Why is Fukuoka the Most Beautiful City in Japan?

The Beautiful History of Fukuoka

In 2013, the global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle ranked Fukuoka 12th on their world’s most livable cities list. It has four distinct seasons with humid summers and relatively mild winters; in fact, you’ll rarely see any accumulation of snow on the city’s streets. With its close proximity to Asia, Fukuoka has a diverse population and rich history of interaction with other Asian countries. The city is home to many attractions, including museums, shopping districts, sporting events, festivals, restaurants, and historical sites and memorials.

There is evidence that suggests rice farming was introduced to Japan around 500 B.C. via Itazuke village in Fukuoka Prefecture. Many scholars argue that Fukuoka is the oldest city in Japan and may have been its prehistoric capital. In 633 A.D. Dazaifu was the administrative capital of Japan and was often referred to as the Port of Dazaifu. Two of Japan’s oldest festivals are held yearly in Fukuoka: Yamakasa at Kushida Shrine (since 1241) and Dontaku throughout the streets of Hakata (since 1179). Kublai Khan’s armies attacked Fukuoka in 1274 and 1281, but thanks to typhoons providing “divine wind” during both attacks the Mongols failed to seize the city. These two events gave birth to the Kamikaze name used by the Japanese pilots during World War II. Last, but certainly not least, Fukuoka City was created in 1889 by the merger of two cities – one controlled by samurai (Fukuoka) and the other controlled by merchants (Hakata). The city’s name was initially chosen as Hakata, however, some unruly samurai crashed the party and the name was changed to Fukuoka City. It’s interesting to note, some people still refer to Fukuoka City as Hakata. Talk about holding a grudge!

 Fukuoka Tower

Fukuoka Tower stands at 234 meters (767.7 feet) high and is the tallest seaside tower in Japan. It was built in 1989 as part of the Asian Pacific Expo and is covered with 8,000 half-mirrors. You can take a 70-second elevator ride 123 meters (403.5 feet) to the observation room where you are able to observe a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and islands, Fukuoka City, and Hakata Bay. The city view is especially magnificent on clear nights when you can see all of Fukuoka City glowing from the city’s lights. The tower itself also provides a great illumination that changes with each season or special event.

As with Momochi Seaside Park, it is also a great spot for romantic couples. Not only is there a sparkling night view of Fukuoka City, but on the 3rd level of the observation room there is also a Lovers Sanctuary. Here you can vow to love each other forever with a heart-shaped locket fastened to the sanctuary’s fence that lines the tower’s windows. Lovers Sanctuary also provides a great photo op under a heart shaped flower arch with a benedictional bell for lovers.

Sakura at Ohori Park, Maizuru Park, and the Fukuoka Castle Ruins

Photo by: ascesis

Ohori Park is a spacious park with approximately 1,000 cherry trees circling a pond that was once part of Fukuoka Castle’s moat system. Swan boats are available that allow you to view the blossoming cherry trees from a vantage point of the pond’s waters. The park borders Maizuru Park so it is very convenient to visit both parks in the same day of cherry tree viewing.

Maizuru Park is occupied by the ruins of Fukuoka Castle and a small lake. The two in combination with the spectacle of blossoming cherry trees makes for a memorable experience. The park has many walking paths around and directly under the cherry trees. Maizuru Park, with approximately 1,000 cherry trees, is spacious enough to accommodate many visitors and offers great views from atop the ruins.

Fukuoka Castle was built in the beginning of the 17th century and was destroyed after the Meiji Restoration because it represented a feudal past the Meiji government was trying to forget. As a result, the only things remaining from the once largest castle in Kyushu are a few castle walls, turrets, and remnants of a moat. However, the contrast of the short lived cherry blossom and an old castle’s ruins still standing only adds to the beauty of the sakura experience at Maizuru Park. The best time to visit the ruins and Maizuru Park is usually late March and early April.

Even on a normal day, Ohori and Maizuru Park are always beautiful places to spend the day; however, in combination with the blossoming cherry trees it is an experience that should not be missed. Read more about Ohori and Maizuru Park cherry blossoms here.

Fukuoka’s Temples and Shrines

Kushida Shrine is the grand tutelary shrine of Hakata, meaning its deity is the protector of the city. The Shrine was built in 757 in honor of the gods of Ohatanushi-no-mikoto, Amaterasu-omikami, and Susanowo-no-mikoto. Emperor Koken ordered the shrine’s construction with the intention of sharing a god with the Kushida Shrine in Ise Province, modern day Mie Prefecture. The grounds have a symbolic gingko tree with two tablets in memory of the Mongolian invasion. Also on the shrine’s grounds is a popular “lifting stone” where many sumo wrestlers have come to test their strength. There are many festivals held at Kushida Shrine that attracts millions of visitors each year. Its most popular is the Hakata Gion Yamakasa that takes place in the summertime between July 1st and 15th. During this festival, men carrying extremely large and extravagant 1-ton floats called yamakasa race through the streets with dedication, focus, and determination. One of the massive floats is stored on the shrine’s grounds and is available for observation and pictures.

Dazaifu Tenmangu spans over 3,000 acres providing access to boutique shops, restaurants, shrines, ponds, old Japanese style bridges, koi, sacred trees, and gardens. The main shrine and attraction was built for Tenjin, who is the deification of the 10th century scholar Sugawara no Michizane. The site of the shrine is also his final resting place as the shrine was built over his remains. The shrine is also the home of some 6,000 Japanese plum trees. One in particular, according to Japanese folklore, flew from Kyoto to Dazaifu in order to accompany the great Sugawara no Michizane.

The hidden treasure of Fukuoka is an enormous bronze statue of the reclining Buddha at Nanzoin Temple. This bronze Buddha measures at a whopping 41 meters in length, 11 meters in height, and weighs 300 tons. It is considered the world’s largest laying bronze Buddha statue and sits tucked away in the mountains of Sasaguri. Nanzoin Temple also has many trails to other shrines situated around the temple grounds, which includes the relaxing and meditative sounds of tiny waterfalls throughout the area.

The Sumiyoshi Shrine was once one of the greatest shrines in the Chikuzen area - present day Fukuoka Prefecture. The shrine is associated with the gods of safe sea faring, and in a long line of Sumiyoshi Shrines was often visited last before departing for sea from ancient Japan. Other than bringing good fortune and luck to those setting out for sea, the deity of Sumiyoshi is also worshipped as the God of Sumo, which is enshrined in a bronze statue on the Shrine’s grounds. It is said that if you touch the palms or body of the sumo statue you will absorb some of its energy and spirits. Additionally, the shrine’s grounds include a stage for Noh Theater and smaller shrines for other deities. The shrine is also home to a relaxing pond and various birds that provide soothing background music for its visitors. .

Fukuoka Food

Fukuoka has a rich history of foods and sweets that are specific to this region of Japan and is known 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.

Motsunabe is an offal hotpot that has its origins in Fukuoka. A broth made from soy sauce or miso is poured into a hotpot, prepared beef or pork offal is then boiled, and finally the soup is topped off with vegetables such as cabbage and garlic chives creating a delicious combination of flavors. Hakata Ramen is another specialty originating in Fukuoka. Hakata Ramen is ramen noodle in a tonkotsu broth (pork-bone). The pork-bone creates a rich, thick, and milky soup, which is different from the thinner shoyu, shio, and miso broth typical throughout Japan.

Yatai are tiny outdoor food stalls that line the streets of Fukuoka cooking up traditional Japanese food and Fukuoka specialties. The stalls open usually just after dusk, have 1 to 2 chefs, and can fit maybe 6 to 10 customers at a time. Thanks to the Yatai food stalls and the variety of its dishes, in 2013 CNN Travel ranked Fukuoka as one of the ten greatest street food cities in Asia. Yatai provides a great opportunity to eat, drink, and talk with the local residents of Fukuoka. Read our article on Canal City eats here.