Visit Fukuoka once and you’ll soon understand why the city ranks highly for quality of life. Compact, young and convenient, Fukuoka also has the fastest growing population in Japan – plus it’s the jumping off point for exploring the southern island of Kyushu. There’s no better time to visit the region than in the spring, when the warm weather and clear skies make for lazy days at the beach, hiking in the local mountains, or shopping and dining in the city.
Here’s a selection of the very best experiences in Fukuoka and wider Kyushu to add to your itinerary.
THE DISH: Basashi
The idea of eating horse meat makes some people squeamish. But if you’re open-minded about equine delicacies, then the place to visit is Kumamoto. Known variously as basashi (horse sashimi), baniku (horse meat) or sakura niku (cherry blossom meat) for its pink colour, it is a delicacy in the prefecture. Thin slices of chilled raw horse meat are served wrapped in shiso leaf and dipped in sweet soy sauce seasoned with garlic, wasabi or fresh ginger. Suganoya serves locally raised horse meat in four locations in Kumamoto and one in JR Hakata City in Fukuoka.
THE BAR: Tenjin Jerk Standing Bar
One of Fukuoka’s most popular lunchtime curry joints, Tiki, is now open in the evening – and it’s been refashioned as a tachinomiya (a casual standing bar). Tenjin Jerk Stand serves spicy homemade Jamaican-style jerk chicken, local shochu and original cocktails to an eclectic clientele of musicians, artists and salarymen.
THE ROAD TRIP: Hita
During the Edo period, the city of Hita in Oita prefecture came under direct control of the Shogun and was modelled after Kyoto and its merchant culture. Today, the city is known as Little Kyoto, and its history can still be felt in the architecture of the white-walled machiya-style townhouses of Mameda Old Town. Visitors should pay special attention to the kote-e – imaginative reliefs sculpted into the clay walls of the houses.
THE FESTIVAL: Hakata Dontaku
With more than two million attendees, Dontaku is by far the most popular event during Japan’s Golden Week (28 April-6 May) holiday. The festival dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), when the merchants of Hakata organised a New Year’s parade in honour of their feudal lord. Today, locals dressed in traditional costumes – some playing the shamisen or beating drums; others clapping wooden spoons – join in the merrymaking.
THE EXHIBITION: Kagoshima Meiji Restoration
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Reimeikan: the Kagoshima Prefectural Centre for Historical Material and related sites in the prefecture, including the Unesco World Heritage Sengan-en gardens, are holding special exhibitions and events recounting the region’s contribution to the modernisation of Japan.
THE INSTAGRAM SPOT: Kushida Shrine
Although springtime visitors will miss out on Fukuoka’s most thrilling festival, Hakata Gion Yamakasa, held in the summer, they can still get a feel for it at the 1,260-year-old Kushida Shrine. Take your picture in front of the shrine’s kazariyama, a 13-metre-high float decorated with fantastical scenes of historical and mythical events.
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: Daimyo
Fukuoka’s Daimyo neighbourhood has it all: high-end shops and fast-fashion chains to independent, vintage hip-hop fashion retailers, as well as some of the best bars and restaurants including Kamakiri Udon and Mujinzo. For fans of Japanese anime and manga, Mandarake, a second-hand anime goods shop, is a must.
THE HIKE: Mount Kuju
A volcanic wonderland filled with luscious greenery and steaming gas vents, Oita prefecture’s Mount Kuju is the highest peak on Kyushu. While the climb itself takes a few hours, the real challenge is getting there, as train and bus connections to the hiking trails are limited. Your efforts will be rewarded as the slopes of the 1,791-metre-high peak are ablaze in reds and pinks in June when the wild azaleas bloom.
KUMAMOTO CASTLE APPEARED IN THE 1994 FILM GODZILLA VS SPACEGODZILLA
THE HOTEL: Monte Hermana
Fukuoka’s newest hotel, the Monte Hermana is also one of the city’s most convenient. The stylish 373-room hotel is only 10 minutes’ walk from the busy Tenjin shopping area, and each room is provided with a free smartphone for use in the hotel and around town.
THE CASTLE: Kumamoto
The original fortifications of Kumamoto Castle date back to the 15th century. It was the scene of a pivotal siege led by Saigo Takamori in the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, during which the tenshukaku (castle keep) burnt down. Although Kumamoto Castle was damaged in the 2016 earthquake, visitors can still view the castle from limited areas, such as Kato Shrine. Restoring Kumamoto Castle is expected to be a long-term project, but the city has pledged to open certain areas of the landmark to tourists as construction progresses.
● Central Fukuoka (Hakata) is a 16-minute bus ride from the airport’s international terminal or a six-minute subway ride from the domestic terminal. A free shuttle service connects both terminals.
● The Fukuoka Tourist City Pass is a convenient one-day ticket giving unlimited rides on buses, trains and the subway. The more expensive pass gives you access to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine.
● Tsuyu, or the rainy season, usually begins in early to mid-June, bringing with it unpredictable weather. If travelling at this time, you’ll want to pack a compact umbrella – or buy a cheap one at any convenience store.
Cathay Dragon flies to Fukuoka from Hong Kong 15 times a week