Fukuoka, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, is emerging as the country’s start-up capital, lifted by homegrown entrepreneurs and expats. But there’s more to the city than a buzzing tech scene — there’s plenty of history, iconic landmarks and, most importantly, delicious food. Here’s how to make the most of this relatively affordable Japanese destination.
Day 1: State of the Art
The first thing to do is grab a subway card — choose between the one- and two-day passes (USD6.80 for adults for two days) to get your money’s worth. The fixed-price passes allow for unlimited rides on the Fukuoka City Subway lines (Kuko, Hakozaki and Nanakuma) and can be purchased at a number of locations: Fukuoka City Subway Tenjin Station Customer Service Center, Hakata Station Customer Service Center, Fukuoka City Tourist Information Center, Hakata Port International Terminal and Fukuoka Airport.
With your transport pass in hand, it’s time to head to The Life Hostel for breakfast. The stylish, relatively new-in-town property has an on-site café that features a unique menu. Its morning specialty, for instance, follows the theme of “toast and films” — servings of toast inspired by movies through the years. There’s A Taste of Honey (1961), which is just toast and honey; french toast from Kramer vs. Kramer (1979); pizza-style toast from Do the Right Thing (1989); and of course, bacon, egg and maple syrup on toast from The Breakfast Club (1985). Prices start from USD3.70 per toast set. Each selection pairs well with a latte (USD4.60).
Then, let the arts and culture theme continue at On Air, an atelier and shop run by two of the city’s artists of the moment — graffiti artist Kyne and illustrator Noncheleee. Find them in Yakuin, a little southwest of central Hakata. The open, breezy, light-filled store displays and sells original artwork, clothing, accessories and one-of-a-kind souvenirs (from USD14 for knick-knacks). Regular programming includes an independent radio show and at other times, the shop hosts events, talks, exhibitions and more. Noncheleee can often be spotted in-store, working on his latest illustrations — don’t be afraid to say hello!
After this, check out the musical side of things at Stereo Coffee in Watanabe — the place personifies the city’s love of fusing culture and culinary experiences. At this 30-year-old, two-storey private house-turned-coffee shop, bar and gallery, you can enjoy masterfully brewed coffee in the morning, excellent art showcases in the afternoon, beers and cocktails after sundown, and great music all day long. While you’re there, ask about the seasonal exhibitions hosted on the second floor — they run the gamut of the art spectrum. End your visit with a warm and comforting rum and chai milk cocktail (USD5.50).
For dinner, it has to be gyoza, Fukuoka-style — which translates as new, unexpected and undeniably delicious. Our destination, Gyoza no Las Vegas in Akasaka, has been serving gyoza inspired by international flavors — think kimchiinfused dumplings — since 2018. Opt for a plate of six made-to-order, boiled or fried pot stickers (from USD4.40). If you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, you can wrap your own for a USD0.50 discount per plate. The gyoza here is best enjoyed with chilled, homemade lemon or grapefruit sours, made with fresh fruit juice (from USD5.05).
Day 2: Take It Outside
Begin your second day as the locals do, with a perfect cuppa from Rec Coffee, right by the bustling Yakuin Station. In Fukuoka, people take their caffeine pretty seriously, but maybe not more so than at this compact spot. Rec was started over a decade ago, in the form of a small coffee-dispensing van which specialized in bean-to-cup coffee.
More recently, in 2016, store owner Yoshikazu Iwase picked up the secondplace award at the World Barista Championship in Dublin, Ireland. Rec’s brews are all impressive but for a classic experience, go with the rich, creamy latte (USD4.90).
Take your coffee to go and move on to scenic Ohori Park, which features a large pond. The park was rebuilt in the mid- to late 1920s and is said to be designed in the image of China’s West Lake in Hangzhou. In the morning, you may come upon fitness-loving locals jogging along the water; at lunchtime, the park is popular with office workers looking for tranquil respite — it’s the perfect spot to people-watch.
When your tummy begins to rumble, make for Ganso Hakata Mentaiju in Nishinakasu, a restaurant that specializes in mentaiko, or marinated cod roe, dishes. For the uninitiated, mentaiko on its own is available in diverse flavors and is one of the city’s most popular exports. A firm favorite with locals as well, the roe is often marinated with a tinge of spice. Try the mentaiko tsukemen (USD15.40) — the dish combines the umami richness of tsukemen, or dipping ramen, with the textural delights of locally sourced vegetables and spicy mentaiko.
Then, it’s time for a visit to the iconic Fukuoka Castle ruins. Once Kyushu’s largest castle, the impressive structure was torn down following the Meiji Restoration, because it was seen as a symbol of the nation’s feudal past. Also known as Maizuru Castle, the site is surrounded by Maizuru Park, which is worth exploring. The grounds are home to sports facilities, an art museum and cherry blossom trees, making the park perfect to return to in the spring.
Another unique culinary tradition to come from Fukuoka is yatai — small, mobile food stalls set up along the river that flows through the city center of Nakasu island. Each stall seats up to eight people at a time. While most yatai in the city serve typical izakaya fare such as yakitori, or soup dishes like ramen, nabe and oden, there are some notable exceptions. One of them is Chez Rémy Yatai, with its French-inspired menu which will transport you, gastronomically, to the streets of Paris. Close the night with an order of escargot (USD6.45) and mussels in wine (USD5.50) for a truly cross-cultural experience.
Day 3: Noodling around Town
If you spent the night yatai-hopping, then a slower start to the next day should be in order. The validity of your subway pass should also have expired by now, so pick up a one-day ticket for USD5.90. Next, look for brunch at Udon Taira in Hakata. This laid-back noodle joint serves thick, chewy udon in a light, salty broth — just the warm, soothing thing to get you started for the day. Try the gobo-ten udon — it comes with crispy burdock root and friedto- order tempura (USD4.40).
If you’re looking to pick up souvenirs, then coffee is an excellent choice. Take home a taste of Fukuoka coffee culture from the modern No Coffee shop in Hirao. The five-pack drip bags (USD7.35) of the café’s rich, chocolate-y home blend are great gifts for friends.
For lunch, consider a follow-up broth-centric meal at Lotus Noodle & Bowls. The restaurant popped up in 2017, joining a ramen scene that was and still is rife with competition. But in just over two years, awareness of Lotus has risen in foodie circles in the local blogosphere. And this is thanks to its fusion take on the noodle dish — think ramen and Thai, Vietnamese or Taiwanese influences. To get an authentic taste of what Lotus does best, try the tomato coconut laksa, which will set you back just USD4.40.
For a few extra souvenirs, or just to browse, drop in at Yamabikoya, a traditional toy and folk craft store run by artist Shintaro Segawa. Shintaro draws inspiration from Japanese traditions and contemporary street culture, as he curates a store selection that features mainly handmade figures. Altogether, as seen from the sets of traditional daruma dolls painted with contemporary street-style flair, his works are reflective of a blend of old and new ideologies.
At dinnertime, there’s just one place to wrap up your adventure through this innovative city — Ramen Kurume Honda Shoten. Fukuoka’s creativity is rooted in its residents’ curiosity and passion for trying and creating new things, and these elements are evident in the ramen offerings here. The restaurant offers a blend of thick, creamy broth, made with day-old-cooked broth and slices of three-days-slow-cooked braised pork belly. The potent concoction then goes over homemade noodles. At USD8.25 a bowl, it’s dense, rich and delicious — the cherry on top of a whirlwind three days in the city.
This story first appeared in the March 2020 issue of Smile magazine. Hotels, airfare, impromptu snacking and shopping not included in budget. Cebu Pacific flies to Fukuoka from Manila. cebupacificair.com