Sunday, September 3, 2023

[FUKUOKA] Welcome Back to Japan

I was granted a multiple entry Japanese visa in March 2020, a week or two before the pandemic lockdown began. I haven’t really used it since then. Japan was just overshadowed by other destinations post-pandemic. It’s not until I scored cheap RT Cebupacific tickets that I decided maybe it’s time to go back to the land of the rising sun. After all, how long has it been since the last time? Half a decade? And so we fly, but not to Tokyo or Osaka. This time around, we will be exploring the south.

Fukuoka is our entry point on the island of Kyushu, the country’s southwesternmost. Made up of seven prefectures, we will be checking out five of them via JR Kyushu’s rail pass. You have three choices: North Kyushu, South Kyushu or a combo of both. I went for the Northern Kyushu 5-day rail pass since it already covers the cities I will be visiting. For Fukuoka itself, though, no pass is required. You can just maximize the use of its subway which accepts contactless credit card payments and caps it at JPY640 (~PHP250) a day.

Since Fukuoka served as my base, I decided to just check out the most convenient attractions near my capsule hostel. My subway stop was Ohori Park and the go-to attraction in the area is, you guessed it right, Ohori Park! Ohori Park has a lake where you can ride motorized duck boat thingies. The park also hosts the Fukuoka Art Museum. You can spend a lazy afternoon here just watching people or jogging. The ambience is relaxing despite the multitude of people gathering here.

Once you are done, you might want to cross the street to the other park called Maizuru where the ruins of Fukuoka Castle lie. You won’t find much of what’s left but there are portions of the walls that you can climb. Your prize once you get to the topmost viewing deck is a 360 panoramic view of Fukuoka. If you are that curious or interested in the castle itself, there is a small museum within the grounds that you can check out. Otherwise, most of the venues within are sports-related and widely used by locals.

When it comes to shrines and temples, hop off at Kushida Shrine stop first to visit the shrine which was founded in the 8th century. Most locals go there for worship. You, as a tourist, will go there for sightseeing. There is a bright orange tori there where most people take their photos. Once done, you go inside the shrine and just observe what they do there if you are not Buddhist. There was a ceremony of sorts that I managed to watch with a young man dressed in white ceremonial robes seemingly blessing two ladies.

From here, you can easily walk to Gion or just maximize your subway day pass. That’s just one stop away. Aside from the buddha statue which I didn’t bother to see (the fee is a measly JPY50), you will find yet another orange structure inside in the form of a multi-roof pagoda. Next to it is the wide wooden main hall where Buddhists pay their respects. The buddha itself is upstairs if you want to have a look-see. From here, Hakata station is just a few minutes away either on foot or by subway (one stop).

You can transfer to the blue line at Hakata station to head over to Canal City, a mall with a canal and colorful looking buildings. This is better done in tandem with Kushida Shrine since the two are almost just across one another. Shopping aside, you can also just loiter there by the canal and reflect on your miserable life. Or you can always go shopping. It’s therapeutic after all, isn’t it?

One subway station away from there, at Tenjin station, is ACROS, a performance hall whose building’s façade is that of a step garden. The shape of the structure should be visible from the park next to it. Unfortunately, it seems like the gardener didn’t come to work that day and all I saw was an explosion of green shrubs, like a building overrun by plants. You can always just go across the street for a side view which gives you a clear idea of the building’s form. There are a few restaurants inside as well as random shops, but nothing much else to see.

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