5 Things to Do in Munakata, Fukuoka
For those visiting Fukuoka or Kita-Kyushu City, Munakata offers a wide variety of historical, cultural, and culinary attractions that are accessible by Rapid and Regional Rapid JR trains in about 35 minutes: the perfect day trip! In this article, I spotlight the Munakata Taisha Shrines which have received World Heritage designations, Oshima Island: an island rich in natural beauty which holds one of the shrines, Chinkokuji Temple and its beautiful seasonal flowers, the delicious mochi shop–Konowa–which is just a five minute walk from Akama JR Station, and the fancy Hotel Greges for a luxurious ocean-side cafe or meal. With this guide in hand, tourists to Kyushu's largest urban centers can experience a less-travelled area of Fukuoka Prefecture with a rich history.
1. Explore the History of Kyushu’s Religion and Trade at the Munakata Taisha Shrines
The three Munakata Taisha are the head shrines of thousands of Munakata shrines all over Japan. Between the 300s and 800s, Munakata was an important site of trade with mainland Asia, due to its proximity to Korea. The Munakata Clan was especially powerful and controlled both the all-important trade routes and religion in the area. The earliest shrine is on a remote island, Okinoshima, located off the coast of Munakata about halfway between Japan and Korea. No one but monks are allowed to set foot on the island except during special festivals. The two accessible shrines are Nakatsu-miya with buildings from the 16th century on nearby Oshima Island, and Hetsu-miya, on the Kyushu mainland from the 12th century. Hetsu-miya is often referred to as Munakata Taisha because it is by far the easiest to visit and thus most frequented. Besides the shrine, there are ancient ritual grounds behind Hetsu-miya that are thought to be from a very early period of Shinto worship. All three Munakata Taisha have also received UNESCO World Heritage designation.
2. Relax With the Sea and Spirituality at Oshima Island
While it is most known for Nakatsu-miya (see above), Oshima Island has other scenic spots well worth a visit. Oshima earns its name, meaning “big island,” by being the largest in Fukuoka Prefecture. Sitting in the Genkai Sea and reachable via a twenty-five minute ferry ride from Konominato in Munakata City, Oshima offers both Japanese spirituality and natural beauty for those who make the trip. As you cast off from the mainland, you will not be able to miss Mount Mitake, a must-visit for hiking enthusiasts and lovers of panoramic landscape views. Be sure to check out the Windmill Observation Deck, the former site of a World War II cannon fort, and marvel at the many points where land, sea, and sky meet. Oshima is also famous for a stream named Amanogawa [“milky way”] which represents the separation of two deities in love in the story of Tanabata – a legend so important that a festival in its honour is held throughout Japan, beginning on July 7th, the one day a year when the lovers were allowed to meet. Don’t miss it on the grounds of the Nakatsu-miya Shrine!
3. Gaze at a Dazzling Array of Seasonal Flowers at Chinkokuji Temple
From JR Togo Station on the Kagoshima line, Chinkokuji is about a 10-minute car ride, or a 10-minute walk from the Hetsu-miya Munakata Taisha making it a great side-trip from the Taisha. Chinkokuji, however, is impressive in its own right. Founded by the master of the Shingon sect of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, Kobo Daishi (Kukai), on his way back from his studies in China in 806, Chinkokuji is thought to be the earliest temple from this sect in Japan. Of particular note at this temple is its spectacular natural scenery–the flowers around Chinkokuji are known for being especially beautiful during all four seasons. In the spring, there is even an Ohana Matsuri [Flower Festival] which celebrates the cherry blossom and plum blossoms surrounding the temple.
4. Eat Fabulous Wagashi at Konowa
Known throughout Fukuoka prefecture for its fabulous wagashi [Japanese desserts], Konowa is a must-visit for anyone in the Munakata area. Located a five-minute walk away from JR Akama station on the Kagoshima line, Konowa specializes in making Japanese desserts, from dango [rice flour dumplings] to mochi [sticky rice cake] to daifuku [rice cake stuffed with sweet bean paste], using the freshest seasonal ingredients. Their ichigo daifuku, rice cakes stuffed with either sweet white or red bean paste with a fresh strawberry in the center, are particularly delicious with their delicately powdered exterior, sweet and succulent strawberries, and smooth and lightly sweetened bean jam. Not only can you peruse the delicious wares of this shop, but also feel free to grab a table and order one of their extravagant kakigori [shaved ice] desserts, which often come topped with condensed milk, various fruits, or other wagashi delights.
5. Pamper Yourself in a Luxury Hotel
Munakata is also home to two luxury hotels, the Royal Hotel Munakata and Hotel Greges, ideal for relaxing in style and tantalizing your gourmet side. The Royal Hotel offers an open-air onsen [hot spring] sourcing its water from the Satsuki Springs as well as a sauna for deep relaxation. For food, it impressively houses five restaurants: traditional Japanese; izakaya [pub]; buffet with Japanese, Chinese, and Western offerings; Chinese and French; and a Tea Lounge. The Hotel Greges, with design elements from French and Italian designers, offers its patrons the feel of a Mediterranean resort in Fukuoka prefecture. Facing the Genkai Sea, each room in the European-styled Hotel is equipped with a jacuzzi tub for private relaxation. On the premises, there are two restaurants: an upscale French restaurant using seasonal ingredients and a cafe & bar which offers afternoon tea and a beautiful view of the setting sun over the ocean. If staying at these hotels is not an option for your budget, why not just stop in their numerous restaurants or cafes for a taste of luxury, using local Fukuoka ingredients, while in Munakata?