Fukuoka faves

When people head to Japan, most times they think of going to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka — but many don’t realize that there’s a strong Hawaii tie to Fukuoka. Gov. George Ariyoshi, one of many local residents whose family is from there, even signed a sister city agreement between Honolulu and Fukuoka in 1981.

I met Ko Isayama and Ray Sekiya of Fukuoka Tenjin Kai (Honolulu) on the flight home, and they explained that Hawaiian Airlines’ new direct flight to Fukuoka is very important to both Hawaii and Fukuoka residents in continuing the connection. The one airline that had a direct flight there discontinued it years ago due to budget cuts, despite pleas to keep the route open even a few days. Now that the route is back, and there have been some great fare specials, you can see for yourself what this amazing city is all about.

As you could tell by our tweets, Facebook and instagram posts, and blogs, we had a great time in Fukuoka — and can’t wait to go back. Catherine Toth and I put our heads together to bring you our favorites — and let me tell you, it was hard to cut this list down. If you want to see all my trip photos, click here.

Fukuoka Faves

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One thing I didn’t blog about, but is distinctive about Fukuoka: the wide spaces and gorgeous green gardens, right in the middle of the city. Even with 5 million people in a bustling metropolitan area, you can find tranquil escapes to reset your inner zen.—Melissa Chang

One of our favorite things was the canal ride (fune) in Yanagawa. Mr. Satoru Nakagawa was our captain, and sang a few songs to us as we toured the area.

Tips for when you go:
We wouldn’t send you to a foreign country without tips! Here are some quick and useful tips (from both me and Cat) to help you prep for your trip to Fukuoka.

Do NOT think you can exchange your money in Japan. You can — but it’s a hassle with paperwork and lines. Instead, head to Pacific Money Exchange in Waikiki (339 Royal Hawaiian Ave., 808-924-9318), which offers really good rates for kamaaina. (Melissa: Message me to find out how to get a better rate.) Believe it or not, a lot of places in Japan — even in Tokyo — don’t accept U.S. credit cards. Even a Starbucks in Fukuoka turned down my Visa. So bring yen.

On the flip side, you can’t exchange coins when you return to Hawaii, so use them up.

You can definitely pay as you ride, but if you’re planning to jump on subways a lot, consider getting a 1- or 2-day pass, available at the ticket machines — which have English settings, by the way. You probably won’t try to walk the first day (at the risk of getting lost), but check out the free Fukuoka NOW maps (click here for more information) in your hotel to get your bearings and figure out distances. Fukuoka is very walkable in many parts of the city, and you’ll want to walk off that second dinner.

If you don’t need the trappings of a luxury hotel like a Hilton or Hyatt, opt for a business hotel. These are all the same throughout Japan, very clean, and usually close to a train station. Best of all, they’re very reasonable. My friends Val and Kyle stayed at the Hotel Chisun because it was part of the Hawaiian Airlines vacation package. Pro: It was super close to the train station and Canal City. Con: It was about as small as a cruise ship cabin (complete with the little porthole). Click here to see my video of their room.

We stayed at the Dormy Inn Hakata Gion, which was much larger—click here to see my video of our double room. Even my single room, which I downgraded to when Cat left, was larger than Val and Kyle’s room. The rate was about $75 per night for a double. This hotel gets high ranks on Tripadvisor because there is an onsen on the second floor, which is almost unheard of in the city.

No matter where you decide to stay, I highly recommend you have a Japanese friend help you using Jalan.net, a Japan booking site. Cat and I tried to book a hotel directly through the websites listed on Tripadvisor.com, but they all said there was no availability. We’re not sure why this is, but when we got help in booking through Jalan, we found many available rooms and at reasonable prices.

Most hotels in Japan provide toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, sleepwear, room slippers and all of your bath needs. Some even provide face masks, Q-tips and shaving cream. As long as you’re not picky about your toiletries, you’ll have a little extra room in your luggage.

You’d be surprised how many restrooms don’t have hand towels. So carry tissue if you don’t like to wipe your wet hands on your jeans.

If you plan on bringing back a lot of omiyage, consider shopping at the airport. Trust me, there are tons of shops designed just for this purpose, selling all the popular gift items from all over Japan. Even Kit Kats. (Note from Melissa: Fukuoka is oddly devoid of flavored Kit Kats, so plan accordingly.) Otherwise, The Hakata store at Canal City has every Fukuoka-produced souvenir available.

If you are like us and need to tweet, Facebook, instagram, and blog, consider renting an international wifi device. Public wifi is scarce and is very slow. You can save on international roaming charges, too: Once you land, set your phone to “Airplane” mode, then turn on the wifi. This essentially makes your phone an iTouch, so you can’t make calls or send text messages. If you do, you need to turn your phone off  “Airplane” mode, but this means you will incur international charges.

Reserve ahead of time to ensure you’ll get one, and have them deliver to your hotel (it’s free). Our friend Yumi Ozaki (@StrayMoon) recommended renting a device from this company and our friend Shay Fukayama (@StarletShay) uses this one. Whatever company you choose, it’s worth it to rent an extra battery pack to extend the wifi’s life when you’re out and about, because the battery sucks.

Although many Japanese speak English, don’t assume everyone can. In fact, since Fukuoka is less metropolitan than Tokyo, you can expect fewer people will understand English — even the hotel staff. Cat already knew how to read and speak Japanese; I had taken it in high school, so was very rusty. It was definitely harder for me to get around until my brain could adjust to the language change. If you don’t know any Japanese, download an app to your phone or bring a language book.

Have fun! And mahalo to Hawaiian Airlines!