Savor the tastes of winter at Fukuoka/Hakata and the Genkai-nada Sea
With its excellent gourmet cuisine, wealth of must-see locales, and selection of nationally-famous festivals, Fukuoka is full of excitement for any traveler. With Fukuoka-born feudal lord Kanbei Kuroda starring as the hero of NHK's historical-fiction "Taiga Drama" for 2014, the region is attracting more attention than ever as a travel destination. The Hakata ward of Fukuoka city is a well-known starting point for any Fukuoka journey, but a lot of lesser-known areas in the region are just as impressive. For this installment, we traveled about 18 miles from Fukuoka Airport to the city of Itoshima, on the western edge of the prefecture. Located on the shores of the Genkai-nada Sea, Itoshima is filled with ancient history and romance. It was once home to the ancient state of Ito, as described in the 3rd-century record "Gishi Wajin Den".
Nestled between the mountains and the sea, Itoshima is a treasure trove of gourmet delights. In winter in particular, Itoshima's oysters are the highlight of dinner tables across the city, something fans nationwide look forward to each year — and they're just about to come in season, too. We'll be exploring the charms of the Itoshima/Hakata region with one of our cabin attendants who is originally from the area. She'll take us through some of the main attractions and food hotspots popular with the locals.
If you want to take in all of Itoshima's food culture in one go, this is the place for you!You'll find everything here from Itoshima-raised beef and pork to rice, vegetables, and a wide selection of fruit and fresh-caught Genkai-nada seafood. The variety of locally-made sake and soy sauce makes it easy to pick out a souvenir or two to take home. Itoshima is well-known for its soy-sauce manufacturers, and my favorite is Kitai Shoyu's "Yuzu-Ponzu," a blend of soy paste and the juice of the yuzu citrus fruit. You'll also find stalls selling bento boxes and sushi, making it a fun place to stop for lunch while on a leisurely drive.
JA Itoshima Public Market "Ito Saisai"
Hatae 567-1, Itoshima-shi, Fukuoka
Shiraito Falls, designated one of the best landscapes in the Fukuoka prefecture, streams down the side of the 2952-ft-tall Mt. Hagane. Its name means "white thread," and indeed, it looks like a series of shimmering white threads as it gently flows down 78 vertical feet. People come here in the summer to fish for Seema salmon or enjoy nagashi-somen noodles. In winter you can try out Itoshima somen-chiri, a hotpot dish made with locally-made noodles. Soak up the negative ion-rich water, and you'll be refreshed and ready to explore the local nature!Special two-seat electric carts are available from April to November to help you delve into the nearby forest trails. There's nothing like a leisurely journey through the woods, surrounded by birdsong.
Shiraito 460-1, Itoshima-shi, Fukuoka
Here's a former gas station that's now a popular neighborhood sandwich shop. They serve them pretty big here, and they're all made with Itoshima-made bread and produce. The trademark "Yokubari" (greedy) sandwich is packed with Itoshima pork (growing in popularity nationwide) and fresh-picked, crisp Itoshima veggies. The "Momochan" fried chicken, meanwhile, achieved rave reviews at the 2013 Itoshima Gourmet Grand Prix despite not using any eggs or flour. It's available Fridays and weekends, although you'll want to check first before ordering on the weekend. Take a bite, and you'll find it nice and juicy ・just like Mom used to make. Reservations are available until the day before your visit, too.
Cafe & Gallery "Egao"
Nijo-fukae 514-4, Itoshima-shi, Fukuoka
Located right next to the local fishery co-op, this oyster hut cooks up and serves fresh-caught Itoshima oysters straight from the sea. Windbreakers are provided for free to keep the blowing ash off your clothes, and putting one on really builds the anticipation for these fresh delights! There's lots of other seafood available too, and you're free to bring your own condiments, drink, or anything else not cooked onsite. I sampled my oysters with some ponzu and yuzu fruit purchased at Ito Saisai. In winter you can even order cheese fondue to pour right on your fresh-cooked oysters. It's a must-try!
Oyster Hut "Fujimaru"
Kishi Port, next to Itoshima Fisheries Cooperative
The owner, a former Japanese chef, started this sea-salt factory in order to focus on the "core point" of all cuisine. Using traditional methods, he exposes seawater to the elements for ten days in his salt pans, boils it in a kiln for three days, then uses large tweezers to pluck out the dried salt. It takes up to a month to finish each batch of salt, and this natural process makes the salt change subtly in taste with the seasons. The place is also well-known among locals as a perfect sunset-viewing spot. It's an amazing sight to take in while trying out the Hanashio flan available at the cafe next door!
Mataichi Salt Works "Kobo Tottan"
Shimakeya 3757, Itoshima-shi, Fukuoka
Mizutaki, a hotpot dish with chicken, fish broth and ponzu sauce, is a well-known dish in Hakata. This restaurant is so dedicated to it that the owner actually created his own breed of Hanamidori chicken. He opened up this mizutaki restaurant in order to get his fresh, crisp chicken to customers while it's at its most delicious. The broth itself is flavored with Mataichi salt from the salt works we mentioned above, too. Besides the flavorful mizutaki, you can also try the mizutaki kara-age, fried chicken dipped in broth, ponzu and yuzu-pepper sauce. There's even a selection of wine picked to suit the mizutaki-centric menu.
Hakata Hanamidori (Nakasu)
Torizen Bldg. 1-5F, Nakasu 5-4-24, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
Try out the double-decker Fukuoka Open-Top Bus to take in all the most popular sights within Fukuoka city! For this trip, we boarded the "Hakata Downtown Course," which gave us great cityscape views and took us to Kushida Shrine, the Fukuoka Castle remains, and other historic sites. Taking in the sights on the 10-feet-high upper deck while listening to my guide was quite a bit different from your typical tour experience. There's also a special tour offered during Christmastime that lets you view all the holiday illumination around town. I'll definitely want to be back for that!
This shop is well-known for its Tsukushi-mochi, a popular Fukuoka souvenir made from rice cake and brown-sugar syrup. Another trademark on offer is the Monaka Kuroda Goju-niman-goku ・a confection that features Fujidomoe, the family crest of Kanbei Kuroda, feudal lord of Fukuoka. The previous owner of Josui-an, hoping to create a sweet that evoked Fukuoka's feudal past, received a roof tile from Kuroda's descendant Nagamichi Kuroda that featured this crest, inspiring the dish's final design. You'll find a lot of locals in the store's restaurant space, enjoying a little sweet refreshment while out on shopping trips.
Josui-an Hakata Station Hakata-ekimae
2-19-29, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
Here's a traditional sake brewery that's been in business for over 140 years. It's even on the government's list of Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan. You're free to sample their latest at the brewery's indoor tasting room; I got to try out the mellow junmai-shu "Hyakunen-gura," as well as the sharp and refreshing ginjo-shu "Josui". You can also buy "Hyakunen-gura Shiboritate," the brewery's nama (unpasteurized) sake, in any amount you want great for souvenirs! The brewery is also used as a site for wedding receptions and concerts.
Katakusu 1-30-1, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka
The Dazaifu Tenman-gu shrine was built in honor of Sugawara no Michizane, an ancient poet revered as the god of learning. On the grounds you'll find Shinji-ike, a pond modeled after the Chinese character for "heart". It's spanned by a series of three bridges, two arched and one flat in shape in the middle, meant to symbolize the Buddhist concepts of past, present and future. Tradition says that, when crossing over the bridge symbolizing the past, you must never let yourself look behind your back. The road to the shrine is lined with shops selling the local delicacy, umegae-mochi (hot rice cakes filled with sweet bean jam), and you'll find lots of visitors strolling around the shrine with one of these treats in their hand.
Saifu 4-7-1, Dazaifu-shi, Fukuoka
JAL Cabin Assistant Dept. 2
When you think of Fukuoka, the first thing that often comes to mind is food.