Years back when I was in Japan on exchange, I became good friends with a girl whose hometown was Fukuoka. Whenever I was lost with tea ceremony club her smiles and encouragement were always there for me. A long way from home, she would sometimes show me photos of the sites and tell me about the foods that she missed. The brief tid bits she shared with me about her home instantly piqued my curiosity and with each anecdote, Kyushu rose higher and higher on my list of places to visit.
Fukuoka Day 15
My friend had recommended Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine as a bit of a day trip from the centre of the city. The whole strip of stores up to the temple and the temple itself was a lot more touristy than I expected. For visitors from Korea and China, this seemed to be the first (or only) temple they would see on their Japan trip. This makes sense considering the close proximity of Kyushu to these countries, but also took me by surprise as I wasn’t expecting this to be such a crowded area.
Somewhat unhelpfully there was very little English signage. We were a little lost at what it was that we were meant to be appreciating. However, a quick google search revealed that this temple is dedicated to a very famous Japanese scholar. Consequently, throngs of Japanese students head to it, hoping that they will be granted luck on their entrance exams. While we were there it felt like there was a whole platoon of students streaming through the whole time.
A little put off by the crowds, we made our own fun by mucking around in the amusement park nearby and observing everyone around us. I briefly pondered going for a hike in the area, as apparently the trails are very beautiful but the humidity and inappropriate foot wear choice meant that instead, we headed back to Fukuoka city.
Usually, I’m not one for themed cafes. However, the Tower records cafe x Sumikko gurashi was too cute to resist. It also helps that I have a weakness for the cute little corner dwelling mascot characters. I admit that I hugged almost every plushie that was in sight. The food was surprisingly tasty and filling for a themed cafe. The drinks, cute as they were, were definitely on the over priced side.
Ryan ordered the avocado and beef from the regular menu. He had an emotional moment as he ate chunks of meat again for the first time in days. I had to have something from the themed menu. Penguin’s locomoco was cute and delicious when doused in the delicious brown sauce on the side of the plate. The drinks, cute as they were, were definitely on the over priced side.
A little bit stuck on what to do we ended up taking the train to Ohori Park. All the online descriptions state that this is a Chinese style garden, with a pagoda and lake in the centre, but that really doesn’t do the park justice. Our little jaunt around the park ended up with a swan boat ride in the middle of the pond. While paddling and wandering we saw a multitude of wildlife and joggers making their way around.
The next stop was Momochihama Beach. As someone from Darwin Ryan loves the beach. He was pretty excited at the prospect of the finally being able to go to a beach. However, when we got to this man made beach he couldn’t hide his dissapointment. What greeted us was a sliver of sand with half set up volley ball nets and food stalls. Most of the Japanese people were sitting around on the beach and mucking around as opposed to actually swimming.
Since it was in the area we quickly dropped into Robosquare. Admission to this little exhibit is free. Almost all of the robots are Japanese language operated, so a basic grasp of Japanese certainly helped in enjoying the interactive displays.
We made it back to Canal City just in time for a special interactive light and water show. I know almost nothing about One Peice, but Ryan is a massive fan of the series. He watched on enraptured by the special effects and story line.
Fukuoka may be famous for Hakata ramen, but there’s actually a lot more variety. Kurume ramen is the predecessor of the more well known Hakata style ramen. Instead of making new stock and adding fat to it, Kurume ramen builds from older remaining stock for their ramen broth. Located in Ramen Stadium (or the rather comically misspelled raumen stadium) Honda Shoten is one of the most convenient places to try this style of ramen.
The normal ramen was definitely very porky, but not nearly as fatty as the ramen we tried the day before. This was actually a touch on the lukewarm and overly salty side. If I was in Melbourne I would be ecstatic to find ramen of this quality anywhere, but in Japan this was an average but satisfying bowl.
The special chilli ramen was a little bit more unique. On the spoon was a little ball of fat, for extra richness and flavour. When it was all melted the broth was definitely oilier and stuck on the lips a little bit more. It was also surprsingly spicy!
Fukuoka – Kumamoto Day 16
Perhaps it was the humid Kyushu weather but we had a few late starts while in Fukuoka. Our first stop of the day was a pasta restaurant in Hakata central. I was on the search for anything with mentaiko and this pasta was sadly the closest that I got.
As soon as we got to Kumamoto station we saw Kumamon left, right and centre. It’s safe to say that this ever popular bear mascot can be found almost everywhere in the city. I’m very fond of the derpy looking Kumamon and I will readily admit that it’s only thanks to him that I know what and where Kumamoto is.
It seems that in the South of Japan trams feature much more heavily. In Kumamoto the trams have a lot of rustic charm, and actually vaguely reminded me of the city loop trams in Melbourne.
Our first stop was Kumamon square. This was actually one of the most crowded areas we went to. Tourists from Taiwan, Hong Kong and an array of other Asian countries were all cooing over the cute goods available. Kumamon even found a new fan in Ryan, as he appreciated all the collaboration items and variety show specials in the area.
We somehow lucked upon advertising for local school’s cultural festival. For those that don’t know, Japanese high schools and middle schools hold cultural festivals every year. These are almost like big festivals that are open to the general public. the classes and clubs put on various stalls, stores and performances for those visiting. As part of the advertising we managed to see these talented kids performing all over the shopping district.
We couldn’t go to Kyushu and not try the local delicacies. Yokobachi is a bit of an upscale izakaya where there’s a bit of everything Kyushu. Of particular note was my first taste of basashi and motsunabe. I pleasantly surprised by the clear mostunabe soup which reminded me of traditional Chinese broths.
We actually didn’t visit any of the historical attractions in Kumamoto. The closest we got was seeing Kumamoto castle in the distance. Even if we had wanted to I’m not sure if we would have been able to see all of them, as they are still repairing after devastating earthquakes. That said, I dare say we stumbled upon something even better and more memorable.
If you’re even in Fukuoka at night, you have to go to a Yatai. Although Japan is an eater’s dream I find that there’s not much in the way of street food. That’s where Yatai come in. Originally found Japan wide to feed the hungry working classes at all times of the night, Yatai are now almost exclusive to Fukuoka.
Vendors set up their tiny stalls as evening falls, and a mix of locals and tourists all cram in together to enjoy the food. By daylight, everything is all cleaned up, and it’s as if no one was ever there. We had already eaten earlier that day in Kumamoto but Ryan couldn’t resist ordering a ramen. I settled in with a high ball, apparently the drink of choice at a Yatai and dug into some mentaiko and grilled skewers.
When I told locals that I was going to Fukuoka they would always mention that the ramen was top notch and so were the girls! I’m sure that’s a winning combination for almost everyone.
If you’re interested in seeing Kumamon in Kumamon square he is in his office on certain days. Check the website for the times and dates to see him! There is a warning on the side of the website saying that it might be really crowded and visitors restricted.
When taking the tram in Kumamoto it is possible to switch trams and just pay for the one fare. Make sure you talk to the tram conductor and they will issue you a ticket, which allows you to make a transfer within 15 minutes without paying extra.