Friday, September 28, 2018

The Streets of Fukuoka City (Kyushu, Japan)

Fukuoka is the capital of Fukuoka Prefecture. It is a city with two centers. The older area is called Hakata which used to be a city until it was merged with Fukuoka. Hakata has the main transport station. The other center is Tenjin, the social epicenter of Fukuoka. Financial operations and entertainment centers are in Tenjin. The city has 3 subway lines so it's relatively easy to get around. There's a day ticket if you have several places to visit within the day. This can save you money. 

The city looks modern. Most edifices look new and the people are friendly. It has a population bordering 1.6 million. Located in the southern island of Kyushu facing the Genkai-nada Sea in the west, the city is about 1,087 kilometers from Tokyo, and 611 kilometers from Osaka. 

I opted to stay in Hakata where my hotel is because I wanted easy access to transportation. For travelers with a busy itinerary, I would recommend the same. It's easy to visit Tenjin and Nakasu by subway from Hakata. Tenjin is just a stop away. 

In this post, I am sharing some photos while walking around Fukuoka at night.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hakata Station - Fukuoka City's Main Transport Hub (Kyushu, Japan)

When my plane landed in Fukuoka, I opted for the bus to take me to Hakata Station which is 15 minutes away (about 2.7 kilometers). This was because the bus' access was easier, not to mention cheaper (260 yen), than getting a single subway ticket. It was too late for  a day pass. The bus took me straight to the station which was a dizzying activity of manual traffic. It's one of the busiest stations I've seen in all of Japan. Hakata Station is the main transit station in the city of Fukuoka. It has bus terminals, train platforms for JR and shinkansen, taxi bays and subway rides. 

Hakata is Fukuoka's direct connection to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, as well as to Kumamoto and Kagoshima further south. Remember though, the name of the station is Hakata, not Fukuoka Station, just in case you need to find this in HyperDia.

Clio Court, my hotel, is located east of the station, just a 3 minute walk from the east gate (aka Chikushi Gate). Despite being a very busy station, I find Hakata Station very functional. In fact, it's easy to orient yourself. Entrance and exits from the station are east and west. There's plenty of coin lockers, inside and outside the station. There are also restaurants and noodles bar, shops and bakeries in the building.

While the eastern entrance is designed simpler, the western facade has a gorgeous curving dome-shaped ceiling directly facing the busy commercial street. The eastern entrance however has the taxi bay and the bicycle parking.

There's a Family Mart and a 7-11 nearby - and I love Japan's convenience stores because of the variety of options available. Take out sushis, anyone? 

West entrance of Hakata station

Clio Court is just across the station.

Coin lockers

To the subway

Platforms to the JR trains

#hakatastation   #fukuoka   #japan   #kyushu

Friday, September 21, 2018

Night Stroll in Nakasu, Fukuoka's Red Light District (Kyushu, Japan)

Naka River from Fukuhaku Deai Bridge

Someone wrote about Nakasu as "the underbelly of the dregs of Japanese society" where yakuza and the local mafia rule alongside street walkers and geishas. It is this picture that fueled my imagination. I've been to Quartier Pigalle of Paris, Reeperbahn of Hamburg, Soho of London, Kabukicho of Tokyo, Nagarekawa of Hiroshima, Tobita Shinchi of Osaka, and Centro Novo and Republica Square of Sao Paulo. I've always been fascinated with the psychology behind the kitch and sleeze of a big city as much as I am with places of worship. Having that in mind, I wanted to see it. I was a bit wary and debated if I should take my camera with me. 

I took the subway to Tenjin eventually strolling along Naka River. The neon lights on the Naka River are famous. They get visited by over 60,000 visitors a day. It has the busiest street in Kyushu. But the crowd that night wasn't big. It doesn't compare to the manual traffic of, say Shibuya or Dotonbori. It provided a leisurely stroll for me. 

Kuroda Nagamasa (Wikimedia)
Nakasu is actually an island flanked by the sandbanks of Hakata River and Naka River, thus its name, "Nakasu" which literally means "the island in the middle". 

In 1600, Kuroda Nagamasa, a daimyo of Fukuoka, created Nakasu. There was once a huge department store and rows of cinemas lining its streets. But the entertainment epicenter of Fukuoka has since moved to Tenjin and Daimyo districts in Chuo-ku. Nakasu is the country's 3rd biggest red light district after the ones in Tokyo and Osaka.

Nakasu's streets were full of brightly lit restaurants and bars beside each other. I saw what looked like a tombstone that read "Tenjin Central Park" which was just a row of potted flowers on a bridge to the other side of the river. The yatai (food cards) seemed few. Officially, there are about 150 of them left since the government's crack down on new mobile food stalls.

Nakasu, Fukuoka's red-light district, was an easy walk. It has about 3,500 restaurants, shops, go-go bars, pubs and beer gardens. And there's the sex trade that mostly caters to locals. Many of these sex-oriented establishments refuse entry of foreigners. 

Some areas were intimidating so I tried to keep a low profile, walking faster, and kept my camera away. But this was unlike Tokyo's Kabukicho where touts and pimps would follow me around, peddling their trade. Nakasu was a lot more chill.

Clearly, Nakasu wasn't a place you could take your children to. You need to be vigilant. Mostly, it felt safe. But the face of risk never looked scary. 

Naka River

A trio of geishas as the symbol of Nakasu

The scope of Tenjin Central Park is this row of flowers on the foot bridge crossing to the other side of the Naka River.

The bright lights of the Naka River is host to 60,000 daily tourists... supposedly.

Back to the Tenjin area where the subway entrance is close by.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Taste of the Authentic Tonkotsu Ramen of Fukuoka (Kyushu, Japan)

"Do you have Ramen?" I kept asking that question in every diner at a corner of Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka. Rows of food joints litter the space and I wanted a taste of the world famous Tonkotsu Ramen that Fukuoka is known for. But everyone I asked shrugged their heads. I was baffled. Ramen is supposedly everywhere, particularly by the roadside as makeshift stalls called "yatai" (street cart). There are about 150 yatais all over Fukuoka but most of them don't have menus owing to its mobile character. I decided to check out the restaurants at the station. So there I was.

After half a dozen shops, I just looked at the photo displays and thought, hmmmm, these are the ramens that I know about. Is it possible that the people of Fukuoka don't call them ramen?  Was my accent wrong? How else do you say ramen?

I went inside a noodles bar. The order took 10 minutes. The minute the waiter placed my bowl in front, I could smell the pungent odor. It was overpowering, like something rotten was steaming. This is the character of Tonkotsu Ramen aka Hakata Ramen, the rich pork broth that gives the dish its savory taste. Hakata Ramen's noodles are made from wheat dough; they are long thin noodles, topped with pork slices (chashu), green onions and dried sea weeds. A soft boiled egg is thrown into the cloudy white concoction. 

These days, Japanese Ramen is world renowned. Not too bad for a dish that originated from China and found its way to the Japanese shores in 1859. In fact, until the 1950s, ramen was called "shina soba" in the country, translating to "Chinese soba". The secret of Tonkotsu (pork bone) - not tonkatsu (fried breaded pork) - is in its preparation. Most broths are prepared overnight and served the next day. 

Tips on Eating Ramen

With my ramen sitting in front of me, I stared at it. I thought of how the pungent smell gets to my brain. I remember reading an Australian ramen aficionado giving a tip on how to find a good ramen meal. He said, "Usually the worse the smell, the better it is. There’s no real way to tell. If the shop smells really, really bad like old tennis shoes, the ramen is usually good." Goodness. 

He further suggested, "Ignore the smell, first up. Don't let the smell deter you from going into a shop. Ah, that's the hardest obstacle to overcome." If he asked other foreigners why they don't eat ramen, their answer was usually “because it smells so bad”. And I was reminded of Durian. Also, you have to eat it with a slurping noise, a practice scoffed at in many "civilized" societies.

As for my experience in Fukuoka, my ramen smelled like a rotten meal, but tasted like heaven. I needed to get used to eating good ramen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Information and Access on Travels to Yame City and Kurogi (Fukuoka Prefecture)

The photo above is that of the Yame Chuo Tea Plantation, the iconic symbol of Yame City, Japan's source of its best tea. The same photo is the cover of the Yame City Tourist Guide brochure. We're dedicating this post to share information on travels to Yame City if you come from, say Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka. We're posting this because there are very few English-language information available online.

With my JR Pass, I took the local train from Hakata Station to Hainuzuka Station in Chikugo City which took 40 minutes. You need to be attentive though and take note of the signs at every stop because many of these signs are in Japanese characters, you might miss your stop. Even the LED information inside the train isn't in English.

Yame City, located south east of Fukuoka city, is out of the way from places tourists commonly visit. But this small and slumbering city has several interesting places worth checking out.

Yame City Map in Japanese

#yamecity   #information   #access   #fukuokaprefecture   #japan   #kurogi