In his first journey to Japan, the author discovers this low-profile city with plenty of surprises
Text and photos by ALVIN BULAONG CRUZ
FUKUOKA IS CONSIDERED Kyushu’s gateway to the world. But for me, it represents my first passage to a country I have been dreaming to see for its simple beauty as well as for its fascinating way of life.
Metaphorically, the city of Fukuoka becomes my torii, a traditional Japanese gate found at the entrance of a shrine, a point of transition from the mundane to the sacred.
Unlike the more popular hubs like Tokyo and Osaka, nothing strikes you as spectacular or grandstand as part of your first impressions of Fukuoka. Instead, what charms you about the city is its quiet beauty and simplicity—a characteristic that is quintessentially and traditionally Japanese. This can be clearly seen in its streets, parks, gardens, and shrines. Even in the ruins of an old castle, a sense of order lingers on.
As one of its major attractions, Ohori Park is an oasis right in the center of Fukuoka City. The word ohori means moat. Historically, the pond at the center of the park was part of the moat system of its neigboring Fukuoka Castle.
In the park’s 2-kilometer long walking path, you see local people, mainly senior citizens, quietly doing what looks like their daily activities. It’s quite fascinating and curious to watch them mindfully yet joyfully engaged in the ordinary things they are doing. An old man, for example, sits quietly alone while feeding the birds. Another is fishing by the pond by himself.
And as you walk further down the path, you come across more people spending time alone in the serenity and comfort of the park’s secluded garden covered with pine trees. If you have more time to spare while you’re in Fukuoka, make sure you take time to be by yourself, just sitting on a bench at the park and being mindful of the moment. For sure, those moments are the times you will never forget.
Two of Fukuoka’s most ancient landmarks: the Fukuoka Castle Ruins and the Gokoku Shrine are just a short and leisurely walk away from Ohori Park. Although a glimpse into their history would help to appreciate these historical sites, just to behold the delicate details of these magnificent structures is enough to spark one’s imagination.
At the entrance of the castle grounds, a wooden bridge arches over a pond, as if to summon the traveler to cross over from the present reality into a distant and glorious past. Built in the 17th century during the Edo period, Fukuoka Castle was the largest castle in Kyushu. Today, only a few turrets and stone walls of the original castle remain as a lasting legacy of Fukuoka’s rich history.
CYPRESS TORII GATE
After a leisurely stroll at Ohori Park and a historical walk in the Fukuoka caste Ruins, the experience of a walking tour of Fukuoka City continues to evolve and surprise in every turn.
Across from the castle ruins stands the Gokoku Shrine, dedicated to all Japanese who died in the war. An enormous torii gate made of Japanese cypress leads to the shrine sheltered by a lush forest of 3,000 trees. It is believed that the torii at the shrine is Japan’s largest torii gate made of raw wood. The Gokoku Shrine is a sacred place for weddings, rituals, ceremonies, and festivals.
‘CITY WITHIN A CITY’
By the time we finished our tour of Fukuoka’s castle ruins, parks, gardens, and shrines, we were all craving for a big bowl of Hakata ramen, the most popular food in Fukuoka. And a good way to cap a long day’s walking tour of Fukuoka is to visit Canal City Hakata, a large and modern shopping, dining, and entertainment complex.
Known as “the city within the city,” Canal City is the pulse of Fukuoka, with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and events for all types of visitors.
But it’s more than just a place for shopping and dining. It’s a melting pot of different cultures that seems to mirror what I found Fukuoka to be—a bustling and progressive city in step with the times yet beholden to the old simple ways of the quietly beautiful Japanese life.TP