Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan's southwestern Kyushu region is rich in history and culture. Since ancient times it has served as Japan's gateway not only to Kyushu, but to mainland Asia as well. With a dynamic yet laid-back metropolis, some of Japan's best ramen and strawberries, fascinating cultural attractions, and abundant natural resources, Fukuoka displays a harmonious fusion of the traditional and the modern, and the urban and the rural. Come to Fukuoka to find out why it's the only location in Japan on CNN Travel's list of 19 must-visit places in 2019.
When in Fukuoka, known as a food paradise, savoring the local specialties is a must! Mention Fukuoka, and bowls of Hakata (or 'tonkotsu') ramen spring to mind. One of Japan's most popular types of ramen, this dish consists of noodles in a rich, creamy broth made with pork bones. Thanks to its abundant natural resources, Fukuoka is one of Japan's leading producers of fruit. The round, juicy, and highly prized Amaou are among Japan's finest strawberries. Large, sweet Kyoho grapes are also worth trying. Additionally, Yame tea (tea produced in Yame City) is one of Japan's premium kinds of tea. For a unique culinary experience, try street food at a mobile food stall called a 'yatai.' Elsewhere in Japan, yatai are usually only set up during festivals, but in parts of Fukuoka City, you'll find yatai from sundown to dawn all year round. Squeeze into a yatai to enjoy good food and good company!
Surrounded by mountains and sea, Fukuoka is blessed with natural beauty. Even in the city center you're close to nature; many natural attractions are an easy day trip from the transport hub Hakata Station. Named by CNN as one of Japan's most beautiful places, Kawachi Fuji Garden is home to 22 kinds of wisteria ('fuji' in Japanese). From mid-April to mid-May, the park's ethereal wisteria tunnels are a sight to behold. The sprawling Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is famous for nemophila flowers, also known as 'baby blue eyes.' In April, if you're lucky enough to catch them blooming at the same time as the cherry blossoms, you'll be treated to a beautiful contrast of pink and blue. Just a 30-minute drive from Fukuoka City is Itoshima, a quaint seaside town with one of Japan's best sunset views: the setting sun framed between two sacred rocks, with a white torii (shrine gate) on the beach.
As a trading port, Fukuoka has a rich history, which in turn makes it rich in cultural attractions. Dazaifu, a small town that was ancient Kyushu's capital, is a day-trip location famous for Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine and the Kyushu National Museum. Dazaifu Tenmangu is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane: a scholar, poet, and politician that is revered as the god of education. It is especially beautiful in plum-blossom season (late February to mid-March). Nearby is Kyushu National Museum, Japan's fourth and newest national museum, which focuses on Japanese history viewed through an Asian lens. Fukuoka takes great pride in its handicrafts, such as exquisite Hakata dolls and its homegrown ceramics: Takatori and Agano wares, both used mainly for the tea ceremony. As for colorful local festivals, the lively Hakata Gion Yamakasa, held each July, is a race to parade elaborate floats through Hakata's streets.
Fukuoka's connection to nature makes it a prime spot to enjoy the outdoors. From hiking and trekking in the area's lush mountains, to surfing, to cycling by the sea, there's a wide range of outdoor activities for everyone. At Yanagawa City, nicknamed 'The Venice of Kyushu,' take a cruise on an open-air boat called a 'donko' to explore the city's waterways. A castle town in ancient times, Yanagawa has retained its picturesque old-school charm, with traditional storefronts and willow trees lining its canals. For something more adventurous, try 'yabusame' (horseback archery). A traditional sport with ties to Shinto rituals, yabusame entails shooting stationary targets in a matter of seconds — while on horseback! If you're not up for the challenge, horseback riding by a gorgeous beach makes for a more relaxing alternative.
Fukuoka's main entry points are Fukuoka Airport and Hakata Station. Fukuoka Airport is about 2 hours from Narita or Haneda Airport in Tokyo, or 75 minutes from Osaka's Kansai International Airport. Hakata Station is about 5 hours from Tokyo, 3.5 hours from Nagoya, or 2.5 hours from Shin-Osaka, all by Shinkansen. Fukuoka Prefecture's multiple transport choices make it easy to travel around the area. It's much more compact than bigger prefectures like Hokkaido.