Standing some 830m above Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, Mt Houman is a mildly challenging hike within striking distance of Fukuoka city centre. Serious climbers will find it easy pickings, but for the average language teacher in need of a little countryside adventure, Mt Houman could leave you feeling like Edmund Hilary. A rugged pair of boots and a clear blue sky are recommended.
Houman San is a twenty minute walk from Dazaifu Station
Not to be outdone done by Tokyo, Kyushu’s fashion capital recently saw the opening of its first maid café.
Café Tenjin Style, just off Showa Dori, looks like any other Fukuoka eatery. The unsuspecting moocher will be surprised to find themselves served by young women in kinky French maid outfits.
While not exactly family fun for western observers, the Japanese see very little unusual in this, taking note of the “kawaii” (cute/ sweet) aspects rather than the sexy/ sexist conundrums.
That said, being called, “Honourable Lord,” by a twenty-year-old in lace suspenders can hardly be seen as Hello Kitty territory.
Café Tenjin Style is located near to Fukuoka International Bar, just off Showa Dori
Yanagawa City, on the coast of the Ariake Sea, has always been famous for riverboat rides, poetry, and the delicate flavors of unagi (eel). You may well be tempted to combine all three. You wouldn’t be the first to try. One man who splashed around in a Yanagawa punt was little-known UK musician John Lennon. Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, is the granddaughter of Yanagawa native, Yosuke Ono, and the oarsman of your boat should be happy to point out her ancestral home if you offer him a substantial slice of your eel.
Yanagawa is approximately 45 minutes south of Fukuoka. Take the train from the Nishitestu Station in Tenjin
Back in the good old days when people were allowed a little more annual leave, Kyushu monks would spend long periods of time wandering around China picking up tea-making techniques and dabbling with Buddhism.
On returning in 1191, a student monk named Eisai planted Japan’s first green tea seeds at Ryosenji Temple, on the border of Fukuoka and Saga Prefectures. As if that wasn’t enough, he also founded Japan’s first Zen Buddhist Temple. Shokufuji Temple, Hakata, remains to this day, though any original tea plants have long since perished.
Kyushu is the proud home of some of Japan’s more dubious claims to fame.
Fukuoka boasts not only the tallest seaside tower in Japan, but also the second biggest Ferris wheel in the world. And, as if you thought that was the barrel well and truly scraped, you can also visit Miyazaki’s Aya Teruha Giant Suspension Bridge, which has a length of 250 meters, making it the world’s longest suspension footbridge to cross water. What more can you ask for?
Fukuoka Tower is located in Momochi, ten minutes walk from Nishijin Station on the Kuko subway line. Marinoa City Ferris Wheel is a short bus ride from Meinohama Station, also on the Kuko subway line. Aya Teruha Giant Suspension Bridge is a 15 minute ride from Miyazaki Kotsu Aya Machiaijo bus stop
In 1921, American missionary, Elizabeth Lee, was working as the headmistress of Fukuoka Jogakuin High School for Girls (now also a university). A big sports fan, Lee was constantly under pressure from parents to find a way to prevent kimono damage on the tennis courts.
With the help of a local tailor, she put together a simple uniform that borrowed from the boyish fashion trends sweeping the US, and – hey presto! – one of Japan’s most enduring images was born. The original design is used at the school to this day.
Fukuoka Jogakuin University and High School can be found in Osa, Minami-Ku, and is approximately 20 minutes from Tenjin by train or bus
The festival of Obon (August 9) is a fabulous time with firecrackers, processions and lanterns - and particularly poignant since the A-bomb was dropped on the same date.
To cap it all, do as we did and arrive early evening at the railway station to be greeted by the tannoyed 'Madam Butterfly'. Fabulous people, fabulous place.
One for the rockers, one for the indie kids. The Darkroom is Alternative Central and is known as being the place to head if you want to catch after-show parties when the tours come through. The owner is Japan's answer to John Peel, so if Dave Gedge sang it, this guy's got it.
Summer months see the rooftop garden opened with wonderful views of the Oyafuko Dori district, and a very welcoming crowd can be found most nights, usually from midnight onwards. Don't expect to leave before dawn, and if you bump into anyone looking like Keanu Reeves, it's probably him.
Eighth floor of Bacchus House, Oyafuko Dori
Once a very popular hangout for foreigners, Voodoo Lounge has seen a recent shift back towards a largely Japanese crowd. A good place to head if you're interested in the local live music scene, as most nights have some form of live entertainment. Thursday night is the Nama Special - beers at 100 yen between 21:09 and 22:09.
The two bars serve a wide range of cocktails at reasonable prices, and the chicken in a basket is surprisingly good.
Third floor, Tenjin Centre Building, 3-2-13 Tenjin; five minutes’ walk from Tenjin subway station
It connects most must-see places of interest: the atomic bomb museum and peace park, the main railway terminus, the waterfront and Dejima museum. At the waterfront there are many different restaurants and cafes. This is a good place to meet with the locals and share some Japanese whisky.
From the moment you walk into Fuga, you know you won't escape lightly. While the food, admittedly, is out of this world, it's obviously the impressive river views and minimalist interior that you're paying so heavily for.
The owner, Mr. Watanabe, is a pleasant man in a French chef's outfit who spent much of the last decade cooking yakitori for Aussies. But no amount of cosplay or chic furnishings can hide the fact that he's still cooking yakitori, and one can't help wonder whether he might be pricing himself out of a market at its best in a more ramshackle atmosphere.
That said, the sagari-steak takes some beating, and few Brits abroad can turn down a well poured pint of Guiness.
Fuga is located on the 2nd floor of the Tamaya Building on Kokutai Doro
Fukuoka Live has been in existence since early 2004 and has since grown into a highly respected local service. Founded by an Oxford University exchange student, this website is essentially for chat, though it includes plenty of information on local events, restaurants, culture, plus a whole lot more.
If you can't find the information you're after, you're bound to find someone online who can point you in the right direction. For security reasons, this service is only open to Fukuoka-based residents with Japanese mobile phone accounts. Newcomers recognise it as an invaluable resource.
No trip to Yame Town is complete without a dip in the hot spring and a glass of the locally grown green tea. At Bengalmura, you can combine the two. This small onsen resort has been open for less than ten years, but already pulls in custom from all parts of Kyushu. The main complex boasts six or seven different baths, both indoors and out, and if you're game enough you might even brave the electric tub. The vibrating gentleman with the involuntary twitch was enough to keep me away, but the green tea bath (with the comedy-sized teabag) was worth the money alone.
Buses leave from the Horikawa Bus Station, opposite JR Hainuzuka Station
Elvis may have left the building some time ago, but his hometown is alive and well and enjoying life in Fukuoka City. Though the owner confesses to being more of an Eagles fan, Tupelo is a country and western theme bar that takes its name from the King's birthplace.
This fifth floor bar is decorated in classic country album sleeves, with a corner of the room given over to a first-class live band setup. Bend the owner's ear a little, buy him a glass of shochu or two, and you could find yourself standing in for the house
An extensive range of hard liquor and bottled beer is supplemented by the most delicious jambalaya this side of the Mississippi. Stays open til late, with sinful jam sessions a regular feature past your bedtime.
Take the train to Tenjin and head past the ACROSS building, turning right before the Nakasu Bridge. Tupelo is on the left after the Family Mart
The Basement is located in the back room of Early Believers live bar. Taking place on the last Tuesday of every month, the club has a strict policy of promoting up and coming talent regardless of nationality, so visitors are guaranteed a happy hotch potch of acts on any given night. The regular crowd is largely made up of musicians that play on the Fukuoka scene, so it is an ideal starting point for anyone interested in getting up and getting involved.
Local DJs spin a modtastic mix of northern soul and classic indie
between the live performers. Tickets can be purchased on the door and the price includes a free drink.
Nearest station: Tenjin
When you've had enough of noodles, rice and fish that still shows signs of life, head over to Bimi Nan. Fukuoka has a wealth of Indian restaurants, but few have the personal touches that make this little place special. The owner takes a delight in getting to know his customers, and great grub is served up with friendly conversation and a homely air. The spinach and chicken curry, shrimp masala and tandoori chicken come highly recommended, all washed down with Indian Maharaja or Thai Singha beer. A favourite amongst Fukuoka's Brit community, and you can't ask for more expert than that.
Bimi Nan is located between Meinohama and Shimoyamato stations
The essential difference between izakaya and yatai is the camaraderie that is so unavoidable in the latter. With up to 15 people crammed in around what amounts to something no bigger than an office desk, you are forced to share more than eye contact with your new acquaintances.
The tight-fitting box carts of Fukuoka grew out of the ashes of world war two. At a time when people were under-nourished and in desperate need of the warmth of other human beings, the yatai trundled out of the rubble, lit their red lanterns and welcomed in the neighborhood. They've been there ever since.
The Nakagawa district has been operating yatai for 32 years and you would be hard pressed to find a
more picturesque scene, with the lantern and neon lights introducing past to present in the river below. Try the Maruju Stall for exquisite chashumen noodles that melt on impact.
Five minutes walk from Nakasu-Nakagawa Station
A rockfest extravaganza to rival the more famous Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic, Concert on the Rock features some of the best live talent Japan has to offer.
Pitched on the side of Mount Hachimen in nearby Oita Prefecture, affording spectacular views of the Inland Sea, the event is known as much for the onstage talent as for its rural setting.
Free onsite camping is available to weekend pass holders, while lovers of the more traditional might seek out accommodation at the local Kanairo Hotspring resort.
Take a train from Hakata Station to Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture. The journey is aaround 1hr 10 minutes; www.concertontherock.com
Kyoto is famous for its temples and especially the gardens within them, typified by austere expanses of raked white gravel and ancient maple trees.
However, busloads of tourists know this too. Visiting some of the popular temples (for example, Kinkaku-ji and Kyomizu-dera) can be like going to a football match. If you want to get away from the crowds for some more zen-like calm, pick up one of the many small books of Kyoto's courtyard and zen gardens (in bookshops for around 1200 yen). These are a fabulous guide (usually with maps and directions) to the less-frequented temple gardens often not in the guidebooks - and cheaper to visit than the big temples too. Favourites include Ryogen-in, Tofuki-ji and Chishaku-in.
If Japan to you means Akihabara electronics and Shibuya neon at night, then this probably won't do it for you. Otherwise, highly recommended.
Nikko is one of the 'must see' places when visiting Japan, and justifiably so, but a short walk away from the main attraction - Toshogu Shrine - is the intriguingly named (or badly-translated, depending on your point of view) Kanmangafuchi Abyss. Often deserted, as well as being outstandingly beautiful, it has the added attraction of haunted statues!
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