tldr; “Try Poisonous Pufferfish, Walk an Underwater Tunnel, and Watch a Paper-Play”
Earlier this year, I asked people where I should visit around Fukuoka. My friend Philip gave me an intriguing suggestion. “Visit Moji,” he said. “There’s an undersea tunnel to Honshu. You can walk it!” So I looked it up and found that the town is the closest point on Kyushu (the island that Fukuoka is on) to Honshu (where Tokyo is on):
I was sold! 😀 So during one of the weekends I was in Fukuoka, I took a day trip there. It’s about a half-hour by train. This is what the Moji Station looks like:
I knew I already liked the town. There were lots of charming old buildings. But the first thing I did was take a ferry across the strait to Shimonoseki and eat sushi at a fish market. #priorities
Karato Fish Market
The day before, I went to a start-up bar, where I met some nice people. When I mentioned that I wanted to check out Moji, they suggested I check out Karato Fish Market across the strait.
Surprisingly, it takes just 4 minutes to cross by ferry and there are ferries every 20 minutes.
Basically, it operates like any other fish market before 7am on weekdays and turns into a sushi market on weekends. Dozens of sushi vendors sell (very affordable) fresh sushi, seafood bowls, and miso soup.
And most of the sushi sells for 100 yen ($1 USD)!
Basically, you get food on the first floor and bring it to the second floor seating area to eat. Here’s what I got:
The white one is fugu, a local specialty and a type of poisonous pufferfish 🐡. It’s also in the miso soup, known as fugu jiru (ふぐ汁). (Chefs take care of the poisonous part, so it’s safe to eat.)
Fugu is a big deal in East Asia. It has been mentioned in classical Chinese poetry and featured in pop culture. Growing up, I watched the Japanese cartoon, Chibi Maruko-chan, and I distinctly remember a scene where Maruko refuses to eat fugu as her whole family revels in its deliciousness. Finally at the end she has a sip of the soup and instantly regrets her decision to not eat it.
So, I had pretty high expectations. Unfortunately, I ended up not liking it that much, because it’s a lot of work to chew and not much flavor. 😅 BUT. I had fugu karaage with my foodie boss (who was in Fukuoka for a day and kindly took me out for dinner) and THAT WAS AMAZING. So I guess it really depends on how you prepare it.
Walking around town, you’ll also find lots of fugu-related stores and establishments. Anyways, let’s get to the walking-around-town part of my trip to Shimonoseki.
Shimonoseki Outside the Fish Market
So after the fish market, I decided to walk north towards the mouth of the tunnel. It takes 20 minutes and there are lots of great views of the ocean.
I don’t remember for sure, but I think this was the road that led to Akama Shrine, which apparently is also worth checking out, though I didn’t feel like climbing all the stairs up.
There are also plenty of historic sites. Like the oldest Japanese post office building still in use:
This building reminds me of the also very proper-looking Taipei Post Office (built in 1895). I find it interesting that post offices looked so nice back in the day. Today, post offices just look meh. It seems like governments used to put a lot of thought into the design of post office buildings, which probably shows how important they were back in the day.
There’s also the site of the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ceded Taiwan to Japan. And for my Catholic friends out there, this is the spot that Francis Xavier landed on when he came to Japan:
So there’s lots of historic sites to suit many people’s interests. Anyways, I finally got to the famed tunnel…
The entrance of the tunnel looks like this:
You take an elevator down and voila! The tunnel!
It’s a pedestrian tunnel and you actually have to pay to walk your bike/motorcycle through it. Along the way, there are signs saying how much further you need to go:
And in the middle of the tunnel is this sign that tells you when you’ve crossed the border:
It is much, much cuter than the sign in the Holland Tunnel that announces the border between New Jersey and New York, just saying.
Anyways, you reach the other end and there is a majestic tree, across from which is a bus stop, where you can take a bus back to downtown Moji:
Sometimes I hate myself for traveling by bus, but occasionally the time I spend waiting for a bus allows me to make unexpected discoveries … like the Mekari Shrine right next to the tree:
Its claim to fame is the tradition of harvesting seaweed! Apparently they sent seaweed to the imperial court in Nara hundreds of years ago.
Anyways, while I waited for the bus, I sat and admired the sea. I also found this area, where people remotely pray to their ancestors, if their ashes were scattered into sea:
Moji’s World War II History
You can take the bus directly back to Moji Retro, which is where all the historic buildings are. I decided to get off a stop early and check out this park which is apparently where a POW camp once was in World War II.
According to the POW Research Network,
“During the course of the war, 527 Allied Prisoners of war were held for various periods at the Moji POW camp. One hundred fifty nine of those men died at Fukuoka #4–more than at any other POW camp in Japan.”
Pretty chilling history. 😬 The POWs were apparently housed in a YMCA building. I searched “Moji” and “YMCA” and found another fascinating anecdote: in 1923, Albert Einstein had visited the Moji YMCA to attend a children’s Christmas party … very different times indeed.
Unfortunately, this history isn’t marked anywhere (at least not that I could find). I found this information when I was reading up on POW camps and decided to take a look when I visited the town. Kyushu University also has a medical history museum, where they show artifacts related to the vivisection procedures doctors performed on POWs. After much debate, the school decided to make this information public (good on them!). In the long history of Kyushu’s good relations with the outside world, I guess WWII is but a blip. But worth mentioning and remembering nonetheless.
Anyways once you’re done with the park, you can head back to Mojiko Retro and check out some of the buildings there, like this one built in commemoration of the city becoming Sister Cities with Dalian (China):
The best part of my Moji trip, however, was this storytelling ojisan 紙芝居のおじさん who tells stories on illustrated boards (like a retro version of PowerPoint 😅). Apparently this is called kamishibai or “paper plays.”
Here he’s telling a story about a little boy who’s trying to calm down his baby sister by feeding her breastmilk. He thinks that if he drinks enough water (as pictured on this board), he’ll be able to make breastmilk.
But the most interesting part was seeing how the storyteller got people to sit down. After all, people aren’t just gonna stop and watch an old fart tell stories. So he calls it to passersby, saying “we were waiting for you!” “We’re just about to start! Why don’t you take a seat?” which obviously isn’t true, but makes people laugh and sit down.
Then he asks you for ¥100 for candy (pictured on the yellow poster). The candy takes some time to eat (you have to roll it around a stick) so during that time he calls out to more passersby. Some sit down and some cleverly make excuses (e.g. sarcastically saying “sorry we’re reallll busy!”)
What this old man does would probably be considered 客引き (i.e. harassment of passersby to enter a store/restaurant) in any other context 😆 but he does it so well most people are just impressed that he can smoothly talk so many people into his storytelling session.
Then for dinner, I had roof-tile soba:
Honestly not sure if the roof tile is necessary, as a grill probably would’ve done, but I have to admit that it was pretty good. The flour is from Hokkaido and the green tea in the noodles is from Kyoto, so it’s not really a “local specialty”. But there happened to be someone here who heard a story of soldiers grilling food on fallen roof tiles and then decided to dedicate his life to figuring out how to do that 😅 so it became a local specialty.
Another local specialty is yaki-karē or baked curry. I had already had some in Fukuoka, so I didn’t try it again, but it was good and there are at on of places serving it in Moji.
Finally, after a day of fun exploration, I headed home on the train.
✌️And that’s a wrap!
Hope you enjoyed reading about this day-trip! And if you want to further explore Shimonoseki, here are some places that were recently recommended to me by a very knowledgeable person: