The Reclining Buddha, the Digital Museum, beaches, a spectacular view and rollercoasters – no, I’m not talking about Tokyo. On Kyushu island in the south of Japan is a vibrant and lively city on the coast which offers a host of attractions and experiences to anyone who dares to step off the beaten track.
Fukuoka is the sixth largest city in Japan and is situated in the southern Fukuoka Prefecture. The city has a rich past, which includes an invasion attempt by the Mongols in the 13th century, the rule of powerful samurai, and bombings by the US in World War II. Even though it seems far away, it’s actually quite easy to get to, and it’s extremely worth doing so if you’re travelers who like to get off the beaten track and see places that are just as spectacular!
In this post I’ll bring you along on a four-day trip to Fukuoka, the capital of the south. You’ll find plenty of recommendations, tips and advice on how to make the most of the city and its surroundings – and there’s loads to do!
So how did we get to Fukuoka?
We flew from the airport in Osaka to Fukuoka with Peach, a Japanese low-cost airline (we’ve also flown with them to Taiwan before). The flight lasted about an hour and a half, and everything airport-related was relatively quick – after all, it’s a domestic flight (and perhaps the fact that we flew in September helped too).
The trip from Fukuoka Airport to the central Hakata Station lasted 5 minutes on the Kuko line of the city’s subway system. For those of you who aren’t so fond of flying, you can also get to Hakata Station on the bullet train, the Shinkansen (you can go there with the JR Pass).
As for accommodation, we chose to stay in the luxurious Miyako Hotel Hakata, which is right opposite the central station. I highly recommend staying near the central station. It’s so much easier to move around from there to all parts of the city and beyond (and you’ll want to travel outside the city).
I won’t bore you with stories about a misunderstanding we had with the hotel receptionist when we were given a room with two single beds instead of a double bed, or her promise that we’d get a room with a double bed the following day… I only mention it here so that you can be smarter than us and ensure that the bed in the room you’ve booked is in fact a double when you book at a Japanese hotel.
We arrived in Fukuoka in the evening, checked into the hotel, unpacked quickly, and went to bed early to build up energy for the full, beautiful day we expected the following day.
Day 1: Giant Buddha, stunning beach, trip to the city center and relaxing in the hotel
We began the first day with one of the undisputed highlights of Fukuoka: the Nanzoin Temple. The temple is famous primarily on account of the giant bronze statue of the Reclining Buddha which depicts the Buddha when he attained nirvana. At the temple, they claim that it’s the biggest bronze statue in the world! Is it really? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly big (41 meters long and 11 meters high).
Although we thought the Reclining Buddha would be the most impressive part of the temple, a few just as impressive surprises awaited us. The temple is full of magical corners, special statues, marvellous nature, caves and beautiful little waterfalls. We spent at least two hours there before returning to the city.
Nanzoin is 25 minutes from Hakata Station by subway, and the train passes fields, mountains, and a lovely view of the Japanese countryside. When you get off at Kidonanzoin Mae Station, the temple will be a few minutes’ walk away. On the way there, you’ll pass a musical bridge on which, if you tap its handrail in the right places, you can play Japanese folk songs (or invent one of your own!). Note that there is a stick you can use to tap on the bridge’s handrail.
An important point to note is attire:
Unlike all the other temples I’ve visited in Japan (and I’ve been to hundreds of temples!), the Nanzoin Temple clearly requests that visitors dress modestly and conceal tattoos (if you have any). If you rock up in a crop top or miniskirt (as I did), they’ll gladly lend you a scarf or piece of fabric to cover yourself up with while you visit the temple. In reality, it wasn’t a big deal, but I’d have preferred to know about it in advance. The blue skirt in my photos is actually a piece of fabric that one of the ladies at the temple gave me to wear.
Nagatare Seaside Park
After the temple we headed to the city to eat a vegan hamburger at the delightful little restaurant Sonu Sonu. From there, we decided the time had come to get some vitamin sea. To people who live in coastal areas it may not sound like anything special, but after more than five years of living in Kyoto, we really needed some quality time with the sea.
Although there are beaches in the city, we wanted to go somewhere quieter and away from the city center. The park we went to was 40 minutes away from the city center by train, plus about 10 minutes’ walk (if you get off at Imajuku Station). The beach has no lifeguard, chairs or umbrellas, but there’s a lovely little grove of trees, so you needn’t worry about shade. There are locals going on strolls, swimming or sitting and looking at the sea, really giving a sense that this is the “authentic Fukuoka”.
There are also beaches in the city, for those who don’t like the idea of going too far, but we just wanted to get away from the city for a while. We truly enjoyed the quiet and the natural beauty of the beach, and loved the fact that it wasn’t touristy.
Shintencho Shopping Arcade
Once we had returned to the city and eaten a light dinner, we spent some time walking around Tenjin Station, the biggest shopping center in Fukuoka. There are a number of malls, including the Tenjin Underground Mall, which has a lovely little fountain, an interesting ceiling, and even a cute red telephone booth (for people in Japan who miss London).
We moved on to the Shintencho Shopping Arcade and suddenly heard interesting sounds coming from within the arcade. It turns out there’s a giant cuckoo clock which plays various tunes every hour from 9 AM until 8 PM.
Apart from the clock, there’s a street full of delightful Japanese stores selling a variety of goods, such as clothes, souvenirs, Japanese utensils and loads more.
That evening, we went up to the 14th floor of our hotel to relax in the heated pool and jacuzzi with a view of Fukuoka Station.
Day 2: Nokonoshima Island
After the jam-packed first day, we decided to devote the second day to a single area: Nokonoshima Island, which is a 15-minute ferry ride from Meinohama Harbour in Fukuoka. The harbour is a roughly 45-minute bus ride from the central station.
For most of the day, the ferry departs every hour (you can check the times here). We were 10 minutes late for the ferry we’d planned to catch. You guessed it, we had to wait 50 minutes for the next ferry. And no, there’s nothing to do at the harbour. There isn’t even a single convenience store.
On the island there are a number of places to see, but we decided to focus on two: Nokonoshima Island Park and the Nokonoshima Campground beach.
Nokonoshima Island Park
From Nokonoshima Harbour, you can get to the park in the northern part of the island by taking a 15-minute bus ride. There’s a bus stop quite close to the dock. Don’t worry, you’ll recognize it immediately, because everyone who gets off the ferry goes there.
The park is a sort of combination between fields of flowers and various activities. It has stunning vistas of flowers against an ocean background (and different flowers in each season), a Noko-Noko golf course, two areas with activities for kids, workshops, a cafe, restaurant, ceramics shop, and a room with sets of samurai armor on display.
Although we went there at the end of summer, which is meant to be a time when only a few flowers are in bloom, there were still a number of beautiful fields. I can only imagine how gorgeous it must be in spring and in fall! We walked between the different areas, most of which had a stunning hilltop sea view, and enjoyed the wonderful scenery for about two hours before deciding to move on to our next destination.
After walking all over the park, we wanted to rest a while on the beach. We asked at the park’s reception where we could get to the beach, and the receptionist surprised us by offering to take us there! She said that the park and the beach were owned by the same people, and so it was only logical for her to do so (for free, of course).
The winding journey to the beach lasted less than ten minutes. I don’t recommend going to the beach from the park on foot, because the roads are narrow and there are a lot of ups and downs.
The beach itself is part of the privately owned bungalow site and you have to pay to get in (if I recall correctly, park visitors pay 600 yen per person). It’s not an untouched beach, but on the other hand there is a lifeguard, shaded picnic tables and even water facilities such as a slide. There’s also a trampoline, where we met a few locals who love the sea as much as we do. There are even showers and toilets and a free lift back to the dock every half hour until 5:30 PM.
Although we had planned to relax on the beach, the water facilities beckoned to us, and so after several hours of enjoyable physical exertion, we caught the last ride to the dock and from there let the ferry take us back to the city as we watched a magnificent sunset.
Nokonoshima is a terrific island and is suitable for everyone: singles, couples, groups of friends and families too.
Day 3: Shopping center, Digital Museum, rollercoasters and some more beach time
We went to bed early (after spending a while in the jacuzzi again, because why not?), and the following morning we went to one of the most beautiful shopping complexes in Japan:
Canal City Hakata
This giant mall consists of several architecturally magnificent buildings, with an amazing canal passing through the ground floor. In the center of the mall is a fountain in which shows are displayed from time to time, with familiar tunes from famous musicals and films. You’ll find the timetable in the mall’s “central square” on the ground floor. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of fountains, but the shows in this fountain were super impressive. I was astonished to see that at times the fountain water reaches the third floor! Try to go to the mall when it’s dark, when the shows are said to be even more beautiful.
The complex will be a favorite stop for those of you who love shopping, and not just for buying clothes and household items. There’s even a store devoted to Korean snacks and K-pop (Korean pop). You’ll also find boutique coffee shops, such as the Moomin Cafe, and even a shop devoted to the famous Studio Ghibli.
Although we didn’t want to allocate too much time to shopping on this trip, we found ourselves wandering around the mall for about two hours, just because it’s so pretty.
After visiting the mall, we got lunch from a vegan hamburger joint called Panic Burger (they have the tastiest fries you’ll ever eat!). From there we moved on to another complex which was simply one huge adventure.
BOSS E･ZO FUKUOKA
This entertainment center is one of the most fun buildings in the world! It has virtual reality game rooms, climbing walls, individual rollercoaster, a slide that goes all the way down the building (seven storeys!), and even a feces museum (I swear I’m not making this up). To top it off, there’s TeamLab’s digital experiential museum – who says you need to wait in queues in Tokyo to take part in Japan’s amazing experiences? Fukuoka has got it all!
After spending a short time trying to decide which attraction most appealed to us, we decided to start with TeamLab (we had little difficulty deciding on that) and then move on to the rollercoaster (not for the faint of heart).
As for TeamLab’s exhibition, there are some things you should know: I published a few tips on my Instagram for those of you who remember.
We went at a time when there weren’t too many tourists, and so there were no problems with tickets. To secure your place, you can book tickets for most of the attractions in advance through BOSS E･ZO FUKUOKA’s website (in English), where you can also see a breakdown of all the attractions in the building.
After several hours in the building, we decided to walk around the baseball stadium adjacent to it, and in the direction of Fukuoka Tower.
Fukuoka Tower and Marizon
Ten minutes’ walk from BOSS E·ZO FUKUOKA stands Fukuoka’s most beautiful tower, which has a view of the entire city. To be honest, we were already quite tired from the day’s activities and didn’t feel like going up to the lookout point, so we decided to drink coffee and walk around the Marizon area, which we’d heard would be beautiful at sunset.
Except that it was overcast, and so there wasn’t a pretty sunset. And, since a state of emergency had been declared the day before we got there, most of the shops in Marizon were closed. I’m sure it could be a highly enjoyable place on other days, mostly thanks to the stunning location opposite the sea. Essentially, you can combine the BOSS E·ZO FUKUOKA building, Fukuoka Tower, Marizon and a dip in the sea – it’s all in this area.
After a short walk along the beach, whose beauty was unaffected by the state of emergency, we went to the train station and back to the city center.
Day 4: Picturesque town, green building and unique temples
The fact that our flight back to Osaka was on the fourth day didn’t stop us from making the most of it. A domestic flight is a casual affair in Japan, and in any case, we flew during a period when there was very little domestic tourism (and zero international tourism), so airport-related procedures were very quick.
Having visited so many places in the city the day before, we wanted to start the morning off with a trip to a small city situated outside the city of Fukuoka, but within the Fukuoka Prefecture.
Dazaifu - Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
The city of Dazaifu (which actually looks like a town) was once the center of power on the island of Kyushu. These days it’s best known for the Dazaifu Tenmangu temple and Kyushu National Museum.
Dazaifu can be reached easily by an almost direct bus (I think there are four stops) that takes 40 minutes from Hakata station.
When you get off, you’ll immediately see the adorable train station designed like a traditional Japanese building, which also houses a tourism information center. From the station there’s a pedestrian zone that goes up to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto shrine. Like all Tenmangu temples, it’s dedicated to the spirit of the Heian-period politician, Sugawara Michizane.
Michizane aroused antagonism during the Heian Period (794-1185) because he was a politician who wasn’t from the Fujiwara clan, a family which harassed him and plotted against him until the emperor banished him to Dazaifu on Kyushu island. It’s said that Michizane remained loyal to the emperor, and that every day he climbed to the summit of the mountain and bowed in the direction of the Heian capital (today’s Kyoto). Two years later he died, and Heian suffered a number of natural disasters, which were immediately attributed to Michizane’s vengeful spirit. In order to placate his spirit, his sons were appointed as teachers in the imperial court, and since then his family has held educational positions among the nobility. Today Michizane is considered the god of education and calligraphy, and the temples that were built for him are called Tenmangu. It’s no coincidence that these temples are popular among school and university students.
Dazaifu – Starbucks!
The pedestrian zone that leads to the temple is full of stores selling souvenirs or sweets, as well as small coffee shops. One of these coffee shops is Starbucks – but not just any Starbucks! This branch was designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (who also built the Olympic stadium and the Nezu museum in Tokyo).
Kengo Kuma is known for his love of natural materials, nature and the Japanese building tradition. That’s the reason the entire coffee shop is designed as a “kigumi” wooden building. Kigumi is a traditional Japanese construction method to create a framework for Japanese buildings. The idea behind kigumi is a skeleton structure without nails, with the wooden beams leaning on each other in a way that supports them.
To be honest, I think there are places that serve much better coffee than Starbucks, but this branch still deserves special attention.
Dazaifu - Umegae Mochi
Remember how I wrote to you at length about Japanese sweets? Well, as I pointed out then, there are loads of kinds of sweets, and one of them is mochi, which itself comes in many types.
Umegae mochi can only be found in Dazaifu, and I highly recommend that you try it! It consists of rice dough with an azuki paste filling that is toasted in local stores. In fact, you can see exactly how it’s done because it’s prepared in the store’s display window. The umegae mochi is completely vegan, but if you have allergies I nevertheless recommend that you ask the vendors about it. You can also just show them the table of food restrictions that I made for you in this post.
The city of Dazaifu is highly recommended as a day trip from Fukuoka in terms of distance and the ease of getting there. If you’re in the area between 22-23 September you can also take part in the local festival – then it’ll really be a unique experience!
From Dazaifu we returned to the city of Fukuoka and, after a quick vegan lunch at Mos Burger (some branches have a vegan hamburger!), we went to one of the pearls of the city’s architecture: the ACROS Building.
If you follow me on social media, you’ll already be aware that I’m particularly fond of architecture, especially Japanese architecture, and so there was no way I was going to visit Fukuoka without seeing this building!
It was designed by the Argentine architect Emilio Ambasz who is known for his love of green architecture. On the inside, the building has music halls, exhibition rooms and a conference room, but on the outside it’s covered with fifteen terraces of vegetation that changes with the seasons. The building has a lookout point with a view of the city, so if you want to see the Tenjin area from above, you can do so there.
From the ACROS Building we walked to the Kushida Shrine, one of the most ancient shrines in Fukuoka. The shrine was commissioned by Emperor Kukan in 757 and is dedicated to the sun goddess in the Shinto religion, Amaterasu Omikami, and her brother, Susanoo. Although I’ve seen countless shrines over the years that I’ve lived in Kyoto, this shrine is a bit different. The ambiance and the construction are somewhat different, and the rope in the entrance, called shimenawa, that symbolizes the holiness is huge.
After the Kushida Shrine, we still had some time left, and so we decided to take a look at another place in the area – this time a Buddhist temple.
The Tochoji Temple was established by the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism, Kūkai, in 806. That makes it the oldest Shingon temple on the island of Kyushu. Apart from the pagoda in the temple courtyard, you can also admire the big statue of the Buddha, standing 10 meters tall, which was sculpted between 1988 and 1992.
To be honest, I wouldn’t devote more than half an hour to the place tops, or go there specifically to see it, but it is worth visiting if you happen to be in that part of the city.
After these four jam-packed days, we made our way to the airport and back to Osaka satisfied and ready for the next trip. There are so many places to see in Fukuoka and the surroundings, and I’m sure we could have enjoyed spending a few more days exploring and visiting other magnificent places.
If you want to see unique places in Japan, enjoy nature, unique experiences, cruises and amazing architecture, I highly recommend visiting Fukuoka. It could also be a destination as part of a bigger trip to the island of Kyushu. It’s off the “beaten track” of visitors to Japan, and perhaps that’s precisely why it’s worth making an effort to go there and enjoy a place with a more “local” atmosphere.
Will you visit Fukuoka in your next trip to Japan?
Let me know in the comments!