Sample the good life in Fukuoka City, Japan’s “gateway to Asia”
Try your luck with an omikuji (fortune telling paper) at Dazaifu Tenmangu. Tie your paper to a tree to make a good fortune come true—or to avoid a bad fortune. (Title picture above)
Fukuoka, the largest city on Japan’s southernmost island, has long been one of the country’s best-kept secrets. But the secret is officially out. Recently named among the world’s most livable cities by the international culture and design magazine Monocle, this urban oasis brings a surprising mix of old-world and new. Fukuoka is the perfect destination for a group getaway, with attractions aplenty for the shopaholic, the epicurean, the culture junkie and the underground music hound.
Situated at the northern tip of Kyushu, Fukuoka has a long history of exchange with continental Asia. Closer to Seoul than to Tokyo, the city’s distinct culture is a mix of international influence stretching back to ancient times. Just 30 minutes from the city is Dazaifu, a town named for the diplomatic office established there 1,300 years ago, which served as a crucial point of contact with China. The town is also home to Dazaifu Tenmangu, an expansive Shinto shrine complex dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar who was exiled to the then-backwaters of Dazaifu after political struggles at court. After his tragic death he was deified as Tenjin, the god of scholarship, and now history buffs head to Dazaifu annually to honour his memory.
After dipping your toe into Dazaifu’s ancient atmosphere, grab your techy, shop-happy friends and head straight into Fukuoka City to the Hakata Seaside Momochi, a sandy white beach surrounded by glittering urban architecture. With restaurants, boardwalks and shopping on the pier, Momochi’s a popular date destination, but is just as good for families or groups on the hunt for fun. Just a skip away from the volleyball courts are other great sites, like the famous Fukuoka Tower and the nearby Robosquare, a complex dedicated to the display, sale and education of robot technology. Travellers can interact with a variety of robots, from entertaining Hello Kitty bots to baby seal therapy bots for the elderly.
Not far from the futuristic seaside spread is Ohori Park, beautifully designed around a pond featuring three islands, which are connected by a series of elegant bridges. While the park’s current design is inspired by China’s famous West Lake, the name Ohori, which literally means “large moat,” is drawn from its feudal past as a protective barrier to Fukuoka Castle. Though the castle was torn down in the Meiji period, its remains can be found at the neighboring Maizuru Park, which contains the Fukuoka Art Museum. Or, for those who prefer sports to art, head over to the Hawks Town entertainment complex to see the Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome, home of the city’s baseball team.
Travellers can follow up high culture with high-class shopping by heading to Tenjin, Kyushu’s busiest commercial area, with a stunning array of shopping, entertainment and gourmet food above and below ground. But the most iconic of Fukuoka sites may be the Nakasu Island yatai, a line of small, affordable food stalls with minimal seating, generally open from 6 pm until the wee hours of the morning. Once night falls, hop a 100-yen bus from Tenjin Station to Nakasu and enjoy yakitori (chicken skewers) or tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen as the city glimmers in the surrounding waters. Do be sure to check the price of dishes before you sit down, then settle into a delicious meal and a gregarious atmosphere. The locals are known for their warmth and openness, and this intimate eating style tends to draw the hungry and the curious, be it from just around the corner or half a world away. Try capping off the evening with a taste of the underground music scene at one of Fukuoka’s iconic “live houses.” Whatever entertainment you seek, this city has the goods to put a twinkle in your eye.
Born and raised in Hakata, Shotoku Mentaishi knows all of Fukuoka’s hot spots. He recommends a night of karaoke with friends!
A bridge between the past and the future
The Canal City Hakata entertainment complex boasts 150 shops and a live theatre. Visit the fifth floor “ramen stadium” to get your fill of ramen.
Enjoy earthy entertainment in Nakasu, a buzzing district with over 3,500 lively businesses and endless people-watching.
Fukuoka’s recently renamed Yahuoku! Dome had the nation’s first retractable roof. Let the stadium’s “Dome Queens” lead you on an official tour.
Fukuoka’s eats and treats
No trip to Fukuoka would be complete without at least one bowl of Hakata’s rich, delicious tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen, accompanied by a side of hitokuchi-gyoza, a crispy, one-bite pot sticker that is to die for.
Nabe is a popular hot pot dish that comes in many styles, including this regional specialty: motsunabe, which features pork or beef intestines. The intestines are boiled in your choice of a soy sauce or miso soup base, along with an ample helping of cabbage and garlic chives. This nabe style has gained popularity with Japanese celebrities. Locals often add rice or noodles into the leftover soup, which makes for a filling meal in any season. While it might not sound like a meal you can stomach, if you’re brave enough to try it, do so here in Fukuoka, its culinary birthplace.
Known for its Korean-and Chinese-influenced cuisine, Fukuoka offers a seemingly endless array of interesting edible souvenirs, from the Monde Selection award-winning Hakata Torimon, a small cake with a milky bean filling, to spicy Mentaiko, a side dish made of cod roe, which is often served locally with beer and rice. But Fukuoka’s at its best when these creative efforts preserve the fun, everyday artistic spirit of the Hakata people. That spirit can be found in the Niwaka Senbei and Hakata dolls, among many others.
Take a bite out of tradition with the Niwaka Senbei, a rice cracker shaped like the masks worn by artists of the Hakata Niwaka, a comedic performance art practised at local festivals.
The practice of making Hakata dolls began as a simple art among craftsmen in the 17th century. The modern figurines are colourful, unglazed dolls that evoke a sense of traditional elegance.
All photos ©Fukuoka City unless otherwise noted