Fukuoka and Kyushu may not be places that western tourists generally visit in Japan, unless they’ve been to the country more than once or have a particular reason to visit. In our case, Fukuoka, the largest city in the southern island of Kyushu, was where my sister Grace had been spending several months studying and teaching. After travelling through Osaka and Kobe via the Shinkansen, we arrived in Hakata station.
We had two leisurely days in Fukuoka and could easily have spent a week there. This city is smart, clean and chilled out – the complete opposite of Tokyo or Osaka. While Fukuoka might not have as many big tourists sites as some other Japanese cities, it’s a great place to unwind and explore if you’re taking a break from travelling.
Ohori Park is located in the middle of the city and should be one of your first stops. We were lucky enough to visit during peak cherry blossom (hanami) time, which made exploring this great expansive park with its pond even more enjoyable. There’s lots of wildlife to spot here – from very tame heron to terrapins to hawks – and pretty much every other person is walking their dog. ‘Ohori’ is Japanese for moat and the pond – which now has three islands connected by pretty stone bridges – formed part of the moat system of what was once Fukuoka Castle. If you have enough time, you can also visit the nearby Fukuoka Art Museum and Gokoku Shrine. Had the weather been a bit warmer, we would have stopped for a picnic and hired a swan boat!
A short walk from Ohori Park are the Fukuoka Castle ruins, which is one of the best locations in the city during hanami season. Built in the 17th century by Kuroda Nagamasa, it was once the largest castle in Kyushu, but was almost completely torn down during the Meiji Restoration. All that remains now are the impressive castle walls and a few turrets, which offer brilliant views of the city. If you’re able to visit in late March or early April, you’ll be overwhelmed by the sight of cherry blossoms. A lot of couples were having wedding photo shoots (and thankfully were always accommodating when we asked to take a photo) and we spotted one group of ladies having a proper sit-down meal complete with balloons! The castle ruins are worth a visit at any time of year, as there are a number of interesting art installations dotted around.
We also spent an evening in Canal City, a large shopping complex that’s home to an entire floor of super-cheap ramen joints! Hakata ramen and mentaiko (salted cod roe) are some of the must-eat Japanese dishes here. Although the shops in Canal City close in the evening, there’s a regular rainbow-lit fountain displays that’s worth catching. We also discovered a totally not Japanese chain restaurants – Eggs n’ Things – which served amazing pancakes for breakfast (or any other time of day when you want it). Again, portions were definitely not Japanese but MASSIVE.
There were plenty of things we didn’t have time to see and do – Uminonakamichi Park across the bay, Fukuoka Tower and the Yahuoku Dome, home of the famous Fukuoka Softbank Hawks baseball team. Hopefully one day we’ll get to go back and see more of the city! We did take a few day trips from Fukuoka (more on that later) before continuing on around Kyushu (more on that later too).
Why not have a look back at my other Japan holiday blog posts for some travel inspiration?