In 2017, Australia rugby legend Matt Giteau joined the Suntory Sungoliath rugby team in Japan's Top League. Matt has racked up 103 caps for his national team. After a year and a half in Japan, Matt and his family are delighted with Japanese hospitality and kindness and with the safety of the society at large.
This year, the greatest event in the rugby world will be held on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, with 9 matches scheduled to be played in the prefectures of Fukuoka, Oita and Kumamoto. The Australian national team will be playing the third match of the tournament in Oita. Although Kumamoto suffered severe damage in a major earthquake in 2016, reconstruction is progressing smoothly and the whole island of Kyushu, Kumamoto included, remains a fine place for sightseeing. To express his wish to see strong bonds between friends and families, a tough spirit and a positive attitude among the people as reconstruction progresses, Matt visited Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyushu, to try new experiences.
He started with a Zen experience at a Buddhist temple. Zen is a sect of Buddhism that has become popular with businesspeople around the world. The temple stood solemnly in the silence of the morning, in sober contrast to the rushing commuters he had seen through the car windows on the way. When he stepped inside, he was welcomed by the calm chief priest, who led him to a large hall with Buddha statues inside. After learning about the precepts of Zen from the chief priest, he tried some meditation. He sat down with his back straight, put his hands together in front of his chest and tried to relax his mind, focusing on orderly breathing. Some people get sleepy while meditating. If that happens, the chief priest taps them on the back with a wooden stick. It happened to Matt once and it certainly woke him up in a hurry. Although his legs fell asleep after sitting on the floor for so long, his mind was refreshed and he was able to start the day invigorated.
Hakatamachiya Furusatokan is a museum that displays the daily lives of people in Fukuoka in the early modern period, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. There are also traditional crafts on display that visitors can try their hand at making. Since Matt had always liked drawing, he chose to try painting a picture on a ceramic spinning top. After the teacher had demonstrated the correct painting method, he gave it a shot himself, getting tips along the way. First he selected the colours: green and yellow to represent victory for Australia. Then he began to paint with the brush. There was a device that spun the top as he painted, producing a circle of colour as he applied the brush. The task required a lot of concentration, but seeing the top come alive in a burst of colour was so exciting that he lost himself in it. After learning how to make the top spin from the teacher, he decided to take it home as a souvenir for his sons, looking forward to their happy faces once he taught them to play with it.
Ukiha Inari Shrine
After driving for an hour from Hakata, the centre of Fukuoka city, he arrived at an area with green slopes covered with terraced fields. In the middle of those fields was something that looked like a red road. Drawing closer, he realised it was actually a series of red gates spaced about 1 metre apart. These red gates are known as torii, and they mark the entrance to a Shinto shrine. While most shrines only have one or a few gates, Ukiha Inari Shrine has 91. The mythical atmosphere as he passed through the gates and climbed the stairs made Matt feel like he had entered another dimension. Other tourists took lots of photos of the highly photogenic scenery as they climbed. There was a shrine at the top where families and friends prayed that they would be happy and healthy again this year.
Matt's next stop was Miyajidake Shrine, a shrine with a long, storied history, believed to have been built 1,700 years ago. It is a popular spot with over 2.2 million visitors every year, and the airing of a TV advert featuring the "Road of Light" only added to its popularity. There is a straight road climbing from the ocean on the west to the shrine and when the sun sets over the ocean directly opposite, the road lights up in a blaze of fiery light, thus the name "Road of Light." The Road of Light is visible in February and October.
Nakasu Food Stalls
Returning to Hakata, the centre of Fukuoka, Matt found that he was rather hungry. Nakasu is the liveliest shopping district in Kyushu and it was packed with people. Since he wanted to sample local Japanese cuisine, he stopped by one of the food stalls. The owner was very pleased to welcome him and serve up some drinks and typical Japanese food. Once he was seated, the friendly banter began, with the owner asking where he was from and how long he had been in Japan and offering him drink after drink. They managed to communicate with simple English and the few words of Japanese Matt had picked up in everyday life. It was the perfect opportunity for him to enjoy delicious Japanese food and experience the warmth of the people of Fukuoka, a very meaningful evening indeed.
Although Matt couldn't visit them this time, Fukuoka has many other attractions worth visiting such as the Yanagibashi Union Market, the Kushida Shrine, sake breweries and more. He would love to visit Fukuoka again, this time with his family.
In 2019, you'll get the chance to see the best rugby the world has to offer in Kyushu. Not only that, but it will also be a great chance to interact with the people of Japan and learn more about the country. You're sure to become a huge fan of Japan just like Matt.
Matt’s 5 places to visit
1) Myorakuji Temple
13-6, Gokusho-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka
6-10 Reisen-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka
3) Ukiha Inari Shrine
1513-9 Ukihamachi Nagarekawa, Ukiha City, Fukuoka
4) Miyajidake Shrine
7-1 Miyajimotomachi, Fukutsu City, Fukuoka
5) Nakasu Food Stalls
Nakasu Area, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka