Fukuoka City was once a city divided by a river. Hakata was a port town for merchants, while Fukuoka was a castle town for samurai. Time fused the two together and although Fukuoka is the official name, Hakata is the name, most Japanese know it as.
Modern Day Fukuoka
Today, as the biggest city in the Kyushuu territory, Fukuoka bridges Japan with Seoul and Shanghai as a port city and is now home to many IT companies. Areas like Gion and Tenjin hold small streets and alleys you can explore to get a feeling of the local lifestyle. Meanwhile, Fukuoka at night emanates a beautiful neon glow.
To be candid, I wrote about my manga adventure in Fukuoka, but finding an adventure in the day was a different story. Fukuoka holds a quiet lifestyle, linking to beaches and parks.
Things to do and see in Fukuoka
Here’s some highlights you might enjoy… Most of these highlight attractions are free. My goal was to spend under $20/day and I spent approx. $15/day between meals and transportation.
Yes, Fukuoka has robots! As the world’s leading country for robotic technology, a trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete without experiencing some of it.
Robosquare is a museum of interactive robot technology was the highlight of my time in Fukuoka. At first glance, it looks like a toy store, but step inside and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. A talking Hello Kitty, a robotic seal that coos and reacts to your touch, robots that perform entire scenes like puppets… you’ll see robots in a new light! The museum showcases 200 robots and 70 types workshops in robotic technology. English-speaking guides will tell you about the robots. (Post coming soon!) It’s on the second floor of the TNC Hosokaikan building, in the neighborhood of powerhouse electronics companies such as Panasonic, Hitachi, Fujitsu and AI.
Hakata Machiya Folk Museum
Of all the museums Fukuoka has to offer, the Machiya History Museum (in the Gion district) carries a personal charm. Outside, it seems to be a humble wooden folksy museum, but inside, is a rich tapestry of Hakata’s cultural history. Exhibitions showcase old merchant lifestyles, through figurines , panoramas, recordings and staged sets. Additionally, there’s a Hakata ningyo dolls (aka delicately- crafted clay dolls) exhibition and a textile weaving shop, where you might see craftsmen at work.
Kushida Shrine (Gion District)
Shintoism and Buddhism are the main religions in Japan. Temples and shrines occasionally have shops, which sell ritual souvenirs and prayer card or fortunes you can buy for a small monetary donation. If your fortune turns out to be bad, there’s an area (see photos below) you can leave it in to receive extra prayer help.
Kushida Shrine is an impressive Shinto shrine, dedicated to the goddess of Sun, Amaterasu (goddess of Sun) and Sunsoo (god of Storms and Wind). It was my favorite, with the most to see. The towering shrine is especially important during summer, when it’s celebrated at the Yamakasa Festival, when regions from Fukuoka gather around to race heat one-ton floats. Location: Across the Machiya Folk Museum. Admission: Free
Tochoji Temple (Gion district)
Tochoji Temple houses a 5 story pagoda and a Fukuoka Daibutsu (a giant wooden Buddha). Both shrines are located in walking distance from each other, near the Gion Subway station. Admission: Free
Canal City (Nakasu district)
If you’re a shopper looking for amusement, then Nakasu’s Canal City might be your thing. A splashily-designed shopping mall , it will catch your attention with its flash and cheese. It’s got an outdoor water and light show (when I was there, it played to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast “Be our Guest” song), restaurants and ..lots of stores. I wasn’t greatly impressed by it as it felt pretty small and geared towards more of a medium-high end clientele, but then again, I’m not much into shopping. Note: If you end up shopping until late, drop by the nearby yatais for some ramen.
A shopping alternative: Tenjin Underground Mall, located outside of Tenjin subway station, houses 12 blocks of shops and restaurants.
The Red light district (Nakasu district)
The evening is peak time for adult pleasure and Nakasu is Fukuoka’s seedy red light district (and a place, I happened upon, on my way to the yatais).
In Japan, prostitution is illegal, so the sex industry skirts around this by offering anything, but coital sex. Brothels line the street advertising women, who will service you with blow jobs or any other pleasure. Meanwhile, male escorts hang outside looking to lure women into companion bars for ladies. Note: Most places don’t allow foreigners, but service only Japanese.
It’s by far Fukuoka’s grittiest scene, leaving you with a feeling of you’d likely want to wash off.
Want to see a great view of Fukuoka? You can see it from Fukuoka Tower, a 237 meter high tower. Viewing times change with the season. Cost : 800 yen for adults. Website: www.fukuokatower.co.jp
Where to eat in Fukuoka
After 6:00 pm, snug tent-like food stalls emerge as Japanese customers and businessmen roll in after work. Seating is limited, forcing customers sit close and cosy-like to chat. Menu dishes are generally yakitori, oden, ramen, grilled ramen, tempura, gyoza and sake. Yatais are found in Tenjin, Nakasu and Nagahama areas.
While tourist guidebooks highlight the yatai, there’s one detail to prepare for- – most yatai menus are in Japanese. So if you plan to eat at one (and not just photograph them) , you’ll need to work around the menu. My advice: Point at dishes of neighboring customers (even if it might be considered rude) or play Russian roulette with names (from the list of menu names above), hoping it turns out the way you imagined it!
- Nakasu Area: Pretty riverside setting which is great for photography. Located at the edge of the red light district and near to Nakasukawabata Subway or Nishitetsu “minami-shinichi” bus stop.
- Nagahama Area: Sells tonkatsu ramen with very thin noodles. Located near Nishitetsu “Minato 1-chrome” bus stop.
Vending Machine Restaurants
Japanese culture has its cute quirks. The Japanese love vending machines, from cigarettes to drinks and even food! Maybe it’s about accessibility and saving time.Eat at one of the vending machine restaurants. You pay outside through the vending machine and go inside to eat.
I found a vending machine restaurant in the same building as the Robosquare Museum.
Foods to Try in Fukuoka
Fukuoka is the birthplace of udon and soba noodles. Udon has soft and thick noodles and a refined soup base. My udon bowl ironically, was intensely chewy. However, it was one of the yummiest udon noodles I’ve had and the soup was very flavorful.
Hakata ramen noodles are noted for their thinness. Fukuoka’s specialty is tonkatsu (pork bone) ramen.
Other Fukuoka attractions
- Yamakasa Festival (tourism website)
It’s Fukuoka’s proud festival, where men from each nagare in Fukuoka prepare and then race against each other carrying a float, which weighs a ton. The festival is in July and has me pining for a summer return! Cost: Free
- Yahoo! Japan dome
Okay, the outside of it looks dull and unimpressive, but if you’re a baseball fan, then seeing a baseball game at the Yahoo! Japan Dome is a must. They also offer Dome Tour which takes you around on a special access pass to see the dugouts and places that are generally off-limits to the public. Hours: 10am-4pm, (092)847-1699.
- Kyushu Basho Sumo tournament
I went during winter so unfortunately, I missed sumo season. But this would be a *must see* event. During mid-November, the Kyushu Basho Sumo tournament takes place at the Fukuoka Kokusai Centre. The tournament lasts two weeks. Cost: Same-day tickets (3100 to 14,000 yen) are available starting at 8:00 am, but get there early as tickets are limited.
- Tenjin Town Walking Tour (www.welovetenjin.com)
It’s a walking tour, held on the last Saturday of the month, that aims to introduce you to the town of Tenjin and to show you what it has to offer. Cost: Free
- Day trips from Fukuoka: Daifuzu (famous temple area), Beppu (visit Onsens), Nagasaki.
Public Restrooms in Fukuoka
“Toilet wa doko desu ka? “ The beauty of Japan is that public restrooms aren’t hard to find. Shopping malls, museums and temples will have them and they are often consistently placed in the subway stations.
Where to Stay in Hakata
Japan doesn’t have to be expensive. Moderately priced, great value hotels exist. Here’s some that are under $70/night.
Hakata Tokyu REI Hotel (Hakata- business district) Located a short walk from the Hakata Subway Station in the heart of the city. Part of the Tokyu hotel chain, it is known for quality. Rooms are spacious and prepped with technology for both, international and business travelers. Nearby major attractions: Kushida Shrine and Shofukuji Temple, restaurants and shops .
Hotel Unizo Fukuoka Tenjin (Tenjin- shopping district) Modern and sleek, this hotel is located in the shopping district of Tenjin. Surrounded by three top shopping malls of Fukuoka, you’ll won’t have to go far to find something to do or eat.
Media Cafe Popeye (Hakata Station) Cheapo budget. Looking for a few hours of sleep to pass time on your layover? Manga cafes are internet/manga library cafes. They charge by the hour and you can get a recliner chair to your own cubicle to rest. They even have a shower to freshen up!
Getting Around in Fukuoka
Fukuoka sells unlimited day passes for tourists, making sightseeing easier and affordable. The subway is easy to use, with two main station transfer hubs (for JR trains) and a route to the Fukuoka International Airport. You can buy a single fare (600 yen) or get an unlimited day pass. The station master booth near the turnstile can answer any questions you have.
Getting bus route information will require help. Advice: visit one of the many tourist information centers . While they don’t have bus route maps in English, they can advise you on routes to take. Also, pick up a city map and a Fukuoka City Visitor’s Guide (it’s better than a guidebook!).
Day Pass options for Tourists
Fukuoka Tourist Day Passes grants access to each/all the public transportation: 800 yen (adults) affords a pass on Nishitetsu Bus, Showa Bus, JR Train and the Subway, while 1,300 yen gets you an extra usage of the Nishitetsu Train (* takes you out to the Dazaifu Temple Area). I chose the 800 yen pass and was very pleased. Show your passes at events and attractions and you may get a special discount.
Open Top Buses are 1,500 yen/day offering three hop-on/hop-off courses: Bayside Hakata Town Course, Seaside Momochi/Fukuoka Castle Ruins Course, a night view of Fukuoka City. Website: www.fukuokaoptntopbus.jp