I don't have any pictures of all the fun Masako, Yuri and I had in the evening of this day. We enjoyed a lovely meal and then played around like silly school girls in one of those photo booths that takes your picture against different backgrounds and makes stickers out of them. It was one of the most fun evenings I've had in a long time and we laughed and laughed - and probably scared all the teenagers in there!! That is the best thing about being with my friends here in Japan. We laugh a lot. We are always laughing. It stands out in my mind whenever I remember my visits.

So, next day and back to work. Masako, Yuri and I take the train to Fukuoka which is a city on the north side of the island of Kyushu and is about two hours away from Kumamoto.

First is an interview at the Nishinihon newspaper building with reporter Ryoji Tanaka

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Then it is lunch time and we have been invited to have lunch with Mr. Ko Watanabe from NHK and his wife and two young daughters. We had met with Ko the previous day in Kumamoto where he produced the talk show I was on. However, he lives in Fukuoka with his family.

The name of the restaurant is Nagano and here is a picture of the very beautiful entrance. I'm sorry it is not as clear as it could be. There are lovely stepping stones in the background through a Japanese-type garden. And in front, notice the salt in the corner of the doorway:

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Yuri, my editor, explained it like this:

The salt in the corner of the entrance means "welcome and enjoy the comfortable time". It originates from one of the ancient Japanese stories. In Heian era (about 8th - 11th century), noble people's dates were different from ours today. Noble men went to the women's house since noble women were never supposed to go out. (And the wedding meant that a man go into his wife's family.) Therefore, a woman waited her lover visiting on a cow carriage every night and prepared the salt in the corner of the entrance in order that her lover's cow would wait quietly and patiently so that her lover could stay with her longer. Koichi told me that he learned this from one of the stories of old Rakugo, Japanese traditional story telling, which is usually funny stories.

It was hard to get a proper picture of our table, as the restaurant is a very traditional one where diners sit on tatami mats around the table in small private rooms separated by screens. This makes it hard to stand back enough to get everyone in without a screen getting in the way!

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The kind of meal we had is called "mizutaki nabe". 'Nabe' means 'cooking pot' and you see the waitress serving from the nabe in this first picture. The Fukuoka area is famous for its chicken, so first small pieces of chicken on the bone is poached in simmering water. The resulting broth is served up in pottery mugs at the beginning of the meal and this is what the waitress is doing - ladling broth into cups. At our table there are two nabe because there are seven of us and they are built with into the table with a gas burner underneath which the waitress can adjust. She comes at different intervals and adds different items. After we have had our pieces of chicken, she then adds chicken dumplings. These cook and we eat them. Then she comes with rice noodles and lots of vegetables like spring onions, cabbage and others and these are put into the pot and they cook. And all the time we ladle things out as we want them. At the end, the broth is served again, often with rice, but we were running late to our next appointment, so we did not get to that course.

Here we are, much progressed in the meal, and you can see the table is no longer so neat and tidy!

That is Ko's daughter Hana nearest us. She is six. Then Hikaru, who is three, then Ko, then his wife Miki, who is expecting their third child in July. My editor Yuri is on the other side of the table.

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Then it was on to Junkudo bookstore for a talk and booksigning. They don't normally organize big events at bookstores in Fukuoka, so the staff had to be creative in finding a location with enough room. They chose the story area in the children's department, so the pictures have had to be cropped quite close to cut out a very large and cheery-faced tree that seems to want to join me in several pictures!

Here we have the crowd patiently waiting for me to arrive.  -

After talking came the booksigning. I met one of the long-time members of the THBB - Coco - at the booksigning. She hasn't posted in a long while but still visits very regularly.

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And some very enthusiastic fans!

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Finally it is over and I go into the back of the bookshop to enjoy tea with the staff.

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