Sunny, friendly Fukuoka (福岡) is Kyūshū's largest city and Japan's eighth-largest population centre. It's made up of two former towns: the castle town of Fukuoka on the west bank of the Naka-gawa and the merchant town of Hakata on the east bank. Although the two towns merged in 1889 as Fukuoka, the name Hakata is still widely in use (for instance, it's Fukuoka Airport but Hakata Station) and a cultural touchpoint.
Hakata traces its trading history back some 2000 years, and this tradition continues today with visitors from Seoul and Shanghai. Among Japanese the city is famed for its SoftBank Hawks baseball team and hearty Hakata ramen.
Fukuoka's welcoming feel makes it a great gateway to Kyūshū, and warm weather and contemporary attractions – art, architecture, shopping and cuisine – make it a good base for regional excursions.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Fukuoka.
Set within the expansive grounds of Ōhori-kōen, adjacent to the remains of Fukuoka's once-grand castle, this traditional (though constructed in 1984) 12,000-sq-metre Japanese garden boasts a beautiful main pond, streams and a waterfall, a dry garden and a traditional teahouse, all within a border of whitewashed traditional walls. The design is by one of Japan's most famous 20th-century garden masters, Nakane Kinsaku, whose other works include the gardens at Kyoto's Nijo-jō and the Adachi Museum in Shimane-ken.
Spread over three machiya (traditional Japanese townhouses), this folk museum re-creates a Hakata nagare (neighbourhood unit) from the late Meiji era. Inside the replica buildings, artisans are frequently on hand offering demonstrations of local crafts, and galleries show historical photographs and displays of traditional Hakata culture (festivals, crafts and performing arts), as well as recordings (more like lessons) of the impenetrable Hakata-ben dialect. The gift shop has an interesting selection of traditional toys and reasonably priced crafts.
This small but pretty garden and teahouse was built by a Meiji-era merchant in 1906 and offers a couple of paths, a rushing waterfall and tea ceremony. In the inner garden, ask to see the suikinkutsu, a sort of musical instrument that makes noise when water drips into a ceramic jug beneath the ground. It's all enclosed by richly textured walls called Hakata-bei, named for Hakata and incorporating reclaimed tiles from damaged or destroyed buildings.
Delightfully rural, this island has fresh-seafood restaurants that line the harbour-side streets. Ferries depart hourly (¥670, 33 minutes) from Bayside Place, and there are seasonal sightseeing cruises around Hakata Bay. Shikanoshima also has a fishing shrine (志賀海神社), decorated with deer antlers, and a popular beach about 5km east of the shrine. Note that the shrine requests that those in mourning, pregnant, menstruating, or with a baby 100 days old or younger refrain from visiting.
The intimate Kushida-jinja, municipal Shintō shrine of Hakata, traces its history to AD 757 and sponsors the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri, in which storeys-high floats make their way through the streets. There's a float visible outside that's well worth a gawk. A one-room local-history museum has many displays about the festival, as well as swords, ancient pottery and more.
On the upper floors of the Hakata Riverain mall, this large museum houses the world-renowned Asia Gallery, and additional galleries for special exhibitions (admission fee varies) and artists in residence. Changing exhibits show contemporary works from 23 countries, from East Asia to Pakistan.
Tōchō-ji houses the Fukuoka Daibutsu, Japan's largest seated wooden Buddha (10.8m high, 30 tonnes, completed in 1992) and some impressively carved Kannon (deity of mercy) statues. The temple is said to date from AD 806 and to have been founded by Kūkai, founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism.
Shōfuku-ji is considered the oldest Zen temple in Japan, founded in 1195 by Eisai, who introduced Zen and tea to Japan; the nation's first tea plants are also said to have been planted here. Although its buildings are closed to the public, tree-lined stone paths make a nice ramble.
Built in 1910, this historic French Renaissance–style building, a nationally registered important cultural property, can be found just across the river from Tenjin Chūō-kōen. There's an English-language guide via smartphone app.