I visited a lot of places in Japan, and all of them are pretty well known and get at least a decent amount of foreign visitors… except one. Towards the end of my primary trek across Japan I stayed for a day and a half in Itoshima, a town just west of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. There’s practically nothing there to make it worthy of a tourist’s visit and consequently hardly any foreigners show up, and that is exactly why I paid the town a visit. I wanted to get off the gaijin trail and see what small-town Japan was like, as well as do a little bicycling in the area. Well, I can safely say that I got off the gaijin trail. Itoshima isn’t used to seeing foreign visitors, so I was getting glances everywhere I went. They weren’t looks of animosity or frustration, but rather curiosity. Young children in particular, having not yet been trained to avoid staring, couldn’t keep their eyes off of me and seemed quite fascinated by the bumbling gaijin idiot that had shown up in their town. As for Itoshima itself, the town is a lot like many other towns you can find across the developed world, except the lack of fellow gaijin made everything strangely novel and exciting. I have no doubt that if I stayed longer then the novelty would quickly wear off, but for those 1.5 days where I was walking and cycling around Itoshima and the surrounding region I felt like I had discovered some sort of uncharted territory in Japan. It was a thrill completely unlike anything I got in the rest of the country.
Just as a note at the end here I realize that by writing about Itoshima there’s a chance I might be contributing to Itoshima getting “discovered” by the tourist horde, though I think it’s unlikely Itoshima will ever have to deal with the tour bus crowds. I could see it becoming a more popular cycling destination, but that’s about it. Should the worst happen, however, and Itoshima gets “ruined” then I offer my humble apologies to the good people of Itoshima for bringing the unwashed gaijin hordes to their doorsteps.