Fukuoka: Yatai and Gyoza and Cats! Oh My!

After reading the most recent Hyogo book club selection, From the Fatherland, With Love, I felt I already had a connection to the city of Fukuoka, where most of the novel takes place. Fortunately, there have been no recent attempts to invade the prefecture’s capital, though interestingly enough, the origin of kamikaze stems from one such invasion. In the 1200s, an unmatchable Mongolian invasion force nearly took over Fukuoka before a typhoon decimated their numbers. This typhoon was named kamikaze. Hopefully, no more divine winds will be needed in the future.


Getting There and Around

            Using the shinkansen is expensive, but also offers you so much more flexibility than flights. If you go the cheaper route with Peach, though, the airport is well connected to Hakata, one of the transportation hubs in Fukuoka.

The train lines in Fukuoka are fairly convenient. If you want to travel to the glorious feline haven, Ainoshima, you’ll need to ride a bus and a ferry in addition to a train. Make sure you line up relatively early for the ferry ride back. We would have missed it were it not for three kind women giving up their seats and those of us with a plane to catch would have been cutting it uncomfortably close.


Where to Stay

            As always, Toyoko Inn is affordable if you share a room and has many well-located hotels. Another recommended option is Hana Hostel. It’s between Tenjin and Hakata stations, so you can easily explore the lively parts of the city. They also have branches in places such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima where you can use a point card.


ShoufukujiWhat to Do

            In Japan, food stalls are called yatai. They are usually set up only for summer festivals (see Rackle’s article for more on these!), but Fukuoka is home to about 150 permanent ones. They are a great dining experience as long as you know what you’re getting into. Always choose one with listed prices, or else they’re likely to take advantage of you. The highest rated yatai in Fukuoka is Mami-chan’s near Tenjin station. It’s easy to see why. Her food is incredible (the gyoza in particular are amazing, and though we ate too much before we could try it, the mabo dofu looked delicious as well), she is a great hostess, she serves complimentary chicken wings, and the customers she attracts are a fun and talkative bunch. Mami-chan also likes to take pictures to put up on her website: http://yataimamichan.daa.jp/ Be warned that the wait can be a bit lengthy depending on what night you go as she is popular.

As for touristy things, Fukuoka is home to Japan’s first Zen Buddhist temple, Shoufukuji (which is also home to a rather aloof cat). The Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and Artium art gallery are both great for art lovers. Artium had an exhibit on animation from Poland, the Czech Republic, and Croatia while we were there and we could have spent far more time there than what we had available to us. Fukuoka Tower and Robosquare are both near each other and are mildly interesting. Fukuoka Tower is expensive, as most other observatories in Japan are, and they try to make you buy pictures and other silly things. Robosquare has cute little robot shows throughout the day.


As the crazy cat lady in training that I am, one of my favorite parts of Fukuoka is Ainoshima, the cat island. After stepping off the ferry, you will see several cats lying around in the street, waiting for someone to give them love or treats. They’re the same thing, really. If you somehow become bored with the kitties, there is a shrine you can hunt for. Along the path, there are ridiculous numbers of caterpillars (at least in June). Once your hunger strengthens, you can eat at the single restaurant on the island. It has a selection of noodles and seafood and is actually quite good. Everyone enjoyed their meal and the waitress was very sweet. Pet the cats at least a couple more times before you get in line for the ferry back to the mainland.

After a full day of sightseeing, you may be in need of liquid relaxation. Tenjin houses many bars and live houses. One of these, Frog Town, is run by a man who lived in Los Angeles for more than twenty years, so he’s practically American. The bar is well-known for its mojitos. For our group, it was hit or miss. Some of us liked them quite a lot and some of us didn’t care for them at all. The Dark Room has a rooftop terrace, but it was closed when we ventured in. The place lives up to its name and is, indeed, dark. There is an area where you can dance to your standard fare of club music while watching a mute Pantera concert anthology. Off Broadway is your standard gaijin bar, but you may get free nachos out of the deal if you order and they forget to put it on your bill! Queblick, a live house, put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in Japan. Definitely check it out if that’s your thing.


Last Minute Points

-Car 16 of the shinkansen appears to be a magical place. Check there first if you’re buying tickets near the last minute.

-Don’t forget your ICOCA (if you have one) for easier train riding!

-Along with yatai, Fukuoka is also famous for its ramen, tonkotsu ramen especially. Eat some. Or lots. Ramen Stadium in the Canal City mall has many options. The gyoza at the Sapporo shop are gigantic.


Fukuoka has a great deal to do and is worthwhile to visit for just a weekend and maybe even a week. Three day weekends seem like they’d be the perfect amount of time to get a taste for the city, and what do you know! We have quite a few in the fall term. I will definitely return for another trip filled with yatai and cats.


Brittany Teodorski


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