Day One in Fukuoka
Interestingly, the first thing people ask me when I tell them I am going to Fukuoka is, “What’s in Fukuoka?”.
Aside from tonkotsu ramen (Fukuoka is the home of famous ramen brands such as Ichiran and Ippudo), not very many people know many things about Fukuoka. Well to be honest about it, not much, but that’s not a bad thing. With around 2.5 million people, Fukuoka City is a relatively small city by Asian standards, but I believe it’s just about the right size to have everything you need without the excesses of a megacity.
Just like most Japanese cities, it has temples, it has castle ruins, it has shopping districts, it has an efficient public transport system, and it has a bustling main train station. Depending where you’re looking at, it has similarities to Kyoto or maybe Sapporo. On some streets, you would even think you’re in Tokyo. Japanese cities have become so standardized that they tend to all look and feel the same.
We spent the first day exploring the main districts — window-shopping and walking around in Tenjin; having tonkotsu ramen, and then watching street performers at Canal City; exploring the castle ruins, and then having a relaxing coffee at Ohori Park; walking around the small streets, and then having dinner at the yatai (food stalls) by the river. The city is lively, it has good food, good parks, and it is never too crowded.
Day Trip to Mount Aso in Kumamoto
On day two, we rented a car and drove all the way to Mount Aso in Kumamoto, which was just a two hour drive from central Fukuoka. Mount Aso is a massive caldera smack in the middle of Kyushu where they have volcanoes, onsens (hot springs), and beautiful rolling hills. The scenery changes significantly with the seasons. During summer, everything is green. During winter, everything is brown. We arrived there at the tail end of winter, so we were given this brown-ish dessert like view.
After the drive around Mount Aso, we headed north towards a popular onsen town, Kurokawa Onsen, hoping to get lunch at this place we saw on the internet called Iromomiji. Unfortunately for us, we arrived late. We arrived at around 2 PM and looks like they stopped accepting people from 1:30 PM. The guys manning the parking lot even told there were about 40 groups who made it before 1:30, but are still waiting to be seated. Wow! I guess the food is really good! We would definitely drop by this place again the next time we are in the area.
Disappointed and hungry, we decided to just go to the onsen place and hope they sell food somewhere around that area. We went to Yamamizuki, which is rated by most websites as the best onsen place in Kurokawa Onsen town. The place is a little far from the town proper, and I’m not really sure how people could get there without a car. Luckily, we do have a car, and it’s time to head to the best onsen place in town!
Arrived at Yamamizuki still hungry, we were disappointed to know the restaurant there was also already closed. Shops here close rather early! Luckily though, they had a small tea house in the compound next to the onsen entrance. We ordered the first thing we saw on display — cakes! Only to realize later they actually serve actual food had we only checked the menu. Oh well! At least we were hungry no more.
We then went to the rotenburo onsen (outdoor hot springs). It was a pleasure relaxing at this beautiful outdoor onsen, next to a creek, and surrounded by nature. All this for only 500 yen!
After the onsen, we were ready to fall into sleep, but alas, we still had to drive back to Fukuoka to call it a day. Thank you Kumamoto!
Back to reality
The third day, we just spent walking leisurely around the city, trying out the local food, and preparing for our flight back to Tokyo in the afternoon. Fukuoka City definitely deserves to be listed in many livable cities list.
It’s about the right size that you have everything you need without being overly crowded. It is just a few hours from nearby tourist places like Kumamoto, Beppu, and Nakasaki. Traffic was not bad considering it was a three-day weekend where in Tokyo, it would be hard to drive anywhere significant.
It was a three-day weekend definitely well spent.