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Traditional Fukuoka Culture in a Day: Temples, Festivals, Crafts, and Cuisine!

Traditional Fukuoka Culture in a Day: Temples, Festivals, Crafts, and Cuisine!
Sako
Sako
Updated

Get the complete picture of Fukuoka’s unique regional culture in a day! For this article, I’ll give you my recommended day trip itinerary, one which will enable you to enjoy some of Fukuoka’s most famous tourist spots and experiences. With the exception of Dazaifu Temnangu Shrine, most of these locations are all fairly close to each other and easily accessible on the subway, which is why Fukuoka is a city that’s easy for visitors to explore. All you need is a day to get the full Fukuoka experience, starting from the place where you arrive!

Start by visiting a famous shrine

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Both Fukuoka Airport and Hakata Station are conveniently located in the center of the city. After arriving at the airport, take the Kuko Subway Line to Tenjin Station. Five minutes away is another Tenjin Station, this one operated by Nishitetsu Railway. This is the busiest part of Fukuoka and it’s always fun to explore on foot. Take the train, transferring at Futsukaichi Station to Dazaifu Station. The entire trip from the airport takes 40 minutes. After that go to Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, where they worship Sugawara Michizane, the god of education and learning. First, go down the shopping street leading to the shrine and grab something to eat! What you should definitely try is “umegae mochi” (plum) rice cake. It looks like there are plums inside, but in fact it’s red bean paste. Buy it freshly roasted from the shops and eat while walking along. The cake is crispy on the outside and soft inside, and you’ll soon find yourself falling in love with it. There is a story about “umegae mochi” and Sugawara Michizane. When he was sent into exile to Dazaifu during the Heian period (794 -1185 A.D), he had to live the lowly life of a criminal, and had almost no food. A nearby old woman felt sorry for him and so she gave him a plum rice cake. About 5 minutes down the street you will reach Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. This is the central and most important shrine among all 12,000 Tenmangu shrines in Japan. Sugawara Michizane was an exceptional scholar and politician during the Heian period, and as such he became associated with the god of learning after he died. About 7 million people visit the shrine annually and it gets especially popular during students’ exam season. It’s an impressive structure and has been designated as an important cultural property. After you cross the red, arched bridge, you’ll see the main hall of the shrine. Pick a fortune slip and buy a good luck charm. If you have health problems, try touching the respective body part on the statue of a divine ox, which is said to heal your body.

See summer festival floats!

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Take the train from Dazaifu Station, change trains at Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station, and get off at Gion Station (takes about 40 minutes). After a five minute walk you will reach Kushida Shrine, known as “Okushida-san” among locals.

There are 3 deities enshrined here (Ohatanushi no Mikoto, Amaterasu, and Susano no Mikoto). Inside the shrine is a miraculous water spring called “Tsuru no ido”, with water that is believed to bring immortality. On special days you can see typical Shinto wedding ceremonies with grooms dressed in haori hakama (Japanese male traditional formal attire) and brides in white kimono. This shrine is a spot that’s very special to the people of Fukuoka. Kushida Shrine is also the starting point of a famous parade during the last day of the summer festival Hakata Gion Yamakasa. It’s definitely worth seeing, but even if you come when it’s not going on, there’s a permanent exhibition of floats from the festival in the shrine. Seeing these lavishly decorated “kazariyama” floats, you’ll get a sense of the festive atmosphere of the event.

Visitors to the shrine during Setsubun day in February are especially lucky! There’s a giant mask of a smiling woman installed at the entrance for the special Setsubun festival. You might even see kabuki actors and other celebrities carrying out the Setsubun tradition of tossing beans and shouting “Demons out! Luck in!”

Experience local crafts and traditions all in one place

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Just across Kushida Shrine is “Hakatamachiya Furusatokan”, where you can experience the traditional culture unique to Hakata (Fukuoka’s old name). The building is a reproduction of the home and factory of the Miura family, who were textile manufacturers during the Meiji period. In fact, there are three connected buildings: the exhibition hall, the Machiya hall, and a souvenir shop. At the exhibition hall you can hear the Hakata dialect, learn about the local stage art (called niwaka), and see videos about the Gion Yamakasa festival. There is a big log with a festival float atop that’s on display for visitors to try and lift; you’ll be surprised at how heavy it is. During the festival, the actual floats are even bigger. On the second floor you can see craftsmen creating traditional crafts like paper mache, spinning tops, classic wooden containers, and dolls. The workshops vary according to the day of the week, so if you want to see one in particular, check the official website in advance.

In Machiya hall there is a big loom where they give demonstrations of traditional weaving. You can even try weaving a little yourself, so don’t miss it.

“Hakatamachiya Furusatokan” Open: 10:00am-6:00pm (entry until 5:30pm) Closed: December 29th till December 31st Admission fee: 200 JPY, free for junior high school students and younger Note: The fee includes participation in the weaving experience.

Find the unexpected in shops around Kawabata shopping street!

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Kawabata Street is a busy district with shops and restaurants that’s just a few minutes away from “Hakatamachiya Furusatokan”. Here you can find numerous shops specializing in Hakata fried food, or rest at some cafés where owners will invite you for a cup of tea, which is a great chance to get to know the locals. One more thing you’ll encounter is Hakata niwaka, a traditional satirical performance created by locals, which gives critiques of social problems and politics wrapped in humor. Performers hide their faces behind a peculiar mask so that they can be free to speak frankly. In the shops along Kawabata Street, there are many goods resembling the niwaka masks. You can find actual masks, hats, T-shirts, sweets, and various other unique items, so check it out.

Two tastes combined in a special dish

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There are so many delicious things to try in Fukuoka that you won’t know where to begin. My recommendation is to enjoy two local favorites at once with a hotpot dish called “Motsu nabe yamasho”.

It’s a dual hot pot dish combining “Motsu nabe”, one of the symbols of Fukuoka’s gourmet which uses high-quality offal from Kagoshima black beef, and “Yamasho nabe”, made of Kagoshima black pork and cabbage seasoned with vinegar. As you can see in the photo, the two are put together in one fantastic meal.

Kyushu is also known for its rich selection of local sake like sweet potato liquor, so you can spend a sweet and tipsy time sipping different brands. Finish with chanpon-men (a type of ramen), udon noodles, or a warm rice porridge with vegetables. Those who want to sample more Hakata gourmet can go to the food stalls open until around 2 or 3 am in the morning! There are food stalls along the river at Nakasu Island not far from Kushida shrine. Try ramen noodles, cocktail drinks, gyoza dumplings and other local dishes for every taste.

Sightseeing doesn’t end at the major sights

You can’t learn much about the culture and lifestyle of the local people just by visiting famous tourist spots. You also need to make time in your itinerary for experiencing local crafts and exploring local shopping streets. Only then will you come to understand and appreciate the local culture. Fukuoka is a particularly prominent city in Japan. It has festivals, its own local dialect, and a rich, unique culture that becomes more interesting the more you learn about it. The people of Fukuoka are cheerful, warm and sociable. Eating together with them is good fun, and many people come back again and again. By all means, make time for your own tour of new culture and new experiences in Fukuoka.

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