Sunset behind bridge over Naka River in Fukuoka - Vichie81/Pixta

Fukuoka

Sometimes you don’t want to be a tourist. Sometimes you want to ditch the crowds, throw out the guidebook, and just get a taste of what it’s like to really live in a Japanese city. That’s when you book a ticket to Fukuoka.

Closer to Seoul than to Tokyo, Fukuoka has long been Japan’s gateway to mainland Asia. Today, it’s tourists who make the three-hour ferry trip to South Korea; back in the day, it was migrants bringing rice farming technology, monks bringing Buddhism, and (in 1274) Kublai Khan bringing 900 doomed warships (you can still see their stone anchors at Kushida Shrine). Fukuoka took it all in its stride.

In fact, Fukuoka has often been at the vanguard of Japanese culture and history. It has the oldest Zen temple in Japan, for instance, complete with resident cats. Its food rivals Osaka’s (which is saying something) but it’s too laid-back to argue about it. Fukuoka has the air of somewhere that knows it has nothing to prove.

A day is enough to get a sense of what Fukuoka is about. Our advice is just to slip into the rhythms of local life and see where it takes you. People-watching and pottering are our prime activities here. Well — that, and eating. Daimyo is the place to go for tiny sake bars, while Nishijin Shotengai is the home of the bubbling hotpot motsunabe. Itoshima Beach is the city’s weekend hang, where oysters are sold by the kilo and you grill your own lunch fresh from the sea. Then, in the evening, join the scores of punters clustered around the yatai food stalls along the riverside and order a pork broth ramen. This is low-key Japanese city life at its best.

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