Fukuoka sits in a pocket of land on the northern coast of Kyushu, Japan's third-largest island. The city's most famous landmark is Fukuoka Tower, and while it is not the prettiest of buildings, it offers sweeping views of the city to the south, east and west.

Urban sprawl? Yes, but the kind that is neatly contained by the mountains that circle the city. If Tokyo seems endless, then Fukuoka is manageable; it takes only 12 minutes to get from the city center to the airport, one of the busiest in the world.

Economically, the city is dwarfed by Tokyo, but over the past five years Fukuoka has won an envious reputation as Japan's "startup city." Under the leadership of Mayor Soichiro Takashima, Fukuoka has begun a transformation that has swept up many in startup mania. In March, Bloomberg credited Fukuoka as the city to which Japan's startup founders are flocking, while the more understated CNN made the claim that Fukuoka was "poised to be the country's Silicon Valley." Big words for a small city.