Babes! I've finally gotten around to making a first selection of photographs to share for my very first real Japan recap. It's incredibly hard to choose which images to use and which to leave sitting in my desktop folders, but that's life as a blogger, man. So hard. To set the scene: we visited Japan from June 8th-21nd, and we spent our first week in Fukuoka for an academic conference I was attending, after which we traveled to Okinawa for another five days, and then we spent two days in Tokyo before flying home. Today's post will be about some of the things we did, saw and ate while in Fukuoka. Our Fukuoka time was much more enjoyable than we had anticipated so I've decided to split up my Fukuoka recap in two posts to do the lovely city justice.
Apparently, Fukuoka is one of the most popular travel destination for tourists to visit while in Japan, however, almost no one I talk to seems to have ever heard of it. That may be because Fukuoka is more well-known among travelers from Asia than among Europeans. There is more than enough to love in Fukuoka: it's a beautiful, modern city with plenty of local flavor. There's a wide variety of mouthwatering, affordable restaurants, great shopping, loads of convenient public transportation, and like every place we've visited in Japan: people are ridiculously approachable and friendly. To seal the deal, staying in Fukuoka can be quite cheap if you use Airbnb, even if you're looking for more space than you usually get in Japan. Last time I checked, the median price point for a double bedroom appartment with airco in Hakata, the most popular area of Fukuoka, was about 46€ a night. My boyfriend loved Fukuoka so much that we're pretty much set on returning there some day.
Fukuoka is HUGE, so it isn't that easy to pinpoint a place to look for hotels. We were lucky enough to stay at the conference venue, the Fukuoka Sea Hawk Hilton, which is located next to the beach and the Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome. Before our trip, I'd read some reviews of people who had stayed at the Sea Hawk Hilton who had complained about the location of the hotel being far from downtown Fukuoka, but I honestly can't see what they're complaining about. Staying where we stayed had a bunch of pros and basically zero cons:
Sure, the neighborhood isn't exactly lively at night (especially since the Hawks Town Mall closed - many websites still list it as a tourist destination but it's completely closed right now), but that actually has the benefit of feeling like the hotel is situated in a residential neighborhood. You witness more of the real life like the people of Fukuoka experience it if you take a walk near the Sea Hawk Hilton than in more commercial districts. In addition, the area is incredibly well maintained and relaxing. The sidewalks are lined with fragrant trees providing shade, there's a neat, quiet beach to enjoy at any time of day or night with plenty of picnic tables and public restrooms, and there's a bus stop just outside the hotel that has super frequent (every 10 minutes) connections both to downtown Fukuoka and to Seaside Momochi across the river, both of which are only about 10 minutes away by bus. If you take a cab, a drive to Hakata will set you back about €30 so just take the bus, it's super cheap and easy.
In addition, staying next to the Fukuoka Yahuoku! Dome was awesome because on the weekends there are baseball matches there and loads of locals hang around near the hotel, which makes for awesome peoplewatching and an amazing atmosphere of excited families and kitschy Fukuoka Softbank Hawk themesongs being played.
seaside momochi and Fukuoka Tower
Fukuoka as far as the eye can see from the Sea Hawk Hilton top floor
The gorgeous birdcage like buffet hall of the Fukuoka Sea Hawk Hilton. The breakfast and lunch buffet served here was no joke, everything was delicious and the staff was incredibly friendly.
The best thing about the Sea Hawk Hilton: that beach, aka the perfect spot to enjoy some surprisingly delicious convenience store foods! There's a Family Mart in the Sea Hawk Hilton on the ground floor, and we dropped by daily for snacks and drinks.
Pictures taken during one of our late night walks through the neighborhood. Temperatures dropped to about 26°C at night, which made 10-12pm the perfect time to explore the nearby streets after a day at the ICA conference. We loved marvelling at how well maintained everything was, the architecture, and how safe we felt walking the streets at night. We were never harrassed by drunks or macho teens or anything like that, that sort of behavior seems very rare in Japan.
On our first day in Fukuoka, the conference hadn't started yet so we took the bus to Hakata and Tenjin to check out the city and do some shopping. I felt terribly underdressed in my leggings and tank top after seeing stylish Japanese people all day during our trip from Brussels to Fukuoka (Japan is NOT the place where people dress ultra casual), and as someone who is into style, that actually made me feel kind of uncomfortable. I made it a priority on my list to pick up a couple of elegant pieces inspired by stunningly dressed Japanese people everywhere, and the Canal City mall seemed like the perfect place to do just that.
This view on the Nakagawa river is definitely the type of sight I associate with bustling East-Asian cities. However, despite Fukuoka being HUGE, the city never felt crowded to me. Traffic is mild and even in Tenjin, the main shopping area, there's plenty of space to move freely without bumping into people, unlike my experience in Tokyo.
Canal City, which was amazing and so huge that it required a map to navigate your way from one wing to the next. I did major damage at Uniqlo, picking up three pairs of culottes, a broderie anglaise top and an umbrella. Bring your passport whenever you go shopping in Japan, most areas offer tax-free shopping to tourists if you buy for a value over about 45€! And Uniqlo is even more affordable here, scoooore.
The undergrond floor of Canal City mall was dedicated to all kinds of restaurants. I had a mango smoothie and my boyfriend had an amazing stuffed crepe at Dipper Dan's, but it was really hard to pick a place (and not to eat 50 times a day). Those eerily realistic food displays are criminally good at making your mouth water.
After Canal City, we explored some other streets of Tenjin to work up an appetite for dinner. This little indoor shopping street was really cool, there is just SO much to see wherever you walk and the Fukuoka Owl Family cafe was here! You can have a drink and cuddle with owls, there, so quintessentially Japanese, but we weren't in the mood to spend money there. If it was a kitten cafe, I would have totally taken the bait though. Afterwards, we stumbled upon the Kushida Shinto shrine. That's the nice thing about Fukuoka: the city center is relatively small and concentrated, making it a lovely place to just walk around and see something new and interesting around every corner. That was my biggest lesson to take home when it comes to Japan: you don't have to visit Tokyo to do some amazing shopping, and you don't have to visit Kyoto to stumble upon stunning temples. All that gorgeousness is everywhere in Japan. In addition, Fukuoka, being near the coast, is built upon flat land, making it great for walking and biking.
Finally, we were confronted with the hardest task of the day: picking a restaurant for dinner. In a city like Fukuoka where every street is lined with eateries offering all kinds of authentic, fragrant East-Asian food, that is no small feat. In the end we were ushered into a tiny little restaurant (only two tables) on the second floor of a building on the Nakagawa river where the staff went out of their way to help us ordering something off the menu using google translate (thank god for pocket wifi), gestures and a little English. We ordered a salad, fishcakes, grilled beef and sashimi and we enjoyed our impeccable meal while watching the night come to life just outside our window.
Fukuoka, we love you!
More on our Japan travels: