When our “megaship” docked at the port of Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, which is at the southwestern tip of Japan, two memorable events came to mind. Both happened when I was still working for an international airline.
My first visit to Japan was when I was still in college. I made a stopover in Tokyo for two days, while en route to the US. It was my first-ever trip across the Pacific. Being a first-time traveler then, I limited myself to the places in Tokyo where our tour guide brought us. I purposely did not break away from the group for fear that I would have great difficulty returning to my hotel due to the language barrier.
Being part of a tour group, that visit was quite regimented, as the tour schedule had to be adhered to. After that first time, all my succeeding visits to Tokyo and Osaka were business trips. They took place during my stint with the international airline and, later, with an international chain hotel.
These business trips were all quick, overnight, meetings-filled “drop ins,” so I hardly felt the Japanese ambience, except when meals were served. I was longing for a time when I could better appreciate Japan, by enjoying its relaxing countryside atmosphere, or the serene surroundings of a Japanese temple, like what I see in the movies.
During the latter part of my airline career, I had an opportunity to bring a group of press VIPs to Japan, and I was free to choose which city I could bring them to. Since I heard of Fukuoka as a city with a serene, laid-back environment, I brought them there.
I was not mistaken. I got what I wanted, thanks to the city being a bastion of Shintoism, a religion based on nature worship. The trees, the clouds, and the sky are some of the elements of nature that are regarded as deities. The relaxing atmosphere of the city’s centrally located Ohori Park was the ambience I wanted so much to experience during my previous visits to the country.
In fact, during that trip to Fukuoka, my press group, whose members, I’m sure, have been constantly harassed by deadlines in their respective offices, wanted to spend the whole day in the park, just lazing around on the carpet of green grass, or adoring, from strategically placed benches, the panorama of colorful blooms on trees with its leaves rustling with the wind blowing from all directions.
It was that visit which finally made me enjoy Japan, “The Land of the Rising Sun.” This tag conjures images of calm and serenity which usually accompany a beautiful sunrise, the relaxing scenario I wanted to have in my previous trips to the country. That visit made Fukuoka memorable.
The other reason why this Japanese city ranks high in my memory, is quite funny. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the governing body of all scheduled airlines in the world, has assigned three-letter codes to all cities served by airlines. All airline and travel agency employees are familiar with these three-letter codes and, in fact, have to memorize them. So, when airline employees talk to each other or when they talk to travel agents, they use these three-letter codes when they mention a city.
I was still working for the airlines when I learned of another international airline which started to promote their thrice-weekly flight from their home base to Fukuoka, identified by its three-letter code, “FUK.”
Eager to get the word out on their new flight to Fukuoka, the airline immediately distributed to its travel agents, leaflets which bannered: “FUK, NOW 3 TIMES WEEKLY ON OUR NEW 747s.” Of course, by the time the airline realized its seemingly scandalous “invitation,” it had already become fodder for playful minds in the travel industry. I kid you not, this really happened.
Of course, this recent visit to Fukuoka was another relaxing experience. I went back to the 1260-year-old Kushida Shrine, the biggest Shinto shrine in the city, and learned the meaning of the overhead décor at its entrance.
As seen in the photo on this page, the fat twisted ropes, hung from side to side, above the main door, represent the clouds. The white zigzagging cut-out pieces above it depict lightning, while the inverted bamboo baskets stand for rain, elements of nature revered by those who practice Shintoism.
Fronting each shrine is always a gate, a Torii, which, in Nihongo, actually means a bird house. It is very symbolic because it represents one’s transition from the mundane to the sacred, when one goes through it.
A new addition to the city’s skyline is the 768-foot Fukuoka Tower, the tallest seaside tower in Japan. Built at a cost of US$50 million, the tower holds the offices of the city’s electric power company. It has an Observation Deck halfway towards the top, and this has a captivating 360-degree view of the city. The steel-and-glass building is reputed to be strong enough to withstand typhoons with as much as 63-miles-per-second winds, or Magnitude 7 earthquakes.
Aside from discovering new attractions during this latest visit, I also had more time to enjoy its many culinary specialties curated by honest-to-goodness Japanese chefs. I’m glad I was able to visit Fukuoka again. To me, it will always be the city that made me appreciate the real beauty of Japan.
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