Hakata District; Fukuoka, Japan

Today was my first experience with authentic Japanese ramen, and the easiest and perhaps only comparison based on my experience is the first time I ate homemade pasta in Italy.

I ate Hakata-style ramen, currently one of the more popular ramen styles in all of Japan. That wasn`t by choice. I just happen to be in Fukuoka, which is where the style originated.

You order the ramen from a vending machine, receive a ticket, and sit in personal booths that feel a bit like eating inside of a phone booth, only not quite as cramped and certainly more comfortable, primarily because you`re about to be served some of the best noodles you`ll ever taste. I had mine prepared mostly original, as suggested, with strong green onion and extra garlic, but no pork. I tried the pork and found it to be too mushy for my taste.

It`s worth mentioning, since I forgot to mention it before I left Korea, that I did try authentic Korean BBQ while in Busan. I tried blood sausage, pig neck, kimchi, Korean potato, an unidentified side dish made from rice, and an unidentified cut of pork that ended up being my favorite. It tasted, and looked like, super thick bacon, only not quite as salty. It turned out to be my favorite, but - sorry, Korea - it was no match for Hakata ramen.

The trip to Japan took about three hours on the ferry. The ferry ride felt more like an airplane than I expected. You`re not allowed to be anywhere outside (i.e. on deck) but instead there is assigned seating indoors, albeit with large windows and a beautiful view. Approaching Japan via water was like nothing I`ve ever experienced. The country appears faintly at first, the outcroppings and smallest outlier islands slowly getting larger, layered upon one another like something out of a Haruki Murakami dream sequence: some almost too faint to see, others clearly visible, and not always in the way that would seem make the most sense (i.e. sometimes the closer landmasses were more difficult to see, presumably because of the fog). Mixed in with all that were small fishing boats, large naval trawlers, and the setting Eastern sun. We arrived shortly before sunset.

Tomorrow I take an early morning train for Nagasaki, the second and hopefully final city in the world to experience a nuclear attack. I am of course quite curious as to what I`ll find. Admittedly I`ve done little research, and currently know next to nothing about the place. I`ll know far more before tomorrow, but certainly far less than I`d prefer.