I might not have heard of Kyushu, or the other cities on the island… but I’ve definitely heard of Fukuoka. I remember how I was first informed that I was invited on a media trip to Kyushu — I went, “Kyushu? Where’s Kyushu?” And when they replied, “It’s where Fukuoka is,” I knew immediately where I was going.
The Fukuoka Prefecture
Fukuoka is the capital city of the Fukuoka Prefecture; on the northeast coast of Japan‘s most southern and third largest of its four main islands, Kyushu. While most know Fukuoka as a city, not many know that it is also the name of the prefecture that consists of 29 cities — two of which are the largest on the island, Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Located on the northern part of Kyushu, the prefecture faces the sea on three sides.
Fukuoka city itself is situated on the north of the prefecture and surrounds the Hakata Bay. In 1889, two towns merged to form Fukuoka — the original town of Fukuoka on the east side of the Naka River, and Hakata on the west. Fukuoka is currently the sixth largest city in Japan. I didn’t get to spend much time in the city during my trip this time, and had less than half a day to walk around Hakata. We ended up spending most of the day traveling within the Fukuoka prefecture, with visits to the cities of Yanagawa and Kurume.
Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours (Pt.5)
I was traveling on a 6-day media familiarization tour around the Japanese island of Kyushu with Parlo Tours. Fukuoka was the last stop of the tour, after the previous stop in Hitoyoshi-Kuma (Pt.4). The other cities and towns we visited on our grand tour were Beppu, Aso and Kagoshima. As with all group tours, entrance tickets and fees are included; but I’ll just write down the prices to some of the local attractions anyway. To find out more about this Malaysian travel company and the other different tours they offer, click here.
How to Get Around Fukuoka Prefecture
We entered the Fukuoka Prefecture via our tour bus from the south, after spending the night on a farmstay in Hitoyoshi-Kuma. Our journey that day, from the south to the north of the prefecture, brought us to the towns of Yanagawa, Kurume and then onwards to Fukuoka city. For those traveling independently, it is really convenient to get around the prefecture, as they are all connected via the JR train lines and highway buses. The total journey from the southern city of Yanagawa to the capital city takes just a little more than an hour.
While in Fukuoka city, we were based in the Hakata side of the river and managed to get around on foot. With its mild subtropical climate, walking is probably the best way to explore and discover the city. However, if you don’t want to walk — Fukuoka is served by four subway lines that cover most of the popular tourist attractions. Fukuoka’s main subway station is Hakata Station. You can also travel the city on bus. The Fukuoka Tourist City Pass gives unlimited rides on the buses, trains and subway, with discounts to many attractions in the city. A day pass cost JP¥820 (US$7.5); and if including Dazaifu, it’s JP¥1,340 (US$12).
The international gateway to Kyushu island is via Fukuoka Airport — and it is connected to Kuala Lumpur via direct flight on AirAsia in just 6 hours.
Yanagawa and the River Cruise
Our first stop for the day in the Fukuoka Prefecture was at Yanagawa, a city situated on the southwest of the prefecture. Known as the “City of Water”, it is famous for its many canals that run through hundreds of kilometers around the city. Yanagawa was originally a traditional farming village in the mid-16th century with canals built for irrigation — and then became a castle town and the canals were used as moats to protect it from enemies. Now, river cruising is the city’s most popular attraction.
“Donkobune” — small flat boats (gondolas) steered with a long pole by local boatmen, ply the canals. We got on the hour long cruise, and were entertained by our boatman’s singing (he even sang familiar songs for us — like the theme of Doraemon), and rowing skills. He even taught me how to row, and jokingly told me that I had a little talent for it! It was a nice ride along the canals as we passed by old houses, willow trees and beautiful scenery. The only downside was that we were floating in the mercy of the scorching sun! The boat ride costs about JP¥1,500 (US$14) per adult.
Unagi Lunch at Taigetsukan Restaurant
Yanagawa’s signature dish is the eel (or unagi), and is a popular meal in the city during summer. And so, after our boat ride, we headed to one of the many well-known eel restaurants in town for lunch — the Taigetsukan Restaurant. Attached to the 18th century Ohana Villa (built by the Tachibana clan who ruled the area from 1620 to 1871) that now operates as a restaurant inn, the restaurant serves unagi set meals that range from JP¥3,000-5,000 (US$28-46). Being a fan of unagi, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal!
An additional entrance fee to the restaurant (and the other parts of the villa — including its beautiful garden) is charged at JP¥700 (US$6.5). So after lunch, we went to admire the Shoto-en Garden next to the restaurant. It is said to resemble one of the Three Views of Japan, Matsushima (it’s an archipelago in the Miyagi Prefecture that consists of 260 islands). The garden is filled with over a thousand garden stones and we had fun hopping on some while admiring its peaceful beauty.
Strawberry Picking in Kurume
After lunch, it was an hour’s drive to get to the next city on our Fukuoka itinerary, Kurume. It was actually a really short stop, and we only did one activity in the city — fruit picking. There are different fruits available for picking in Kurume during different seasons of the year (like blueberries, grapes, pears, persimmons, mangoes and oranges) — and because we were there in May, we got to pick strawberries! It was so fun, and the strawberries were so sweet, and I think I got a strawberry overdose at the end of the session. An all-you-can-pluck-and-eat-on-the-spot 30-minute session costs JP¥1,500 (US$14); and if that’s not enough, you can even buy some back for JP¥200 (US$2) per 100g.
And here’s a little fun fact about strawberries — it’s called ‘ichigo’ in Japanese, which is a combination of ‘ichi’ (one) and ‘go’ (five), because strawberries in Japan fruit from the first to the fifth month in the year, January to May.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
And then it was straight on to Fukuoka City. Before arriving in the city, we stopped by the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, located about 30 minutes away from central Fukuoka. The Dazaifu Tenmangu is dedicated to the God of Learning, a respected scholar and poet who lived between the 9th and 10th century — Sugawara Michizane. It is one of the most important Tenmangu shrines in all of Japan (and the site of his grave); and is popular among students who come to pray for their studies, passing exams, and better grades.
The approach to the shrine is lined by many small stores selling souvenirs and snacks — and we stopped by a popular ice-cream shop for a taste of their sought after soft-serve. The Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is free to enter, and because we arrived almost before closing time, there were not too many tourists around. To get to the main hall of the shrine, we had to pass through three arched bridges across a pond that represents the past, present and future. Next to the main hall, there is a legendary plum tree that is said to have survived all the disasters that befell the shrine throughout the years; and is one of the hundreds of plums trees throughout the area that is said to look most beautiful when they flower from February to March.
Hakata Excel Hotel Tokyu in Fukuoka City
It was almost dark when we arrived in the capital of Fukuoka, and checked-in to our hotel for the night — the Hakata Excel Hotel Tokyu. This 4-star hotel is located in the Nakasu area, which is an island (or rather, a sandbank) between the Naka River and the Hakata River in the center of the city. Nakasu used to be an entertainment district during the Edo Period in the 18th century — but I would say it now seems more like a shopping area. The hotel was pretty convenient for my short time in Fukuoka to get a little taste of the city (and to do some last minute shopping). The room was pretty basic with all the necessary facilities (and the typical small Japanese-style bathroom); but since we only had a couple of hours to explore the city, we didn’t spend much time indoors.
One of the places I tried to slot in during my visit in Fukuoka was the Kushida Shrine, also known locally as the Okushida-san. Located in central Fukuoka, the shrine is the oldest and most important shrine in the area. It was founded in 757 during the reign of Emperor Koken, and is the main shrine that hosts the biggest festival in Fukuoka, the Yamakasa Gion Matsuri. Unfortunately, we arrived at Kushida Shrine after the closing time at 10pm (after our dinner), and couldn’t enter the main area of the shrine. We only got to admire the torii gate right in front of the main building (in the dark). Entrance into the shrine is free, and it opens from 4am.
Mitsutaki Dinner at Hana Midori Restaurant
Dinner in Fukuoka was at the Hana Midori Restaurant, known for the Hakata Mizutaki (chicken hot pot), a traditional Hakata dish. The chicken broth for the hot pot is boiled for more than 6 hours for a rich chicken flavor. There is a whole process to enjoy the meal, and we were served by our polite waitress the entire dinner. After having our cold appetizers, the hot pot with chicken broth was brought to the table to boil. We were first served with a cup of only the broth to drink. The chicken pieces were then left to boil for a while before being scooped up and served together with the broth in a bowl. Later, chicken innards like gizzard and liver, as well as chicken meat balls were added into the broth. Once we were done with that, vegetables were added in.
By this time, I was already bloated! But the meal was not done. For the final part of the meal, all the left-over ingredients were scooped up (we didn’t leave much), leaving only the broth. Rice was then added into the hot pot, to completely soak up the rest of the rich broth. What an awesome meal it was!
Ramen Supper at Ichiran Restaurant
Now, eventhough we were completely stuffed at dinner, we really couldn’t miss out on a ramen meal while in Fukuoka. The city is known to have the very best tonkatsu ramen in the entire Japan. Known as Hakata Ramen (as it originates from the Hakata area), the broth is made out of boiling pork bones to give it a bold, distinctive meaty flavor. It is then poured over thin, straight ramen noodles, and served with a slice of chashu pork (and onsen egg). One of the most famous brand of the tonkatsu ramen is Ichiran. Founded and estabished in Fukuoka in 1960, the brand now has more than 50 shops across Japan, and more internationally. So when I was in Fukuoka — off we went to the Ichiran Honten. It was just down the road from our hotel too.
The best part about the restaurant is that it opens 24 hours, so that we could actually slot in a supper/breakfast meal in the early morning (just before we left the country). We paid for our meal from the order machine, and then filled in a chit to personalise our bown of ramen (languages available in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English). And when our bowl of ramen came, it was heaven in a bowl. So rich and delicious, and I slurped it up to the very last drop!
The End of the Tour
We had a very short stay in Fukuoka, and I really wished that I could explore the city, and the prefecture a little bit more. We flew back to Malaysia early the next morning, after our extremely fun road trip through Kyushu Island — starting from Beppu, to Mount Aso, to Kagoshima, to Hitoyoshi-Kuma, and ending it all in Fukuoka. This is an island with a myriad of landscapes, a strong Japanese culture and a vibrant history; and I think that I can confidently say that I will be back again, someday soon — because there is still so much to discover in Kyushu. Read about my full Kyushu journey here!
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Kyushu, Japan with Parlo Tours. Fukuoka was the last stop of the many cities/prefecture on the familiarization tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.