Fukuoka is the biggest city in Kyushu, and was one of the first port-towns in Japan that opened its gates to foreigners. Fukuoka is also known as Hakata (this is because the two close cities of Fukuoka and Hakata merged in 1889), so don`t be worried if you arrive at Fukuoka`s main train station and see a sign which says `Hakata Station`!
Photo : hirotomo t on Flickr
There are lots of great things to do in Fukuoka, especially things revolving around food. Fukuoka, being a port town close to China and Korea, has been heavily influenced by these countries, and, as a result, so has its food. Fukuoka is most famous for Hakata ramen, ramen in a tonkotsu sauce with chashu (pork) on top. This famous ramen dish can be easily found in the yatai section of Fukuoka. Yatai are tiny food stalls usually only seating from 7 to 8 people and selling traditional dishes and drinks (try some shochu or sake while you`re there!). Apart from Fukuoka`s ramen, oden and yakitori are also typically sold at these stalls (a stall will have one specialty and stick to it – don`t expect to find ramen and oden at the same stall). These stalls are only open at night and are the most lively at around 11 o`clock on a Saturday night (the yatai are usually shut on Sunday nights).
Nakasu Island, a 100 yen bus trip away from Hakata Station, is the hub of yatai, with about 20 stalls on offer for your perfect night out. However, there are a lot more of these food stalls scattered around the city – you just need to know where to look. See if you can find some Tetsunabe Gyoza (another specialty of Fukuoka) while you`re searching for yatai. If you can speak any Japanese, try out a conversation with a stall owner and surprise them by using some of their local Hakata dialect (try out `sharetonsha`, meaning `so cool`, or `fashionable`)!
Photo : Al Case on Flickr
There are a lot of temples in Fukuoka. Drop in to a tourist info centre and ask for a map of a temple walk (it`s a great day`s walk if the weather is good). Shofukuji is the oldest Zen temple in Japan, built in 1195, and is a great place to visit on your temple tour. You cannot enter the buildings that are in the temple grounds, but can look at them and take pictures from the beautiful gardens. Don`t expect lavish golden decoration and rich exterior detail like you might see at other temples – this temple is all about discipline and minimalism – the foundations of Zen.
At the other temples on your route, however, you will be able to see more lavish temples, large red pagodas, a large shimenawa (religious rope made of straw), and, at one temple, an example of a 10-metre high float from Fukuoka`s most famous festival – the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. This festival is great to watch if you happen to be in Fukuoka in early July, and features as its main event a race through the streets of Fukuoka with huge and beautifully decorated festival floats (the biggest ones weigh over 2 tons and the smallest still 1 ton!).
Photo : lensonjapan on Flickr
If you want to get to Fukuoka in rush, there are plenty of Haneda Airport to Fukuoka Airport flights every day, taking around two hours and costing from 7,000 yen to 35,000 yen depending on the season (keep in mind this is the busiest air traffic route in Japan). And get this – the airport is only 5 minutes by train away from Hakata Main Station! You don`t like flying, or want a challenge? Japan`s longest night bus route, run by Nishitetsu and taking 14.5 hours, runs from Tokyo to Fukuoka every night. Be aware that the prices will not necessarily be any cheaper than a flight from Tokyo to Fukuoka, and that your body will probably not thank you for it later. Of course the typical Shinkansen trip is also available (23,000 yen, 5 hours) as well as a 34 hour, 16,000 yen ferry trip (from the set-down port you will then need to hop on a 90 minute train to actually get to Fukuoka).
Once you`re in Fukuoka, however, the whole of Kyushu is easily accessible to you for great day trips or even a trip down to Okinawa by ferry if you want! Don`t miss out trips to Beppu and Nagasaki`s Gunkanjima while you`re down there! If you want to experience something a little more unusual, try out a `sand bath` (suna yu) down on Ibusuki Peninsula, or a trip to the Chiran Peace Museum which pays homage to the kamikaze pilots trained there. For something a little more `outdoorsy`, why not try out horseback riding on Mt. Aso, an active volcano, or a hike around Cape Sata, the most southern point of Kyushu?
Fukuoka a fantastic starting place for your trip around Kyushu and can offer everything from great food and nightlife to traditional temples and charming gardens! Make sure to pen in Fukuoka for your next trip to Japan`s southern island!