Fukuoka is just the right size. It is big enough to offer everything that most people need, from abundant shopping, restaurants, businesses, transportation and accommodation to an exciting array of entertainment activities, but small enough to be manageable. This manageable size provides for easy navigation and easy explanation of the city's layout. The city is essentially divided into seven wards called ku: Nishi, Sawara, Jonan, Chuo, Hakata, Minami and Higashi.
North of Jonan-ku and east of Sawara-ku is Chuo-ku, meaning "central ward." This, for most people, is Fukuoka proper. The majority of visitors will spend the bulk of their time in this ward, and most Fukuoka residents will pour into the area at some time during the week. Close to Sawara-ku, just after you pass over Hiigawa River from Momochi, is the Fukuoka Dome and Hawks Town. From there, moving closer to the skyscrapers of Akasaka and Tenjin , are Ohori Park and Maizuru Park , which are the last scenic, natural refuges before entering the downtown area, known as Tenjin.
In Tenjin, there are so many things to see and do that it would be impossible to list them all. For bars and entertainment, stroll down Nishi-dori or Oyafuko-dori. For shopping, try Keiyaki-dori or the chic Daimyo area. Other shopping centers in the bustling area include IMS , Solaria , Mitsukoshi , Daimaru and Iwataya Z-side .
Move north from Tenjin and you enter the Nagahama region. Besides a number of businesses, this area is famous for its port activity and its nationally famous ramen of the same name, served at shops throughout the area.
At the eastern reaches of Tenjin, where Chuo Park is located, cross the Naka River via the Deai Bridge to arrive in Hakata-ku and the famed Nakasu entertainment district . Just south of this quasi-island is the equally famous Canal City , and to the immediate west, Riverain, Hakata-za and the Okura Hotel . To the north is Bayside Place and one of Japan's busiest ports. This entire area was actually a merchant city called Hakata before the modernization of Japan, which began in 1868, saw it combined with the aristocratic Fukuoka domain around Ohori Park. For this reason and despite the confusion it sometimes creates, the major station in this district, and also the biggest in Fukuoka and Kyushu, is called Hakata. Located southeast of Nakasu and the port area, Hakata Station is surrounded by dozens of hotels and businesses. Farther east, across the Mikasa River and beyond the city expressway, a large area comprising a significant proportion of the district accommodates Fukuoka Airport .
Sawara-ku may seem like a bustling suburban area but that is only because the two districts most people are familiar with, Nishijin and Momochi , share these qualities. Visitors really should try to see the beautiful Momochi region at least once, and are likely to pass through the more jumbled Nishijin Arcade area to do so. Also, for a sky-high view of the city and surrounding coastline, visit Japan's tallest seaside building, Fukuoka Tower . The rest of the ward meanders southwest into suburbs that are patched with rice-fields and, eventually, into a mountainous region so deserted that residents hiking or biking in the area sometimes encounter monkeys! The Hotel Twins Momochi offers an inexpensive, conveniently-located option for accommodations in this area.
Nishi-ku (literally "west ward") stretches down the rocky southwest coast. The further you drive, the more rural it becomes, with town-like districts scattered among the stretches of preserved nature. If you are traveling to any one of the fine beaches in this area-like Futamigaura - you may have a hard time believing this is actually the city. Where this ward abuts Sawara-ku, closer to the city, you have Meinohama , a somewhat suburban residential area with much marina activity, including ferries to paradisaical Nokonoshima , a small island on Hakata Bay that offers a wealth of undisturbed countryside.
While the final ward, Higashi-ku, means "east ward" it is located more to the north of Hakata-ku. This area has many blue-collar residential districts and numerous schools, including Kyushu University. Travel north and you are eventually able to travel east along the peninsula around Hakata Bay. Much is located along this peninsula, including the countless attractions of Uminonaka-michi Seaside Park and the sights of Shikanoshima . Other locations of note are Hakozaki Shrine , easily the most famous in Fukuoka, and the Genkai National Park located in the eastern elevations that also mark the eastern limits of the city. For travelers with kids, Space World , the largest and most popular amusement park in Fukuoka, and Marine World , a fantastic seaside aquarium, are both located in Higashi-ku.
Fukuoka's location right next to the Genkai Sea, famous for its squid and hirame (Fluke), makes it a magnet for seafood fanatics. Here you will find quality sushi and sashimi (raw fish) galore, all made with super-fresh ingredients that were probably bought that morning at the Nagahama Fish Market.
High-end diners might want to try Nishimura Sushi near Hakata's Canal City, where the fare is as fresh and delicious as it is expensive. An average sushi course here will set you back around 3,000 yen.
If the idea of raw fish does not tickle your taste buds, perhaps the city's numerous soba (buckwheat noodles), udon (rice noodles), tempura (deep fried seafood and vegetables), or yakitori (skewered chicken) restaurants will be more to your liking. Hakata's Karonouron has been serving the same delicious udon menu at the same location since the early days of the Meiji Era. Or, if yakiniku (grilled meat) is more your style, a visit to Shichi Ri will provide you with all the local color you need. And speaking of beer, why not visit the local Nakasu Brewery? With beer going for as little as 325 yen a mug in summer, you may leave the premises a little worse-for-wear, but where else in Japan can you eat a quality steak dinner for 1,000 yen?
But the highlight of Fukuoka's drinking and dining experience is the provincial specialties that either originated in or are only available in Fukuoka-ken, which can all be found in Hakata. For Fukuoka ramen (Chinese noodles) as soon as you get off the train, try Ramen Sumiyoshi-tei . Zenzai (a sweet bean dessert) can be found at Zenzai Kawabata . These specialties and many others are all nationally acclaimed examples of Fukuoka's special contribution to the world of Japanese cuisine, and well worth trying at more than one place.
Among these all these specialties, however, pride of place definitely goes to Fukuoka ramen, famed throughout Kyushu and the rest of Japan for the rich taste of its pork-stock soup. Tonkotsu ramen, as the local dish is known, is a culinary delight that should be sampled at least once while you are in Fukuoka. An ideal spot to experience this regional delight is Ichiran Ramen , which has made eating this specialty into a ritual.
If you're not in the mood for noodles but still want a low-cost, distinctly Japanese meal, Maguro no Yakata has the cheapest sushi in town, if not in all of Japan, with even unagi (eel) sushi coming in at under 100 yen. At the other end of the spectrum, Sushiko is a more expensive, but equally more elegant option, where you'll be able to fully experience traditional ambiance, while dining in tatami rooms.
In Nakasu, Fukuoka has the biggest, busiest adult entertainment district this side of Honshu. For quiet drinks and a sophisticated clientele Moghura no Salute is hard to beat, but there are also the city's myriad beer halls, pubs, snack bars and hostess bars to tempt your thirst. If a younger crowd is more to your liking, a visit to Oyafuko-dori's Off Broadway , Crazy Cock or Voodoo Lounge bars will provide enough drink-till-you-drop experiences to last the weekend at least. The local bar scene rivals the best of any city in the country.
Or perhaps better still, why not drop by one of the city's famed yatai. As soon as dusk falls, hundreds of these portable cabin-like eateries begin to appear on the streets selling not only ramen, but also yakitori, tempura and oden (broth-boiled delicacies). It is not unusual to see queues of customers waiting patiently outside the most popular establishments. Hakata Yatai Bar Ebi-Chan is a great example with over 60 different cocktails.
Whether you prefer Japanese cuisine or foreign flavors, you will love Fukuoka. Restaurants of all kinds vie for the attention of the city's diners and ensure that no visitor need be without their favorite brand of home cooking for long. For cuisine from the Asian subcontinent, try Ginza Maharaja , Japan's oldest Indian chain. Want German and Scandinavian baked goods? Svenska fits the bill. Or if you prefer to stay with Japanese food, Kamifu Sen Izakaya serves some of the freshest sashimi in a relaxed, pub-style setting.
The options really are endless in Fukuoka, enough so that you might be so busy eating you'll end up asking yourself how you're supposed to fit in any sightseeing. So, if you are planning a visit to Fukuoka, don't forget to pack your chopsticks! With so many places and different styles to choose from, you will wish you had even more time to spend at the city's tables and counters.