We strolled to the shopping section of the port, passing an oral story teller who invited us to sit with his audience as we passed. I’d have loved to, if I thought could have understood more than 3% of it. We ended up finding another Studio Ghibli shop, and entered, curious to see if it provided anything different to the one we’d been in a few hours before. It was bigger, with a larger selection. Still, most of the merchandise was Totoro-based. A couple of gigantic Totoro plushies, reaching up to my rib-cage, stood proudly inside. I looked at the price tag. 50,000 yen! What?! That’s like… I did a quick calculation. Like £250, or near abouts. Senna couldn’t believe it either. I ended up buying a few post cards and a cute Totoro adorned wallet, that I would later realise was actually too small for my needs and a huge waste of money. Nice though.
I purcahsed some Kyushu region instant ramen from a small supermarket. Afterwards, Senna and I bought ice cream and sat at a bench overlooking the sea, serenaded by waves and a sea breeze. I had chosen Matcha ice cream. I hadn’t been a big fan of the flavour when I’d initially tried it, but it grew on me quickly. Slicing through our serene soundtrack of sea and excited speech from fellow tourists, a voice emanated from a PA system advertising tours of the Moji-ko area. We witnessed a boat returning, containing a single solitary soul.
With half an hour until sunset, Senna and I wandered over to the tall apartment building next to the former customs house, whose topmost floor housed the Moji-ko Retro Observation Room. Upon entering, the man at reception informed us it was on the 31st floor, and as we stepped into the lift an attendant set us on our way. The lift ascended. Window panes dashed passed giving us flashing glimpses of the city falling away beneath us. The world outside appeared as a flipbook as we rose.
Entry into the observation room was 300 yen. There was a restaurant inside, to the right of the room. A man and woman sat at a table, chatting. We stood at the window, gazing out. The setting sun was slowly casting a warm veil over the sea and the city Shimonoseki in the distance. Small boats and cargo ships cut across the distilled reflection of the sun, which created art on the ocean surface, like a literal watercolour painting. Over the left-hand side, I traced the route we had taken with my eyes. Ships and boats sat docked in the harbour, slowly swaying to the beat of gentle waves. To the right, I saw the city. The small, angular buildings of offices and houses had encroached on to the edge of the mountains. Cars the size of insects scurried over the bridge to and from Shimonoseki. The two of us stood at the window, watching the sun slowly set. Senna played with the digital binoculars, which allowed her to zoom in on boats, the sea, and the city in the distance.
As the sun descended behind the horizon, we descended in the lift back to the first floor. Walking back to the train station. We stopped at a pedestrian crossing. A business man holding a briefcase stood at the other side. The road was small, there were no cars coming.
“If this was England, I’d have crossed the road by now”, Senna said. She had spent a year in England on exchange from Kitakyushu University, which is how I‘d gotten to know her.
“I know. I was just thinking that”, I replied.
“When I got back to Japan after my year in England”, she began, “I kept crossing the road the road when I saw it was clear, even if the light was red. I got stared at. People in Japan don‘t really do that.”
“Yeah, I know. I’d been told that before coming here.”
In general, people in Japan don’t start walking at pedestrian crossings until the light turns green. Occasionally, someone will break rank, maybe because they’re in a hurry, or impatient, or realise that there’s no reason not to, and walk across when they have the chance, causing others in the crowd, believing that they must know something they don’t, to start, only to glance up at the light to see that it’s still red, and shuffle back into place and continue waiting for an official signal. I had been one of these people caught out a couple of times. When travelling, I find it’s important to follow the customs of the country you’re in, so since getting to Japan I had tried to do everything the Japanese way, which meant waiting patiently for the green light and crossing the road at marked crossings. But here I stood, at a road only one car wide, which would only take a second to cross, waiting for a light, which was taking longer than usual, to change. I began to feel a little silly.
Eventually the light changed and we head back to Moji-ko station and boarded. The train rumbled through dusk. Lights began to flicker on in buildings outside. Across the straights, a large ferris wheel stood illuminated in Shimonoseki, rotating leisurely. Upon returning to Kokura station, Senna and I hugged and parted. I was happy to have had such an active and interesting day with a friend.
My photos from Kitakyushu.
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