Fukuoka Is the Ultimate Gateway to the Rest of Japan
Created with Cebu Pacific
When we Pinoys think about getting a ticket to Japan, we probably (and most likely) search for flights to Tokyo’s Narita Airport in the anticipation of traveling South through Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima or going North through Sapporo in Hokkaido. But for travelers who have already been there, or who are curious about the unseen Japan, Fukuoka, the harbor city, is your ultimate starting point. Ready?
When you’ve tried all the cool ramen joints around the area (after all, Fukuoka is known as the birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen), and shopped to your heart’s content at Canal City, take a walk around Higashi Park. The public garden, a two-kilometer distance from Canal City, used to be the battlefield of the Mongolian and Japanese Army during the war in 1274). It’s a scenic walk all throughout, but the best view of the park is at the highest point where a statue of then-emperor Kameyama stands. After a long walk, it’s time to quench your thirst! Make your way to Asunaro Brewery, a small, lowkey local craft beer brewpub where you can get a pint for a little above ¥850.
Fukuoka is especially different—and especially delicious during winter because only during this period can you find the Kakigoya, or Oyster Grill Huts, along the coastline of Itoshima. These are often run by small, family-owned fisheries who put up large huts to invite locals and tourists to grill their own shrimp, fish, and oysters from their selection of fresh catch.
Getting to the coastline of Fukuyoshi (one of the four main areas of Kakigoya), is easy if you have a JR pass. You can get off at Fukuyoshi station from the Fukuoka City Subway (Kuko Line) and walk about 15 to 20 minutes toward the ocean. The quiet seaside town is a delight to visit by itself, but the Kakigoya experience is one that should be on your bucket list.
Visit Fukuoka at the start of the New Year and witness a festival that involves the cold winter, buckets of water, two 8-kilogram balls, and men in loincloths. The Tamaseseri Festival held in Hakozaki Shrine in Fukuoka is celebrated every year on the afternoon of January 3rd. It’s a festival where the farmers and fishermen ceremoniously compete against each other for the ball while being dumped on by cold water. It is believed that whoever wins will be granted a bountiful harvest in the coming year by the gods.
Two hours away from Fukuoka Hakata Station via Shinkansen is the charming city of Yufuin. It is famous for being a resort town offering onsen (hot springs) and different kinds of ryokan or traditional Japanese Inn.
The city is beautiful and nostalgic, surrounded by nature, and completely different from the rest of Japan. You will surely fall in love with this idyllic place at the foot of the great Mt. Yufu—the landscape is as picturesque as a painting, and the tourist spots are straight out of a storybook!
Head over to the Yufuin Floral Village and be transported to a small English Cotswold town with an aesthetic that is very reminiscent of the movies by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. The scale of the village is slightly-smaller-than-standard, and people can effortlessly reach the ceiling of the various restaurants and retail shops inside. You can easily feel like a tiny giant which reflects the fantastical, and down-the-rabbit-hole atmosphere of the place. The best part? Free admission and lots of photos for everyone.
A few steps away is the Showa Retro Park, an amazing reproduction of the urban streets of Japan during the Showa era from 1955-1965. This was the period where the Western influence was very apparent, and the line between the traditional and the modern had been blurred. For just ¥500, travel back in time, interact with found objects, and role-play as a 1950s barber or generous patron of an old pachinko with your friends. There’s also a Mom and Pop cheap sweets shop in front of the establishment, where you can find the perfect (and budget-friendly) pasalubong.
If you’re into design, art, or architecture, make sure that you book a tour at the Comico Art Museum. They don’t accept walk-ins, and appointments are made only through their website so it’s best to log in at least a day before. The price is a little hefty, but it’s worth every yen.
At the end of the tour, the museum will serve you tea while you enjoy the best view of the great Mt. Yufu. After the tour, it’s time to walk through the different trails that surround Kinrin Lake. Depending on the path you choose, which viewing deck you stand on, and where the sun is, Kinrin Lake will give you different majestic faces.
Just over Mt. Yufu, you can find the quiet, beachside city of Beppu. It’s possible to spend a full day trip here and return to Fukuoka or Yufuin in the afternoon. If you aren’t tired of hot springs yet, you can go to the Hells of Beppu—a themed hot springs tourist attraction with water that’s too hot to bathe in but is very beautiful just the same. Fancy going to the beach? Even if it’s too cold to go swimming, you can enjoy the Matogahama Park with all its unique sculptures and water feature installations. The entire park sits on the beach and stretches for about five blocks.
Climb up the main road to toward the Beppu International Convention Center and the Global Tower. The building is a marvel to see, and the tower is as intimidating as a colossus, but just right next to them are the Beppu Museum of Art and the Beppu Park. The park is small and charming, but unlike other parks, Beppu Park showcases different flowers that change with the seasons. It also has a bamboo forest that’s worth a visit. On your back to the train station, on that same road, you might find a lone Indian restaurant. Do yourself a favor and step inside.
It only takes 30 to 40 minutes from Hakata Station in Fukuoka to the city of Kumamoto. One of the first things you should do when you arrive in Kumamoto is to go to the International Center and rent an electric power-assisted bicycle. This way, you can go around the city at your own pace, and with a slightly higher independence. Rent will cost you about ¥700 for the whole day.
Pedal to the Kumamoto Castle in Sakuranokouji and watch an entertaining show that features Sengoku Warriors from 400 years ago who welcome all the guests. They are in full costume and hold a show every day. If you see them on stage, immediately take a seat and make sure to catch it because the show only lasts for twenty to thirty minutes. Explore more of the different restaurants and souvenir shops in the make-believe historical castle town.
In the afternoon, when the sun is at its golden hour, make your way to Suizenji Ezuko Park. The whole sky will be washed in gold, and the beautiful landscape will have you stopping at different points in the public garden just because the scenery will demand it. It’s the perfect time to take photos and people-watch. Catch the locals playing a musical instrument of their choice while you find your way en route to the exit. Rent a paddle boat if you must! Take in the vast landscape and take your time. Come evening, you may want to partake a local pastime of listening to insects chirp as the sun sets.
Two and a half hours away from Hakata Station via Shinkansen is the city of Osaka in Honshu Island—most popularly known for the neon-lit food and entertainment hub Dotonbori, site of the famous Glico Man.
Eat until you drop! The restaurants here offer food like Japanese Shabu Shabu, grilled Wagyu beef, takoyaki, kushi katsu (fried meat and veggie skewers), seafood, and even the notorious pufferfish which you can get at Zubora-ya restaurant. A few meters away is the shopping street of Tenjinbashi, where you can shop for all kinds of pasalubong, clothes, and novelty Sanrio items!
When you stay in the city, you can choose to go to Universal Studios Japan, and then spend another day at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Make sure to allot an afternoon to visit Osaka Castle, too. The castle park is a beautiful stroll with the sights of flowers, cherry blossoms, art sculptures, and of the huge moat and gigantic stone walls that surround the castle.
When you’ve had your fill of the cultural and historical, it’s time to focus on the gastronomical. On your way toward the exit, you will see a row of food vendors and a couple of seating. Buy the takoyaki! It’s probably the best one in Osaka.
Travel to Nagoya from Osaka or straight from Hakata in Fukuoka. It only takes about three and a half hours from Fukuoka via Shinkansen. Nagoya in Central Japan is best known to be the center of the automotive industry in Japan as all the big factory names can be found here. In this regard, you wouldn’t want to miss a visit to the Toyota Automobile Museum (although renovations are currently in progress, and the museum will reopen in January 3, 2020).
Photo courtesy of Toyota
Another reason to go to Nagoya is to visit the LEGOLand Theme Park to catch all the attractions, perfect for the kids and kids at heart!
Photo courtesy of LegoLand
Go downtown and you’re in the Sakae Entertainment District. It’s a district that offers a lot of shopping options and dining experiences because they have at least six major malls and a handful of department stores, including the Sunshine Sakae mall that has the Sky Boat Ferris wheel attached to it. When you’ve done all the shopping and eating that you can, head over to the Nagoya Castle and Meijo Park, where you can enjoy the Flower Plaza. You can find one of the best displays of Wisteria flowers inside the plaza with a 660-meter long Wisteria corridor. If you can, visit here during spring when the flowers are in full bloom.
Photo courtesy of Kawaii Aichi
Ready to book your trip? Cebu Pacific has non-stop flights to Fukuoka. They also have direct flights to Nagoya and Osaka. Make sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on seat sales.