Dom’s work trip south was comprised of work in two areas in Southern Japan. Having completed the first portion in the Nagasaki/Sasebo area, he needed to transfer to the next job. Of course, we couldn’t make the day a complete travel day, so (naturally) we found a great stop along the way, Fukuoka, one of Japan’s largest cities which (surprisingly is actually closer to Seoul than it is to Tokyo – crazy!).

If you’re a tad confused as to why the heck we are starting on “Day 5” click here to read about the first four days of our Southern Japan adventure!

[ D A Y • 5 ] Sasebo→ Fukuoka: Tsubame-no-Mori Hiroba, Canal City, Iciran, Kushida Shrine, Fukuoka Castle Ruins, City Science Museum, Yatai Food Stall, Fukuoka → Iwakuni

We slept in some…well, as much as the kids would allow that is and then checked out of Quintessa Hotel to complete the 18 minute walk to Sasebo Station stopping along the way for some pipping hot Starbucks! Exploring the day away in Fukuoka was on our mind, however, there is just something about not rushing out the door after a couple long days of work. Just taking it easy. We boarded the train at Sasebo Station bound for Hakata at 1142 and not too long after arrived at the station at 1334. Easy (+ seamless) first leg of travel for the day.

Once of the nicest things about larger train stations in Japan (and Hakata is certainly one of them) is that you can generally find a place to store your bags if you want to get out and adventure for a little while. After all who wants to tote a rolling duffel or suitcase around the city all. day. long? Bueller? Bueller? We have all the details below of where we stored our bags for the day, but found a 700yen locker big enough for a medium sized suitcase.

Bags are stored; let’s go!

With bags stored, we sauntered over to Tsubame-no-Mori Hiroba, a rooftop garden in Hakata-Ku Station, for some views. Since the rooftop is located inside the station (y’all this station is massive!) it makes a great first stop and introduction to Fukuoka. Excellent free panoramic views of the city, a small train track, and an area for kids to peddle around bikes.

Fukuoka is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen and since everyone was hungry there was no debating what was for lunch. You could spend days researching the “best” tonkotsu ramen in Fukuoka and still never come up to a firm answer. We settled on Ichiran, a well-known ramen chain throughout Japan, that specializes in tonkotsu. You can find Ichiran in many Japanese cities (heck, even New York has one now), but they got their humble start in Fukuoka. Honestly, this type of ramen is our favorite with a pork bone base, firm noodles and delicious pork belly on the top. If you’re thinking that it doesn’t sound that great on paper, we’d have to agree. However, in reality it is absolutely perfect – especially on a cold day! There is a location in Canal City, a place loaded with restaurants and stores, and while it is not the main Ichiran shop, it was the closest (~1k walk from Hakata Station or essentially 9min walking).

Overall, Canal City is a really nice place to just take a stroll, but we had some folks in our little tribe with ramen on their mind, so we stuck to the task at hand – find Ichiran.

Luckily for us the big red sign made our mission fairly easy. Ordering here is simple, too, but if you’ve never experienced before it can be a tad confusing, so here’s a quick run-down on how to go about getting that delicious ramen. First, decide what you want and purchase tickets for said food items from the vending machine. Then, decide where you want to sit and select your seat (there will be a chart on the wall which indicates which seats are occupied and which are available). Next, find yo’ seat! Once there, you’ll find a piece of paper and a pen waiting for you. This is your opportunity to customize your ramen to satisfy all your personal preferences. Soon after, someone will come by and sweep your card away. Then you wait…

The booths may seem a bit isolating at first and you may be wondering why we would ever select a spot where we couldn’t sit as a family. Well…the black walls on the sides of the booth fold, so you can totally get rid of the divider. While contrary to the way Americans usually dine, the booths are designed to allow each customer to focus solely on the life changing bowl of ramen that will soon slide through the bamboo curtain in front of you. Can you tell our love for tonkotsu runs pretty darn deep?

Bellies warm (+ filled) everyone was in good spirits, so we headed back outside to Kushida Shrine, an ancient Shinto Shrine dating back to 757 (5 minute walk away). No, that is not the area code…it’s the YEAR! As such, it is the oldest shrine in Fukuoka. It is also home to Yamakasa Gion Matsuri, the biggest festival in Fukuoka which begins at 0459 on July 15th. During this festival, thousands of men from seven districts run through the streets of Hakata in traditional dress, carrying or pushing incredibly detailed one-ton floats in a race to the finish. The festival dates back 770 years to an outbreak of the plague in 1241. Legend says that a Buddhist priest sprinkled holy water form the top of a decorated alter to appease the evil spirits causing the disease. Over the years, celebrating the eradication of disease evolved into creating and decorating the massive floats of today in remembrance of the original decorated alter.

When planning the day we divided it up into two sections, with the first portion ending at Kushida Shrine and the second picking up at Fukuoka Castle Ruins. Although there were some public transport options we opted to walk (39 minutes) between the two areas as we knew we would be sitting a good bit later in the day as we made our way to Iwakuni (the location of the Dom’s next work assignment).

We walked through Kawabata Shopping Arcade, the first major shopping street in Hakata,  on our way to Fukuoka Castle ruins. The shopping street itself dates back over 130 years, and served as an important center of commerce for the city. It always amazes me how even simple shopping places like this are just chock full of history here.

Although Fukuoka used to be the largest castle in the area, it was torn down after the Meiji Restoration, and only a few remaining walls are left standing. These days, the old castle grounds offer lots of walking paths and a chance to enjoy some green space in the middle of the city. Spring is the most popular season here, as the area is bursting with sakura. Even when we visited in January there were some early plum blossoms making an appearance. Climbing up onto a platform at the base of one of the original watch towers, you can also get a pretty fantastic panoramic view of the city.

The Fukuoka City Science Museum is only a 17 min walk from the castle ruins, making for an easy next stop for those with kids in tow. The building features a ton of exhibits which focus on technology, biology, and physics. There is a huge planetarium at the top of the building, but we were told all of the shows were in Japanese. Since Dom’s and my Japanese is pretty poor (at best), we decided to skip. The kids loved playing with the robots, attempting to land an airplane in a simulator, as well as playing with several physics based exhibits. It was a fantastic way for the kids to get the last of their wiggles out before hopping back on the train.

When the museum closed, we headed to the subway and started making our way back to Fukuoka Station, but had one last Fukuoka experience to dive into, getting dinner at a Yatai Food Stall. These are street food stalls that pop up around nightfall and serve some of the most delicious food in the city. Each stall specializes in a particular cuisine, but the real draw is the chance to chat with the chef.

The *very* small stalls provide a cozy environment that fosters conversation. The Nakasu/Nakagawa Area (along the river) is well known for several Yatai Stalls, and also happened to be somewhat on our way back to Hakata station – lucky us! We stopped for some ramen, but the real show stopper was the grilled steak. Overall, good views, great food (albeit a tad expensive), and fantastic conversation…great way to close out our Fukuoka experience before hopping on the Shinkansen to our next destination. Next stop, Iwakuni/Hiroshima!

Baggage Storage at Hakata Station:

  • Admission/Cost: 600, 700 and 900yen/per locker (depending on size of locker needed)

Hakata Station Baggage Storage Tip: There are multiple places to store luggage within the station. The luggage storage (coin lockers) we used were located by Chikushi Gate (East) next to Black Cat. When you exit the train terminal you’ll see a sign for Hakata Ekinaka Shopping. Make a left there. Black cat and coin lockers will be on your right.

Tsubame-no-Mori Hiroba (Rooftop Garden in Hakata-Ku Station):

  • Hours: Varies by season, your best bet is to check the website before you go. When we visited it was open 1100 – 1800.
  • Admission: Free to go up, but the train and pedal bikes are a small fee

Canal City:

  • Hours:
    • Shops: 1000 – 2100
    • Food & Drink: 1100 – 2300 (depending on shop)
  • Admission: 890yen/bowl of premium tonkotsu ramen (Kamadare Style)
  • Parking:
    • Monday to Friday: 0700 – 1900 (200yen/30min) and 1900 – 0700 (100yen/30min)
    • Saturday, Sunday and National Holidays: 200yen/30min (at all times)

Kushida Shrine:

  • Hours: 0400 – 2200
  • Admission: Free

Kushida Shrine Tip: Also accessible by public transport. If you opt to take the city subway, plan on a 5 minute walk from Gion Subway Station. If you opt to use the bus, the shrine is a 2 minute walk from the Nishitetsu “Canal City Mae” stop.

Fukuoka Castle Ruins:

  • Hours: 24/7
  • Admission: Free

City Science Museum (all Japanese, so open in Google Chrome to translate):

  • Hours: 0930 – 2130 (Basic Exhibition however closes @1800 and Dome Theater @1830). Last admission to Basic Exhibition is @1730
  • Admission: 500yen/Adult, 300yen/High School Student, 200yen/Junior, Free for preschoolers
  • Parking: None

City Science Museum Tip: Also accessible by public transport. Using the Fukuoka City Subway, the museum is located right outside of exit #3 at Ropponmatsu Station on the Nanakuma Line.