A trip to Japan during ‘sakura’ the cherry blossom season has long been on my travel bucket list!
I was so very excited indeed to be visiting Japan earlier this year as part of our six-month trip around Asia.
Our Japanese itinerary included a two-week four-city sight-seeing adventure taking in Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Tokyo and Osaka.
So join me now at the very start our Japanese journey and travel with me in Fukuoka!
The Backpacking Husband and I travelled to Fukuoka Japan from South Korea. It is possible to take the Busan to Fukuoka ferry from Busan Port in South Korea to Hakata Port in Fukuoka, which takes just under four hours, but as the short flight was affordable and convenient, we decided to fly to Japan.
Our journey to Japan began by us taking the KTX Train (Korean Bullet Train) south from Seoul and Daegu to Busan’s (Gimhae) Airport from where we took the one-hour (140 miles) flight over to Fukuoka Japan. (PUS-FUK).
We landed at Fukuoka airport and after completing immigration went to collect our WELCOME SUICA CARDS at the KLOOK Collection Centre (not an affiliate link) in the airport arrivals hall.
The Welcome Suica Card is an IC ‘tappable’ and easily ‘top up-able’ tourist transportation payment card accepted on Japanese trains and buses, subways, trams, and ferries.
I absolutely recommend you organise your Suica Cards and JR Pass – a JR Pass is a good idea if you plan to use Japan’s Bullet Trains – ahead of your visit to Japan because, as a tourist, it can’t be done once you’ve arrived. I’ve written a more detailed post on how you get a Suica Card and/or a JR Pass – how they work and the differences between the two – HERE.
Fukuoka was our gateway into Japan and is one of Japan’s major cities. It’s located on the northern shore of the island of Kyushu and facing the Korea Strait. The city has a rich history that dates back to ancient times which accounts for its dual identity.
To explain, Fukuoka Japan is actually a fusion of two cities: the port city of Hakata and the former castle town of Fukuoka.
The two are separated by the Naka River but were merged into one city now called Fukuoka but Hakata remains one of Fukuoka’s central districts.
Fukuoka is known for its mild climate and is considered one of the most liveable cities in Japan. I was looking forward to exploring a city that’s just as well known for its modern malls and it is for its ancient history.
We do enjoy walking and so used Google Maps as a guide to finding the best walking routes around the city and to the places of interest that I’d already identified for our itinerary.
As we had only planned for three nights in Fukuoka, before travelling on to Hiroshima, we were determined not to waste a single minute. I had already done my research on the best place to stay and the places we wanted to visit and experience in Fukuoka during our trip.
This included shrines and temples and gardens and a walk along the picturesque canal promenade to Canal City Hakata shopping mall, where we wanted to see the famed light and music show, and then through the old streets to Kawabata Craft Market.
We wanted to experience the famous Hakata food because Fukuoka is also known as one of Japan’s best food cities.
We also wanted to explore the sophisticated bar scene and we’d promised ourselves a sandwich from a Lawson’s Store – simply because we’d watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s in which he proclaimed he was ‘in love’ with a Lawson’s egg sandwich as it was the best sandwich he’d ever eaten. Wow. We had to try it!
There really is so much to see and to do in Fukuoka that I had to accept that on this trip, we were only going to be able to scratch the surface of the sights and experiences, of this beautiful Japanese city.
When we arrived from the airport to the main Hakata Station, we then took the metro train to Nakasu Kawabata Station. Our hotel was a short walk away and it was easy to find. I’ve included two location maps below to show you the area.
We stayed at Hotel Hakata Nakasu Inn and we booked using (aff) Booking Dotcom.
We chose to stay in the Hakata district of Fukuoka which turned out to be the perfect place for us because of its central location in Hakata. The hotel was walking distance to everything we wanted to see and do in Hakata and from the nearest metro train station (1350 feet away) for convenient transport links.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- OUR FUKUOKA JAPAN TRAVEL INTINERARY
I really enjoy visiting temples all around Asia and I was particularly excited to visit the Nanzoin Temple. This is a Shingon Buddhist temple in Sasaguri, Fukuoka, Japan, is the first temple on the most well-known pilgrimage in Japan – The Sasaguri Pilgrimage of eighty-eight temples – which concludes at the top Mount Wakasugi.
But to be clear – I’m not a pilgrim – I just really wanted to see THE WORLD’S LARGEST RECLINING BUDDHA BRONZE STATUE. No, I’m not kidding, it really is in Fukuoka. For perspective, at 41 metres long, that makes the statue of Shakyamuni as he reclines, around the same size as New York’s Statue of Liberty if it were horizontal!
The Nanzoin temple is easy to get to by direct train from Hakata Station and the journey time to Kido Nanzoin-Mae station is less than 30 minutes. The Nanzoin Temple is surrounded by countryside and mountains and its traditional Japanese Gardens are a wonderfully peaceful respite from the city.
After arriving at the small Kido Nanzoin-Mae station you make your way over the Japanese Temple Bridge known as The Melody Bridge, crossing the stream and heading towards the main (not busy) road. Turn right and take a short walk uphill towards the Nanzoin Temple entrance.
On the Melody Bridge you can play a tune if you wish as on both sides of the bridge’s supporting structure encases a xylophone and tapping the bars creates a song called Hometown or Furusato in Japanese!
Having and paid your entrance fee to see the Reclining Buddha you can make your way past statues and shrines and through the Seven Lucky Gods tunnel to the plateau of the Reclining Buddha.
After viewing and marvelling at the World’s Largest Reclining Bronze Buddha, and having said a prayer at his feet for good luck, we made our way up many stone steps and along winding pathways. We walked under many ‘torii’ gates that represent the boundaries between the spiritual world and the mundane world where humans live and spent at least a couple of hours making our way around the traditional Japanese Gardens at Nanzoin.
Filled with mischievous looking statues wearing knitted hats, they really are magical!
I might have expected the Japanese national drink called Sake – an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice – to be the main drink of the bar scene in Hakata but it’s whisky instead. Bourbon, actually.
In Japan, certainly in Hakata anyway, the drink that everyone enjoys and is commonly served in all the izakayas (Japanese bars and drinking restaurants) is the HIGHBALL!
The Highball is a strong alcoholic beverage (usually whisky) served in a large glass of ice and topped with a carbonated soda or sparkling water. All the bars we stopped off at were serving highballs exclusively and favouring American Bourbon whisky.
As great fans of drinking bourbon, the Backpacking Husband and I were delighted to stop off at some of the small street bars in Hakata and then at The HighBall Bar Nakasu 1923 – a traditional but sophisticated bar – where we paid around 1500 Yen ($10) each as a cover charge to sit at the bar but were served lots of delicious nibbles as we quaffed our bourbon highballs!
YATAI STREET FOOD: Hakata is famous for its yatai or street-food stalls that specialise in fresh local dishes – often seafood – and which pop up each evening along the streets flanking the canal. Yatai are typically small temporarily erected tents with a central kitchen area and a narrow counter with seating for around eight diners at a time.
Eating at a Yatai is popular with both locals and tourists and, in such closely confined dining spots, it is a great way to meet people. Some of the most well-known yatai hosts choose to notify their customers of their latest location around town using social media.
We had a fabulous experience of eating in a Yatai when we were on our way back to our hotel in Hakata’s Nakasu area. The street’s pavements had been empty earlier in the evening but were now lined with tents and people eating and drinking inside them.
We spotted one with two seats on a bench and went inside. We were warmly welcomed immediately by Mama-San the host of the Yatai who was cooking seafood over hot charcoals inside the tent and her six assorted guests.
Two of the guests, to our left, where smartly dressed Japanese businessmen who were clearly quite inebriated. They absolutely insisted on buying us drinks.
Beer and… highballs, of course. Oh dear!
The other four guest on the bench seat, to our right, consisted of a trendy looking young woman and a young man – whom I was quite fascinated with as he was dressed in such elaborate clothing that to me he looked like a magician. The other two were another couple of well-dressed drunk businessmen – one Japanese and one South Korean – who absolutely insisted we tried their barbecued shrimp that Mama-San had just plated up. We had such a great time in that Yatai!
HAKATA RAMEN: Hakata Ramen is a type of ramen with a rich pork-bone broth and noodles that has really put Fukuoka on the culinary map – not only in Japan but throughout the world. Hakata is the home of the original and now famous Ichiran Ramen Restaurant.
Eating Hakata Ramen at The Ichiran Ramen Restaurant was absolutely a priority ‘to-do’ on my Fukuoka itinerary.
But I knew that you have to be patient and be willing to wait in line on the street outside the restaurant for a table as it is always so popular!
Our experience of eating at the original Ichiran Restaurant in Hakata did not disappoint.
From ordering using the strange wooden menu machines to sitting in the individual booths and being served the personally cooked ramen noodle dish it was all fantastic!
We went to Canal City shopping mall ‘The City within a City’ in the evening because we wanted to experience the Dancing Fountains of Light and Music Show after dark.
This show is being hailed as a “Canal Aqua Panorama – Japan’s largest comprehensive entertainment show – with 3D projection mapping over 2,500 inches of walls and glass and a water screen together with concert hall-like acoustics and lighting effects.”
The 5 minute show goes on every 30 minutes from 10am to 10pm.
All this in a shopping mall? We simply had to see it! Watch my video!
It might seem a little crazy, but the backpacking husband and I are big fans of the Late Anthony Bourdain and we’ve watched all his travel shows. In one of his No Reservations episodes he praises the Japanese convenience store Lawson’s egg sandwich and their spicy chicken nuggets. Of the egg salad sandwich, he says:
“At Lawson’s, you can dig into their unnaturally fluffy, insanely delicious, incongruously addictive egg salad sandwiches. I love them. Layer after layer after layer of awesome.”
Lawson is a chain of convenience stores in Japan and they promote themselves as “A lifestyle supermarket for people who are particular about food.” Well, I had to find out what the fuss was about and if those egg sandwiches and chicken nuggets really were as delicious as Saint Anthony had claimed!
Japan has just been declared the World’s #1 Travel Destination!
Are you planning a trip to Japan?
What cities and sights would you like to see in Japan?
Has this Guide To Fukuoka been helpful to you?
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Keep popping back because I have SO MANY more articles yet to post!
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