Dia daoibh. I’m Caol Ã“ h-ÃšigÃn and I hail from Dublin, Ireland. I’m on my second year of JET. I teach at two senior high schools in Kitakyushu-shi, Fukuoka. I teach at one low-level school and one medium-high-level school.
Why did you apply for the JET Programme?
Honestly, I applied to JET because I just needed a year’s teaching experience to get my teaching degree. My university’s career office suggested I apply for JET and so I did. I more-or-less knew nothing about Japan so I never expected to be chosen. In fact, I even accepted a job with the Seville BOE but then I got the call for here and I haven’t left.
How did you end up in your prefecture? Was it a preference of yours?
I originally requested Saitama solely because when I looked at the map it seemed pretty central. After that I stated that I’d be happy anywhere in Japan. I got lucky by being placed in the city center of the largest city (by area) in west Japan.
My favourite memory was when I climbed Mt. Hiko, the largest mountain in Fukuoka. I’m an avid hiker so it was instantly my favourite; following the route, getting kind of lost and making our own route up part of the way, and then scaling the final stretch using metal chains. Upon descending, we went to an onsen followed by a surprisingly nice yakiniku (I don’t like yakiniku). After dinner we all headed out to bars and made questionable life choices. We also met my three oldest friends; Tequila, Shame, and Regret. But that whole trip is my favourite memory of Fukuoka.
I would say the best time to visit would be in July and August. Kitakyushu’s festivals are known nationally for their “cultural significance.” Each ward of Kitakyushu has their own unique festival which then culminate in August with the Wasshoi Hyakuman festival. It’s a festival that combines all the local festivals into one to celebrate the creation of the city. I especially recommend Kokura in July as taiko drums can be heard all around for the month.
What are your “Must-Do’s” for visiting JETs?
1. Mojiko – craft beer, banana curry, and Honshu.
Mojiko is a really beautiful part of Kitakyushu and the bridge between Kyushu and Honshu. There are two distinct ways to enjoy Mojiko. You can hike to Mojiko by way of Mt. Adachi. Start in Kokuraminami-ku and hike for 4-7 hours. Once there you can enjoy Mojiko craft beer with banana yakikare while looking at Honshu. Alternatively you can take a train to Mojiko and walk to Shimonoseki, Honshu using an underwater tunnel. Alas, the tunnel is made of concrete so no aquatic views. After exploring Shimonoseki you can take a 10 minute ferry back to Mojiko.
2. Mt. Sarakura and the famous night view
Mt. Sarakura in Yahatahigashi-ku, Kitakyushu is famous for being one of the New Three Major Night Views of Japan. The best way to experience this is to hike up the mountain in the evening, enjoy food and beer with your mates, take in the night view, and then use the cable car to come down.
3. Kokura and the Night Life
Kokura (where I live) is in many ways the heart of Kitakyushu and Fukuoka. Kokura station is supposedly the last major train station in Japan if traveling from north to south. Kokura has a bad rep due to its (pretty substantiated) associations with the Japanese mafia. But I think you’re more likely to be shanked in Disneyland than in Kokura. Kokura is cheaper, the parties are wilder, and the locals are less reserved than their Hakata counterparts. If you’re looking just to dance then Hakata is for you, but for everything else, Kokura is King. We also have the Holy Grail of gyoza: Tetsunabe. This will guaranteed be the best gyoza you ever eat in your life.
What do you feel is unique to your prefecture, something JETs can’t find anywhere else?
I think what’s unique to Fukuoka is people’s attitudes. Being closer to Seoul than Tokyo, Fukuoka is more internationally minded than most other prefectures. I’ve never had any horror stories being a foreigner like I’ve heard from JETs in other prefectures. I also think FUKers are crazy! They really know how to party and love to meet new people again especially here in Kitakyushu.
Just that writing this about Fukuoka was also a thinly-veiled attempt to advertise Kitakyushu. If you’re ever heading to my city then let us know. I’m more than happy to show people how much fun this underrated city in this wonderful prefecture is.
Caol Ã“ h-ÃšigÃn