TRAVEL FRAGMENTS - FUKUOKA, JAPAN

Fukuoka is the largest city on the Japanese Southern island of Kyushu. At 2 million inhabitants and a bit, it is Japan's fifth largest city, but a very far cry from the huge urban centres of Tokyo and Osaka. Life in Fukuoka is tranquil and pleasant, and we were delighted to spend a few days there, escaping the crowds and smog of our home in Shanghai. As ever with Japan, travelling around is easy, food is amazing and local culture feels both familiar and totally alien at the same time. It was our third visit to this beautiful country (after Tokyo and Okinawa) and we are already preparing our next visit in fall. Join us in our visit of charming Fukuoka.

We first heard of Fukuoka a few years ago, when it made an entry into the Monocle "Top 25 liveable cities". We had never heard of the city before, but its name stuck with us. We were looking for a less-crowded location to visit during Chinese New Year, when hundreds of millions of Chinese travellers hit the road. Fukuoka is a really lovely place to spend of few days in. There are no major sites and we leisurely strolled the city, exploring temples, searching for great food and buying Japanese stationary (in Japan, even the local 7/11 convenience store stocks Muji cosmetics and simple everyday items!). We have always found travelling in Japan very kids-friendly. Food is healthy and totally safe, most restaurants have baby high chairs and we found baby changing facilities dotted around the city. We stayed in the very central Grand Hyatt Fukuoka, which was perfectly well-appointed. The hotel is part of the slighty quaint Canal city shopping district. Beyond the fact we could dip in and out of Muji and multiple food venues, they had an hourly mango (anime) light show which the kids absolutely loved.  Fukuoka is popular with tourists from Korea and China, and we only saw a handful (if even) of Western tourists. Yet most restaurants had picture and / or English menus, so don't let the language barrier scare you. Japanese people are, as ever, very respectful and polite, and we sometimes felt like we were starkly sticking out with our loud and boisterous bunch (not that we ever spotted a raised highbrow). The influx of Chinese families visiting after the Chinese New Year celebrations definitely help us feel more at home !

1- Manu Coffee

At the risk of sounding cliche, we are always on the hunt for great coffee (we have been spoilt with a great third wave coffee scene where we lived in Amsterdam and Shanghai - yes even in China). Great confidential addresses in Japan can be elusive when using Google search, but after some research we stumbled upon Manu Coffee. They have five locations across the city and we visited two of them (1-14-7Haruyoshi and 1-7-9Hakataekimae). On both occasions, coffee was outstanding (and poured at the table), staff were beyond lovely and the kids loved the sweet treats. We even brought some of their beans back to Shanghai.

2- Kushida shrine

Tucked by the entrance of a old shopping arcade (where you can find gently dated shops, including an amazing places selling kilted kimonos managed by a lovely lady - we kitted out the entire family, but promise did not wear them all at the same time!), you enter the Kushida shrine through the mouth of large mask. Needless to say kids loved it ! Once inside, you discover a beautiful garden and temple, as well as the rather bombastic Kakiyama, or float, that gets paraded around the city during the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. The place is very popular with locals, and you will see a lot of young girls dressed in traditional kimonos. You can visit nearby the Hakata Machiya folk museum, which provides more historical information about the city and the festival. It is a great little place to visit with kids, with some recreation of old streets and craftsman workshop. We went late in the afternoon, and unfortunately the craft demonstrations had closed already, so well worth going early during the day.

3- Ebisuya Udon Fukuoka, 2-16-8 Sumiyoshi Hakata-Ku.

This was a total chance encounter. We walked place this tiny place right after lunch time, and the crowds going in and out of this tiny venue convinced us to give it a go. We quickly realised once inside that this is a local legend, they make all the udon noodles fresh onsite and seems to have won many awards - proudly displayed by the counter. The food was very memorable and just as affordable ! We had planned a repeat visit, but were too squeezed for time (I think we could have eaten their every single day). It is a winner with kids, I don't recall they have high chairs but there are a couple of booths at the back were you can fit a family comfortably. We highly recommend a visit (it is about five-ten minutes walk from Canal city, on the way to Sumiyoshi shinto shrine (which is stunning and makes for a beautiful post-prandial walk)

4- Good Weaver Shoes like Pottery, made in Kurume, Kyushu

A 2017 New year's resolution is too stay away from fast fashion, buy less and buy more sustainable. I discovered the Good Weaver shoes brand which is made locally in Kyushu prefecture. They weave and dye their own fabric and offer a short, well curated collection of runners. The fabric colours are beautiful and unusually coupled with a bright blue rubber sole. I have very sensitive feet and can get sore even in well-know sports brands, Those babies are totally comfortable, from first wear. I already know I will stock up on more when I visit Japan next.

On a parting note, arcade games are brash and noisy but oh so much fun and a great day to end the day !

Fukuoka left me with more Japan on my mind and already planning our next trip- Kyoto, Osaka, Naoshima. Stay tuned !