Tim Hornyak 2016-02-17 00:29:55
Long a port of entry, our convention city in Japan will be a gateway to fun and fellowship for Lions. Fukuoka looks like no other big city in Japan. Five major rivers divide its center, and numerous canals contribute to a teeming network of scenic waterways. The city’s delightfully varied bridges include the Najima Bridge and its elegant 1930s stonework, the sleek, modern lines of the Aitaka Bridge (at 1,400 feet, the longest sea bridge in Japan for pedestrians and bicycles) and the orange-yellow tiled Deai Bridge, which encourages people to loiter at picnic tables—no wonder its name means “bridge of encounters.” At the Deai Bridge and elsewhere, easygoing buskers croon away in the evenings. Traditional yakatabune party boats, decked out with colorful lanterns, go up and down the Naka River as passengers feast on sashimi and sake under the glare of neon lights from the nightlife district of Nakasu Island. That’s the kind of laidback feel Fukuoka can pull off. Yet Fukuoka also bustles as a center of commerce and culture. Its airport is the one the world’s three busiest. Located on the southernmost main Japanese island of Kyushu, Fukuoka is one of the closest places in Japan to the Korean peninsula and China. For centuries, it served as a clearinghouse for goods and cultural imports from the continent into Japan. Both peacefully enchanting and busily engaging, the capital of the Fukuoka Prefecture is a wonderful choice for the Lions’ 99th International Convention. Tens of thousands of Lions worldwide will gather in this city of 1.5 million from Friday, June 24 to Tuesday, June 28. Lionism is robust in Japan and especially Fukuoka. Japan has 124,353 Lions in 3,120 clubs, and Fukuoka, the nation’s sixth-largest city, has 2,097 Lions in 42 clubs. The clubs are highly active and creative in service. The commitment of Japanese Lions to service is perhaps best exemplified in their astounding support of LCIF. Japanese Lions have contributed more than $300 million to LCIF, more than any other nation and more than one-third of all funds granted by the foundation. Facing the Korea Strait dividing Japan from the Asian continent, Fukuoka is situated near the top of Kyushu Island, north of the cities of Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Kumamoto. The largest city on Kyushu, it serves as a gateway to the island for travelers arriving by airplane, bullet train, ferries and cruise ships. With South Korea’s Busan a mere 133 miles from Fukuoka compared to more than 620 miles to Tokyo, as well as increasing numbers of Asian tourists, this metropolis and port sometimes feels more a part of continental Asia than Japan’s chain of islands. The city also is remarkably compact. Fukuoka Airport and Hakata Station, the terminus of the bullet train line from Tokyo, are only minutes by subway from the Tenjin shopping district. Hakata Port, which hosts facilities such as the Fukuoka Convention Center (a Lions’ convention venue) and ferry terminals, is a quick taxi or bus ride away. If you want a quick getaway into the hinterland of Fukuoka Prefecture—to visit the grand Shinto temple at Dazaifu or the beautiful old canal town of Yanagawa—Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) railway station is within easy reach. Amid the modernization rush in 1889, the towns merged under the name Fukuoka, but Hakata was preserved in the ward and train station name. While it was devastated by U.S. air raids in 1945, Fukuoka rebuilt itself while preserving many of its traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Some of the many signs of pride that locals take in their history include the newly built Sennen no Mon (Thousand-year Gate), a masterpiece of modern woodworking craftsmanship that marks the entrance to Hakata’s temple district, and the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, a celebration held every July in which large traditional floats, weighing more than a ton each and featuring elaborately crafted Hakata dolls, are paraded through the streets on the backs of men clad in traditional happi coats. To Japanese living elsewhere, Fukuoka tends to mean one thing: food, especially ramen. The city is often associated with the Hakata version of this popular noodle dish, and Hakata ramen refers to thin noodles in a cloudy broth based on pork bones, often topped with slices of roast pork and leek. This hearty brew is served up in the city’s famous yatai outdoor stalls, a sort of old-timey casual dining experience that has become increasingly rare in other Japanese cities. Other specialties include karashi mentaiko, spicy, salted cod roe sometimes added to rice balls or pasta; motsunabe, which is a powerful hot pot of beef or pork tripe, peppers and cabbage in a miso broth; mizutaki chicken and vegetable stew; and tetsunabe gyoza, a pint-sized, local version of Chinese pot stickers stuffed with pork, green onions and cabbage. Being by the sea, the city naturally overflows with excellent sushi, sashimi and seafood of every description—try a kaisendon of sashimi salmon, scallops, sea bream or mackerel over rice, and you’ll get a taste for what locals love. You'll find the people of Fukuoka friendly and refreshingly polite. As with Japanese throughout the country, it’s not unusual for them to go out of their way to help travelers by guiding them down a street, helping decipher a menu or navigating a railway connection. Even if they may sometimes be shy about their limited English (speaking slowly always helps), Japanese are often very curious about what visitors think of their country. Icebreakers like personal introductions can lead to many interesting conversations and cross-cultural friendships. Fukuoka residents will readily admit they’ll go crazy for the latest thing—be it a luxury clothing store or a new sweets shop—until the next big thing comes along. But one thing that doesn’t change is the warmth and hospitality that locals extend to visitors from inside and outside Japan. They’re curious to know what travelers think of their seaside city, with its canals, street food, noodle shops and a proud history of international relations. So grab a pair of chopsticks and dig in to Fukuoka’s rich soup of culture and cuisine! Five Must-see Sights Fukuoka Tower 2-3-26, Momochi-hama, Sawara Ward Built in 1989 for the Asian Pacific Expo, Fukuoka Tower is 767 feet tall and clad in reflective panels. An observation deck affords panoramas of the city and the Genkai Sea, which is especially picturesque at sunset. A short walk from Hilton Fukuoka Seahawk hotel, the tower is adjacent to TNC Hosokaikan, which houses RoboSquare, a showcase for some of the cutting-edge personal robots developed in Japan. Fukuoka Castle Ruins, Maizuru Park and Korokan Historical Museum Jonai, Chuo Ward Built by samurai warlord Kuroda Nagamasa in the early 17th century, Fukuoka Castle was the seat of the Kuroda lords for centuries until it was torn down in the 1870s when Japan abandoned feudalism. Some of its enormous stone walls and wooden gates still remain, along with a few of the 47 yagura turrets, the most impressive of which is the long white Tamon yagura. The surrounding Maizuru Park explodes with cherry blossoms in spring, but makes for a pleasant strolling spot year-round. Also in the park is the Korokan Historical Museum, which exhibits the ruins of a state guesthouse, the Korokan, that received imperial embassies from China from the 7th to the 11th centuries. Scale models of the buildings give visitors an idea of the grandeur of the original structure. Tenjin Tenjin is Fukuoka’s bustling heart, packed with luxury goods shops, department stores, electronics retailers and a 1,900-foot-long underground arcade of more than 100 stores. The architecture is sometimes striking—compare the giant, staircase-shaped Acros Fukuoka building, which has a forest growing on its “steps,” to the stately French Renaissance-style design of nearby Kihinkan Hall, built in 1910. Kushida-jinja Shrine 1-41, Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata Ward This Shinto sanctuary traces its history back to the opening of Hakata port in the 8th century. It has an imposing main gate and a sweeping, wing-like roof over its main hall. The shrine is associated with the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival and houses one of the towering floats on its grounds. The equally good Hakata Machiya Folk Museum and Hakata Traditional Craft Center, which exhibits Hakata dolls and textiles, are nearby. Fukuoka City Akarenga Culture Center 1-15-30 Tenjin, Chuo Ward This elegant red-brick Victorian building in Tenjin was once the Kyushu branch of the Nippon Life Insurance Company. An example of Western architecture from Japan’s era of rapid modernization, it was completed in 1909 and designed by architect Kingo Tatsuno, whose masterpiece is the Queen Anne revival grand façade of Tokyo Station. Today the two-story structure has charming Art Nouveau interior décor, a small library and temporary exhibits such as model ship displays. Five Great Places to Dine Chusuke Showa-dori Street by Bank of Japan (location may change) Long before food trucks became all the rage in other cities, Fukuoka had yatai eateries on wheels, and Chusuke is one of the best. Poke your nose in, find a seat and rub shoulders with locals dining on everything from ramen and gyoza dumplings to yakitori chicken skewers and liver with Chinese chives. Look for the stall’s bright red awning outside the Bank of Japan’s Fukuoka branch office. Ramen Stadium Canal City, 1-2 Sumiyoshi, Hakata Ward Tucked away on the fifth floor of the sprawling Canal City Hakata mall, Ramen Stadium has eight shops serving up regional variations on Japan’s beloved ramen noodles. Kizou, for instance, specializes in beef tongue ramen from the Sendai area of northern Japan, while Kagoshima Ramen Fukkoku Shokudo’s bowls feature Kagoshima kurobuta roasted black pork. Yorozu 2-3-32 Akasaka, Chuo Ward This delightful bar full of cherry wood slabs and copper boilers is devoted to Japanese tea. Owner Suguru Tokubuchi dons a lab coat as he goes about meticulously roasting and pairing teas with traditional Japanese wagashi sweets. Tonkotsu Ramen Ichiran Honten 5-3-2 Nakasu, Hakata Ward If you have time for just one bowl of ramen in Fukuoka, try Ichiran. They’ve remained true to their tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen from their establishment decades ago. It’s especially interesting if you’re visiting alone, because part of the restaurant is devoted to individual booths where you can slurp noodles to your heart’s content; don’t be afraid to ask for second helpings of noodles (kaedama) but be sure to save some broth! Yanagibashi Market 1-5-1 Haruyoshi, Chuo Ward Known as “Hakata’s kitchen,” this modest collection of stalls upstream from Nakasu along the Naka River overflows with seafood of every description, from mackerel, bonito, whale and fish cakes to seasonal favorites such as grilled oysters and bamboo shoots. A branch of the local independent coffee shop chain Manu Coffee is by the exit. Easy Excursions These destinations can be seen in one day via rail on a Nishitetsu Dazaifu & Yanagawa Sightseeing Ticket Pack (2,930 yen, US$24 for adults; 1,420 yen, US$11.50 for children) Dazaifu Dazaifu City was once an administrative center that ruled the whole island of Kyushu for 500 years. Today it’s most known for Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, a majestic Shinto sanctuary devoted to Sugawara Michizane, a 9th-century statesman who is revered today as a god of learning by students throughout Japan. The approach to the shrine is lined with teashops selling umegaemochi, a roasted rice cake filled with red beans; one of the best shops is Kasanoya. The Kyushu National Museum is housed in a hill behind the shrine and exhibits treasures such as Buddhist statuaries, hanging scrolls and samurai swords. Dazaifu is a roughly 30-minute train ride from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station with a change at Futsukaichi. Yanagawa Yanagawa was a castle town near the shores of the inland Ariake Sea, situated south of Fukuoka City. The castle is gone today, but its hundreds of kilometers of canals and moats remain. Some of them are plied by old-fashioned boatmen who pilot donkobune, low-flat-bottomed boats pushed along by poles. The 30- to 70-minute donkobune cruises are called kawakudari (going downstream) and they’re a great way to time travel back to a slower, more relaxed age—you might hear the boatmen break out into song. The local specialty of grilled eel (unagi) is best enjoyed at the stately Ohana estate, once the home of Yanagawa’s ruling Tachibana clan. Its Shukeitei restaurant overlooks the exquisite Shotoen garden, which has centuries-old pine trees and a central pond designed to evoke Matsushima in northern Japan. Yanagawa is about 45 minutes from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station by express train, and a taxi or bus is required to get to the kawakudari canals. Tim Hornyak is a freelance writer based in Tokyo and coauthored the Lonely Planet guidebooks to Tokyo and Japan. Digital LION • Lions gathered in Japan in 2002. Read about the “record-setting international convention” (October 2002 LION). • Japanese Lions are equal to nearly any challenge: they help their nation recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami (May 2015 LION). Read these stories at lionmagazine.org. • Watch an exciting promotional video on Fukuoka at lionmagazine.org.
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