Southern metropolis and the gateway to Kyushu
Though most native English speakers might find themselves giggling the first time they see their luggage tagged to Fukuoka (FUK), the name "Fukuoka" (福岡) actually means "Hill of Good Fortune." And had this region not had the great fortune to have a typhoon TWICE (in 1274 and 1281, and dubbed "Kamikaze" or "Divine Winds"), then perhaps the invading Mongol fleets of Kublai Klan would not have been destroyed, and the national dish today would be mutton and not sushi.
No wonder Fukuokans feel so lucky.
Fukuoka Prefecture serves not only as the gateway between Kyushu, one of Japan’s four main islands, and the main island of Honshu, but also to China, Korea, Taiwan and the rest of Asia. In fact, it is closer to Shanghai and Seoul (878 and 529 kilometers, respectively) than it is to Tokyo (889 km).
Being closer to foreign lands and off the beaten path from mainstream Japan (the Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto regions), this gateway has produced a cultural “umami” somewhat unique from the rest of Japan. It’s a region where you’d be pleasantly surprised by the ultra-conservative, yet subtly rebellious-like nature of the people; where second wave industries and old ways are still fervently protected; and where old-school ideals of machismo and feminine beauty still exist.
Indeed, it’s this attitude that has produced an alarming number of cultural rock stars such as Tamori (Guiness world-recorder holder for longest running TV show host), Shojiro Ishibashi (founder of Bridgestone tires), Shinjo (the flamboyant former MLB baseball player), Seiko Matsuda (pop idol), Fumiya Fujii & The Checkers (‘80s pop rock group), Ayumi Hamasaki (J-Pop artist), Misia (R&B musician), Hakata Hanamaru (comedian), Hitomi Kuroki (actress), Chage & Aska (folk rock duo), Satoko Miyata (fashion model), Rena Tanaka (actress), Masamune Kusano (main singer-song writer for The Spitz), Ken Takakura (actor in “The Yakuza” and “Black Rain”), Tetsuya Takeda (actor, composer, singer), Tarou Aso (former Prime Minister), Kaio (sumo wrestler), Ryoko Tamura (judo olympian), George Shima (the California “Potato King”), Ryo Ishibashi (actor in the horror flick “The Grudge”) and many countless others. It’s no wonder anyone originally from here will proudly proclaim “I’m from Fukuoka” before you actually ask them.
Aside from producing people of strong character, Fukuoka, like the rest of Kyushu, is rich in natural beauty and tourist attractions. Roughly the size of the US state of Connecticut (but with 1.5 million more people and situated along the same latitude as Georgia, USA), Fukuoka is home to: the gorgeous white sand beaches, cafés, and artsy places of the Itoshima Peninsula; the first Zen temple in Japan (Shofuku-ji); the historical water wheels of Asakura; the healing hot springs of Futsukaichi; the Tachiarai Peace Museum with exhibits relating to Kamikaze pilots; the fashionable shopping districts of Tenjin; the sprawling tea fields of Yame; the peaceful island of Nokonoshima for camping and picnicking; the scenic 21 km Genkai Cycling Path; the nightlife entertainment in Nakasu; the majestic “one million dollar night view” of Kitakyushu from Mt. Sarakura; and so forth. You name it, Fukuoka has it, albeit tucked away!
Though Fukuoka tries to remain one of Japan’s more understated prefectures, observant traveling writers at AsiaWeek magazine have thrust Fukuoka City into the spotlight by naming her “The Best City in Asia” in 1997, 1999 and 2000! Newsweek and Monocle have added to the fire by ranking the city, respectively, among the “World’s Ten Hottest Cities” (2006) and at #14 among the “World’s Most Livable Cities” (2010).
For those of you who are tired of all the familiarities of home you'll find in the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka and want to have an even richer Japan experience, welcome to Fukuoka -- The land where the proud samurai spirit still runs deep in the psyche of the people and where well-kept treasures await you.