Fukuoka cherry blossoms: more observations from my 2nd Japan trip

Each subway stop has its own cute little symbol
Each subway stop has its own cute little symbol

I still really love Japan. People who know me are a little sick of it by now.

I have some half-assed guesses why, but it still surprises how much I enjoy walking around Japan and eating food in Japan and meeting people in Japan. I feel like it’s filling a piece of my soul.

Japan: the only country where I continually lament the fact that it took me 28 years to visit. Why? I now have fewer years to go back. Silly, but it expresses how deeply the experience has affected me.

At some point, I’d love to write a book about Japanese culture. Spend a long time there understanding the people and their lives, and share that with the rest of the world.

Here are more over-generalized, marginally-researched observations after 3 days in Fukuoka.

1. Sakura is amazing

Like I said on Facebook, I just feel lucky to have seen it. To cross it off my list.

It was indescribably cool to feel the breeze and watch the sakura petals fall to the ground.

One of several park entrances
One of several park entrances
Even had sakura shrines in the underground mall...
Even had sakura shrines in the underground mall…

2. Introvert-friendly

Maybe not true at all, but that’s the fun part of having your own blog.

I have so many questions about Japanese culture and society. I didn’t realize this on my first trip, but I feel like Japan caters to introverted people…or at least, people who prefer their privacy.

Ichiran provides walled-off booths for customers to privately enjoy their ramen. A McDonalds in Fukuoka had nothing but solo tables for diners.

Maybe in such a collective society, individual time and space are highly prized?

3. Where are the young people?

I spent 3 weeks in Shanghai prior to the trip. In Shanghai, you are overwhelmed by young people. Little kids bumping into you, gangly teens in big groups, ambitious students with backpacks and matching uniforms. Everywhere you look.

I don’t see the same numbers and magnitudes in Tokyo or Fukuoka. The people look and feel older, which is confirmed by data on Japan’s aging population.

4. Big city vs. small town, FIGHT!

Fukuoka felt like a small town – and small towns tend to make me more introspective.

Big cities like Shanghai and New York make me more social and outward-facing. There’s just so much stimulation around you.

At night there was a party where these glowing balls covered the river...
At night there was a party where these glowing balls covered the river…

5. Scent of a shopper

Shopping in Japan reminds me of the role scents play in creating great user experiences.

The Wynn Hotel in Vegas is a great example. Walk in and, with that first inhale, you KNOW you’re in the Wynn. You KNOW you’re in Vegas. It relaxes you AND energizes you, and after a few visits you crave that smell. Amazing recall power.

Many Japanese retail stores have a unique scent, which is subtle but memorable, and combined with each store’s unique and considerate layout, design, and decor, elevate the mundane to the near-sublime.

6. The Japan moment

There’s something I like to call the “Japan moment”.

On my first trip, it was when hundreds of identically clad lolita-looking teenage girls crowded the Shibuya subway platform as we exited the subway car. Brain fried.

There were at least 2-3 more experiences which left similarly deep, almost scarring mental imprints, including my first bowl of Ichiran :)

Hello old friend. We meet again
Hello old friend. We meet again

7. Details matter

Steve Jobs obsessed over details. No details are needed here.

In Japan, it’s an amazing experience visiting A CONVENIENCE STORE. The organization, the selection, the background music, the friendly employees, the lack of odd smells…

the organization...the variety...the colors...the drinks!!
the organization…the variety…the colors…the drinks!!

The parallel for entrepreneurs: if you can make the shopping cart and checkout experience awesome, you’ve won. In other words, if you can turn the mundane into the awesome…you’ve won.

8. China, Japan

Small anecdote: the Japanese often use face masks (like these) to indicate that they’re sick and don’t want to get others sick.

In Beijing, you wear face masks because you don’t want people (and air) getting YOU sick.

9. Filling your gaps

I am a somewhat chaotic person (there’s a reason this blog isn’t called kevinmethodical).

Japan is highly-organized and detail-oriented. It helps nurture in me something that I lack. The culture’s commitment to details and rules in all facets of life also means that, to an extent, you are required to make fewer small decisions in a given day (for example, part of me is annoyed that at Starbucks, I need to specify cup size, and type of tea – not just green but tazo or green tips or whattheheckever, and hot or cold…and that’s one of the simpler drinks).

That means I can spend more time thinking about stuff that matters. There’s a downside, too.

10. Close airports, yes! 

I love flying into a city where the airport is close to town. Fukuoka airport is two subway stops (~5 minutes) from Hakata, one of the big downtown areas.

By contrast Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport is 35 minutes by taxi with no traffic. New York’s JFK is the same way. Even Austin’s Bergstrom International is 15-20 minutes from anything meaningful.

11. Fukuoka kaedama

For my fellow ramen lovers, kaedama originated in Fukuoka. Yes, thanks to Fukuoka you can get that extra bowl of yummy, fresh, hot noodles and continue the party!

At the earliest Ichiran branch, the bowls are rectangular (yes, I know I have a problem)
At the earliest Ichiran branch, the bowls are rectangular (yes, I know I have a problem)

This is a great ramen blog if you have absurd amounts of time to waste.

12. I’m from America

I love the Japanese visa waiver for U.S. citizens. For once, it pays to have a U.S. passport (it usually doesn’t).

For example, Argentina has a “reciprocity fee” because we charge Argentinians the same fee. You pay online, and print out a piece of paper that you then carry with your passport at all times. Basically a single-page, 2nd passport.

Why not just add a passport stamp like a normal country? You could even do it at airport customs to save time.

13. Walk and walk some more

A bit unrelated, but I enjoyed Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker piece, in particular his love of getting to know NYC by walking it. I love doing that in Japan.

So many great hidden restaurants, secret & serene parks, absurdly cute pets, groups of cosplay kids. And it’s safe, too.

Can’t wait for my next trip. Hoping to see Hokkaido and Kyoto and Osaka. And if you haven’t read my post on Tokyo, maybe it’s worth your time. Probably not.

Click here to read about the daily habits that I track and why.