Our last day in mainland Japan started with our final Shinkansen trip taking us west from Hiroshima to Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. All through our trip people had been telling us how amazing the Kyushu trains are, to the point that you’d think they were an attraction in themselves.
As soon as we boarded the train we could see what all the fuss was about, beautiful carriages, bags of leg room, more cup holders than I ever thought possible (or necessary for a single person) and an even smoother ride that the normal Shinkansen. The only bad thing was how quickly the journey was over, no sooner had we settled into our new lives as luxury train passengers than we arrived at the station.
Fukuoka is a strange city, up until about 15 years ago it was nothing more than small industrial city perched on a beautiful stretch of Kyushu’s northern coastline. However the opening of a major trade route with both Korea and Northern China has brought goods, money and most importantly tourism into Fukuoka.
Even during the short walk from the station to our hostel we could feel the temperature difference now that we were on the most southerly of Japan’s 4 main islands. The city itself is deceptively large, wide tree lined avenues and countless rivers give the feeling of space even in the crowded city centre.
Once we checked into the hostel and dropped of our bags our first stop was Canal City, a place we knew nothing about other than it was meant to be a fabulous way to spend an afternoon. Safe to say this was quite the exaggeration. Canal City is brightly coloured shopping centre built around Fukuoka’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, yes it has some nice shops in and plenty of places to eat but as far as being a must-see…I think not.
More so than any other city in Japan Fukuoka really comes into its own when the sun sets. Rather than Street after street of neon lit shops and eateries this city retains a more traditional and understated atmosphere. Soon after the sun sets hundreds of vendors set up tiny food stalls along the waterways, each one selling a very limited menu of some of the best food I have ever eaten.
These Yatai as they are called really are one of the best experiences in Japan. As we wandered down the riverbanks of central Fukuoka we suddenly entered a smokey haze of gorgeous smells and unfamiliar foods. Huge vats of fresh pork broth and every kind of yakitori imaginable. It was then that it started to pour with rain, but rather than dampening our spirits it only acted to enhance the atmosphere.
Soon we were snuggled beneath a plywood covered Yatai stand with a group of locals with barely enough room to lift our chopsticks. Outside the smoke and the rain swirled together to form a mist that spread out from the riverbank and onto the river itself.
There were no English menus and our lack of Japanese skills meant that the chef simply said ‘Ramen’ and we nodded. Now if it hasn’t become obvious from this blog the food in Japan is incredible, everything you eat is delicious in a way that food has never been before. The ramen from the Yatai is a whole new level of incredible. Every aspect of this dish was ridiculous and Fukuoka was worth a visit for the Yatai alone.
Our night in Fukuoka was over all too soon as we had to be up very early the next morning to catch our flight to Okinawa. So once we had eaten every last drop of ramen we waddled back to the hostel and crawled into bed.
The next morning we were up at 5am as we wandered half asleep to the airport, the next part of our trip (and last stop before Tokyo) was Okinawa. This is Asia’s answer to Hawaii, a group of three archipelagos: Okinawa, Kerama and Yaeyama which stretch as far south as Taiwan and are home to the oldest living communities in the world.
After countless hostels and early mornings we couldn’t wait to soak up the sun and experience yet another sub-culture within Japan.
See you soon,