Fukuoka has been rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world, which also makes it a great place to visit. It is also said to be the oldest city in Japan. However, it is probably best known for its yatai or street food stalls, which serve yakitori chicken, oden hot pots and tonkotsu ramen. The food served is both delicious and affordable and the cuisine is a reflection of the history of this cosmopolitan city on the north coast of Kyushu, the closest of Japan’s four main islands to the Asian mainland.
For centuries, it has been a gateway to Japan, with Seoul and Shanghai among its nearest neighbours. However, it is now a modern gateway as well, visitors can explore Japan via the Famous Golden Route which runs between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka ) before flying home from Fukuoka. This is conveniently accessible from Fukuoka by bullet train. Travelling along the Golden Route by bullet train is an experience in itself. Journey times from Tokyo to Kyoto and from Kyoto to Fukuoka take a couple of hours or so, enabling you to explore more of this varied country.
Fukuoka has a long, rich past as a harbour city but today it is very much a modern metropolis – a city of contrasts like the rest of Japan, which is a blend of ancient tradition and high-tech futurism. Historical sites worth exploring include Japan’s first Zen temple, Shofukuji, as well as the ruins of its 17th century castle and the Korokan historical museum in Hakata.
The futuristic Momochi Seaside Park, with its 234-metre tower where you can take in the breathtaking view of the bay, and the giant shopping and entertainment city of Hakata are must-sees.
Fukuoka is also the gateway to the Kyushu region, with its spa towns and national parks. Yufuin is a tranquil hot and cold spring water spa town in the basin of Mount Yufu, known as Bungo Fuji. Unspoilt Kurokawa, with its wooden buildings and river, is located in a forested valley and offers a unique Japanese experience in its public bath houses which line the town’s lanes. You can also enjoy an outdoor bath in a mountain river surrounded by forest.
Don’t miss the opportunity to spend the night in a traditional inn, or ryokan, known for their attentive service, kaiseki cuisine, tatami mat floors and rice-paper sliding doors. Both towns are easy to reach from Fukuoka.
Japan’s traditional capital, Kyoto, is a popular stop for its Unesco World Cultural Heritage Sites, including Kinkaku-ji Temple, famed for its hall covered in gold leaf, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple, on the side of Mount Kiyomizu. Beneath its main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels cascade into a pond. Catch and drink the water: it is believed to have wish-granting powers.
Tokyo’s Akihabara district – or Electric Town – is a total contrast to Kyoto. Full of gadget shops and lit up by neon at night, this is modern Japan as its most dynamic. It is now the Mecca of anime, with shops selling character figurines from films, manga and games, as well as “Maid Cafes”, with waitresses clad in anime-inspired costumes.
For more bright lights, the Shibuya fashion and nightlife district is another must, while Omotesando is the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo, with its avante-garde architecture and eclectic range of shops, cafes and restaurants along a broad tree-lined avenue.
To marvel at Japan’s teenage cultures and fashion styles, head to Harajuku’s Takeshita Street or Ura Harajuku (the back streets) for unique boutiques. On Sunday’s, young people gather for cos-play – costume play – dressed in eccentric outfits and as anime characters.