There’s a soothing hum to laid-back Fukuoka, the largest city on Japan’s Kyushu island. It’s hard to miss on a weekend afternoon as you stroll along Meiji-dori Avenue, the city’s sprawling downtown spine, passing places like the Kabuki theater Hakata-za and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Eventually, you’ll reach the slow-flowing Naka River, whose banks are lined with traditional open-air food stalls known as yatai, a signature attraction in this culinary and arts haven.
With a vast commercial port that was Japan’s largest between the 12th and 16th centuries and, to this day, connects the country to China, Korea and the rest of the Pacific, Fukuoka has long been considered the Japan’s “Gateway to Asia”. A popular Japanese vacation destination, the city also attracts tourists from abroad, especially since the country reintroduced visa-free entry in October. They come for the city’s acclaimed cuisine, its casual atmosphere, colorful art and nightlife scenes and temperate climate. And then there are the historical sites like the beautifully preserved Tochoji Temple, and the natural beauty found in places like the lush Ohori Park and the amazing experimental rooftop garden above the ACROS building.
Here are some places that visitors may want to include in their itineraries.
A culinary haven
There are endless restaurants offering typical Japanese cuisine such as sushi and ramen and the Japanese multicourse fine dining known as kaiseki.
But what sets Fukuoka’s culinary scene apart is its emphasis on local specialties such as motsunabe (beef tripe hot pot), mizutaki (chicken hot pot) and mentaiko (marinated pollock roe), dishes often served at yatai, which usually has little open-air. kitchen, counter and limited seating.
A modern yatai owner is 29-year-old Akihiro Korehisa. After struggling to open his own restaurant during the pandemic, he turned to running a yatai as an option, hoping for less overhead and more excitement.
Yatai dining, says Mr. Korehisa, celebrates the city’s first-rate seafood and produce. His stall, HEROs, which moves around downtown Fukuoka (its current location is always available at Instagram account), is a lively place, attracting locals and tourists alike with dishes like seiro-mushi (beef and vegetables prepared in a bamboo steamer) and chawan-mushi (a steamed egg custard). A full meal here costs about 2,500 yen, or just over $17.
“The real yatai atmosphere can only be experienced in Fukuoka,” said Mr. Korehisa. “Here, you can make friends very quickly even with the stranger sitting next to you.”
You’ll find the same kind of instant camaraderie in the city’s wine, sake and craft beer boutiques. Get it Todoroki Saketen in the Yakuin neighborhood, where 36-year-old sommelier Kazuya Ishida has worked since 2016. At the shop’s kakuuchi (standing bar), customers can sip from hundreds of natural wines — many from Japan, as well as sake (including sake from 20 breweries in Kyushu), shochu (rice or barley liquor) and umeshu (plum wine).
“Many tourists here are interested in food as a means of sightseeing, and that includes drinking,” he said. “Wine with food has become more common in Japan, and I think natural wine is more popular in Fukuoka than other places because it pairs well with our food.”
Food and drink in Fukuoka are delicious and cheap — creating a certain level of competitiveness between restaurateurs. Chef Kazuichi Matsuo calls the dining scene “an intangible cultural heritage born from friendly rivalry.” After 27 years in the kitchen of Fukuoka and 15 years in the acclaimed but humble Motsunabe IkkeiMr. Kazuichi has mastered the superb hot pot stew known as motsunabe, made with pork or beef tripe, cabbage, bean sprouts and garlic (1,580 yen).
“Initially originating as the soul food of coal miners in the city of Kitakyushu, motsunabe has taken root in Fukuoka,” he said, adding that diners often share the stew as a communal dish. “It’s a great tool for communication,” he said.
On the west side of the Naka River, in the trendy Daimyo neighborhood, is another culinary innovator — Yoshimitsu Obara, the 37-year-old bar owner Citadel. Perhaps Fukuoka’s most experimental mixologist, he’s been operating his intimate, wood-framed haunt since 2018. Here you can sip drinks featuring blue cheese, Doritos, curry and basically anything the charismatic Mr. Obara. (A new recipe includes distilled green curry gin, pineapple tequila, lime, coconut, soda, tonic and shishito peppers.) On illuminated wooden shelves of glass jars labeled with handwritten notes, the atmosphere of Citadel produces a crowded laboratory. Most of the cocktails are unique to the bar.
“too Uniqueness can be a hard sell, though. Fukuokans are easily excited by the novelty, but the warm hospitality remains,” said Mr. Obara, who on Friday night sat with his laptop, preparing to fly to Seoul the next day for a mixology competition. . He mentioned Seoul as being just around the corner.
In the Citadel and elsewhere, foreigners still catch the eye of curious locals. At the record-store-and-cafe hybrid space Stereo Coffee, Haruki Shibata, a 23-year-old barista, approached me and politely asked where I was from. Born and raised in the neighborhood of Hakata, he drew my attention to the mix of Japanese and Korean influences taking place in Fukuoka due to its proximity to Busan, less than four hours by ferry across the Korea Strait. This, he said, contributes to the city’s cultural identity, not only in the culinary scene, but also in the art scene.
A cultural haven too
Fukuoka’s status as an incubator for the arts is nurtured by museums, art schools and creative spaces. These, Art Space Baku, founded in 1972 by the now-74-year-old Ritsuko Oda and her husband Mitsuru, is one of the best known. said Ms. Oda is committed to discovering new artists. “Fukuoka is a comfortable place for artists because of good rent and transportation,” he said.
Walking up the narrow stairs to a dimmed kissaten (old-fashioned cafe) on Oyafuko Street, I was taken back several decades — that is, until I noticed the abstract contemporary art, some of it digital, on an exhibit in the cafe gallery. Kazuya Itou, an artist from Nagasaki whose work, became familiar with Art Space Baku while studying at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka and has been a frequent visitor ever since.
“I think most people who present art in Fukuoka have a strong connection to this place,” said Mr. Itou, 64, as he showed me his colorful, abstract “Mass of Coordinate Point K” that exhibit.
Mr. Itou, who has had his work featured in Busan Biennale and South Korean gallery, believes that art and the tech scenes in Fukuoka and Busan are intertwined — with the opening of the renowned Japanese digital art collective teamLab forest underlined. “For better or worse,” he says, “a large part of Fukuoka’s culture today is shaped by being at the forefront of Japanese culture and technology during the Korean Peninsula’s tech boom.”
Music, too, is thriving in Fukuoka, and again, there is an emphasis on nurturing talent. At the jazz venue Trombone Clubnear the Naka River, I met 41-year-old jazz pianist Sonoko Kawasawa who started playing six years ago and was encouraged by the club’s owner, Mihara-san, who was present behind the bar, as Ms. Kawasawa and 37-year-old saxophonist Yuki Uryu performed jazz standards such as “Autumn Leaves” and “Chelsea Bridge.”
“Fukuoka’s music scene has a humane feel to it,” said Ms. I’m sorry “The artistic originality is strong here.”
One area where many of the city’s defining multicultural characteristics converge is the picturesque 010 Buildingalso near the Naka River, designed by the New York-based Cloud Architecture. The 010 Building is the brainchild of an arts entrepreneur Jiro Enomotoa Fukuoka native who has been key to the city’s cultural scene since he started his company, Zero-Ten, in 2011 after a stint in the US film industry.
I met Mr. Enomoto at the 010 Building’s bar, where he gave me an inspirational speech about his city and space, while in-house burlesque performers mingled nearby.
“I wanted to create a new cultural center, in a symbolic location next to the city’s yatai stalls,” Mr. Enomoto told me through a smokescreen of theatrical dance-floor and electronica music, adding that Fukuoka “is suitable for this project. because it is still a gateway to Asia, flexible to new cultures.”
That same night, over a roasted tea rum cocktail, a local 010 Bar patron mentioned Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio stayed in Fukuoka on their honeymoon in 1954. Later, while I was soaking in the onsen (natural hot spring) Manyo-no-yu in Hakata, I pondered this part of Hollywood history within the puzzle of Fukuoka. And it seems perfectly aligned with the city’s identity, past and present. How did Marilyn and Joe miss out on so much fun in this colorful Asian port?
Where to stay
Mitsui Garden Hotel Fukuoka Nakasu is a modern, luxury hotel in Nakasu, next to the Naka River. A room for two people recently started at about 19,000 yen, or $130.
The Vibrant Fukuoka Hakataan upscale, design-centric hotel in Hakata with an attractive bar scene, has double rooms recently starting at around 18,200 yen.
Lamp Light Books Hotel Fukuoka is a book-themed hotel in Fukuoka’s trendiest neighborhood, Daimyo. Doubles start at around 12,600 yen.
Hotel Mei Fukuoka Tenjinin the heart of Fukuoka, has doubles with minimalist decor, starting at around 10,850 yen.
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