While the world maybe fixated with places like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, one of my favourite places in Japan is Fukuoka. As a teacher in Korea, this was the city we used all travel to when we needed to renew our visas. That was until they changed the rule and forced everyone to get it done in their own country before coming to Korea. Those yearly trips had quite an effect on me. It was where I learned the ropes of photography with my late friend and mentor Dave Harvey and where I appreciated the different aspects of the Japanese culture in contrast to my 2nd home, Korea.
It has been many years since I have been to Fukuoka, so when I had the chance to fly over, I took it in a heart beat. After all, it is only a 45 minute flight from Busan and costs less than a round trip ticket to Seoul on the KTX. The only issue was handling the luggage limitations for such cheap flights. I was only allowed one piece of carryon luggage and a limit of only 10 kg. It was a challenge to figure out what gear to bring and what gear to leave.
The other challenge was how to bring everything in a single bag. I normally travel with my Peak Design Everyday 20L Backpack, I felt that I just could not fit everything that I needed into the bag. I went with a slightly larger North Face Vault backpack and made sure to add in some extra padding about my camera and lens. For travel, I have a padded neoprene sleeve that I used for my lens and due to the rain in the forecast, I also placed my Peak Design Rain cover over my camera for added protection.
This seemed to be a great set up as I had no problems with weight or storage. I had enough space to pick up a few things to without having to cram and stuff everything into the bag. So overall, travelling light worked out well. However, a second bag would have been a little better for shopping and other stuff.
One of the reason I chose to go to Fukuoka, other than the cheap tickets, was to cover the Dontaku Festival in Fukuoka. This is one of the largest festivals in Japan and an interesting one at that. Not only does the festival go back some 839 years but it also celebrates the diversity of Japan. Even the name comes from the Dutch word “Zondag” meaning holiday. There are parades throughout the city and numerous performances. If you want to check out more information check this article out by Fukuoka Now!
Initially, I was very interested in the temples and the part that they played in the festival. After wandering around the Hakata district the night before to get some food and check out Yodobashi Camera, I got up early and went to see one of my favourite places in the area which is the Shofukuji Zen Temple. The temple is so green and was so quiet. As I entered the gates, a group of performers walked passed me wearing traditional clothes. I snapped away and as I got closer, I saw a elderly man waving towards me. I though for sure that he was going to tell me not to take pictures. Instead, he spoke English and showed me the cart that they would be pulling in the parade later that day. He explained a lot about the traditions and the festival. I was quite happy to have this sort of insight.
Later that day the festival kicked off and there were parades and performances all over the city. The parades came to an end around the Tenjin Station area where there were a lot of street food vendors and other interesting stalls. The feeling of wonder and curiosity kicked in as I cannot speak or read Japanese and have never been to a Japanese festival before. It was a great feeling just to be able to explore in a place that seemed safe but yet so unfamiliar. Despite having visited Fukuoka so many times before, this was an entirely new experience.
One of the other places that I really wanted to get to was Dazaifu Temple. This is a major tourist spot but it has always been a place that was dropped from the previous trips due to it’s distance from Fukuoka. Wanting to finally see what all the fuss was about I jumped on to the train and headed out to the temple. With a transfer at a more rural station, I boarded the Tabito Train bound for Dazaifu Station. The Tabito Train is a special train made just for the temple. It is a beautiful train that has different themes for each car and all designed to bring you good luck and good health. The sad part is that from the Omuta Station where you get on, it is only a 5 minute train ride to Dazaifu Station.
The temple was insanely busy. Given the fact that this was Golden Week and also the festival time, I was not surprised. However, there were still a ton of people flooding the streets up to the main temple site. I wandered around a bit looking for some spots to get some cinemagraphs. Honestly, the more I wandered the less interested I had in taking pictures here. Soon, I just gave up and returned to Tenjin Station to check out the rest of the festival.
I must admit that although I had planned out most of my shoots for the time that I was there, I sort of stumbled into the start of this parade by complete accident. I was walking to Hakata Station to get some breakfast. It was still too early so I wandered into the Kushida Shrine. What greeted me was a horse and a bunch of men in ceremonial costumes. Intrigued, I wandered further in, accidentally crashing the start of the Hakata Matsubayashi. No one really seemed to mind that I was up where the media and officials were and not down with the rest of the festival-goers. I got the shots that I wanted and the funny part was that I had actually made a note about this festival in my notebook before I left and completely forgot about it.
This was an interesting experience as there are 4 masked riders that are led through the streets on horseback. 3 of them are gods and I have yet to find out what the woman in the white mask represents. At any rate, it was great to be given access like this. The key point here is to always look and act respectful. Often that tiny bit of respect will open more doors than trying to push your way into places you shouldn’t be. A couple of times even the reporters gestured towards me indicating I could step up and take a photo during the ceremony. I am not sure what they said but I assume it was “Here, I am finished. Go ahead and take some shots” or something like that.
As I said before, I have been to Fukuoka many times. I really like this city and it will always be a special place for me. One of the reasons is that this was the first place where I started to take travel photography seriously. My late friend Dave Harvey, travelled with me here after my first year in Korea. I was on my way to Kyoto and Dave accompanied me for the first couple of days in Fukuoka. As I walked around the Japanese gardens in Ohori Park, I remember when we were there and it was pouring rain. I remember shooting Canal City and as I walked through there this trip it sort of hit me. They had not opened yet and everything was dark and quiet. I remembered Dave complaining about going to a Wendy’s when there was one there. He stopped complaining after the first bite 0f his burger. As I looked around this particular morning, everything sort of lost it’s vibrance a little bit, even after they opened. It sort of fits how I see the world without Dave.
It was that trip that really made me love exploring and taking pictures. Dave showed me how to “make shots” not just “take shots” and it really influenced those initial stages of my photography. It also hard to realize that I couldn’t just call him up when I was in Yodobashi Camera to brag about the cool stuff I was looking at.
Planning Your Shots
The one thing that I want to pass on here is that you should plan your shots like you plan your trip. Think about what you want to get, the times that you need to get up in order to get those shots and where you need to be. The internet has loads of information on pretty much every place and youtube was a huge help here as well. I had 4 days to shoot and planned out where I needed to be in order to get the shots that I wanted. This freed up a lot of time for interesting side trips to find awesome coffee shops and delicious food.
So the next time that you are heading out, give some thought to when and how you are going to get those shots on your shot list. This type of planning will often result in a higher degree of “keepers” instead of just “decent snapshots” as I find many people just scramble to complete their shot lists with the time that they have.