Essential Things You Need To Know When Traveling to Fukuoka

By Andrew Thompson .

Fukuoka is a beautiful Japanese city set on the northern shore of Kyushu Island, and any Fukuoka travel guide will tell you that it’s a city known for its remarkable temples, beautiful beaches, and iconic shopping malls. But if you’re looking for tips for visiting Fukuoka, or some broader stuff to know before travelling to Japan, then read on to learn more about this unique destination. There are a lot of important things to know about Japanese culture, and it’s helpful to know where to stay in Fukuoka, depending on your needs. Whatever your interests, though, there’s a good chance that with so many things to do in Fukuoka, you’ll find something to interest and entertain you.

Fukuoka locals love festivals

The people of Fukuoka prefecture are famous for being open-minded and relaxed, and they love a good festival. In fact, they play host to one of the country’s largest and most intriguing annual festivals - Hakata Gion Yamakasa. Three million people attend this festival each year, and for many people it’s the answer to the question “What is Fukuoka famous for?”. So what exactly is the festival? For over seven hundred years, seven teams of men have been racing giant floats around the city - some of which are over five metres tall and weigh over a ton! The festival takes place in the first half of July, but if you’re not there over this time there are many other festivals taking place throughout the year in Fukuoka - from the Setsubun Festival in February, in which people come to the Kushida Shrine to shed their bad luck for the year to Hojoya, the traditional fall festival which takes place in September.

Rich natural environment and city

Fukuoka is a compact and well-designed city, with places of work, entertainment and leisure all situated in close proximity to each other. But the city is also famous for its abundant nature, which means it’s possible to escape the busy city when it all gets a bit too overwhelming - it’s not known as the “gateway to Kyushu” for nothing. Mountains surround the city - a natural feature which the island is known for - but there are plenty of large parks in the city itself like Ohori Park where you can find your Zen if you can’t make time to escape to the mountains. And just a short walk from the city center, you'll find the stunning Hakata Harbor - a particularly attractive option when the mild Fukuoka weather is playing along. In all, one of the best things to know before you go to Fukuoka is that to truly appreciate the city, you’ll be spending some time outdoors, and you may want to consider bringing some hiking shoes to make the most of the trails which snake their way through the nearby mountains.

The airport is really close to the city

If you’re not a fan of long commutes from the airport to the city centre, then Fukuoka should be high on your list of stops on a Japan travel itinerary. In fact, the time travelled from the airport to Fukuoka central is so short it’s claimed to be the fourth shortest in the world. It takes only 11 minutes to complete the journey, meaning you can get on with the important things like exploring and not waste your time traveling! It’s also a city that’s well connected to the rest of Asia - it’s close to Taiwan, Korea and China, and as a result it’s pleasingly charismatic and diverse, while remaining quintessentially Japanese in the process.

The soya sauce is sweet

The fish in Fukuoka is superb, and some of the freshest you’ll ever taste. This means you’ll be eating a lot of it when in the city, along with plenty of soya sauce. But one of the most important foodie tips for travelling in Japan is to make sure whether the soya sauce is sweet or savory before pouring away. It’s still a delicious treat when eating the city’s famous cuisine, but if you’re unprepared it can be an unusual surprise. Once you’ve developed a taste for it, though, you’ll be stocking up to take some back home with you!

Yatai is a must try

Fukuoka’s red-light district in Nakasu is an unlikely hero when it comes to cuisine. Head to a food stall called a yatai - these are a symbol of the city and not something you’ll find anywhere else in Japan - to sample the local dishes like Hakata ramen. This is one of the unmissable things to do in Fukuoka, and an ultimate local experience. Yatai are small, covered food stands which pop up in the evening and stay open until the early hours of the morning. Some are not much more than food carts, while others are almost like miniature street restaurants, where behind a small curtain to cover the yatai from the road, you can squeeze in at the ‘bar’ with locals getting their fill of Hakata ramen or yakitori, grilled chicken skewers - both yatai classics.

Food is diverse and delicious

There’s a monument at Jotenji Temple in Hakata ward that proclaims that this is the birthplace of udon and soba noodles in Japan. Fukuoka is one of the centers of Japanese cuisine, but you can enjoy diverse food from all over the world - not just ramen. The city is known as Japan’s bridge to mainland Asia, and so you may be surprised that Fukuoka’s food culture features some flavors from further afield, and ones that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in Japan. The city’s food culture is known not only for its tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, but for dishes like gyoza. You probably know gyoza as the classic Japanese dumplings which are both fried and steamed, but these pockets of deliciousness actually originated in China, and brought to Fukuoka where they were experimented with to add Japanese flavor. It’s from Fukuoka that gyoza became a signature Japanese dish! 

You’ll find a mix of modern and traditional culture

Fukuoka is a fast-paced, modern city, but there is still a classical culture that underpins the recent development. This cultural background plays out in the city’s regular festivals, as well as in the presence of the Hakata doll and Hakata-ori, which is a traditional Japanese textile produced in Fukuoka Prefecture for more than 770 years. If you’re looking for a mix of modern and traditional Japan, then this fascinating city is likely to please you. And one of the best ways to experience the city’s fascinating culture is to learn more about some of its traditional arts and crafts. In some instances, you can even participate in the processes by making a Hakata doll or working with the traditional textile Hakata-ori. Try to go to "Hakata machiya furusato kan”, where you can learn more about Hakata’s history and cultural background, and then participate in the unusual experience too.

It’s a friendly city, especially if you show some respect

Fukuoka’s residents are generally warm and welcoming to guests, and love their city’s reputation as one of the friendliest in Japan. The sunny population is renowned for treating visitors politely and with respect, and for anyone who is taking their very first trip to Japan, Fukuoka is a great city to start in. As an outsider, one of the important things to know about Japanese culture is that if you show respect, you will receive it in return. As such, learn a few key phrases in Japanese, like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, and use them generously. Be courteous and thank people for their service, and you will find the courtesy is richly returned.

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