On the second leg of my adventure using the Japan Explorer Pass, I went to visit the city of Fukuoka on Japan’s southern-most main island, Kyushu. I flew in bargain luxury with Japan Airlines from Kochi’s Ryoma Airport to Fukuoka Airport, which is only a 15-minute train journey away from Hakata Station (the city’s main transport hub).
Let me tell you. If I could move prefecture, I’d move to Fukuoka in a heartbeat.
Its perfect balance of hearty food, crazy nightlife, contemporary architecture and beautiful countryside converted me. Now it’s my chance to convert you too!
1. Channel Banksy with local art installations
Art installations can be found all over the city and it’s also home to some of the quirkiest little galleries I’ve ever experienced. On a grand scale, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum is the only museum in the world that systematically collects and exhibits Asian modern and contemporary art. On a smaller scale is the Yamane Art Lab – which is literally run out of some dude’s 10th floor apartment. The owner used to live in New York and, if he’s got time, is down for art banter on his sofa.
2. Go day trippin’ to flower-filled Nokonoshima
10 minutes away from Meinohama Ferry Port in Fukuoka’s main bay is a tiny island named Nokonoshima. Known among the city’s residents for its seasonal flower displays (check out the sea of yellow during springtime when the rapeseed blossoms) and blissful ocean vistas, this is well worth the visit if you’re looking for a recommended local experience. For those who can’t tear themselves away after only a day, lodges can be rented overlooking Hakata bay. Sign me up.
3. Find academic success at Dazaifu Tenmangu
Just a 40-minute bus ride away from Hakata Station in central Fukuoka is a dazzling shrine dedicated to the nation’s academic success. Visit in January and you’re sure to find throngs of eager-eyed students praying to the kami for luck on their entrance exams.
I visited in September meaning I was lucky enough to arrive just as a ceremony involving dragons and adorable children in rainbow festival clothes was beginning. If I’d arrived in August, I could have seen an ancient poetry competition (dating back to the Heian period) where participants dress in traditional clothes and compose poems while drinking sake. Sounds like my kinda party.
4. Grab a coffee at one of the most beautiful Starbucks in Japan
Dazaifu knows how to do temples and it also knows how to do coffee. The Starbucks in Dazaifu has an elegantly crafted interior made entirely out of wood. The effect is stunning. Even if you’re not Starbuck’s biggest fan (I’m all about the home brew) the funky art and the soft lighting made me wish this was my local writing hangout.
5. Wander the futuristic halls of one of Japan’s top museums
Just around the corner from Starbucks and Dazaifu shrine is one of Japan’s best curated museums. The Kyushu National Museum is futuristic in design despite renowned exhibitions focusing on the very ancient history of Japan and Asia. Many smaller exhibitions lead off from the main gallery; this organisation makes it so refreshing to walk around as the amount of artefacts and info never overwhelms. English audio guides and pamphlets are available from the entrance to the main exhibit. Highly recommended if you’re not much of a museum geek but you do want to delve a little deeper in Japanese history – plus it’s only 430 yen.
6. Eat Hakata ramen and try not to compare it to every other meal from then on
Fukuoka’s central Hakata district specialises in the seriously creamy ramen known as Hakata Ramen. The broth is made from pork-bone and the noodles are delicately thin. Interestingly, Kyushu is the only area in Japan where it’s not seen as impolite to ask for an extra serving of noodles, so as my mum would say, “Get it down ya, love!” This ridiculously appetising dish can be found in all shapes and sizes, from the steaming hot bowls found in Hakata Station’s Ramen Street to dried packs suitable for souvenirs (or lazy cooks).
7. Get app happy at the Fukuoka Line Store
What does Line have that other messaging apps don’t? Seriously cute mascots, that’s what. (I’m personally partial to the bright yellow duck called Sally). Split over three floors, with a cafe and seating space nestled between the lovable mass of merch, this is the store for Line users to visit. Order the latte because it comes in a glass with a character design printed on it. The best part? The staff will wash it up, pop a lid on it and you can take it home with you as a freebie.
8. Toast the sunset from Fukuoka Tower
Towers don’t normally do it for me. Fukuoka Tower though thawed my tower-skeptic heart because of its affordability (640 yen if you’re a foreigner, 800 if you’re not) and of course, the sea-views that make an island girl like me (I grew up in the Channel Islands) happy beyond belief. Drinking wine with friends while the sun set behind the numerous island paradises anchored just off of the bay blew all my other sky-high experiences out of the water.
9. Be entertained European-style at Canal City
This almighty shopping complex consisting of 250 shops, a cinema and a theatre where you can watch quality shows like Sailor Moon the Musical. A canal runs through this “city within a city” giving it an almost European feel. Every 30 minutes, between 10am and 10pm, there is a water show centering around the fountain. The Ramen Stadium is also a must-visit for those needing a second helping of Hakata ramen (i.e. everybody).
10. Become a star in Fukuoka’s famed nightlife
Located in the other main district of the city, Tenjin, is a unique must-visit for those up for a good time. Anmitsu Hime is a drag show that has been going for years but is brave enough to experiment with shows aimed at a non-Japanese speaking audience. Your 5000 yen ticket buys you a ticket to one of three evening shows (8pm, 10pm and 11:45pm) and also includes nomihodai (all-you-can-drink). There’s a lot of audience interaction and foreigners usually get called on to do something on stage. A fantastic night out.
A new initiative launched by Japan Airlines, the Japan Explorer Pass is aimed at allowing international visitors to travel all around Japan and save themselves some serious yen. One-way trips cost only 10,800 yen and the money you save means you can splurge on that third, fourth or fifth bowl of Hakata ramen. Did I mention how good it is?