[From May Issue 2010]
Fukuoka City is the biggest metropolis on Kyushu Island, and is considered to be one of Japan’s most vibrant cities. Just a mere 200 km across the sea from Busan, South Korea’s southernmost city, it is closer to both Korea and China than it is to Tokyo. To more warmly welcome its many non-Japanese tourists, signs in both Hangul and Chinese are everywhere across the city. The Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train) connecting Fukuoka and Kagoshima in about 1 hour and 20 minutes, is scheduled to start operating in the spring of 2011.
Kyushu Island offers many famous tourist destinations, including Aso, Yufuin, Kurokawa, Beppu, and Nagasaki. Fukuoka, the transportation hub and commercial center of the Kyushu region, is the perfect starting point for a deeper journey into Kyushu, with many interesting points along the way. It’s also a popular destination because of its easy accessibility, with both the international airport and the ferry terminal connecting to the city center by a quick, 15-minute, public transportation ride.
A 30-minute train or car ride will take you either to Seaside Momochi, offering a beach overlooking Hakata Bay, or the scenic Abura-yama Shimin-no-Mori (Nature Observation Woods) where you can mingle with farm animals. Another possible day trip is to the historical Futsukaichi Spa, which dates back some 1,300 years. Such varied destinations allow tourists to enjoy both the city, as well as the area’s abundant natural surroundings.
In Fukuoka, also referred to as “Hakata,” a strong, traditional culture still exists. There are many age-old shrines and temples to visit, including the Shofukuji Temple, Japan’s very first Zen temple. There are many famous festivals in Hakata, including July’s well-known, annual Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, where men kaku or carry 1-ton “Yamakasa (floats)” on their shoulders. There is also the 800-year-old “Hakata Dontaku Minato Festival,” Japan’s largest citizen’s festival, held during May’s Golden Week holiday.
Displayed at the Kushida Shrine, fondly referred to by the locals as “O-kushida-san,” is a 10-meter high “Kazariyama” (decorated float) that can be viewed anytime of the year. Within the shrine grounds, visitors can reflect on Hakata’s long history while viewing the 1,000 year-old gingko tree, that has been designated both a prefectural and natural treasure, or, at the Hakata History Museum, where a shuinjou (official document) written by the famous feudal lord TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, is on display.
A 5-minute walk from Kushida Shrine will take you to CANAL CITY Hakata, a commercial area offering shopping, a movie theater, and a performing arts center. Through it flows a canal approximately 180 meters long where visitors can enjoy an hourly water fountain show. With approximately 12 million annual visitors, CANAL CITY ranks up there with similar commercial areas in both Tokyo and Osaka, and is popular not only as a shopping destination, but also as an entertainment area.
A 15-minute walk from CANAL CITY Hakata, you’ll arrive at Tenjin – Kyushu’s biggest commercial district. The area around Nakasu Kawabata is famous for its yatai culture. A yatai is a small, simple food stall that can be packed up and change location. In the evenings many of these carts, equipped with compact kitchens and limited counter space, line the streets and run along the riverside, where both locals and tourists enjoy visiting.
A conventional yatai menu includes ramen and oden, but at either a Hakata or Tenjin yatai, you will find a variety of foods being served, including tempura, okonomi-yaki, Italian food, Okinawan food and cocktails. The most popular of them all is the Hakata ramen characterized by its thin noodles and tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. Stewing the pork bones over high heat for a long time makes the fat and flavor blend into the soup stock, thus creating the soup’s signature thick texture. This is especially popular with non-Japanese people who don’t often enjoy fish and soy flavors. The pushcart business, which started just after World War II, has grown to about 160 stalls in Fukuoka City alone, which is estimated to be roughly 40 per cent of all the pushcarts in Japan.
The “Hakatakko (people who were born and live in Hakata)” are characterized as “taking in the new and valuing hospitality.” People are often seen conversing and drinking with strangers at yatai stands. An ippai (drink) at a Hakata yatai stand often consists of shochu rather than Japanese sake. Shochu is distilled alcohol made most commonly from sweet potato or barley and often has a strong aroma. Kyushu is the greatest shochu-consuming region in Japan.
Shochu is usually made from sweet potato, buckwheat, and barley, but other unique ingredients such as sesame, brown sugar, and corn can also be used, with oyuwari (diluting it with hot water) being the most common way to drink it. The shochu found and fancied at yatai or izakaya can be purchased at liquor stores as omiyage (souvenirs) or on visits to local distilleries.
After a scrumptious night out in Hakata, take a stroll over to the western beachside area of Fukuoka City, where you will find the 234-metre high Fukuoka Tower, Japan’s tallest seaside tower, as well as the Fukuoka Yahoo Dome. Shopping enthusiasts should not leave without visiting Marinoa City Fukuoka, the huge outlet-shopping/resort facility with a hotel proudly boasting, “The seaside outlet mall with a ferries wheel.”
At Marinoa City Fukuoka, shoppers can purchase world-famous, brands-name merchandise at discount prices – some slashed down to 50% off. On weekends, it’s a very popular destination with visitors from all over Kyushu as well as many other Asian countries. Traditional culture, good food, and great shopping – just the right elements for traveling enjoyment – are all found in one compact, international city. That is the fascination of Fukuoka.
Text: YOSHIDA Akiko