We picked up our baggage and dragged it towards the airport via the metro and airport express. We arrived at CTS later than planned but after a little drama finding our way as well as getting someone to manually check us in and tag our bags to Fukuoka we had enough time for some lunch, or at least Anne-So did…
Flight: JL3512 Sapporo to Fukuoka
Depart CTS: 14:10
Arrive FUK: 16:35
Seats: 17B and 17C (Economy)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 (Reg Unknown)
It was another simple and uneventful JAL flight, including the amazing “manual” automated boarding process I had come to enjoy. Despite automatic gates and screens JAL still pay people to go round with a sign to ensure people board at the right time. They also employ as an army of smiling staff waiting to make sure you can scan your boarding pass just fine to pass through the boarding gate.
Again, we had no joy getting a window seat so I spent most of the flight working on this trip report and enjoying a Sky Time or two.
Before we knew it the flight came to an end and we sneaked some beautiful views of the coastline on our approach.
From the baggage belt it was a simple short metro journey to our hotel.
Hotel: Hotel Okura Fukuoka
Room: Standard Double
Although we thought we’d caught the hotel off guard by arriving through the labyrinth of a shopping centre and coming up the escalator we were wrong! Before we’d even found the check in desk our bags were politely confiscated and we were ready to go. Check in was efficient and I enjoyed looking around the lobby. I bet the people watching would be great here. The Okura had a quite wonderful early noughties vibe going on to the point where 10-15 years ago it probably looked fresh, modern and exciting, now it was just interesting! I’m pretty sure if Pierce Brosnan’s version of James Bond ever visited Fukuoka he’d have stayed at the Okura (though it would have been in the elaborate presidential suite as opposed to our standard room).
From check in we were escorted directly to our room and shown the practicalities of the hotel. The one thing across the trip that always surprised us was that people seemed shocked we were moving around Japan as opposed to just staying in one place. With the odd exception (and if we hadn’t overpacked) it was actually very easy to move around. Plus it meant we got to try loads of different hotels and modes of transport that staying in one or two places would not have permitted. Once left alone I did my usual room photos and very much enjoyed all the hotel branded items.
Unfortunately due to the weather not being on our side we completely changed our plans for our time in Fukuoka. Rather than getting trapped outside in a downpour on the flower filled island of Nokonoshima we decided to enjoy the outside spaces on our first evening and the inside spaces on our second day with the hope of escaping the worst of the rain.
It was supposed to be our anniversary but with neither of us feeling particularly good and my stomach blown up like a balloon we decided to give it our best shot. The first job of the day was a walk around the old castle ruins and park. We arrived late afternoon and stayed past sundown.
Wow and wow again! We were treated to beautiful sunset views of the city from all angles, it was absolutely spectacular and a real favourite moment from the entire trip. The atmosphere was great too, groups of joggers, couples in love, solitary fishermen. We did a full circuit of the park and then walked back through a very upscale neighbourhood towards the fun end of town. Whilst we were not quite in the mood for bars I had got my appetite back and was looking forward to some yakitori.
We followed our GPS along one of the main drags including the usual crowd of promoters trying to get people into their bars & clubs and the great thing about not being Japanese is that you are 100% left alone, perfect. We eventually found our haunt for the night, Tenjin Nobunaga. After some initial confusion we realised we were in the right place when the head grill man loudly beckoned us in. We did confuse our seat mates by trying to steal their spot by mistake but after our initial faux pas and an English menu we were well on the way to a little skewer or two of yakitori heaven.
The joint was buzzing with a mix of youngsters and salarymen enjoying a highball or three with their meat. OK, I have to admit we played it safe, no hearts, gizzards, intestines and so forth but every skewer that came off the grill tasted like a mini masterpiece. Not only that but we had front row seats of the action. We were having such a good time we ended up doing a second round.
Finally the fun was over and we took the scenic route back to the Okura which included passing the famous street food stalls, which definitely are not like the sanitised Street Feast or Kerb markets of London, good though they are.
We returned to the hotel and enjoyed the cute little origami cranes awaiting us from turndown. Tired, we called it a night and slept soundly. Not what we’d planned but one great romantic 17 year anniversary evening.
The next morning started with a hunt for coffee and our one bad restaurant experience of the whole trip. The Scandi sounding coffee place, FIKA Coffee looked full so we headed to the one round the corner only to be greeted by a shaking head and crossed fingers from behind the espresso machine when there were 2-3 tables free. Whilst it was possible we’d misunderstood it was clear we were not welcome for whatever reason. When it comes to language barriers coffee is probably the one thing we could have managed OK.
Oh well, we returned back to FIKA Coffee and although it was full inside the tables outside were free. Looking tentatively in after the previous place, we were welcomed with a big smile and beckoned in. We placed our orders for a croque monsieur set and whilst it was more of a tasty toasty we enjoyed it and the coffee too.
So instead of following our initial plans we spent the day doing museums and shopping/browsing once the weather turned in the afternoon. We first enjoyed a quick visit to the Kushida Shrine where the portable shrines are kept for the annual festival/race. These 10m high specimens are carried by armies of men and raced around the city for good luck.
We learnt more about this at the adjacent Machiya museum down the road.
The day was a bit of a blur. But we also visited the Asian Art Museum which was free and had a couple of great pieces.
We also had fun visiting the various department stores and shopping centres including some great musical numbers from a rather surreal kitchen band that popped up out of nowhere and a full on music, light and fountain fiesta based on the popular manga/anime One Piece.
We had an amazing chicken lunch in one of the shopping centres. It was grilled chicken four ways, where you had each portion with one of the three accompaniments saving the last portion for the one you liked best! Even though we’d had grilled chicken the night before this was really tasty and incredibly filling.
I’m not sure what happened to dinner that day but with me just recovered it was Anne-So’s turn to feel a little bit Fukuokad, so unfortunately I didn’t get to try the ramen I was hoping for or the hotel’s microbrewery. We called it an early night as the next day we had to get up at the crack of dawn for our next stop, Hiroshima.