FUNKY, FASHIONABLE & FABULOUS FUKUOKA
Fukuoka is Japan’s youngest*, fastest growing and most liveable city. This is one funky town, packed with shopping centres, parks, shrines, temples, and eateries to suit every taste. We arrived here today after hitching a ride on a train from Beppu, and spent our afternoon trawling through through some of Fukuoka’s best malls, strolling through a couple of its parks, and visiting some of its temples. This place has a great vibe to it and we had a great time exploring the city today.
*Average age of Fukuokans = 38; average age across the whole of Japan = 48.
Fukuoka is the economic and business hub of Kyushu, and with a population of 1.5 million, is this island’s biggest urban centre. There’s a growing IT and high-tech manufacturing industry here, which is the main reason the city’s population is growing at about 5% per year. From first impressions it seems to be a great town – wide streets, lots of parks and green space, every facility you could imagine, but not crazy busy like Tokyo or Osaka. No wonder it got ranked 12th in a recent survey of global city living standards!
Once we’d dropped our bags off at the hotel*, we headed straight to one of the biggest, shiniest department stores in town: Yodobashi. This chain of stores sells electronics of every kind imaginable and carries a whole range of stuff that we don’t see back in Aus, which makes Shane all geeky, giggly and ecstatically happy. The thing I like best about Yodobashi is the eateries they always have in their basements and/or on the top floor** – the perfect stop for lunch!
*Check-in for most hotels and ryokans around Japan is 3:00pm. And when they say check-in is at 3:00pm, they mean 3:00. Not 2:45pm or even 2:55pm. 3:00pm is 3:00pm and no matter WHAT the occasion, you won’t get into your room a minute sooner.
**A little known, but very important, fact about Japan: some of the best food outlets can be found on the top floor and/or in the basement area of major department stores. These are not like the dodgy, crapulent food courts we get at home – these are actual sit-down restaurants with good service and edible food. The food choices in these eateries are often cheap and a bit more Westernised too – a great option if you’re ever sick of takoyaki, gyoza, chicken karage, yakitori, sashimi, sushi, ramen, udon, soba noodles, edamame, tempura, and/or teriyaki.
From Yodobashi went across to Canal City, a huge shopping centre built alongside the Nakagawa (i.e. Naka River) whose claim to fame is that it’s the biggest retail development ever built in Japan. The mall includes 250 shops, 43 cafes and restaurants, a theater, 5 cinemas, 2 hotels and a canal which runs through the complex. The main thing we noticed was that everyone here is so well dressed that we feel like bums, dressed in our jeans and unironed t-shirts. Not being in the market for any household items, gifts, clothing or bling, we moved on to quieter environs.
Like all Japanese towns, Fukuoka has a few temples and shrines. We chose to visit the main 3 ones today: Shofuku-ji, Tosho-ji, and Sumiyoshi-jingu. Shofuku-ji (i.e. Shofuku temple) has the distinction of being the first Zen temple constructed in Japan (it was founded in 1195). Although the building itself cannot be entered, we could still walk through Shofukuji’s lovely gardens and admire the temple from the outside.
Tocho-ji (i.e. Tocho temple) is dedicated to Japan’s favourite Buddhist monk, Kobo Daishi, and is famous for its five storey pagoda and large wooden Buddha statue.
Last, but not least, we stopped in at Sumiyoshi Shrine, which is dedicated to seafarers wanting safe travel by sea. Historically traders and travelers going from Fukuoka to Korea and/or China would visit the shrine before their departure to ensure themselves a safe journey. Whilst we were at the shrine there was a wedding going on; the bride looked great in her white kimono, as did the rest of the guests and wedding party in their formal attire.
The highlight of our day, however, was stumbling across Fukuoka’s “food alley” when we went out searching for our evening meal. We learnt afterwards that this laneway on Nakasu Island is famous for its yatai (i.e. small, mobile food stalls), and is THE place to go for a quick, tasty meal. Being a Saturday night it was packed with locals, all out enjoying the warm evening. We found a place that did both yakitori (i.e. grilled chicken bits* on a stick) AND ramen noodles in the local Hakata style (i.e. made in a pork broth and served with thin slices of roast pork), thus ensuring we both got what we wanted. After dinner we went for a stroll through the thronging crowds and enjoyed some of more of funky, fabulous Fukuoka.
*Best not to ask what kind of bits however. Pretty sure Shane had chicken kidneys, hearts and/or ovaries on a skewer. Let’s just say it definitely wasn’t muscle. Unless you count sphincters as muscles….