We end our Kyushu adventure by spending the final nights in Kitakyushu at the top end of the island, staying just next door to the Kokura Station, a major point on the Sanyo Shinkansen line. The plan is to explore this northern tip of Kyushu before returning to Tokyo with the shinkansen.
Japan is a heaven for train-spotters, I tell you. But I have no clue who these dudes are.
The thing about any big Japanese train station is, the nice way they integrate it with the other structures around it. You just happily walk along covered paths following the signage, and before you know it, you are in the lobby of the hotel. Extremely safe and convenient too, especially when weather is poor.
So we take a walk through the Kokura Station complex and soon find ourselves in a covered pedestrian path, lined with shops. There’s a construction on the side, but true to the Japanese way, it’s totally clean. Not a speck of dirt on the footpath, while an excavator is busy doing messy stuff just metres away!
We are on our way to this beautifully rebuilt Kokura Castle, the only in Fukuoka Prefecture. Originally completed in 1608 during the early Edo period, it got burnt down in 1866 (which always happened to old wooden stuff), and this is a concrete version of 1959. Japanese castles have this lovely wing-like roof design, and the way its wide base evolves into a smaller floors as it goes up. And of course the mandatory gardens (and moats sometimes) surrounding them. Kokura Castle is a very popular site for watching the cherry blossoms.
Another important historical spot in the neighbourhood is the old port of Kitakyushu. To get there we board a local train, after the morning rush hour of course.
As we approach the station of Mojiko, we can already spot some old European-style structures.
Mojiko is the terminus of the local line, with wooden structures from 1914. It is the oldest station on the long Kagoshima Line.
A short stroll from the station brings us to the waterfront, the old port itself, with buildings from the late 19th century when Mojiko (Port Moji) was an important international and domestic trading point. This particular building used to be an old club, and Albert Einstein stayed here once during a visit.
Another old building from 1917, with a sort of lighthouse attached to it.
And of course the delightful quirkiness of Japan, commemorating Mojiko as an important gateway for imported bananas!
Here’s the old Customs Building from 1912, with the Kanmon Bridge in the background which linked Kyushu and Honshu islands.
A view of the 712-metre-long Kanmon Bridge which connects Kyushu (on the right) to Honshu, opened 1973. The town on the Honshu side is Shimonoseki.
The Kanmon Bridge is high enough for big ships to pass under, in this case the ferry of Shin Nihonkai.
Sightseeing on trishaws should be nice on a cold and windy day like today’s.
I’m always impressed with Coast Guards vessels whenever I see them on my travels.
Anyway, we are back at Mojiko Station after the old port walkabout. We take the local train, and go past Kokura till the Space-World Station.
The station serves a nearby theme park called Space World. However it is due for closure at the end of 2017. But these orderly bikes belong to commuters so they should be around everyday. They are safe, nobody steals them, this is Japan, you know.
The reason we stop here is to a visit a recently-added member to the esteemed list of Unesco World Heritage Site — the Meiji Industrial Revolution steel works.
Love this comic-like map of the environs.
The tip of a huge model of the US Space Shuttle with boosters, parked at Space World, is prominent against the mountainous backdrop.
Finally the Unesco site, not easy spot to find. Being a new addition to the list, they are probably not exactly ready to receive a stream of visitors yet, but the volunteers manning the place have been most helpful and welcoming. I think they are retired workers of this historic steel plant.
The Yawata Steel Works, the nation’s first modern steel mill, built during the Meiji era. The problem is, it is still owned by a private entity so access is restricted. We can only observe the compound from a platform a distance away. Better than nothing, but the obliging guide is full of information, in broken English unfortunately. If only we had known some Japanese.
This is also part of the Yawata Steel Works. In the second half of the 19th century, Emperor Meiji realised the importance of steel-making for the industrialisation of Japan. The history of Japan’s steel-making industry actually started here, which propelled the country into an advanced state in a short period of time.
Our journey continues as we board the next train that comes along.
This time a visit to Fukuoka proper, alighting at its impressively gleaming Hakata Station, the largest in Kyushu. The Sanyo Shinkansen line from Osaka ends here. The Kyushu Shinkansen line then takes over to end in Kagoshima, 260km away.
Exiting the huge station, there’s only one big street leading right to downtown Fukuoka. Don’t you love those cute ducks telling you to stay away from the road works?
We plan to have lunch here, the Hakata Canal City, just a 15-minute stroll from Hakata Station. This is a major attraction in Fukuoka, a massive shopping and leisure complex.
There is indeed a canal within this well-presented precinct, complete with dancing water spouts. The Naka river flows along its western edge as it heads for the harbour just 2.5km away.
Fish is of course highly-regarded here, being a coastal city. Nothing beats grilled fish and rice on a cold day.
The Canal City is a good place to kill time, but really there’s nothing much else to explore in Fukuoka, so we soon find ourselves on the train back to Kokura. Of course the train also serves fliers, and I notice the airport code for Fukuoka — FUK. Now my wish is to fly FUK-SIN-HEL in one go! Maybe one fine day … 😀
Our Kyushu journey ends here as we leave Kokura to return to Tokyo.
> THE END