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Fukuoka and Beyond: The Lively South of Japan

Fukuoka and Beyond: The Lively South of Japan

Historical castles and relaxing hot springs, volcanoes and islands populated by cats, skyscrapers by the beach: in and around Fukuoka, there is everything a traveler's heart desires. The Japanese city has long been considered one of the most livable places in the world. Read on to discover why this part of Japan is always worth a visit.

What you should have seen in Fukuoka

In addition to Kyoto and Tokyo, Fukuoka regularly appears in global rankings. The criterion: quality of life. And in this aspect, the city in southern Japan is among the best. How did the city achieve this?

The capital of the eponymous prefecture is also the largest on Kyushu, Japan's southern island. Here, you'll find the hustle and bustle of a metropolis along with relaxing sandy beaches, a dazzling skyline, and picturesque temples. Cruise ships dock in the port, while colorful festivals light up the streets in the summer.

For an overview of the city, you should head to its highest point: Fukuoka Tower. Standing at 234 meters, it is not only impressively tall but also the tallest coastal tower in Japan. It offers a spectacular view of the skyscrapers along the seacoast and the abundant greenery in between.

If you want to take a trip back to the early 17th century, then Fukuoka Castle is the place to go. More precisely, its ruins. The Kuroda clan ruled here for about 270 years until the feudal system was abolished in the Meiji era in 1870. Since then, the castle has been unused and fell into disrepair. Each spring, cherry blossoms take over its grounds, becoming the main attraction in the surrounding Maizuru Park, gracefully embracing the remaining watchtowers and gates of once the largest castle in Kyushu.

Wild islands, blooming oases

Fukuoka has a lot of nature to offer with its numerous parks. The idyllic Ohori Park, for example, stretches around a large lake bordered by islands and bridges. Perfect for outdoor sports and leisurely walks. Here, you can also admire a genuine Japanese garden with a teahouse. The art museum showcases a colorful mix of religious art from the 11th century to Dalí.

For those who want to experience the underwater world up close, visiting the Marine World Uminonakamichi Aquarium is a must. Not only are numerous marine creatures swimming here, but the most breathtaking landscapes of the entire island are also faithfully replicated. In the surrounding Seaside Park, many species of flowers bloom, making this part of the city continuously colorful from spring to autumn.

For those who are more fans of land animals, there is another special attraction nearby: Aoinoshima, also known as Cat Island. More cats live here than people. Just a 20-minute boat ride away, cat bliss awaits visitors. However, caution is advised when interacting with them, as most are wild and won't tolerate everything!

Fukuoka cat

Urban center of the old city

Fukuoka is not only a place of culture and relaxation but also has a vibrant nightlife to offer. In the Tenjin district around the subway station, locals gather in the underground shopping center. Above it, small clubs and bars are tucked away in the high-rises. Nakasu livens up even more at night. Numerous bars, izakayas, karaoke clubs, and arcades attract visitors, reminiscent of the nighttime scenes in Shibuya or Shinjuku in Tokyo.

For those who prefer something sporty, the Fukuoka Dome is a must-visit. This baseball stadium is the first in Japan to have a retractable dome roof. In addition to regular baseball games, concerts are also held here. Musical legends from the West, such as the Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson, have performed here.

Another exciting district in Fukuoka is Hakata-ku, which is also home to Fukuoka Airport. Visitors from all parts of the country arrive here via the Shinkansen at Hakata Station. Formerly an independent port city, it merged with Fukuoka City in 1889.

The Tochoji Temple houses Hakata's main attraction: Japan's largest wooden Buddha. His impressive nearly 11 meters are hidden beneath the red pagoda. The centerpiece of the summer is the Kushida-jinja Shrine: in July, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is celebrated for two weeks around the millennia-old site. The event has even become Japan's most important Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The district is also known for Hakata Canal City, a large shopping center near Hakata Station. As the name suggests, a canal flows through the shopping center. Visitors will find numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and a cinema there. A special feature of the shopping center is the Ramen Stadium.

Eating out in Fukuoka

Not to be underestimated is Fukuoka's food culture. Japanese people often travel with the goal of trying regional specialties, and there are plenty in Fukuoka:

  • For one dish, Fukuoka is particularly known: Ramen. The noodle soup, originally from China, is highly appreciated and well-cooked here. In the Ramen Stadium at Hakata Canal City, you can try numerous varieties, all based on Tonkotsu Ramen, typical of Fukuoka. Its particularly creamy and nutritious broth is made from pork bones, often boiled for several days.
  • But even outside the shopping center, you'll find ramen restaurants on every corner. If you're not in the mood for Tonkotsu, you can visit Hakata Ikkousha, one of the neighborhood's most popular restaurants, which also offers other types of noodle dishes.
  • Since Fukuoka is located directly by the sea, it's only logical that seafood is at the top of the menu. A local specialty is, for example, Mentaiko, pollack roe seasoned with salt and red chili. It is often found as a snack with sake and beer in izakayas.
  • Or how about fresh mackerel sashimi (Goma Saba) in sesame sauce?
  • In the winter months, one naturally prefers something warmer. In Fukuoka, everyone can find something to their liking. Particularly popular is Motsunabe, a hot pot dish (Nabemono) with tripe and various vegetables.
  • Udon and soba in broth are also a must here. You can find them even in traditional food stalls, called Yatai.

Green voyage of discovery in the prefecture

Aside from its largest city, there is much more to see on the island of Kyushu. Fukuoka Prefecture offers impressive nature and Japanese history.

Just half an hour northeast of Fukuoka is the picturesque Sasaguri-Kyudai Bamboo Forest. Particularly mysterious, the trees stand out from the water when taking a stroll in the evening twilight.

Even one of Japan's most beautiful places is only an hour's drive away: the Kawachi Fuji Wisteria Garden. From April to May, its flower tunnels bloom in purple. During this season, the garden is full of tourists, so it's worth coming early. In autumn, on the other hand, you can admire the colorful, red-golden glow of the leaves.

The tranquil Dazaifu with its numerous temples and shrines is perfect for hiking and relaxation. In the National Museum, you can also learn a lot about the history of Kyushu.

  • Udon and soba in broth are also a must here. You can find them even in traditional food stalls, called Yatai.
Flowering Fukuoka tree in park

Along the coast to Kagoshima

Under Fukuoka Prefecture, you will find Kagoshima Prefecture. Its city, Kagoshima City, is worth a visit alone for its Mediterranean flair. The mild climate and the temperament of the locals are often compared to Southern Italy. A notable attraction in Kagoshima City is the Jokomyo-ji Temple: there lies buried the samurai Saigo Takamori. He was a famous opponent of the Meiji Restoration and is still shrouded in legend. Saigo died after the Battle of Shiroyama in Kagoshima Prefecture. In 1877, insurgent samurai lost to the imperial army's overwhelming numbers. The event inspired the final battle in the movie "The Last Samurai".

In the middle of Kagoshima Bay lies the Sakurajima Peninsula. It even houses an active volcano: the last eruption occurred in 2016. However, no one has been harmed in an eruption for over 100 years. So, there's no need to be afraid to travel there. On the contrary - it's worth it! Although Sakurajima is translated as the "Cherry Blossom Island," cherry blossoms are not the reason to visit the volcano. Once you've reached it with a short ferry ride and climbed it, you'll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the surrounding prefecture.

There is also much to discover on the other side of the bay. At the Shoko-Shuseikan Museum, you can delve into the history of the Meiji era, and you can take a tour of the Japanese garden of the former aristocratic residence, Sengan-en, and enjoy the view of Sakurajima volcano.

Further south lies the interesting city of Ibusuki on the Satsuma Peninsula. It can be reached within an hour by train or car from JR (Japan Railways) Kagoshima Station. The place is interesting because of the famous Ibusuki Onsen with its own ryokan (traditional Japanese accommodation). It is a group of hot springs with a great view of Kagoshima Bay. Something special here is also the sand bath: lying in the hot sand for fifteen minutes is great for circulation and health, just like bathing in the thermal baths.

Now let's travel a bit further down. Accessible by ferry from Kagoshima Bay to the south is Yakushima Island. Here, nature enthusiasts will also find their paradise: the densely forested national park extends around Mount Miyanoura and dozens of other mountains that you can hike. The path through the wilderness rises over 1000 meters and passes by some beautiful waterfalls. The enchanting cedar forest is the setting for the famous anime film "Princess Mononoke."

The city and prefecture of Fukuoka, as well as the region below, Kagoshima, match the well-known Japanese metropolises in their diversity and exciting activities. They combine Japanese tradition and mystical landscapes with modern luxury and dreamy coastlines. For those who want to escape the tourist crowds and still not miss anything, a visit is highly recommended.

A journey to Japan is worthwhile! Here you can learn more about the city of Kyoto:

Kyoto | Blog article read in Japan-Magazine »
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