What a lovely sunny day in Fukuoka, on Kyushu Island in the south of Japan (the gal discovers the city is also confusingly known as Hakata but never mind). She wakes up, looks far down from her triangular room on the 21st floor of the tugboat-shaped Hilton Fukuoka Seahawk and heads out for an early run.
First, a circuit around the adjacent baseball dome, called Yahoo! since the new owner, SoftBank boss Masayoshi Son, is also main guy behind Yahoo! Japan. Around one section of the dome’s exterior perimeter are lots of bronze casts of hands of famous home run hitters.
Want to shake the hand of, say, O.H. Sadaharu, who holds the world record of 868 home runs? He is now Chairman of the SoftBank Hawks, as the team is now called, and you can visit ‘his’ museum here, every day for free.
Then it is breakfast, where they miraculously manage to serve over 700, of whom at least 698 are Japanese, each of whom takes a tray and processes around about seven buffet stations, taking a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
They love various marinated fish morsels and salads and bright yellow (egg) Danish pastries, and white bread cut about an inch thick but if you put a chopstick down on it hard it flattens to the thickness of rice paper.
The staff circle as if they’re starring in Dancing On Ice, and as you move around the giant glass-topped atrium restaurant, up two steps here and down three steps here, they point you up, or down, with a giant ballet-type flourish to make sure you do not trip.
A big teddy bear occupies one corner, ready for a cuddle with adults – kids, not amused by all this, have their own corner, with lots of bright-coloured plastic toys and, the favourite, a pale beige plastic laundry bin.
There is lots of colour. In one corner of the massive atrium some of the hotel’s resident florists are setting up a ‘make your own bouquet’ display. Flowers are put out, tables are already being set up. Keen students will come and watch, and learn, and try, and have lunch.
This hotel, with over a thousand bedrooms, is a town in its own right. As you enter or leave the atrium there is a booth inviting you to go to the Hilton Vacations timeshare room just next door. There is a courier counter, staffed even at this early hour.
All that shopping you did, either in the hotel’s lower floor arcade or, five minutes’ walk away in Hawk Town mall, can be packaged up here and, even in a giant box, couriered to your home for about five dollars.
My itinerary today includes a visit to the wedding area. I know they have about a thousand weddings a year, and there are two proper chapels. Luxury is a hotel that provides alternatives, for your choice.
I have already visited the 35th floor Chapel in the Sky, and now I see it on the touch-screen brochure. From this it is easy to swish through to various packages, and such add-ons as enhanced food products (makes one think of the Martha Stewart ‘design your own wedding party’).
I look, in real rather than virtual reality, at the hotel’s other chapel, a tall windowless room dominated by a six-foot Swarovski cross on the far wall. Overhead is a Swarovski chandelier formed of a burst of about a thousand tiny diamonds. The colour of the whole look can be blue, if you want it, or – to the delight of a young couple who have come, even at this early hour, for an introduction to suitable venues, fuchsia pink.
Japanese ladies under a certain age are besotted by pink, in all shades, for every occasion. On the beach outside the hotel a girl has temporarily left her bike. There is no lock on it. In the basket is her MacBook Pro. There is no sign of her… Only in Japan.
How long would this bike and laptop remain unstolen elsewhere in the world? I could name one country, even in rural areas, where the laptop might have been stolen even before she got off her bike but I will not say where. That would be unpatriotic.
Japanese ladies of all ages are joining what menfolk are left in enjoying this lovely sunny day (apparently this is a gender mismatch at all ages, here, and males are in short supply). We take advantage of the weather to head 30 minutes away up to the densely bamboo-forested mountains, high above suburbia.
Our destination is Warabino, in Sasaguri. This consists of a squash court-sized traditional hut, all wood except for darkest green tiled roof, and, 100 yards away, a modern square block, concrete with front-facing glass walls for stunning views down to the real world far below. First, in the hut, we join a dozen or so locals sitting on the tatami-mat floor, legs somehow under 12-foot tables a foot above the ground.
We have green tea, and vegetable and bacon tempura, just with salt and spiced salt, no dips allowed. Next comes soba (buckwheat) noodles, made and handsliced this very morning. Hot? They come already in a broth. Cold? They come on a bamboo mat, you somehow dip them in the soy sauce. Once eaten, the noodles’ cooking water is poured into the remaining sauce, to drink for extra nourishment.
Finally, we head for the concrete block. Inside are three tennis court-sized levels, downstairs, upstairs and a mezzanine in between. There is no colour anywhere, merely the plain concrete and immaculately clean glass walls, for that view. Some people are sitting up at a bar counter, looking out. Others lounge in pale sand-coloured sofas, looking out.
Above the stairwell, a glass podium protrudes from the upper level. This podium holds a black grand piano. A young man plays soft, lilting music. This experience, one has to say, is akin to a religious conversion… conversation is barely necessary. But what is necessary, alas, is literally to get back to ground level, and a plane that will not wait, for anyone.