Fukuoka: Land of Many Malls and Other Cool Stuff

This week in Japan — a new emperor, a new era, an earthquake, and Golden Week.  When I scheduled my visit to Fukuoka, Japan several months ago, I didn’t know it would be at such an auspicious time. Or that I would arrive on the weekend of the city’s Dontaku Festival. It was a great way to start my visit to Japan!

The Dontaku Festival is an astonishing 800 years old. It was originally the city’s way of celebrating the region’s high lords. Today, it is a celebration of everyone. The three-day festival includes a number of parades and dozens of music performances at venues all over the city. Locals dress up in costumes, and set up “yatai” (street food stands) wherever there might be mouths to feed, which is everywhere.

Some of the most entertaining performances were the ones that weren’t officially on the schedule.

It is only a little bit of an exaggeration to say that no body was taking photos at the festival. So this group was very happy when they saw I wanted to take a picture.

The singing was good. The performance was better.

But Fukuoka….It’s a port on Japan’s west coast and the largest city on the island of Kyushu. It has historically been an important center of trade and has had strong cultural and economic ties to Korea because it’s a lot closer to the Korean peninsula than to Tokyo or Kyoto.  Although you can find bits and pieces of history here, the city is mostly very modern and very corporate. It is Japan’s center of tech start-ups. The malls are huge and everywhere. And if Seoul — with 11 million people — feels smaller than it is, then Fukuoka — with 2 million people — is the opposite. It feels like a shorter Manhattan.

Canal City — one of Fukuoka’s many giant retail malls

This is Fukuoka’s Old Town. Not part of it. All of it.

The city does have its non-commercial charms, including several shrines and temples.

Beloved and always busy Dazaifu Temple.

Things are quieter at historic Kushida Shrine.

At Dazaifu Shrine, you can become more intelligent if you rub the bull’s forehead. Monks want to be smarter too!

And the region around Fukuoka is famous for ceramics. I was lucky to be here for the annual Ceramics Fair in Arita, about an hour’s train ride through the countryside. On Sunday, the streets were packed with tourists (almost all Japanese and Korean I think) checking out all kinds of pottery — some cheap, some pieces of art, and everything in between. And the fair was all about the pottery. Nothing to buy, hear, do or eat except ceramics, and what was offered at street food stands.  As usual in Japan, not a scrap of trash anywhere, even though I never did find a trash can.

A charming corner of Arita away from the crowds at the fair.

The Ceramics Fair took place on a three mile stretch of Arita’s downtown.

Most of the region’s best-known ceramics are now mass-produced with lively patterns in bright colors, although there are many small workshops in Arita that create a variety of styles and even some works of art

And then there was this…whether metaphorical or random, it was a special moment for me at the Ceramics Fair.


  1. “…many malls and other cool stuff.”

    Now there’s a phrase I never thought I would hear from Kim!

    World travel has truly changed her.


  2. It looks like you’re having a wonderful time, Kim. The ceramics are gorgeous! I noticed the lack of trash bins in another spotless city when I was in Japan. My Japanese penpal told me there were none due to terrorism a few years back. So everybody carries their trash with them and disposes of it when they get home. Have you read Kafka on the Shore? I think it takes place in Kyushu. And The Makioka Sisters?

  3. The mystery of no garbage cans is solved! We think it’s a good idea anyway because it probably discourages waste. I haven’t read either of the books you mention but I do love Murakami so I will check it out.
    I am reading Tale for the Time Being, which is a treasure.

  4. Fukuoka is Oakland’s sister city. We hosted an exchange student from there years ago and Peter went the following year for a couple weeks when he was 14. He had a wonderful trip. It looks lovely. Your photos are great!

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