Of all the Japanese cities we have visited, Fukuoka ranks among the top of our favourites, because it strikes a balance of being urban without being congested.
We arrived at Fukuoka from Yakushima around noon, and it took us a while to sort out our luggage storage. Since we would be flying from Fukuoka airport again, we left two pieces of luggage in a coin operated locker. The widespread availability of lockers and luggage forwarding service in Japan makes life a lot easier for travellers.
By the time we got to Chikae for lunch, it was past 2pm, and the restaurant was virtually empty. The waitresses kept emphasizing to us that the set lunch was no longer available. I suppose that’s the main draw during lunch time, a good value at 1300 Yen. We opted for the course meal, which starts at 4500 Yen, so as to get to sample more dishes. We might have done so anyway even if we got there in time for the set lunch. This would be my second Kaiseki meal (the course meal at Yunotakean in Yufuin being the first ever).
My 1.5 days itinerary for Fukuoka consisted of only two things – food and shopping. We wasted no time and began our shopping at Tenjin Chikagae, the underground shopping mall. It has a very nice ambiance, and it’s amazing that it connects to all the shopping malls in and around Tenjin – Daimaru, Parco and Mitsukoshi department stores being the most prominent ones.
By chance, we walked into North Tenjin, at the northeastern exit of Tenjin Chikagae, and found Matsumoto Kiyoshi, a beauty/pharmaceutical products shop that would interest most Asian women shoppers. Unlike in Osaka, where you will find many of such shops, this was the only shop in Fukuoka that stocked all the items my better half was looking for. So here’s an important tip for shopping in Fukuoka – Tip #1 If you’re looking to buy beauty/pharmaceutical products in Fukuoka, look no further than Matsumoto Kiyoshi. The store at North Tenjin is probably the most easily accessible one, and they are well stocked. The other well-stocked outlet is at Canal City. At each of these two outlets, you will find an SK II counter selling the products at discounted prices. At the time we were there, the Facial Treatment Essence was offered at 30% discount off the retail price (15400 Yen). Obviously, you can imagine what happened..
Speaking of North Tenjin, i read that, at levels 6 and 7, there is a shop selling Anime figurines. I didn’t visit the shop, but this might be of interest to some.
We were thinking of getting some toys for the kids, but there is just a very small toys section at Daimaru, and none at the other stores, except Aeon, at the building north of North Tenjin, which used to be Daiei. Tip #2 If you’re looking for a less upscale department store, look no further than Aeon (formerly Daiei). At the time we were there, foreign tourists were given a 5% storewide discount, in addition to tax free shopping (subject to some processing fee). At the basement, there is a supermarket, and i managed to buy Japanese whiskey and Sake. Japanese snacks, condiments or fruits might be of interest to some and there’s no better place to pick up these than here. Although the toys section was pretty small too, we managed to buy get something for the kids.
You probably already know this, Fukuoka is famous for Tonkotsu Ramen. I came to Fukuoka with a very important mission in mind – to understand Tonkotsu Ramen. I decided very early on that I was going to give Ichiran a miss after the slightly disappointing experience in Tokyo. Instead, I was looking forward to try Mengekijo Genei.
On the way back to the hotel, we popped into the Hakata Ikkousha shop which was just opposite the hotel and ordered another 2 bowls of ramen. To be honest, after 3 bowls of ramen at Mengekijo Genei, shared between 2 adults and 2 kids, we were already very full. But i had a mission to accomplish!
The next morning, we were back to the Tenjin area again to complete the shopping we didn’t manage to finish the day before. I noted from the previous day that there was a shop in Tenjin Chikagae that had a very long queue. It sounded familiar as i somewhat recall reading about them from a Facebook posting. Well, it was Bake cheese tart, no less. I decided i had to try the tart, and the best time to do so was when they were just open in the morning.
A few hours of shopping passed very quickly, and it was time for lunch. Sushiryuu was my choice, the only Sushi meal for the trip.
It was time for Ramen again, right after the Sushi meal. Again, we were quite full from the Sushi, but i had a mission to accomplish! Ippudo was conveniently located in AMU Plaza Hakata station. By the way, i read raving reviews about Il Forno del Mignon in Hakata station, but totally forgotten about them when we walked past the station. Anyway, as it was, we didn’t have much room for the Ramen, much less for pastries.
The Tenjin-Hakata area can be covered on foot, and i felt this was easier than having to locate the 100 yen bus service, so we walked to Canal City, which was right smack in the middle between Tenjin and Hakata.
Contrary to what i imagined, Canal City didn’t offer much in terms of shopping. There was a Matsumoto Kiyoshi at the basement, a Muji shop at level 4, and not much else that was noteworthy. This was a 20 year old mall mind you (i wasn’t aware beforehand), and it was still pretty amazing for what it is, being such a forward looking shopping complex. It did have a fantastic rest area at level 2 with very comfortable couches, where we were able to rest, and my kids were able to take a peaceful nap inside their kid carrier.
I proceeded to comb the mall, checking to see if there was any offering that would suit our needs. Matsumoto Kiyoshi was one shop that did. Also, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel side of Canal City, i was able to find a bakery that sold a birthday cake. It was my son’s birthday the day before but we didn’t manage to get him a birthday cake. Although this cake itself was nothing special, the bakery offered to write a birthday greeting on a piece of chocolate to be placed on the cake. I got the staff to write the happy birthday greeting in Japanese. Now, that’s SOMETHING!
There is a Ramen Stadium in Canal City with 8 different Ramen restaurants to choose from. Obviously, i wasn’t going to eat Ramen after all that food from lunch, plus the cake. What i also found interesting at Canal City was the hourly (or maybe half hourly) water fountain show.
We crossed over to Nakasu island and sat next to the Naka river. The atmosphere was very pleasant at this time, as the sun was setting.
We continued walking towards Tenjin. The Yatais in this area were sparsely located, but they were very busy. There was just one that could accomodate us, and we took it. The food turned out to be pretty good.
What impressed me during this Yatai experience was one of the “uncle” dining at the Yatai who struck up a conversation with another diner, and who offered to take a photo of us. It underscores the friendliness of the Japanese, and how they look out for each other.
I’ll be back, Japan!