Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nakatsu/ 中津

(Better Know a City)

Because I’m now living in Nakatsu, this seemed like the natural place to begin my project, although in truth I've seen more than enough of this town over the past 5 years already. Because it boarders the Usa-Gun area, the Nakatsu ex-pats were in the same social group as me, and we spent a lot of time hanging out in Nakatsu. Especially after Tropicoco (my favorite Mexican bar in Japan) relocated from Usa into Nakatsu during my 3rd year as a JET.

I've always privately (and sometimes not so privately) referred to Nakatsu as the armpit of Oita Prefecture. To me it represented everything bad about Japanese cities.
Take my old town of Ajimu, for example. It was pretty out in the boondocks. Not a lot of Western restaurants or any sort of entertainment, but it the countryside was absolutely gorgeous.
On the other side was Oita city, which was ugly as sin, but had most of the conveniences of a big city: multiple Starbucks, lots of foreign restaurants, and (the ultimate prized commodity in Japan) stores which carried English books.

But Nakatsu manages to be an ugly city that has almost nothing to offer. The whole thing is like one giant parking lot. Or like 28th street back in Grand Rapids, but without any interesting stores along the side.

The nighttime entertainment is marginal, probably because it’s too close to Fukuoka to compete. There are the usual karaoke places and snack bars, but for that matter Ajimu has that much. Nakatsu's stock has risen somewhat since Tropicoco moved here, and there are a couple other places frequented by us foreigners, but all in all I’d say Nakatsu is pretty blah.

And now I’m living here. So I guess I should make the best of it.

I started out my Nakatsu tour by going to the train station and grabbing their sight seeing maps. They had outline a 5 kilometer walking course starting from the station that went through Nakatsu's historical district which I decided to take.

Much of it I had actually seen before. During my first year in Japan, a couple of Japanese friends from Nakatsu took me to all the important spots. For instance there is Nakatsu castle. Like most castles in Japan, the original was burnt down by fire, and the only thing standing now is a replica that has been turned into a museum. The top of it does offer a great view of down town Nakatsu, but because I had already been up there several times before I decided to save the $2 and just walk around castle grounds instead.

The other important place is the house of Fukuzawa Yukichi. Fukuzawa Yukichi was one of the leading intellectuals of the Meiji Restoration, and his face is on the Japanese 10,000 yen note. He’s also a native son of Nakatsu, and they make a big deal about it. Although an American friend once told me, “It’s ironic that Nakatsu is so proud of Fukuzawa Yukichi, because when he grew up and left the town he shook the dust off his sandals and said something to the effect of ‘I’m never coming back to this hick town again’.” I never bothered to independently verify that, but I’ll pass it along here nonetheless.

Anyway, I had been to Fukuzawa's house a few years back as well, so I saved another $2 by just walking around the gate.

The rest of the historical district was just one temple after another. They all had signs in front of them explaining their historical significance, but without a Japanese friend to help me I understood very little of it. There was a grave for a kappa (a Japanese mythical river creature) in one of the temples.

Having finished before noon, I retired back to my apartment for bread and coffee (because I was touring my own town, I had the luxury of breaking in my own apartment) and got out the maps.
Now, like I said before, there’s not a lot to see in Nakatsu outside of the mediocre shopping. But I did follow the guidebook down to Komojin Shrine. It was just like any other shrine, although it did have a nice pond in back of it, and a walking trail around the pond. I spent a pleasant half hour just going around the pond, and then called it a day.

Update: Additional Videos
Gion Festival 2009


View of Downtown

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Lion-O's aging from a 12-year-old child to a 24-year-old man is considered one of the series' biggest plot holes by fans. Although it was explained that some aging would take place within the suspension capsule, none of the other ThunderCats aged to the same extent. While no further explanation was ever given, fans have speculated that Lion-O's capsule may have malfunctioned, causing him to age more rapidly.

Link of the Day
Blackwater, Inc. and the Privatization of the Bush War Machine
Our Mercenaries in Iraq

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