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Based in Fukuoka, tour leader Ben is best placed to scope out the secrets of this lesser known area of Kyushu island. He takes us on a whistle-stop tour to ancient temples, the best izakaya (Japanese gastropub), red gates to rival Kyoto and… the red light district.
Only 24 Hours in Fukuoka?
How could you only spend a day here?
Seriously? You’re coming to Fukuoka, the city I believe, no, I know to be the very best in Japan – and you’re staying a day? I don’t know if I want to help you, and to be honest, I don’t know if I want you to come at all. Fukuoka is not Tokyo or Kyoto, although you can do most of the things you can do in those cities. There are no hordes of tourists here, no pushing and shoving, no lining up……
Right. If you listen, if you promise you won’t sleep for more than three hours, I’ll help you out, and only because I like you. You also have to promise not to tell anyone else about Fukuoka, the place is Japan’s best kept secret. AND, you have to promise to take some time to travel around Kyushu before everyone cottons on to just how awesome and relatively unvisited it is down here.
OK, so here goes…..
Arriving in Fukuoka
You’re flying into Fukuoka the night before, I want you up early. Fukuoka airport is FIVE MINUTES (yes, I’m shouting) five minutes (and repeating myself for effect) from Hakata Station, the centre of the city.
Quick aside, Fukuoka is the city’s name, but the main station is Hakata Station, the food is Hakata style, the dialect is Hakata ben, and the beautiful women are Hakata Bijin. Basically the cities of Fukuoka and Hakata merged in 1889. Fukuoka had the samurai, Hakata the merchants, the samurai got their name, but anything cultural was Hakata. Try to stay on the Hakata-Guchi side of Hakata station if you can. Sleep well, busy day tomorrow.
Day one – 9am
9am, right on time. Good morning! First, let me apologise about the other day. I was upset, but it was only out of love. There is just so much to see here, and I want you to see it all!
Fukuoka temple district
So we’re going to start with the temple district. Yes, Fukuoka has temples and shrines too, important ones, and you can actually visit them, and be alone! From the Hakata Guchi of Hakata station, take a left, and walk past the bus terminal, up to Nishitetsu Hotel Groom, and take a left.
From there, follow the signs to Hakata Senmon no Mon Gate. Seen below.
The street disects Jotenji Temple. Jotenji is a Zen temple, founded with the support of a Chinese merchant Xie Guo Ming in 1242 CE, and the birthplace of Udon and Soba noodles (take that Tokyo!). Jotenji also has a nice Zen garden, although it isn’t open to the public, you can get a good view through the gate, and over the low walls.
After you have had a look at the gardens, cross the street and visit the main part of the temple.
Next it’s out the main gate of Jotenji, and turn right, then take the next left. This will take you out on to Taihaku Avenue, where you turn right, and walk a couple of hundred meters until you run into our next temple – Tochoji.
Tochoji is a Shingon temple founded by none other than the rock star of Japanese Buddhism Kukai (otherwise known as Kobo-Daishi). Tochoji was founded in 806CE. That’s right, 806!
And that’s not all! Tochoji has the largest wooden statue of the seated Buddha in Japan.
Shofukuji, cats and the very first Zen temple
I’ve saved the best for last, are you ready? Walk out of Tochoji, take a right, then go right again, then walk until you hit Shofukuji.
Listen up. When you think of Japan, you think of Zen, right? This “mindfulness” thing that’s all the rage now, you know the new life skill that everyone has recently discovered?
Well….. The Japanese have been practicing mindfulness for a VERY long time. The idea comes from the teachings of Zen Buddhism. AND….. Shofukuji is the FIRST (that’s no.1, earliest, numero uno) Zen temple to be founded in Japan. That’s right (can you hear the gnashing of teeth coming from Kyoto?) Shofukuji is the oldest Zen Temple in Japan, and do not let anyone tell you different.
It seems that the venerable founder of Zen in Japan, Yosai (you say Yosai, I say Eisai….) was so excited about what he had learned in China, that he just had to found a temple as soon as he arrived home. 1195, baby. What’s that Kyoto? Your oldest Zen temple only dates from 1201?
And that’s not all – TEMPLE CATS! (of Shofukuji)
So how are you? Feeling Zen? You loved the cats, right? Everyone loves the cats.
Alright, follow me. We’re heading back towards Tochoji. Across the street you will see a massive stone torii gate – go beneath the gates, and walk straight ahead.
We are walking until we hit a row of restored merchant houses and shops. These are known as Machiya.
Hakata Machiya Folk Museum
Our next stop is the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum. Fukuoka (Hakata) is famous for the quality of its textiles, known as Hakata -ori. They have been making this fabric here for over 770 years, and the fabric is thought to be one of the best for making obi (sashes worn around the waist with Kimono) in the land. Not only is the building beautifully restored, you can also watch a master craftsperson in action, and maybe even get a sample.
Next it’s a very short walk to Kushida Shrine. Kushida shrine is a shinto Shrine dedicated to the Sun Godess – Amaterasu, and the God of Sea and Storms – Susanoo. The shrine was founded in 757CE, and it is well worth a look. You can see all of what you would see at the famous shrines in Tokyo and Kyoto, without the crowds.
Kushida even has an Inari Shrine (the one with all the red gates) like Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, and you can see the famous Yamakasa Floats (Yamakasa is one of the biggest summer festivals in Japan).
You look a bit cultured out, but don’t worry, I’ve got it sorted – we’re heading to a shopping mall. Not just any shopping mall, the peerless, Canal City. Canal City has all your shopping needs, overseas brands, as well as all the Japanese ones. It also has a theatre, cinema, and the Ramen Stadium, where you can try all the best Hakata noodle stores in one place. Just the building itself is well worth your time.
It’s lunch time as well, you’re hungry, right? It also has hundreds of restaurants. I suggest you try ______________. (Nah, I’m not sharing that secret). I’ll give you some free time shall I, you must be a little bit tired of me by now? See you at 2pm.
How was lunch? _____________ is awesome isn’t it? Hope you’re not too full, big dinner tonight. We’ll take a walk through the Nakasu shopping arcade, it has all your traditional stuff – kimono, yukata, happi jackets, wood carvings and ceramics.
Ohori Koen (Ohori Park)
Ok, we’re now at Nakasu-Kawabata station, and we’re catching the subway to Ohori Koen (Ohori Park). Off at the third stop, and you are in a Central Park type oasis in the centre of the city.
Ohori means large moat. The lord of Fukuoka, Kuroda Hagamasa (son of Kuroda Kanbei! Anyone? Kanbei?!….. you don’t know who I’m talking about do you? Look him up.) built a moat here to protect Fukuoka castle in the early 1600s. The present park dates back to 1929, and is modeled on West Lake in Hangzhou, China.
We’ll have a stroll around the lake, and maybe a coffee, perhaps at the Boathouse, which hosted Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe back in the day.
Have a coffee, stroll across the bridge, join one of the many events, or make a new friend – Ohori Park.
Fukuoka Castle ruins
From the park, we’re going to walk over to the Fukuoka Castle ruins for a look. We’ll walk right up to where the foundations of the keep remain, and enjoy a 360 degree view of the city.
Back to the subway for us and a one stop trip to Tojinmachi Station, and then a 15/20 minute walk to the beach at Momochihama. In the summer, this is where the kids come to play at the man-made beach, but it’s nice all year round. We can have an ice-cream if you want.
We are going to go up Fukuoka Tower, the tallest beach side tower in Japan (see, we have it all!). We’ll get more sweeping 360 degree views of the city, and take some great photos. From here, it’s a short walk over to the Hilton, up to the bar at the top of the hotel, and time for a well earned drink or two (I’ll have a beer, thanks). We’ll wait for twilight.
Dinner in Hakata
Doing alright? You’re looking very happy. So let’s go and grab a bus back to Hakata, and give you a chance to freshen up before dinner. I’ve made a booking for 8.30pm, and it’s close to your hotel.
All ready? We’re eating at ________________ tonight. A great, and very exclusive little Izakaya I know. They do a lot of Hakata cuisine, and the food is remarkable. If you’d like to know more about Izakayas, and Hakata food, have a read of this. Written by a very talented, and breathtakingly handsome writer, who is well known for his modesty.
That’s all you’re getting, and yes, I am teasing you.
Well, it’s 10.30pm, time to pay up (yep, pretty reasonable, eh?). Let’s take a bit of walk, about 20 minutes down to Nakasu.
Nakasu is one of the biggest red-light districts in Japan, but don’t let that put you off. In Japan, the red-light districts are totally safe (I dare you to make trouble in one, not worth it, trust me). These areas also have great restaurants, and bars, and attract people not only interested in adult pursuits, but woman and men just looking to have a drink, or eat some great food.
Let’s take a couple of pictures from Fukuhaku Deai Bridge first. The neon reflected in the water is beautiful, isn’t it?
We’ve had a bit of a walk, so you must be hungry again, let’s go and eat some ramen! In Fukuoka, it has to be Tonkotsu Ramen. Thin noodles served in bone- or miso-based broth, with big slices of tasty, well-cooked pork on top. Also has bean shoots, spring onion and other vegetables or condiments, depending on the place. Well known all throughout Japan, and getting pretty popular worldwide. Recently, local chains like Ippudo and Ichiran have started opening restaurants overseas. Trust me though, it’s better here, and best eaten at one of the hundreds of yatai (wheeled street stalls) that come out at night.
Nightlife in Tenjin
Well, it’s close to midnight, and I can’t party like I used to, so I’m off home. Now what you do next is up to you. Fukuoka knows how to party. There are plenty of places to party on at here in Nakasu, or you could walk into Tenjin. Tenjin, and Daimyo have hundreds of very hip bars and restaurants, as well as a few clubs. If you really want to let your hair down, you could head to the clubs on Oyafuko Dori (misbehaving kids street). I will be most upset if you get back to your hotel before 3am tomorrow morning.
Good luck whatever you decide to do, I’m out. And, hey, remember not to tell everyone how good Fukuoka really is, OK?
We don’t know what you think, but Ben has convinced us to jump on a flight bound for Fukuoka… Go on our Kyushu Adventure, a self-guided itinerary, to visit a lunar landscape at the Unzen Hells, stroll through Nagasaki’s Glover Garden and, of course, stroke the cats at Shofukuji temple (it’s the oldest Zen temple in Japan, did we mention that?)