In Fukuoka, Japan: Tochoji Temple, Kenzo Cafe Ramen & A Yatai Street
Cheongdamdong Alice had just wrapped for Jae-oo and I had just finished up a winter camp and didn’t have anything on my schedule for a few weeks so we decided we needed to get away for a bit.
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When considering where to go, we realized it was the perfect chance to get down to Fukuoka, Japan to see some friends. Not too far away and easy enough to get a ticket in a couple of days, it was chosen.
Back in 2009 Jae-oo’s band Every Single Day teamed up with a Japanese band named Keitaku. The guys went to Japan to play with them and then Keitaku came up to Busan to play with ESD at a rock festival. They had a great time together and at the end promises were made to go to Fukuoka to visit. It took some time, but there was finally a chance and we took it.
Many foreigners in Korea head to Fukuoka when they need to change a visa. It’s cheap and nearby and there’s an American Embassy right there.
I’d done it myself a few years back. It was a pretty quick trip and I was alone so I didn’t see nearly as much as I could have. I didn’t really want to be wandering at night and I didn’t know where to get good food, or even what Fukuoka is famous for. It was a last minute trip planned by my boss. I pretty much stuck to the main roads and saw what I saw. This time around was completely different. With my husband along, I felt much more outgoing and ready to go everywhere. Jae-oo can also read Japanese and speak a little as well, which was very helpful, though my charming smile goes a long way when we need help too. We had three and a half days and I was set on being outside walking around for as much of the time as we could.
Fukuoka is a pretty easy city to navigate, which is a good thing because transportation is not cheap.
Even if you do get lost, the people are lovely and helpful. If they can’t speak English they just smile and, in my experience, go out of their way to get me to someone that can help me. I had many an opposite situation when I first got to Korea, but that’s another story.
We couldn’t check into our hotel room until 4PM and it was 10AM, so we took a bus from the airport to Hakata Station where we would begin our wander through the streets to find lunch and whatever else we could find on our way to the hotel near Tenjin-Minami Station. The first stop was Tochoji Temple. Set up by Monk Kobo-daishi after his return from China in 806, it is one of the oldest temples in Japan that Monk Kobo-daishi set up. It contains the largest wooden seated Buddha statue in Japan, completed in 1992. It became a temple of the Kuroda family and so now has a small cemetery for the family members on the land. There is also an impressive brightly colored five story pagoda that was my favorite part.
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After Tochoji Temple, we followed the green subway line on our map a ways and
branched off onto a side street to find some food. We happened upon a small ramen restaurant named Kenzo Cafe that struck our fancy with everything adorning the outside and stepped in to try our fate. After it was determined that the chef didn’t speak English, Jae-oo said “tonkatsu ramen”, since that’s a Fukuoka specialty, and that’s what we got along with a fried noodle dish called yaki ramen as well. It filled us right up and we got on our way again.
Just a few steps away were the entrances to the Canal City shopping complex as well as the Kamikawabata Shopping Avenue and the Kushida Shrine.
First, we headed to the shrine which is said to have been founded in 757. The open mouthed face beckoned us to enter and that’s just what we did. This face is the Goddess Ameterasu and she adorns this doorway around New Years each year. After a stop here, we headed down the Kamikawabata Shopping Avenue and then over to Canal City. We weren’t really interested in shopping on this trip, but since it was in every tourist article I read, we decided to walk around Canal City for a bit. I bought some postcards for my family and some new stamps to go in my collection and Jae-oo bought me an awesome new phone case that was made of wood for the upcoming Valentine’s Day as well as a little lego-like but cooler toy for himself. By the time we finished there, it was 3PM and we decided to see if we could check in just a bit earlier. Luckily for us, we could.
We took a little rest, washed up and then headed back out to find the yatai street in the Nakasu area. These guys bring their food carts out at dusk and set up for a night of good food and conversation.
All of the vendors had a guy outside yelling in any language he thought customers walking by spoke trying to get people in. We weren’t sure how you tell what makes a good yatai tent or not, but we ended up in a great one if my taste buds are any good. The food was very “oishii”, or delicious. Of course the whole menu was in Japanese and I knew I didn’t want ramen again because we’d just had it for lunch so we set about trying to have a conversation with the cook. He couldn’t speak all that much English or Korean, but he seemed like he was having fun trying and we were having fun with the little Japanese that we knew. After he understood that we didn’t want ramen, he motioned toward some skewers. We thought that would be a good start. We got a bottle of Asahi and a plate of skewered mushrooms, pork, chicken, and some other goodies on a bed of cabbage.
We took our time savoring the delicious skewers and the crisp Asahi and watched as the cook went from person to person or couple to couple keeping people actively present in the situation. When he’d come back to us and tried his English again, “Taylor Swift” was all he could say.
I tried to explain that Adele is much better in my opinion, but he didn’t get it. I could tell by the way another customer on the other end was watching that he could understand me and as I’d read that when in a yatai we should be conversational and open with other patrons, I struck up a conversation with him. He was from Tokyo and was enjoying a trip around Japan on a break. In the midst of our conversation with him we ordered a plate of roe stuffed chicken to follow up the skewers. It was my first experience with such a dish and it was just delightful. I came back home and immediately surfed the web for a good recipe to try and make this myself, it was so good.
Jae-oo and I stayed through a number of couples coming and going before we packed it in for the night. We ended the night with a rather hefty bill, though everything in Japan seems pricier than Korea. The food was so good and our experience with the cook and the other patrons was fun and interesting, so we felt the money was well spent. The first day was done and we’d walked all around for the majority of it, talked with a few people, most of whom couldn’t speak English or Korean but smiled the whole way through it, and enjoyed a taste of the city. Success.
Check out the condensed itinerary for Fukuoka, Japan Day 1 below. To see more, check out Fukuoka, Japan Day 2 and Fukuoka, Japan Day 3 for more information.