A one day tour of touristy Hakata18 February, 2014 by Chad
We’d wake up fresh from last night’s rest on our first morning in Japan. Bristling with energy, we’d leave the hotel early and would cover quite a bit of ground today. All this despite the showers that had carried on through last night and which would come and go periodically throughout the rest of the day.
Peering out of the window in the morning, last night’s rain had still yet to subside so the first business of the day would be to head over to the convenience store just across the road to get some umbrellas. The ones sold at the 7-Eleven here were of poorer quality than usual but the rain didn’t leave us much of a choice. Hopefully this was a purchase that we wouldn’t have to put to good use.
The place we’d be visiting this first would be the famous Canal City. Our hotel was just down the road from the shopping complex but we ended up taking a longer route this first time there. Along the way we passed by the construction site for LINE’s new Fukuoka office. The barriers of the construction site were used to display various artboards featuring their mascot characters. I guess not everyone likes the company though, since someone had broken some of the letters off the company sign there.
Ended up spending a bit of time exploring Canal City while also waiting for the rain to subside. Canal City is not particularly large for a mall but it does have a nice and unique open concept. The first half of the mall is dedicated toward international fashion outlets, which we skipped. Instead we took the walkway to the second half across the road which was more of a family mall.
This other half of the mall was split into a kids, mens and women floors. There weren’t much food choices here apart from a few cafes, including a Moomin themed one, but that was fine since we’d be having lunch elsewhere later. Apart from having a small pool of water running through the mall, Canal City is also notable for being a popular spot for artists to hold their lives when visiting Fukuoka. There weren’t any during the time we would be staying in Hakata, having narrowly missed a Dempagumi.inc one three days earlier.
Moving on, we traced the adjacent river and headed West toward the nearby Tenjin shopping area. Throughout, the rain didn’t let up, making for some gloomy pictures today. Unknowingly the only pair of shoes I brought along this trip had breathable soles too, which didn’t play nice with the weather. The shoes would soak up the rainwater from the ground, which meant that I had to walk around with damp shoes the entire day.
On the way toward the Tenjin area, we passed by a Best Denki and entered to see if I could get a case for the new compact camera, what with my history of dropping cameras each trip. But we couldn’t find anything appropriate.
At Tenjin, Fukuoka’s AKB48 Shop happened to be on the way to the restaurant we were headed to for lunch, so we stepped in for a look. The store was kind of disappointing, being smaller and less stocked than some of the others we’ve seen in Japan. At this point Gage mentioned that he saw a sign for a HKT48 store back at Canal City earlier but didn’t think that I’d be interested so didn’t bring it up. I had missed the sign earlier. We decided to return to Canal City another time to take a look if there was a chance.
Just down the road was Chikae. The seafood restaurant came highly recommended by many. Their special lunch sets, the only thing they serve in the afternoon cost just 1,360 yen but were limited to the first 500 customers each day. There are some accounts of foreigners being unable to get in without reservations. Perhaps it was due to it being a weekday, but we managed to get in with just a short queue.
There was the option of either a “washoku” or soba set. Both Gage and myself went with the first. Looking around, this looked to be the popular choice. Apart from the two of us, most of the restaurant was filled with mostly elderly folk and a few up class ladies. Our set lunches came soon enough, and we enjoyed them thoroughly. The staff there provided tubes of their signature mentaiko (one of Fukuoka’s specialities) to accompany the rice in hopes that you’d buy some on the way out.
The restaurant had an interesting open concept. A large counter where we took seats occupied most of the floor space in the restaurant. Various fish tanks were placed within, displaying the live seafood potentially served by the restaurant. But alongside some of the more common seafood were also rarer fish that you wouldn’t imagine to see in such a setting. Whether you find it distasteful to be eating in front of the underwater spectators, you got to admit that it was pretty unique environment.
After lunch, we continued walking about the Tenjin and Shin Tencho shotengai. At Tenjin Core, a youth oriented mall we came across a WE GO, a fast fashion outlet that sold generic pieces at a real bargain. It was here that Gage managed to pick up a much needed coat for about 8,000 yen. I eyed a green duffel coat at the store, but could only find them in L size. After exploring some of the malls and stores we caught a train a few stops up toward the Hakata Bay area.
From Tojinmachi, it was just a short walk to our destination, Yafuoku Dome and the adjacent Hawks Town Mall. Apart from being the home of the HKT48 Theater, the Hawks Town Mall was pretty much deserted this afternoon. Most of the stores at the mall were either closed or unoccupied.
It was round the back of the building that we found the prominent HKT48 Theater. Unfortunately, as they were preparing for a show in the evening we couldn’t enter to take a look. But the theater did seem larger than all of the other sister groups’ homes. We hadn’t had any luck so far with any of the ticket lotteries, which was disappointing since the Fukuoka team was the last 48 group that we were remotely interested in.
With nothing to do at the thater, we pressed onward to take a look at Yahoo Stadium. Preparations were underway for some concert there, but for the most part it was empty. Yafuoku Dome wasn’t nearly as developed as Tokyo Dome. The only thing of interest here was the SoftBank Hawks goods store at the back of the stadium. As far a baseball team shops go the Fukuoka one was quite sizeable. They even sold the goods of other popular teams. Just as we were done looking around, the store started to play its closing music so we hurried out.
From the dome, we continued on foot to Fukuoka Tower, the main reason behind visiting Hakata Bay. It was quite a distance from the stadium but along the way we got to pass by a nice pier at Fukuoka City Beach Park aka Seaside Momochi Beach Park.
Walking out to the jetty, Gage scrambled to put on the new coat he had purchased earlier to counter the sea breeze. We got only so far before the jetty was blocked off. A Caucasian man came along and climbed over the barrier to get to the end regardless. Didn’t follow suit since wasn’t too keen on getting my shoes any more wet than they already were.
Continuing onwards, we passed by a bunch of students from the nearby school’s track team training on the beach. It was quite amazing how they could run around in shorts at this temperature.
The centerpiece of the seaside park were some restaurants build over a wharf. There were some more expensive looking shops at a promenade jutting out to the sea which was reminiscent of Porco Rosso’s Hotel Adriano. Apparently the place is popular for weddings. They didn’t look open at this time though.
The full height of Fukuoka Tower only became apparent as we got closer. Standing at 234 meters, it’s the largest seaside tower in Japan. Perhaps it was the fact that it looked like a building, but it didn’t look quite as impressive as other towers from a distance. It is only when you get closer that you see the triangle shaped tower is actually covered with an outer shell of mirrors.
Entry to Fukuoka Tower usually costs 800 yen. But if you present your passport, foreigners can get discounted tickets for 640 yen. We grabbed our tickets and headed up. From the center of the tower and when inside the clear elevator you get to see the lattice structure of the actual tower.
Started getting vertigo almost immediately upon reaching the top. Despite my love for towers, I’m also deathly afraid of heights. In most towers this is fine but one of the unique points of the tower were the full length windows on all floors. Looking through, I would periodically forget the presence of the windows and get dizzy. Still, there were some spectacular views to be had at Fukuoka Tower.
After sitting around staring at the view (and getting back the strength in my legs) for quite some time, we headed back down where the tower had switched on its special Christmas lightning. Despite the drizzle, a couple were taking wedding photographs in front of the tower.
It was fast getting colder and walking around with soggy shoes wasn’t fun so we opted to return to Hakata Station where we could walk around in shelter, opting to check out the mall there and hopefully find something for dinner afterwards. It was quite a distance to the nearest train station to the tower, so we boarded a bus headed back to Hakata. Unfortunately, it was peak hour in Fukuoka and there was only a narrow highway bridge back to the city center, so we ended up being stuck in traffic for an hour. Fortunately, we were seated, so took the opportunity to rest up.
Back at Hakata Station, the station mall had some beautiful Christmas illuminations. We had passed them by on the way to our hotel yesterday but got to take a better look today.
Found the Pokemon Center on the top floor of the AMU Plaza at JR Hakata City. Been wanting to visit one, thanks to the revived interest after the recent release of Pokemon X and Y. There were plenty of people sitting outside the store playing the game. There wasn’t anything worth buying at the store, but there were flyers for a special Inkyray which you could download at the Pokemon Center. Had my 3DS with me but couldn’t figure out how to receive it. Guess would need to try again another day.
With nothing but high end restaurants at the mall we opted to look elsewhere. For a while we considered eating at the Christmas fair outside the station but the food at the stands there didn’t look too appetizing and we somehow felt the need to keep a tight budget having just arrived in Japan. So despite the drizzle, we decided to take a walk toward the canal area in hopes that some of the yatai stalls there were still open.
We underestimated the distance to the canals, so it ended up being quite a walk. Along the way, we passed by Fukuoka equivalent of Shinjuku at Gion, which was packed full of bars as well as host and hostess clubs. After a long walk and no stands in sight was starting to fear for the worst when we did manage to find a few lone yatai along the canal operating in the rain.
Entering one of the stalls, it was a little intimidating thanks to my rusty Japanese and since it was already filled with some tipsy customers. Still, the people there tried to be as accommodating as possible. Not quite knowing what to order the cook suggested we go with a yakitori or oden set which cost 1,800 yen and 1,500 yen respectively. We opted for the first.
It was only after our order arrived that we realized that it was quite literally only yakitori. We had thought that it was a set meal as suggested by the expensive price. Though we just had some the day before, we quickly went ahead and ordered some ramen, which were the only main served at any of the yatai.
The ramen wasn’t nearly as good as yesterday’s but we finished it quickly anyway due to the cold. One of the customers, who seemed like a friend of the person running the store tried to make some small talk. It was mostly the usual stuff. Confusion about how I knew Japanese, asking where we came from and exclamations about the merlion. There was a long awkward pause after when he found out that we were holidaying for 21 days.
I tried to revive the conversation by asking what interesting things were there in Fukuoka, to which he replied that it was great for food and shopping, if you liked unfashionable clothes. Sure enough, one observation we’ve made so far was that the people in Hakata weren’t nearly as elaborately dressed as they are in Tokyo. Guess it was like the Osaka of the south.
Maybe we had expected too much or were just too tired from all the excess walking, but the yatai experience did seem a little underwhelming. Nonetheless, it was a satisfying day, having covered all that ground despite the rain. On the way back, we realized just how near Canal City was to our hotel and agreed on making a stop there again tomorrow morning. With my shoes soaking up rain water the whole day I was in urgent need of a new pair of shoes.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.