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The Simple Fukuoka Travel Guide
Fukuoka is a traditionally overlooked Japanese city for tourism, though that has been changing in recent years. It's large enough city to be home to a cosmopolitan population of foreign residents and internationally minded Japanese, yet small enough to be warm and cozy with a strong sense of community.
I've been to Fukuoka many times and for me it's definitely one of the best cities in Japan; it's probably the best overall package you can get in the country despite not any one thing in the city standing out. Tokyo and Osaka might have more exciting nightlife, Kyoto might have better temples, and rural areas like Miyazaki might have better scenery, but Fukuoka has a little bit of all those, with a more compact area and relaxed atmosphere that is much easier for the average tourist to take in.
A large part of Fukuoka is the laid back experience rather than any one tourist spot, and Fukuoka people in particular are some of the friendliest in Japan. It was always easy to meet new friends and acquaintances there, even as a visitor, and a large part of why I visited the city so much. Don't be surprised if you find yourself in conversations with curious locals anywhere from Starbucks to the subway to the city's happening bars.
When you're done taking in what Fukuoka has to offer, it's still only a couple of hours away from tourist hotspots like Nagasaki and Oita, famous for history and onsens, respectively.
What to Do
1. Nightlife, Eating, and Shopping
Fukuoka's strengths lie less in its tourist spots - though it does have some excellent ones - and more in its relaxed pace and plentiful opportunities to have a good time. The nightlife is second to none in Kyushu, and in my opinion some of the best in Japan in general.
Most of Fukuoka's nightlife is centered in the Tenjin area, one of two central areas in the city and a very short subway ride from Hakata station. Many of the best bars, restaurants, and stores are located in this area between Tenjin and Tenjin-Minami stations. My personal favorites were lined in the side streets of Tenjin Nishi-Doori just west of Tenjin-Minami station, and those seeking a truly international feel should go just a bit further north to Oyafuko-doori, which has many expat owned bars and clubs.
Fukuoka's relaxed pace and laid-back people are the reasons it has some of the best nightlife in Japan; there was almost never a dull night when I visited the city, regardless of whether I visited a laid back pub, crowded ex-pat hangout, or a rowdy nightclub. Locals and expats alike are remarkably friendly and open to conversation.
Just a bit further west you'll find the Daimyo neighborhoods with its variety of independent shops and restaurants. On the east side of Tenjin you'll find plenty of higher end stores as well.
Another can't miss experience is eating at a yatai, an outdoor food stand serving various Japanese street foods. Some even serve the city's famous Hakata Ramen, a variation on the famous Japanese dish using pork broth.
2. Japanese Temples
Fukuoka does have a few spots for those interested in traditional Japanese temples, mainly located outside of Gion Station. In that area you can visit local temples such as Kushida Shrine, Tochoji, and Shofukuji, the first Zen temple in Japan.
Outside of Fukuoka City proper is Dazaifu, a suburb area with several shrines and the Kyushu National Museum.
3. Fukuoka Tower and Momochi Beach
While I love Fukuoka for its nightlife and shopping, it does have some natural scenery as well. My personal favorite would be Momochi Beach, located just next to Fukuoka Tower. Other parts of Kyushu - such as Miyazaki - have more natural, untouched beaches - but Momochi has the perfect mix of natural beauty and modern urban convenience. The view from Fukuoka Tower is also amazing.
Hotels in Fukuoka
The good news when it comes to booking Fukuoka hotels: the city is so compact you can get to its attractions from just about anywhere. Should you have to settle for a less than ideal location, it will not impact your trip much.
On the other hand, the city's small size means that booking hotels in Fukuoka can be a challenge. As Kyushu's largest city, many Japanese from all over the island come here for weekend trips and getaways. This means that booking a hotel on the weekends at the last minute is extremely difficult. As someone who has been to the city many times, I've often found it impossible to book less than a month in advance for a weekend trip. This is something you should keep in mind when planning your trip.
As long as you book in advance, you'll have plenty of options. Reserve a hotel early enough and you can even get good deals in Tenjin. Hotels near Hakata station are slightly easier. Good mid-range hotels will usually cost you from 5,000 to 8,000 Yen a night, depending on availability and day of the week. However, as I wrote above, booking last minute hotels will mean paying in the 10-20,000 Yen a night range, among much more limited choices.
Alternative accommodation in is sparser than other major Japanese cities. Capsule hotels are available and slightly cheaper than mid-range options. A few hostels in Fukuoka are also available, with most being in Hakata. Finally, there aren't many options for guesthouses, with one proper "gaijin house" in the city, and some short term apartment options if you look in local English classifieds.
Getting Around Fukuoka is not hard at all, due to the city's compact size. Most locals will not speak fluent English, however as a major metropolitan area plenty will understand at least the basics of the language.