a bench on the concrete boardwalk and watch the sunset with the fierce sea breeze coming off the ocean battering me to sleep. I close my eyes.
I'm awoken by a passerby.
A lot of staring takes place, curious eyes locked on the young white man out of place among the locals.
Some of these locals are nice enough to say hi, including a couple walking with a young child who gives me a
until I respond with my own version more weird sounding than the babies.
As the sun sets, I make my way home towards Canal City, where I'll take my bag out of the coin locker and book another night on the floor.
Another variation done, another to come.
It wasn't all walking around and sleeping on floors though, there were drunken nights in seedy Nakasu with Americans, Koreans and Japanese ladies and a quite drunken, romantically fitting way to celebrate my 22nd birthday.
But mostly it was walking around and sleeping on floors and sitting on the beach as the Pacific lapped at my feet, eating meals alone, plenty of time to think and dream and fall in love with a city that put effort into seducing me.
Fukuoka also has the honour of being the location of my first real attempt at making a travel video too. A video I would make and then keep private for years, only to release the thing when I finally got back to England as part of another video.
She was a great stage for that first attempt though and I still cherish that footage of those long walks to the seaside.
After the month had ended, Fukuoka had rightfully earned her place as my favourite city in the world. I can close my eyes and be there again, sunburnt, tired, in pain and surrounded by the beauty of her streets.
Fukuoka took a bit of my soul and I took a bit of Fukuoka’s in return.
Fukuoka wanted more than a poetic bit of soul swapping though. By the end of the month my feet started falling apart, puss filled sores developed around my heels and I started walking with an obvious limp.
I didn't really want to leave but I needed to get out. Another week of the lifestyle I had developed and the balance would have tipped in favour of a double foot amputation.
The day I left I was sitting in a park just counting down the hours when I pulled a two inch blister off my heel, to my surprise a river of puss came raging down onto the ground below, a chunk of flesh separated from my body and created a nasty looking hole where the heel of my foot used to be.
I limped over to the konbini and fixed it up with a plaster to avoid a nasty infection.
That night I boarded a highway bus out of Fukuoka and hoped the Japanese sense of smell worked differently to the rest of humanity.