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Fukuoka, the biggest city in Kyushu and considered a gateway to Asia with its historical and geographical background, is a lively metropolis that has both urban and countryside charm with its fantastic shopping, eateries and abundant nature to explore.

The city will be the host of the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting on June 8 and 9.

Of the many tourist spots in the city, one thing that travelers don’t want to miss is visiting the famous yatai (food stalls) that sit along Fukuoka’s streets in the evening. These are a staple of the city’s food scene with around 100 wooden carts operating in Fukuoka today.

“Eating and drinking in a yatai is the quintessential Fukuoka dining experience. Some carts offer specialized dishes, like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), tempura and blowfish; recently, a Frenchman opened a yatai serving French cuisine,” said Nick Szasz, publisher of Fukuoka Now magazine, who has been a resident since 1990. “Yatai are more about the camaraderie. The space inside is so tight, conversation between patrons is inevitable. It’s a great way to meet locals or other travelers.”

Known as one of Japan’s best food cities, Fukuoka also has a wealth of famous dishes sure to entice gourmets. Tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, for example, originated in Fukuoka; the original shops of famous ramen chains operate in the city. Motsunabe, hot pot made with cow or pig offal, and mizutaki — hot pot consisting of chicken soup, vegetables and tofu — are also Fukuoka specialties.

Szasz, from Canada, also recommends saba (mackerel), which can be served grilled, marinated or even as sashimi. “Mackerel is one the most popular fish enjoyed by locals … served everywhere, especially at izakaya (Japanese pubs),” he said. “Saba mirin (grilled mackerel marinated with sweet rice wine) is highly recommended as is goma saba, raw mackerel dressed with sesame and soy sauce. Saba sandwiches are a modern twist.” Szasz also mentioned that mentaiko (spicy cod roe) is among Fukuoka’s most iconic foods.

Fukuoka is also a perfect shopping destination as most brand-name stores can be found in the city. Apart from the well-known Tenjin downtown area where fashionable brand-name shops and department stores line the streets, the Seaside Momochi area in the western part of the city is also a popular destination for shopping as well as relaxation. The modern waterfront with an artificial beach is home to Fukuoka Tower that, at 234 meters, is Japan’s tallest beach tower with a panoramic view of the city from its 3rd-floor observatory.

Aside from delicious local cuisine and fantastic shops, the vibrant city has many picturesque historical places to explore on foot. Among them is the Hakata Old Town area, which flourished as the biggest port town from the end of the 11th through late 16th centuries. Located within easy walking distance of JR Hakata Station, the impressive four-pillared Hakata Sennen-no Mon gate welcomes visitors to the area and its many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The gate, part of which was made from a 1000-year-old camphor tree donated by Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, was completed in 2014 as a wish for the city’s continual prosperity.

Historical cultural assets in the area include Jotenji Temple, built in 1242, that is said to be the birthplace of udon (thick wheat noodles) and soba noodles and Tochoji Temple that is home to Japan’s largest wooden statue of a seated Buddha.

For those curious about Zen, Szasz recommends visiting Shofukuji Temple that can also be found in the area.

“The temple is said to be the first Zen temple in Japan and where green tea culture was first introduced. The buildings are closed to the public, but a stroll through the front garden area is well worth the time, especially for those interested in Zen,” Szasz said.

For nature enthusiasts, the city’s small islands are great place to immerse oneself in abundant greenery. On Nokonoshima Island and Shikanoshima Island, visitors can take part in leisure activities that include cycling, swimming and hiking.

Above all, Szasz said one of the best things about Fukuoka is that “It’s not overrun with tourists.”

“It’s a more ‘normal’ Japanese city compared to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, et cetera. (It) offers better insight into typical urban Japanese life. Morning commuters aren’t stuffed onto trains here. Residents enjoy a more balanced lifestyle here,” Szasz said. “They spend less time commuting and have more leisure time with more options to enjoy that time.”

He added that, “Basically, Fukuoka offers arguably Japan’s highest quality of life balance. Even tourists can sense that.”

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