Friday, October 30, 2020

My Experience in Fukuoka and Nagasaki, Japan Part 1

Fall in love with discovering Fukuoka prefecture and the rest of Kyushu!

When it comes to traveling, Japan has got to be in my top 5 or even top 3 favorite countries in the world. No matter what anyone says, it remains to this day one of those countries that have had a positive impact in my life. That impact has been the reason why I have been to Japan at least 10 times in my life. I have gone from the very north in Hokkaido and all the way south in the Kyushu islands, and even the remote islands of Okinawa, Japan. There's something that Japan has to offer in terms of food, culture and atmosphere for everyone. Add the fact that it's so safe there for solo travelers, it's no wonder it made such a huge positive impact in my life!

Ai-san picked me up at the airport in Fukuoka, so I gave her a box of homemade cupcakes!

So when you're in a country with as much varied landscapes as Japan, the thing you should do is to explore outside of the city. Don't just visit Tokyo or Osaka, but rather see the other less explored places of Japan as well. When you go outside of the less commercialized places, you get to see more unique things that are not commonly seen in your own country. You get to see more of the real culture and history that Japan has, and not what you always see on TV. I live for getting unique experiences that I don't normally see in my home country. It makes life worth living as well as gives me the motivation to discover more and open myself to others.

Going on a roadtrip with Ai-san to the beach was so refreshing for me! Love it!

What made me choose to explore Fukuoka and Nagasaki, Japan was that I wanted to see more. You see, I have family who doesn't travel much, and is always unable to go explore new places and try out new food and cultures. That's okay for me cause that's how they are. But don't make me do it too you know what I mean? I don't want to spend my whole life going to only Taiwan or Hong Kong or just Singapore. I want to explore the places less traveled, and Fukuoka and Nagasaki just popped into my head. I met some really nice people from Fukuoka and Nagasaki when they traveled to Manila, and it sparked my idea to visit Fukuoka for the first time ever. I discovered as well that Fukuoka is the birthplace of Tonkotsu ramen otherwise known as Hakata ramen. Think intense flavorful ramen broth with a milky white color, super tender meat, and noodles so pleasurable to chew. With a food scene to die for, I knew that Fukuoka was one of those places I should visit!

This work of art right here in Kyushu National Museum is so eye catching for me!

While researching with Fukuoka, I felt that since I was exploring Kyushu island for the first time, I might as well go to Nagasaki to expose myself to new culture. Knowing that Nagasaki had gone through so much in the past with its intense history and culture, I knew I had to go to this place to experience something unique, and I did! Fukuoka and Nagasaki have special places in my heart not only because of the friends I made and met from there, but also the fact that it has so much experiences, cleanliness, and delicious food that I don't get often from my home. It's much more laid back and chill than Tokyo, which is great for me because when you're traveling, part of the reason you do is to unwind and relieve stress from your day to day life.

My all time favorite delicious ramen here in Ramen Unari: Gyokai Tonkotsu Ramen with Tamago egg!

Fukuoka is quite a unique city being that the airport is so close to the main city. In just 10 minutes, you can take a bus or train from the International airport to the main area of Fukuoka, which is Hakata city terminal! That's quite a surprise since from the airport to the main city in Tokyo or Osaka, it usually takes about an hour or more. I love how convenient that feels! If ever you have a layover, Fukuoka would be a great choice since it's more accessible and laid back, with food much more affordable than the main cities of Japan. Technically, Kyushu island, where Fukuoka and Nagasaki are located (Honshu is the main area of Japan where Tokyo and Osaka are located) is much closer to South Korea, Taiwan and even Philippines than Tokyo itself! So expect to see a lot of tourists from those countries in Fukuoka as well as influences from them as well. And also expect to see many influences from them such as Korean barbecue grill joints, and even a Filipino restaurant at the main city area! I totally felt at home there to be honest.

So beautiful and calm in appearance! I miss just appreciating it when I was there!

So on my first day there, I realized just how convenient Fukuoka is: only 10-15 minutes drive from the airport to Hakata city terminal, and even shorter by train at just 5 minutes! I wonder how many people do a quick layover in Fukuoka since the main city area is so close to the airport. My friend Ai-san picked me up at the airport, and we went on a quick road trip to a beach and port area! Such a refreshing feeling to know that beaches are so accessible in this side of town! It was great to have seen a beach and port area since it's not often I get access to it in Manila. The blue waters and the windy feeling add a nice and relaxing feeling for me! The place I went to was around the area of Fukuoka City Yacht Harbor and Marinoa City. Ai-san introduced me to her Filipina friends who have been living in Fukuoka for many years now! All 3 of them are called Ma'am Lyn (confusing huh?), but I was able to distinguish with all of them! One of them called me Bunso or young one in Tagalog language. Some went swimming by the beach, and I just watched the calming waves, and took pictures by the area even though my shoes got wet!

Well kept temples and shrines exists throughout Japan, and I just love appreciating them!

That night, we checked into the hostel, and after, we decided to go explore more of Hakata City, which is the main business district area of Fukuoka. Actually, Fukuoka's other nickname is Hakata City because that is the main train station area of Fukuoka where businesses are thriving, as well as the main train station to go to other prefectures all around Japan! I did my research prior to going to Fukuoka, and I found this restaurant from the Youtuber "Wao Ryu!Only in Japan!" called "Ramen Unari" (ラーメン海鳴). I saw how good it was, and I said I wanted to try it out with my friends! My friends didn't even know about this place, and were shocked that I knew about it! The one that the Youtuber recommended me was the "Gyokai Tonkotsu Ramen" (魚介豚骨ラーメン) which is a pork and fish based broth soup with aburi grilled chashu pork meat and an additional egg on top! It was around 720 yen or around $7 USD or PHP 350 that time, plus 100 yen for additional egg and I found it to be affordable compared to other high end ramen joints in my home country, and even in Japan.

This place is packed full of students doing field trips with teachers and tourists, too!

My friends and I tried the gyoza dumplings there as well, and we were surprised to find out that they serve it with hot mustard on the side. Normally, we just dip it in a soy sauce base, but this one was unique to us. It gave a nice kick to the usual gyozas that I've had! When we had the ramen arrive to us, and my friends recorded me eating it, I was so surprised to find out how good it was! Firm, chewy noodles, with a creamy yet refreshing tonkotsu dashi fish broth with tender blow torched chashu pork, with negi spring onions, and an additional soft boiled egg on top! The soup was not too rich or oily like other tonkotsu broths, and the soft boiled egg with a runny yolk in the center just made everything extra delicious! John Daub from "Only in Japan * Go" was right: "There's good ramen, and then there's GREAT ramen!" I have to agree because that ramen is still one of the most delicious ramen I have had! It's no wonder Fukuoka is known for their Ramen! Yatai or food carts in Fukuoka are popular, but nothing beats having great tasting ramen such as this one from Ramen Unari! They are open thankfully from 6pm to 6am, so when those midnight cravings come in, you know where to go! Be patient though as this place has limited seating, and locals dine there a lot so expect a line at times!

As you can see, this Ichiran Ramen branch has no line! Try the ones exclusive to Fukuoka instead!

So after having amazing ramen, my friend Ai-san and one of the Ma'am Lyn, left for the night, and I ended up hanging out with the other Ma'am Lyn that night! She was so nice to accommodate me around Hakata and Nakasu area in Japan since she herself has been there for more than 20 years! What surprised me was how much Pinoys there were in Fukuoka! One of the most popular shopping chains in Japan called Don Quijote in Fukuoka even has a Pinay staff working in it for over 10 years now. Ma'am Lyn brought me to the Filipino restaurant there where we met other Pinoys who have been working in Japan for more than a decade now, and even to a bar called Kuya Eddie where I ended up drinking all night with the group, and singing karaoke, which I normally don't do! I felt tipsy, but thank goodness Ma'am Lyn took care of me that night. She hired a private driver to drive me back to my hostel, and her back to her home. I felt somewhat comfy and homey in Fukuoka, even though I was tired, and spent time drinking there with people I just met!

Dazaifu Tenmangu is a must visit when in Fukuoka! You will love how classical it looks!

So the next morning, I spend my time trying to process my Kyushu pass which lets me ride the JR trains unlimited for 7 days. After getting it, I head to one of the most famous places in Fukuoka called Dazaifu Tenmangu (太宰府天満宮), and it is one of Fukuoka's most visited sites! It's a Shinto shrine where it holds special meaning because the place was dedicated to Michizane, a well known scholar in the Kyushu area of Japan. It offers two ponds, a bridge, and treasure house. Much of the historic landmarks in this area have been well preserved, and several places offer local snacks there such as Umegae Mochi (梅ヶ枝餅), a grilled mochi red bean cake stamped with a plum tree flower. There are times even entertainment is provided! When I was there, I saw a man with a macaque monkey on his side, and the macaque monkey was doing several tricks like flips around the area!

This monkey was able to balance on top as well as do backflips! Hope he's treated nice!

The shrine area was very calming when I saw it! Clean, well preserved, and peaceful just as I would expect! Completely surrounded by nature, I felt calm and relaxed when I went there! A lot of students go to that area to wish for good luck, and to pray for success! I love how when I went there, I saw tons of flowers that I haven't seen before, and there were people willing to explain to me what they are called! So after seeing the shrine itself which was also beautiful, I saw a really long escalator people were going to. I realized that it was a museum area! I had discovered Kyushu National Museum right then and there! It was huge, and as soon as I got in, I saw the many decorations they had there such as classical Japanese handcrafts as well as Christmas decorations! I usually like going to museums that have a lot of significant background such as talking about history or culture, and I knew I had made the right choice to explore this place! Seeing ancient artifacts, and getting to know their significance to Kyushu area was great because I got to see how things worked in the past! Very modern appearance as well because of the fact that they use high-definition technology to showcase the short clips about the ancient artifacts. This place showcases the Japanese history from Prehistoric Era up to Edo Period.

Going through Kyushu National Museum was a wonderful learning experience for me!

What amazed me about the time I went there was the fact that the day I was there, there was a group of 4 musicians playing that day, and people who purchased tickets to the museum were invited to watch them perform, free of charge! There was a pianist, guitarist, cellist, and a drummer there. I was amazed at how smooth they performed. Although no pictures or videos were allowed to be taken there, it just me made appreciate them more because all eyes and ears were on them! I loved how I got to experience something beautiful and unique after exploring Dazaifu Tenmangu and Kyushu National Museum! I stayed throughout the whole show. After that, I went straight back to the train station, and noticed an Ichiran Ramen restaurant next to the train station. But the main difference: there was NO LINE! I was shocked because in the major cities of Japan like Tokyo or Osaka, this place is usually filled up! But not in Fukuoka. Then I realized: Fukuoka is one of the major cities when it comes to ramen! This place is the birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen or the creamy, silky pork based broth! Surely you would want to experience the local ramen shops that are exclusive to Fukuoka instead of restaurant chains that are available throughout Japan! When you come to Fukuoka, ramen should be on your mind!

Staying at the edge of that area in Ohori Park will give a great view of the lake and city, too!

So heading back to the main city area of Hakata city, I make a stop at a place that was on a lot of travelers list: Ohori Park (大濠公園). It's a quaint, lovely and peaceful park right in the center of Fukuoka with a very beautiful and clean bridge. What I love about this place was the fact that it looked very chill, laid back, and relaxing! You see students and elders just jogging around, exercising around the park, working out, walking their dogs, or just sitting back and appreciating the view and calmness around the area. I chose to do the latter. You see, Fukuoka may not be as bustling or alive as Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, but that's okay because at times, those major cities can be overwhelming with the crowds and hectic on the go lifestyle there! Fukuoka is a place that has a lot of beautiful architecture, historic landmarks, and extremely bustling and underrated food spots there! Miyazaki prefecture is part of Kyushu area just like Fukuoka so you get to taste delicious high quality wagyu beef without being as expensive as the Kobe version. Also, Fukuoka is one of the top producers of Mentaiko (明太子) or pollack fish roe that's been preserved in salt and chili peppers! This baby right here is so delicious inside onigiris, bread, or my favorite: pasta! You'll never get tired of discovering new places to eat in Fukuoka, as well as trying out the different varieties of ramen as well! If you love ramen and also want to experience the Yatai or outdoor foodstand, Fukuoka is definitely a must visit for any tourist! 
Another great place at Ohori Park to get a beautiful view is by this bridge! 

Some cities can be very overwhelming, so choosing to go to the less traveled places in Japan may be a great choice in order to get unique and memorable experiences! I'm so thankful I got to meet my friend Ai-san here, along with her other Pinay friends because I fell in love with Fukuoka's food scene, art and historic culture, as well as the nature and landmarks! Fukuoka seems to me like an a very nice place to chill and live in Japan, and the food alone is more than enough for you to go and discover it yourself! I promise it will be a very delicious treat for you to try Fukuoka out!

I loved my time in Fukuoka, and I hope to be back there again to discover more of Kyushu area!

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