Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. With beautiful shorelines, rugged mountains and smoking volcanoes, it is an enchanting escape from the hustle and bustle of many of Japan’s big cities.
Connected to Japan’s main island of Honshu at it’s northern tip, the shinkansen allows a convenient connection, putting it within easy reach of the popular Kansai area (like Osaka, Kyoto and Nara).
The cosmopolitan city of Fukuoka is a major arrival point on Kyushu, and the first stop of our Kyushu adventure. It is the biggest city in Kyushu, once actually two separate towns (Fukuoka castle town to the west of the river Naka-gawa, and Hakata to the east, home for the common folk).
With the neighbouring cities of Seoul and Shanghai not far off shore, Fukuoka has long had trade and international influences over the years. Modern shopping complexes slot in around dense residential apartment buildings, with shrines and temples breaking up the verticality. Canal City is a massive shopping mall and entertainment complex overlooking an articial canal with a fountain symphony. We saw a movie (in English with Japanese subtitles) here in one of the many quality cinemas.
Tocho-ji is a temple with an old five-tiered vermilion-coloured wooden pagoda. Housed inside the modern building is a hugely impressive wooden Buddha. In fact, it’s the largest wooden Buddha in Japan. It’s home seems too small, like being housed in a giant telephone booth. You’d understand when you see it, since we couldn’t take any photos inside.
Shofuku-ji is a Zen temple founded in 1195 by Eisai, who introduced Zen and tea to Japan. A stroll through the grounds and the connected laneways brings a quiet moment of thought.
Further west out of the main city lies castle ruins of Fukuoka-jo. Only the stone walls remain on the old castle’s hilltop, but the fine views of the city and surrounding Maizuru-koen (garden) make it worth the visit. The cherry blossom trees were on show today. And the locals love them, with big heavy Japanese cameras and all!
Nearby, archaeological excavations were underway of ruins surrounding Fukuoka-jo. Who knows what wonders they may find?
As night fell, the aromas of Hakata/Fukuoka’s famous ramen noodles began to waft through the streets. Businessmen (or salarymen as they are called in Japan) love stopping by the yatai on their way home. Essentially food stalls on wheels with portable kitchens and stools, set up along the canals.
Visited 23rd and 24th February 2014.