Fukuoka – my first stop in Japan

Sunday, 16 July 2023

This is stop four – after Sydney, Seoul and Busan – of my 45 day trip from Melbourne to London. I came across from Busan in South Korea on the high speed Queen Beetle Ferry, a rough trip in high seas and winds.

It was not my first trip to Fukuoka although amazingly my last visit was in 1990, 33 years ago! In 2023 Fukuoka scored a place in Lonely Planet’s Best of Travel guide, but for me in 2023 one day was quite enough for a quick look at Kyushu’s major city. I’d installed myself at the Oriental Hakata Station Hotel, right by the Hakata Train Station so very convenient for my departure to Yokohama, the port city for Tokyo. Fukuoka is effectively divided into two parts, older Hakata and newer Fukuoka.

▲ Tocho-ji Temple, Fukuoka – After breakfast in the hotel I start with the stroll to Tocho-ji temple which has the biggest (or biggest seated?) wooden Buddha statue in Japan. No photos allowed. Outside are the graves of three notable Fukuoka rulers, one of them fronted by the graves of five retainers who committed suicide after their lord’s death.

▲ Fukuoka-jo castle walls, Fukuoka – from there I walked to the citadel where the walls are fairly imposing, but there’s nothing left of the castle they once contained. En route I visit the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum which is absolutely no big deal, I am not impressed by the art or by the museum’s awkward design. I continue into the Tenjin district where the Akarenga building and the ‘French renaissance style’ Former Prefectural Hall are notably simply for being a bit older in a city where nothing much is very old.

As I walk I note (ie I’m annoyed) by how tediously slow the lights are to change and how absolutely nobody, nobody, crosses against a red. Even on minor side streets with nothing happening at all people still wait obediently. So I do too. Meanwhile a lot of aircraft pass overhead, Fukuoka Airport is busy and it’s very close to the city.

▲ swan paddle boats, Ohori-koen park – finally I get to the Ohori-koen park where there’s a popular lake with swan-shaped paddle boats, I find a sandwich and an ice cream and take the subway (all of 260 yen) back to the Hakata Station from the nearby Ohori Park Station. This has not been the most exciting stroll.

▲ yatai food vans, Nakusa

After a break I head out again to Canal City, a big shopping centre perched on top of some ‘canals.’ Is Fukuoka all about shops, there are a hell of a lot of them? And what on earth is Gundam? Some sort of mech-monster-transformer-anime project with clearly an awful lot of enthusiasts? They’re actually queueing up to enter the Gundam Base outlet. In fact there are often people queueing up to enter something or other, but I have no idea what, all over Fukuaka? I make a note to visit a Gundam attraction in Yokohama.

So a wander through the yatai, food stalls set up in the evening by the river in Nakasu, across from Canal City. A beer (good), some chicken (not so good). Nakusa is an entertainment district, indecipherable for anybody like me who has no idea what it is all about and not willing to dive in and see what happens. It’s getting rather chilly as I walk back to the hotel and have another glass of wine at the bar, which is a reminder that Japan doesn’t always reach its expected high standards. Somebody should be tidying the bar area up, clearing off assorted junk and wiping it dry..

▲ Shinkansen, Hakata to Tokyo – next morning, heading east from Kyushu Island to Honshu Island almost all the way to Tokyo, the station is remarkably quiet, a Sunday shutdown I guess. It’s a good job I have plenty of time before my 0800 departure on the Nozomi 10 train, ‘Bound for Tokyo.’ I’d susssed out the Shinkansen entry gate already, but there’s no scanner on the entry gates for my printed-out QR code and I’m sent off to a ticket office, fortunately the line is short because after lots of screen inputting I’m sent to another Shinkansen entry point and here the scanners can read my QR code. Why didn’t I go there in the first place or why don’t all gates read their QR codes?

I reckon we’re off at 0759, a minute early, and we’re moving fast before we’ve got any distance at all out of Hakata Station. The train is pretty empty – I’m in a more expensive Green carriage – but fills up station by station and after Kyoto it’s fairly full. Although it was beautifully clear as we left Fukuoka it clouds over so as we pass Mt Fuji, not long before arriving at Shin-Yokohama, there’s absolutely no view. I’d deliberately got a Fuji-side window seat although that required a more expensive Green Carriage ticket.