Arrival in Fukuoka, Hakata

Guess who’s back! My week in Tokyo has come and gone, and now it’s time to set sail for lands unknown!

I’m off to Fukuoka, the biggest city in the Japanese island of Kyushu. It is the result of two cities merging together: Fukuoka and Hakata, and this is why the same city has Fukuoka Airport and Hakata Station (this makes it very confusing to buy train tickets). I took the shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Kobe, which took three hours, and there changed to another shinkansen that got me the rest of the way to Hakata, which was about two hours and a half.

It had been recommended to me that I needed to get ekiben for the train, a Japanese packed lunch. Station food, as it’s called, is not just any old sandwich in Japan, but a varied gourmet experience often based in regional specialties. I got myself the so-called “30 item Balance Bento”, which was as follows:

When I got to Hakata station, I was able to walk to my hotel, the (inhales) FP Hotels Fukuoka Hakata Canal City. This was a bit of a gamble, because it’s brand new and so it didn’t have a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor to go by, but I had little notice so I didn’t have much to choose from. It seems fine, the room is tiny but that is to be expected, and most striking is that everything is new and black. It’s like one of the vampire hotels from True Blood.

By the time I had unpacked it was five o’clock, too late to do any serious sightseeing but too early to call it a day, so I just left to take a walk around the Hakata area. At first sight it seemed like any other Japanese city; I gather that all the activity happens more towards the Tenjin area, but still there were lots of shops and restaurants everywhere.

I took the chance to walk into the Fukuoka Museum of Asian Art, which surprisingly occupies two floors inside a bigger corporate building. The permanent collection was a bit underwhelming, with only a handful of disparate paintings, but it’s true that the ticket was only ¥200 (€1.6). To make up for it, there was also something called the Sogenkai exhibit (¥500/€4.1) which did have some really good contemporary paintings of very different styles.

This took me less time than anticipated, so again I took off on foot, and peeked inside nearby Kushida shrine, Hakata’s main Shinto shrine. It was partly covered by scaffolding, but it made for a quiet spot in the middle of the city. I tried to visit other shrines, but it was past six and they had closed their gates.

I also walked through the Kuwabata shopping arcade, which is kinda like the Teramachi arcade in Kyoto, if slightly less fancy. I walked into a grocery store to buy some stuff that is scarce or expensive in France, like matcha or wasabi, without having to pay inflated prices at tourist shops!

The iconic Fukuoka dinner is to have ramen at a yatai, a type of mobile food stall where people sit around a counter. These are closer to the sea, though, towards the Tenjin area, and I was already tired so I just plopped down at a curry place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. It was… just fine.

On the way back to my hotel I walked through Canal City, a huge mall that spans several buildings around a canal, with such luck that I caught an odd performance with light, sound and projectors around the central water fountain, all themed around Evangelion! The timing would suggest it’s because the show is coming to Netflix, but who knows. As I was walking away, I saw that right there in the mall they have a bona fide Evangelion store, an entire shop just for Evangelion merch. Be still my beating heart! I’m gonna need to come back with more time before I leave!

That’s it for a first approach to Fukuoka… now I have to decide what to do tomorrow!

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