THE crowd at Akatan, a narrow, standing bar in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka, thickened as each glass of sake and shochu was poured. By midnight, strangers had swept my husband, Dave, and me — the only Western faces in the smoky bar — into alcohol-fueled conversations that, with the language barrier, often devolved into comical pantomime. Every time we explained that we were visiting Fukuoka as tourists, the same question arose: “But why?”