More than a century and a half after Commodore Matthew Perry's "Black Ships" forced open the country to Western trade, vestiges of the sakoku (closed country) mentality arguably still linger on in the Japanese psyche. Although kokusaika, or internationalization, has been a buzzword since the 1980s, few cities along the archipelago seem to be able to do it right.

Enter Fukuoka, a city often unfairly overlooked by the foreign community — or, at least, by Westerners. In this compact city, deemed by Monocle magazine to be the 12th "most livable" in the world, you will find splendid food and drink, and fun-loving people for whom home is rarely more than a short taxi ride away, meaning the last train is a mere afterthought. Fukuoka is also, most crucially, a port city and gateway to the rest of Asia.

It is in this role — as a window to the continent — that Fukuoka awards three outstanding Asians every year with the Fukuoka Prize for their contribution to "preserving and creating the unique and diverse cultures of Asia." Counting this year's three laureates, more than 100 people have now received the award.