Exploring Fukuoka: A Gem in Japan's Kyushu Island

by Nana Young

As a street food hub, harbor city, and cultural fusion project, Fukuoka is arguably the most interesting place to be on Kyushu Island. Join us as we explore all of the exciting elements of Fukuoka, from its vibrant nightlife to family-friendly activities.

Discovering the Charm of Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan waterfront Cityscape at twilight.

Kyushu Island’s largest and most populous city, Fukuoka, is a major tourist attraction in Japan. The city sits along the shores of Hakata Bay and is the capital city of Fukuoka Prefecture. Fukuoka is also closer to Seoul, South Korea, than it is to Tokyo. Its proximity to the Asian mainland made it a vital harbor city. This turned out to be a double-edged sword, as it became an entry point for friendly settlers and hostile invaders alike.

Fukuoka was so far from major societal and political centers like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto that it developed its own culture from the cross-cultures of its diverse inhabitants. To this day, the people of Fukuoka have a distinct culture and dialect. In 1899, the Japanese government merged Hakata port city and Fukuoka castle town into one. This meant that Hakata was absorbed into the city and now exists as a district within it. The result is the blend of modernity and tradition we know today as Fukuoka. 

With more street food stalls than the rest of the country combined, Fukuoka is the street food capital of Japan. It’s also famous for its nightlife and shopping scene. In this post, we’ll serve as your guide to activities in the city. We’ve got lots of suggestions and tips so you never run out of things to do in Fukuoka, Japan.

Fukuoka's Must-Visit Attractions: A Curated List

If you’re in need of places to visit during your stay in Fukuoka, the city offers countless attractions. Check out our curated list of the top attractions in Fukuoka.

Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine: This is one of hundreds of Tenmangu shrines in Japan. Like the others, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to the deity of Sugawara no Michizane, who used to live as a scholar. In March, there were over 6,000 blooming plum trees on the shrine grounds. The ancient shrine is located just outside central Fukuoka and sits a few minutes away from the Kyushu National Museum on foot.

Main hall of Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka, Japan.

Canal City Hakata: Tagged by many as a “city within a city,” Canal City Hakata is a massive complex that serves as a hub for shopping and entertainment in Fukuoka. It contains several shops, game centers, restaurants, hotels, and more.

The Canal City, a shopping mall. One of many tourist attractions

Ohori Park: Tourists love to explore the two-kilometer cycling and walking course at Ohori Koen and its natural environment. The city park has a large pond at the center of this course. Ohori Park Japanese Garden is also adjacent to Fukuoka Castle, a major attraction that we’ll discuss in detail later in this post.

Ohori Park, Fukuoka in Autumn

Fukuoka Tower: On Hakata Bay’s shore sits the 234-meter-tall Fukuoka Tower. This structure was erected in 1989 and is the tallest seaside tower in Japan. The tower featured in the Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla movie created in 1994.

Fukuoka, Japan downtown city skyline

Fukuoka Kokusai Center: This center is the hotspot for sumo wrestling enthusiasts in Kyushu. The venue hosts several sumo tournaments, particularly in November, and can hold over 10,000 people at once.

Highest ranking sumo wrestlers entering the arena in the Fukuoka Tournament

Savoring Fukuoka: A Culinary Journey

Hakata pork bones ramen in a bowl

Fukuoka is a foodie’s paradise thanks to its vibrant culinary scene consisting of regional specialty dishes and famous traditional Japanese dishes. For instance, Hakata has its own unique take on certain dishes like motsunabe and ramen. Motsunabe is a special Japanese hot pot dish in the city. They are softer and spongier than regular versions of the meal, thanks to the addition of beef small intestines. Another Fukuoka specialty dish is Hakata Ramen. This noodle meal is made with tonkotsu, a type of pork bone soup, and thin noodles. The city also has its own versions of gomasaba and udon noodles.

Yatai Food Stand, Along Nakasu Riverside and street.

These meals are typically sold at yatai (Japanese street food stalls) or izakaya (Japanese food-serving bars), which open in the evenings and remain so throughout the night. There are over 100 yatai shops in Fukuoka, and they sell a variety of foods, ranging from local specialty recipes to more general dishes like yakitori, gyoza dumplings, tempura, ramen, and udon. The best areas to find unmatched street food in Fukuoka are Nakasu and Tenjin. Fukuoka is also home to several fresh seafood markets, which serve the fish served at sushi restaurants, izakaya, and yatai. The Nagahama Fish Market is the largest in Kyushu but is only open to non-traders and businesses once a month. 

Exploring the Ruins: Fukuoka Castle and Its Historical Significance

Tourist come to visit Fukuoka castle during full bloom of cherry blossom.

The majority of tourists who visit the city have heard of the Fukuoka Castle ruins and how they offer visitors a glimpse into the city's samurai past and panoramic views of the surrounding area. The remnants of Fukuoka Castle or Maizuru Castle are located at Maizuru Park, a few minutes walking distance from Ohori Koen Subway Station.

In 1607, Kuroda Nagamasa, a feudal landlord or daimyo, completed Fukuoka Castle. During the Edo Period (1603–1868), the castle used to be the largest in all of Kyushu. Unfortunately, it met a tragic fate in 1871, the 4th year of the Meiji Era, due to its status as a symbol of Japan’s feudal past. The Meiji Restoration resulted in the destruction of the castle and its structures as prefectures replaced the han system.

The Japanese government declared the Fukuoka Castle ruins a historic site in August 1957. Today, it has become one of the best attractions on Kyushu Island. During spring, Maizuru Park becomes a buzzing spot for hanami (cherry blossom viewing). This serves as an ideal time to see the ruins and learn about the country’s history.

A Shopper's Haven: Retail Therapy in Fukuoka

the Hakata Riverain Mall hosts over 70 shops representing the world's finest designer names.

The city is a haven for shoppers in Japan. There are almost too many options when it comes to choosing the right place to shop. To help you streamline the process, we’ve curated a list of Fukuoka's shopping districts and the kinds of items they sell. This way, you know exactly where to head if you need something specific.

Canal City Hakata: Earlier, we mentioned this massive commercial complex as one of the top attractions in the area. That wasn’t an exaggeration. Canal City, Hakata, is filled with entertainment facilities that make it the best place to shop with family.

Tenjin Underground Shopping Center: This underground district allows you to shop to your heart’s content without having to worry about harsh weather. It’s home to several high-end boutiques, making it the ideal place to shop for luxury fashion items.

Shopping Town Shintencho: This is the home of traditional Hakata merchants. If you want to see what it's like to shop with the locals, the Shintencho shopping district is the place to be. It also doubles as an avenue for major local festivals.

Hakata Riverain: This is a major shopping complex with an emphasis on local produce. This is the best place to buy Hakata traditional craft items and goods.

Cultural Festivals: Fukuoka's Rich Traditions Come to Life

Summer festival with men racing through the streets while bearing 1-ton floats on their shoulders. Hakata Gion Yamakasa.

Like most cities in Japan, Fukuoka has its fair share of festivals that showcase its vibrant traditions and community spirit. Hakata Gion Yamakasa is the oldest festival in the city. It’s celebrated from July 1 to July 15 every year in Hakata, with Kushida Jinja (or shrine) as the central location. Every year, a million spectators watch the float-racing ceremony, which is Yamakasa's main attraction.

Another famous Fukuoka festival is Hakata Dontaku. This one lasts for two days (May 3–May 4). It features a massive parade and street performances from over 33,000 performers. Hakata Dontaku has 2 million annual spectators.

The Green Spaces of Fukuoka: Urban Oases

Purple Flowers taken at Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, Fukuoka, Japan, during Spring.

If you’re looking for serene things to do, Fukuoka is filled with lush parks and gardens. These green spaces are perfect for relaxation and nature walks. They also offer you a chance to escape from the noise and stress of urban life. Besides Ohori Park and its large pond, there are several other parks in the city. The Uminonakamichi Seaside Park is famous for having 300 hectares of green space and offering family-friendly attractions.

If you want to witness one of the best displays of seasonal flowers in the country, take a trip to Nokonoshima Island Park. The place also allows you to enjoy camping, walking, and other outdoor activities. Maizuru Park and Kawachi Fujien Wisteria Garden are also famous green space attractions in the area.

Fukuoka's Art Scene: Museums and Galleries

Fukuoka Art Museum with notable Asian art and temporary exhibitions

Want to see some artistic and cultural exhibitions during your stay in Fukuoka? The city never disappoints. There are various art and culture venues to quench your taste. Both the Fukuoka Art Museum and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum are perhaps the most famous of these venues. People often mistake them because of their identical names, but they’re two very different establishments. However, they both offer massive collections of Asian art, some of which are temporary exhibitions.

If you prefer galleries that focus on local artists, you should visit the Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. For a deep dive into cultural history rather than art, we recommend the nearby Kyushu National Museum, Korokan Ruins Museum, and Fukuoka Red Brick Culture Museum.

Family Fun in Fukuoka: Activities for All Ages

Fukuoka PayPay Dome

Visiting Fukuoka with family? We’ve got a lot of suggestions for family-friendly activities in the area. Check it out below:

  1. Watch a game of baseball at the Fukuoka PayPay Dome stadium.

  2. View live fish at the Marine World Uminonakamichi aquarium.

  3. Enjoy a family picnic at Nokonoshima Island Park.

  4. Play games or watch movies at the Canal City Hakata entertainment complex.

  5. Shop for toys at Kiddyland Fukuoka Parco and JR Hakata City at Hakata Station.

  6. See wild animals at the Fukuoka City Zoo.

  7. Enjoy fun rides at the Marinoa City Fukuoka amusement park.

Taking the Scenic Route: Day Trips from Fukuoka

Yanagawa River Boat (Japan)

If you’re staying in Fukuoka for several days and would like to see other nearby regions, you’re in luck. The city may be far from cultural centers like Tokyo and Kyoto. But there are several islands and towns that would be fun for you to visit.

The quaint town of Yanagawa is about 35 miles from Fukuoka city center and it takes less than an hour to get there by train. Yanagawa is famous for its vast network of canals, which is similar to that of Venice in Italy.

Nokonoshima Island is another option. The island is only a 10-minute ferry trip away from Fukuoka. The famous park and stunning beaches in the area are a must-see for anyone, especially if you’re with kids.

Understanding Fukuoka: Its Role in Japan and Beyond

Yanagawa River Boat (Japan)

Fukuoka's proximity to China and Korea makes it an important gateway to Asia. The Hakata harbor and Hakata Old Town have long contributed to the region’s economic growth by facilitating trade between Japan and other Asian countries. Besides commerce, the port city has allowed for a massive cultural exchange through immigration, which is the main reason behind its growing role in international relations.

Why Fukuoka Captivates Hearts

Nanzoin Temple in Fukuoka is home to a huge statue of the Reclining Buddha (Nehanzo) which claims to be the largest bronze statue in the world.

From its friendly atmosphere and delicious cuisine to its scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage, Fukuoka's appeal is undeniable. It’s a must-visit destination in Japan, but even if you can’t make it, you can still experience a bit of Fukuoka through food. Simply get a Bokksu Snack Box subscription, and every month, we’ll deliver a box filled with treats from different regions of Japan, including Fukuoka.

Author Bio