I got a rice ball at the family mart and some of that delicious Sapporo Mandarin juice (in a silver bottle, and more common in the southern half of Japan. Its basically the juicy bits from a mandarin with a bit of liquid, it's fantastic to drink on a hot day) and then got on the tram.
Although traditionally I would head directly to the station and head off to the next place, my next stop was Kokura, which was more of a convenient stop-off than a place to sightsee according to my trusty JBR book. Since I was planning on spending some time in Shin-Yamaguchi, it made sense to only dedicate a small amount of time to my stopover.
So instead, I had headed out early and got on the #5 tram. I was going to find that Confucian Shrine. This time round, I would be getting off at Ishibashi, the stop recommended on the map, in broad daylight, rather than trying to guess in the darkness of the night before. Predictably, the shrine was a pretty easy find as a result, having plenty of signposts to direct me, although negotiating a packed tram was not easy with my worldly possessions on my back.
The pleasant Koi pond glistening with the light rain, with it's toy bridge and manicured trees sat opposite the entrance, a detailed decorated roof sheltered a row of heavy set doors and ornamental pillars. A pair of stone dog statues posed chatting as they guarded it. The ornaments and decoration were both recognisable and distinct from traditional Japanese styling.
The second building was a Chinese museum. Taking the upper entrance, I went straight in (the museum was included in the ticket price) although I was told not to do any photography, as the contents of the museum were a rare time when the Chinese agreed to let some of their cultural artefacts out of the country.
What was inside was certainly impressive, and if you find yourself in Nagasaki I recommend a visit (if the beauty of the shrine so far hasn't convinced you). Some of the most detailed and beautiful hand-made items were in here, from massive 3 foot diameter lacquered decorative plates to divisive yet beautifully carved ivory elephant tusks, huge china vases, to intricate wood carvings of chocolate-box scenes; one showing a delicate curved walking bridge over a stream, with an obsessively detailed tree made of cork hanging over it, complete with thousands of minute branches and leaves.
The third floor showed off many oriental Chinese wood block stamps used as proof of authority and identity (much like a royal seal in wax), and some of the many archaeological finds from expeditions into the more ancient and untouched parts of the country, going back on a helpful timeline ribbon around the room, to 10,000BC. Aside from a brief moment when some noisy teens came in, scoffed at what they thought was boring stuff and then headed out again, it was deadly quiet and abandoned. It was just past 9am though which may have had something to do with it.
Before picking up my bag, I spied the 'feed the fish' sign, so for ten yen I spent a relaxing five minutes throwing pellets into the pond from the bridge and watching the fish go mental as the stream of tourists turned from a drip to a flow. I got my things back and headed back to the trams. I got on the #3 and transferred at Tsuki-machi to a #1, which took me the rest of the way to the station.
Both the trams and the foot traffic around the station were starting to get heavy, and at about 11.20 I got into the station; the next train to Hakata, a stop with a little more touristy promise than Kokura was leaving in 5 minutes with the next one an hour later. I managed to get the ticket after some sweaty queuing and then had an argument with the barriers, but eventually made it on board with a minute to spare.
Hakata was about 3/4 of the way along my route, so the next hour and a half involved a bit of diary writing and staring out of the window. The weather was a bit dull, carrying on from the changeable theme of the morning at Nagasaki which was also a bit iffy. This next stage of the journey back to Tokyo would be several days of rushing for trains which on paper sounded fairly easy (especially as I had tried to ensure that the distances between stops were more manageable this time) but now I was less sure about.
I had planned to follow two recommendations by the JBR book. One was to take a pleasant train and ferry loop from Hakata station down a local line to nearby Saitozaki, and then from the nearby ferry port back to Hakata, and then the bus back to the central station. Then head to Kokura and see the castle and the city hall.
The local JR train left reasonably promptly, and made its way through several stations heading north around the coast of Hakata Bay. It was a pleasant, but unspectacular sight from the windows of the train, largely due to the large sand dunes obscuring most of the sea views.
The Shinkansen from Hakata station left just after four, and again, I was just in time to make it. The bus had taken a winding route through the block structure of the business district and inconsiderately stopped at all the other bus stops in between. It was a very short 15 minute ride to Kokura, during which I could barely perceive we were moving, as it was such a smooth ride.
Kokura is right at the northern edge of Kyushu and is the gateway city. By coincidence, the city was the original target for the bomb that eventually dropped on Nagasaki, but it was spared at the last minute due to the cloud cover. I decided to head direct to the hotel as it was quite close to the enormous station complex and drop off my bags. By now, it was half past four and the light was closing in. Kokura castle, the nearest attraction that I knew about was 15 minures away, and Japanese attractions such as castles tend not to remain open past 5, so the second part of the tourist trail would have to wait until the morning. I dumped my bags and flopped onto the bed, a little deflated.
Along came the waitress, who unsurprisingly didn't speak any English, and the menu was no better. However, I thought I could at least let them know what I wanted by such keywords as 'masala' or 'naan'. Unfortunately the waitress replied with a blank stare to all of these, so instead I pointed at the most promising-looking picture on the menu and made do. (every sane bone in my body told me not to go again given my previous experiences with Japanese Indian restaurants but by this point it was too late to consider the others - in hindsight I wish I had). As it turned out, it was a soupy sort of chicken curry with some sticky rice and a garlic naan. It wasn't as bad as some, but still disappointing. For desert I ordered what looked in the picture like a crème bruleé, but was in fact a cup of coffee. I hate coffee. 2560 yen for the lot didn't go down that well either.