Next stop was Fukuoka, located on Kyushu island (the southern main island of Japan) and is known not only as a bit of a party town, but also for the late night ramen. Kyushu ramen is tonkotsu with the noodles cooked less so they are served harder than we are used to - so of course we were very excited!
Tuesday night: We arrived late afternoon into Fukuoka, and after a surprisingly long walk to our friendly hostel (quite often in Japan, directions that indicate a walk will take 10+ min, will in fact take 5 or less, not so this time), cleaned up, and hit the town.
Whilst we were wandering about, we saw a lot of temporary ramen tents/stalls set up on the sidewalk outside office buildings. They are erected sometime after the offices close and then magically disappeared in the early hours of the morning, ready for business the next day. They are very popular, even on weeknights and we passed one that had a line up outside!
After a rocky start to the evening, when we could not find either of the bars we were looking for, we stumbled upon a small back alley jazz bar called Agomon. We hesitantly walked in and did not regret the decision. One beer in, we had made friends with the owner (Shyozosan) and bartender (Toshisan), and ended up the only people there.
After a few beers, we asked for their recommendation of shochu and got a few free tastes of shochus, nihonshu, and sake. Paul played a few rounds of darts with Toshi, while Jocelyn was practising her Japanese (JH: which always seems to improve after a few beverages! PM: Go figure!). Over the course of the evening the subject of ramen inevitably popped up, and Shyozo and Toshi recommended their own favourite ramen joint, Yamachan. At closing time - which was when we were topped up about as much as we could on shochu, Toshi actually walked us to the restaurant and introduced us to the owners, who knew him by name! This was around 12:30am! It was one of the best (PM: if not the best) ramen we have had.
The shochus at Agomon
Joss tasting one of the fantastic local shochus
Toshi, Paul and Shyozo
Joss getting into the midnight ramen.
Wednesday: A little tired, and very disappointed to be leaving Fukuoka so soon, we again jumped onto a shinkansen, this one bound for Kagoshima.
Kagoshima is in the south of Kyushu, and the transit point for our further travels south via ferry. Apart from that it also has an active volcano a stone throw away. The local specialty is tonkatsu - battered and fried pork, and of course sweet potato shochu.
Initially Kagoshima was just a stopover in order for us to get the early morning ferry to Yakushima. However the more we found out the more Kagoshima sounded like a great place to visit. We soon found the rumours to be true. The active volcano, Sakurajima, is an ever present image guarding or threatening the city, spewing ash into the air. It is said ash falls like rain in Kagoshima, although we did not need to get out the brollis during our brief stay. Just after we arrived, Joss' parents Jan and Grant arrived also. They had travelled from Kyoto after finishing their tour of Japan to join us for the night in Kagoshima before heading to Yakushima together.
We went out to a great restaurant where we tried a few local sweet potato shochus and three different tonkatus, including black pork (which we think means a pig of the black fur variety), baru tonkatsu, and roast tonkatsu. All were delicious and left us wanting more. Unfortunately an afternoon and night was not enough to see all the sights, but we saw enough to realize that we would like to return, especially to the friendly ryokan we stayed at.
Sakurajima, that is ash and smoke, not clouds or haze.
Inside J-Style restaurant