Fukuoka is the capital of and gateway to the island of Kyushu. It is Japan’s 6th largest city with just over 2.5 million people living in the metro area. Clean, modern, with a good transportation network and much less crowded than the larger cities to the east, Fukuoka was recently ranked the world’s 12th most livable city in Monocle’s quality of life survey. It is home to the Hakata style tonkotsu ramen, which is famous throughout Japan as well as the spicy cod roe called mentaiko. Two of Japan’s most famous festivals, Yamakasa and Dontaku, are held in the city every year. I lived in Fukuoka for two years and loved it.
Best Time to Go
I’d avoid the summer months. While the famous Yamakasa festival is held in July, the weather is not pleasant. In June and July, the rainy season brings overcast skies (but not really all that much rain) and high humidity; following that, the humidity stays and temperatures soar, making even just breathing uncomfortable.
Winters are generally pretty mild and a good time to visit, but spring and autumn are easily the best. The cherry blossom season (around March and April) is probably the most popular, but I personally prefer the mild and dry autumn. August and September bring typhoons; while they won’t pose too much danger in the city, they can shut down transportation.
Getting to Fukuoka
Fukuoka airport is located very close to the city center, only two subway stops from Hakata Station. The airport serves flights from all over Japan as well as several international destinations. If coming from Tokyo, flying is probably your best bet; it is faster and much cheaper than the high speed trains and most of the time you’ll pay less for a plane ticket than even an overnight bus.
Fukuoka’s main train station is called Hakata Station (make sure you look for this on timetables, as Fukuoka Station is actually somewhere in northern Japan) and like the airport, it is well connected to the city’s public transport network. Hakata is the terminus of the Sanyu Shinkansen (Japan’s high speed trains) from the north and the Kyushu Shinkansen from the south. The fastest train connection, the Nozomi, takes 2:30 from Osaka, 2:45 from Kyoto and 5 hours from Tokyo.
The bus station is located directly next to Hakata Station. Overnight buses connect to all major cities in Japan and are a great way to travel relatively cheaply and save a night’s accommodation, too. The buses are clean and quiet. I took one of the cheapest available companies and each seat had its own drapes separating you from the rest of the bus, making it easy to get a good night’s sleep.
JR Kyushu also runs a jet ferry called the Beetle that connects Fukuoka to Busan in south Korea. A one-way ticket costs ¥13,000; a round-trip ticket is ¥20,000 (¥24,000 on weekends). The trip takes just under three hours. A bus connects the ferry terminal to Hakata Station and can save a lot over the expensive taxis.
The Fukuoka subway system has three lines that will get you almost anywhere of interest when combined with the the JR trains as well as the Nishitetsu private railway company. For areas not served by a train line, the Nishitetsu bus company will get you everywhere else. Avoid taxis if you’re on a budget, as they are quite expensive. The main downtown areas of Tenjin and Hakata are fairly compact and you can actually get most places on foot. Bicycles are a good way to get around, too, since the city is mostly flat.
Most hotels and other accommodation options are clustered around Hakata station and the Tenjin shopping area, as well as the areas in between, like Gion and the Nakasu red light district. Youth hostels and capsule hotels are the cheapest, but you won’t pay much more for the lower priced business hotels.
The best hostel in the city is the Hana Hostel, where a dorm bed costs around $20 and private rooms begin at $35.
The International Hostel Khaosan is probably the most popular, but the Fukuoka branch of this chain is not as good as the ones in other cities. The sister property, the Khaosan Annex, is much nicer, though.
For hotels, I’d recommend the Hotel Sunline Ohori. It has a great location in Tenjin next to Ohori Park and rooms start at $40. If you prefer a location in Hakata, the Hotel Tokyu Bizfort is really nice.
Eating & Drinking
Fukuoka is famous for the Hakata Style tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen. The most famous chains are Ichiran (read about my visit to Ichiran ramen) and Ippodou. Both have numerous branches in the city. Ichiran has an English website which lists their locations. Ippudou’s site is only in Japanese. You can find both chains on Google maps. Due to their fame, you’ll pay much more for a bowl of ramen at one of those places than many smaller neighborhood restaurants.
You’ll also want to pay a visit to Fukuoka’s famous yatai. These outdoor street stalls pop up in numerous locations around town in the evenings, most notably along the Naka River near the Canal City shopping mall, and are a great and very atmospheric place to grab some food and have a few drinks.
If you want more drinks, the nearby Nakasu area is Fukoka’s most famous nightlife district, situated entirely on an island in the river. It is mainly geared toward Japanese tastes though and is basically a big red light district. I’d head across the river to Tenjin instead, where most of the western style bars and clubs are located; you’ll find the majority along Oyafuko Street and in the Daimyo area.
Like all Japanese cities, Fukuoka is extremely safe. You might find a few places in Nakasu that will try to rip you off, but there’s really not much of interest in that area for foreigners anyway. The biggest dangers are probably the typhoons and they don’t generally pose much of a threat, apart from simply being inconvenient. Fukuoka isn’t as prone to earthquakes as other Japanese cities, but they do happen. A magnitude 7 quake hit while I was living there in 2005.
Things to Do
Fukuoka city has plenty of things to do to keep any visitor busy for weeks. You can change that to months, when you add in the surrounding areas.
- Yamakasa Festival: Arguably Japan’s most exciting festival; takes place at the beginning of July and culminates in the early morning hours of July 15, when seven teams race around a 5 km course while carrying giant floats and being sprayed with water; certain strategic points, like the beginning of the race at Hakata’s Kushida shrine get extremely crowded, but you can easily find open spots elsewhere to watch the spectacle; you can watch the teams complete practice runs on the days prior to July 15 as well; it’s hard to drag yourself out of bed for the 5am start time, but it’s worth it—you don’t want to miss this festival if you’re in the area at the right time of year
- Hakata Dontaku Festival: Fukuoka’s other famous festival is Japan’s largest citizens’ festival; it takes place on the 3rd and 4th of May and draws crowds of over 2 million people, many of whom dress up and dance in the streets while watching others dance on various stages or in the parade
- Maizuru Park and Ohori Park: located directly adjacent to each other, Ohori Park features a large lake, while Maizuru Park has the castle ruins, which can be climbed for some pretty good views; both parks are very popular during the cherry blossom season
- Nishi Park: located just to the north of Ohori Park, this hilltop park features good views over the bay as well as several thousand cherry trees, making it one of the city’s top cherry blossom viewing spots
- ACROS Building: Located next to Tennjin’s Chuo Park, this terraced building has around 35,000 plants growing on it and seamlessly merges with the park; you can climb all the way up to the rooftop for some great views of the surrounding city and it’s all free
- Momochi Seaside Park: Fukuoka’s modern waterfront area that features the 234m tall Fukuoka Tower, a city beach and the Hawks Town entertainment complex, home to the Yahoo Dome where the Softbank Hawks baseball team plays, the Hawks Town Mall and the Fukuoka Hilton
- Shrines: like any Japanese city, Fukuoka has a number of shrines, most notably Sumiyoshi Shrine, Kushida Shrine, Hakozaki Shrine and Kashii Shrine, but the most famous is actually located in nearby Dazaifu city (see below)
- Beaches: Fukuoka has over 20 beaches and many of them are quite nice; Fukuoka Now has a handy beach guide to help you out
- Nokonoshima Island Park: a small island famous for its flower fields; it also features a beach and a campground; open from 9:00 to 17:30 (18:30 on Sundays and holidays); entrance costs 1000 yen for high school age and above, 500 for elementary and junior high and 300 for infants; to get there take a ten-minute ferry from the Meinohama Municipal Ferry Terminal for 220 yen; the Nishitetsu bus will take you from the Nokonoshima Ferry Terminal to the Island Park
- Shikanoshima: famous as the location where the Golden Block Seal (a national treasure) was excavated, this island features nice beaches and the hilltop Shiomi Park with great views of the city lights and the Sea of Genkai from the observation platform
- Yatai (Outdoor Food Stalls): I mentioned these in the food section as they’re great places to grab a bite to eat and/or a few drinks, but the yatai are also one of Fukuoka’s most famous attractions; the best spot to find them is along southern bank of Nakasu Island in the Naka River, but you’ll see them all over popular areas of the city
- Dazaifu: this former administrative center of Kyushu is famous for the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, one of the three great Tenjin shrines, the Komyozenji Temple with its zen rock garden and ‘sea garden’ style moss garden, as well as umegaemochi, one of my favorite Japanese sweets; to get there, take the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line from Tenjin Station to Futsukaichi Station (12 minutes by express, 25 minutes by local train) and change to the Dazaifu Line, which takes five minutes to Dazaifu; the total cost is 390 yen; alternatively, you can take the JR Kagoshima Line from Hakata Station to the JR Futsukaichi Station, which is a ten minute walk from the Nishitetsu Station; this is cheaper (only 150 yen) for holders of the JR Rail Pass, but more expensive otherwise (420 yen)
- Karatsu: this seaside city near Fukuoka has a couple of nice beaches and a hilltop castle, but it is mostly famous for pottery and the fresh squid in Yobuko, which is so fresh it is eaten while still alive; to get there, take the JR Chikuhi Line from Meinohama Station, which is the terminus of the Fukuoka City Subway Airport Line; the journey takes an hour or less, depending on where you start from; to get around Karatsu, you can hire bicycles at Arupino next to Karatsu Station or take the city buses
- Yanagawa: this small town is famous for its canals and its eel; visitors can take a 70 minute boat ride around the canals for 1500 yen per person and enjoy the famous unagi-no-seiromushi (steamed eel in a basket) for lunch; take the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line from Tenjin Station to Yanagawa Station, taking one hour
Gateway to Kyushu
From Fukuoka you can easily reach the rest of Kyushu Island and its many attractions, including:
- Nagasaki: impressive coastal city that is mostly famous for being one of the only two cities to suffer a nuclear attack
- Kumamoto: this city is famous for the Kumamoto Castle, one of Japan’s largest; it also serves as the main entry point to the Mount Aso area
- Mount Aso: the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the largest on earth; it also has one of the world’s largest calderas and draws a significant number of tourists
- Beppu: one of Japan’s most famous hot spring destinations, producing more hot spring water than any other resort in the country; apart from hot springs for bathing, it features the 8 Jigoku or “Hells of Beppu”, which are visually stunning springs for viewing only
- Miyazaki: popular vacation destination along the coast in the south of Kyushu with both scenic mountains and beautiful beaches that offer excellent surfing conditions year-round
- Kagoshima: located on the southern tip of Kyushu, Kagoshima is famous for the active volcano Sakurajima and serves as the jumping off point for the Kirishima volcanic mountain range, the Satsuma Peninsula and Yakushima
Money Saving Tips
- do not take a taxi from the airport; you are so close to the city center anyway and the subway is cheap and convenient.
- similarly, take public transit to get around town
- avoid touristy restaurants and eat at small, local places and the yatai (street stalls); the one exception are the famous ramen chains—I’d recommend at least one visit
- the sprawling underground shopping area below Hakata station has a lot of cheap food options (and an Ichiran branch)