The Most Popular Fukuoka Omiyage

            Before leaving NILS, do not forget to pick up some Fukuoka omiyage. Find out which regional gifts are popular from Kyushu sweets to Hakata crafts

Traditional Fukuoka Crafts and Sweets

          Fukuoka has a rich history of foods, crafts, and sweets that are specific to this region of Japan. From motsunabe to Hakata Ramen, Fukuoka is known throughout Japan as one of the best places to enjoy delicious cuisines. When it comes to sweets and souvenirs, arguably the most popular item in Fukuoka is karashi mentaiko. This particular cod ovum is slowly marinated in a chili pepper sauce and usually served with rice, over spaghetti and pizza, or as a rice cracker. Karashi mentaiko can be found at just about any department store in Fukuoka.

The most popular sweet in Fukuoka is the award winning Hakata Torimon. This milky flavored bun, wrapped around white bean jam with cream and butter, has won the gold medal of Monde Selection for eight consecutive years. The combination of Japanese and Western ingredients creates a slightly wet texture of the bun and an inside that melts with soft bean jam.

            Two other Japanese and Western fusions of sugary ingredients popular in Fukuoka are the Hakata no Hito and keiran somen. Hakata no Hito is a small baumkuchen (role cake) with red bean jelly paste as the filling. The wrapping is one of sophistication and easily recognizable. It is the image of a Hakata Doll donned in a kimono with traditional Japanese textile patterns. Keiran Somen found its inspiration from Portuguese traders in the 16th century when they arrived at the shores with fios de ovos. It is whipped egg yolk poured over bubbling sugar creating angel hair-like noodles. They are often twisted into tightly locked strands and chopped into individual servings, or tossed together as if it were a plate of spaghetti.

Fukuoka Crafts

            When it comes to crafts of Fukuoka, the two things that immediately come to mind are Hakata-ori and the Hakata Doll. Hakata-ori is a dyed-in silk textile that maintains its unique firmness and shape when used in kimonos. The origins of this weaving technique can be traced back to the Kamakura Era (1185–1333) when a Hakata merchant named Mitsuda Yazaemon traveled to China and spent six years learning how to make textiles, pottery, noodles, and herbal medicine. After returning to Japan, Mitsuda modified the Chinese technique of weaving and mastered his own style called Hakata-ori. The texture of this textile is unmistakably identified and easily recognized by the swishing sound when tied.

            The Hakata Doll finds its origins in 17th-century Hakata when a roof tile craftsman named Souhichi Masaki produced ceramic dolls that were often presented as gifts to Buddhist temples and Lord Kuroda Nagamasa, the daimyo of Fukuoka at the time. The craft was later passed on to Kichibei Nakanoko who began designing multi-colored, unglazed dolls resembling those we are familiar with today. The dolls are traditionally inspired by Noh, Kabuki, and woodblock prints called ukiyoe. Every aspect and feature of the Hakata Doll is gently crafted into a beautiful and detailed figurine from Japan’s past.

            If you really have an unquenchable thirst for traditional Hakata crafts, you can visit the Hakata Traditional Craft Center that exhibits the most famous crafts Fukuoka has to offer. The center exhibits all kinds of local crafts, such as Hakata Dolls, Hakata-ori, Hakata koma (spinning top toy), and Hakata Hariko (paper-mache dolls). Hakata Traditional Craft Center is free of charge and located next to Kushida Shrine.

Hiyoko, Yuki Usagi, and Other Popular Sweet Shops

            A popular sweet known throughout Japan is the little baby chick called Hiyoko. This famous cake is shaped like a chick with tiny eyes and a small beak. It is filled with a smooth yolk bean paste made from pea beans and fresh eggs. Hiyoko has been a favorite of the Japanese since 1912 when a store manager from a small mining town called Iizuka created this adorable sweet. Can you see it now? Tough miners covered in coal dust sitting by the mountain eating these cute baby chicks? Well, that’s Japan for you. Hiyoko shops can be found throughout all of Fukuoka, including train stations, airports, and department stores.

            Yuki Usagi, literally snow bunny in English, is a white kidney bean paste covered by a fluffy marshmallow in the shape of a (you guessed it) pink or white bunny. The inspiration of this marshmallow delight is a Japanese folktale about a rabbit that is saved by a priest named Kokushi who eventually returns the favor by transforming into a dragon and saving him from a storm at sea. You can stop by the Fugetsu Foods distribution store located right outside of Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station, where you can also see their bizarre, and kind of creepy, giant Yuki Usagi sign with glowing red eyes.

            Chidori Manju is recognized by some as the best choice for a sweet souvenir from Fukuoka. It is a white bean jam wrapped by a moist castella skin and seared with their signature mark of a tiny bird called a plover. The sweet is made daily by skilled cooks who only use carefully selected ingredients and work painstakingly to create a mild, yet rich flavor. Chidoriya, the shop that produces Chidori Manju, is located in Hakata and only a 1-minute walk from Gofuku-machi Station.

            For those that prefer rice crackers rather than bean paste sweets, there is an interesting rice cracker that is produced in the shape of sake dishes called Kuroda Bushi Senbei. Kamiya Seika, the shop that sells this rice cracker, was founded in the late Edo period and has been enjoyed by the people of Hakata ever since. The company was an exclusive confection provider for Lord Kuroda and the first to successfully shape rice crackers. If it is good enough for a lord, it’s probably good enough for us! The shop is located just three minutes from Tojinmachi Station in the Chuo Ward of Fukuoka City.

Niwaka-men Masks

Hakata Niwaka is a type of comedic traditional performance art unique to festivals in Fukuoka City. The performers wear funny niwaka-men masks and make jokes surrounding current local events, such as news and rumors. This specific performance can only be seen during the Hakata Dontaku Festival in May and the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival in July. It incorporates the strong Hakata dialect as part of its attraction and humor.

            The niwaka-men masks cover half of the face leaving the nose, mouth, and chin exposed. These masks can be found at various souvenir shops throughout Hakata and at some vendors in the Kawabata shopping arcade.

Shopping at the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum and Canal City      

The Hakata Machiya Folk Museum is a superb glimpse into Hakata’s past. The museum exhibits the many facets of the Hakata life from the Meiji and Taisho eras. They have artifacts, models, and original crafts on display at the museum. There is also an exhibition of the Hakata-ori weaving technique. The museum has a fabulous souvenir shop where you can pick up wonderful traditional craft items as gifts for your friends and family back home. Here you can buy Hakata Dolls, Hakata-ori fabric, and local sweets.

Canal City, popularly referred to as “a city within a city,” is a massive shopping complex located in Hakata, Fukuoka. The 2.5 million square feet complex with over 270 shops sits adjacent to Fukuoka’s entertainment district and between the commercial and retail core of the city. It comes equipped with a variety of foreign and domestic shops, cafes, restaurants, a theater, a game center, a cinema, luxury hotels, and an artificial canal that runs directly through it—hence the name Canal City. The complex is loaded with souvenir shops that range from those specific to Hakata, to general Japanese souvenirs.

You can find more information about Hakata’s Canal City here or here.