The largest city in the southern Japan’s island of Kyushu is the new IT destination for 2019 with its fascinating history, scenic natural wonders, and tantalising food.
Its story began as two cities Hakata and Fukuoka, which were merged as one in 1899. Divided by a central river, Hakata prospered as a port city and a cultural centre while Fukuoka reigns with rich samurai heritage. Legend even has it that a group of samurais crashed the council meeting to insist that the new city be called Fukuoka. It has since become the main gateway to explore the wonders of Kyushu.
Here are top 10 cool things you should check out when in Fukuoka:
Futamigaura Beach (White Tori Gate)
While locals have long cherished the serenity of Futamigaura Beach, tourists have only recently started to put it on the holiday radar. It’s not that hard to pinpoint why – lined along the scenic shores are plenty of cafes to kick back and enjoy the soft crashing waves. Sunset is especially stunning here, with the backdrop of a white tori gate and twin monoliths named Izanagi and Izanami (affectionately known as ‘Wedded Rocks’) making the view uniquely Fukuoka.
There’s no need to wait for cherry blossom season to appreciate Kumamoto Castle. Built in the 17th century during the reign of local feudal lord Kato Kiyomasa, the castle is considered to be one of the ‘Three Great Castles of Japan’ along with Nagoya Castle and Osaka Castle.
Ibusuki Hot Sand Bath
Would you like to experience sunamushi, the Japanese sand bath? The sand along the shores of Ibusuki is naturally heated courtesy of the onsen (hot spring) water bubbling underneath the grounds. The volcanic sand is even said to be three to four times more beneficial than the average onsen bath. Benefits include improving circulation, increasing blood-oxygen levels, and removing impurities from the body.
Founded in the year 757 and rebuilt in the 16th century, the tutelary shrine is known as the starting point of the fast-paced Oiyama of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, where men in loincloths race to carry floats through the streets of Hakata early in the morning. A float is permanently displayed at the shrine, and two tablets about the Mongol invasion sit at the foot of a ginkgo tree.
Hells of Beppu
Designated as one of ‘Three Hot Springs in Japan’, the Hells of Beppu is a cluster of eight magnificent hot springs located in the city of Beppu. Each hot spring has a unique characteristic of its own. With its massive pond of orange-red bubbling mud, Chinoike Jigoku is one of the more popular spots while visitors can also visit Kamado Jigoku, known as the ‘Cooking Pot Hell’.
Traditional Yatai Ramen Stall
You can’t visit Fukuoka without having a go at Tonkotsu Ramen, considering this is its birthplace. Tonkotsu ramen is pork-broth based, served with wheat noodles and best eaten by slurping the soup right from the bowl. Look out for the traditional yatai ramen stalls that are synonymous with the Kyushu prefecture region.
Kirishima Jingu Shrine
Originally built during the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), the Kirishima Jingu Shrine has gone through a few natural disasters at its original location until it was rebuilt at its present location in 1715. Many legends are associated with this place, including the most popular one, which tells the story of the grandson of sun goddess Amateresu, Ninigi no Mikoto, who descended to Earth to establish a lineage of Japanese emperors.
Formed some 100,000 years ago from the volcanic eruptions of the neighbouring Mount Aso area, Takachicho Gorge was designated as a National Scenic and Natural Monument in 1934. Exquisite views of dramatic cliffs and the Manai Waterfalls falling into the Gokase River can be enjoyed at the viewing platform, but if you can spare some cash, go for the bamboo boat ride and enjoy the beauty up close.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Sugiwara Michizane, a poet, scholar and politician from the Heian period who is revered as Tenman-Tenjin, the God of Learning. Highlights around the 3,000-acre grounds include the honden (main shrine) that was first built in 905, a pond shaped in the Japanese Kanji character which means ‘heart’, as well as approximately 6,000 ume (plum) trees, said to be a favourite of Sugiwara Michizane.
Saga International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
Just one hour from Fukuoka city centre by train is Saga, home to Japan’s largest hot air balloon festival held annually in autumn. Come to witness the competitive events or simply marvel at the hundreds of hot air balloons in many colours, shapes and characters (Doraemon included!). The true highlight is the La Montgolfier Nocturne event, when the illuminated balloons are moored up in air creating a brilliant skyline.
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to Fukuoka from Kuala Lumpur. Book your tickets now only on airasia.com.