Memories of Fukuoka: Joining Fukuoka Walking Tour to Explore Hakata Old Town
Whenever I travel alone, I usually start my trip with a walking tour. So far, I have tried joining in Taipei, Sydney, Melbourne, and Hanoi. That's why when I decided to travel to Japan again, I looked up online for the same thing and stumbled upon Fukuoka Walks. Let me warn you now; Fukuoka Walking Tour is a paid walking trip. By the way, this post is not a sponsored post at all! I paid right before we started the journey and I won't receive any compensation despite my recommendations. But despite having to pay upfront, I can guarantee that it's worth it. And I'm writing this post to tell you exactly why.
Fukuoka Walking Tours Schedule
Fukuoka Walks offers a lot of tours from two hours and forty minutes walking tour to one day or custom tours. Whichever your preference is, you can settle it via their website. From there, you can see if your schedule fits theirs as well as your budget.
Since I mostly do things by myself, I only opted to do their shortest tour. Their most basic, Fukuoka Walking Tour, only lasts for two hours and forty minutes. This tour is available every day except December 29 to January 3. Guests and the guide meet in front of the Tourist Information Center of JR (Japan Railways) Hakata Station. Meeting time is at 9:50 AM, but the tour officially starts at 10:00 AM and ends at 12:40 PM.
To reserve your spot, you only have to book it online and the President of the company, Tanaka Makoto-san will get in touch with you as soon as he can. A day before the tour, he will also remind you of the meeting time and inform you of the name of the licensed tour guide.
Fukuoka Walking Tour Fee
As I said, Fukuoka Walks offers paid tours, so before starting, our guide, Manami- san collected our payment. Guests may also pay the 3000-yen fee via credit card. Just note that different rates are for various available tours.
The walking tours I have mentioned at the beginning of this post were all "free." They're under operators aiming to accommodate all types of travelers. However, at the end of the trip, guests are welcome to give gratuities of any amount to their guides. Most of the time, guides are university students who are either practicing conversing in English or volunteers who are into history.
Fukuoka Walks, however, is a tour operated by a licensed travel agency Trip Insight Corp. Also, I haven't seen a free walking tour in Japan so far, and I maybe it's because the Japanese people don't follow the tipping system, anyway. Better pay upfront, yeah?
Fukuoka Walking Tour Guide
Luckily, my tour guide was Ofuchi Manami-san. She's a government licensed guide interpreter, so I had no problems communicating with her in English. She was very accommodating, and she made it a point that she answered all of our questions. Me and another guest, the lovely Michal Aizenman, were thankful to have her all to ourselves. Michal liked her so much she wanted to make sure that Manami-san would be her guide for the next day. Makoto-san gladly accommodated her request at the end of the tour, which was great.
I am a fan of DIY travels. However, Manami-san did her job so well that I didn't get bored throughout the entire trip. Of course, it's one thing that she's a local and knows what she's talking about the whole time. But I also noticed how she welcomed my little Japanese knowledge like Japan's history and even Saigo Takamori. I had such a fun time with her because she didn't limit our conversations to Hakata Old Town or Fukuoka prefecture in general.
Fukuoka Walking Tour
JR Hakata Station
The Fukuoka Walking Tour (or Hakata Old Town Tour) lasted for 2 hours and 40 minutes. We started from JR Hakata Station- the busiest train station in Fukuoka. Tourist and locals alike can get on board the shinkansen from here, so it's full of restaurants, bento stalls, and souvenir shops selling mentaiko (pollock roe) and other Fukuoka Specialties. We started the tour here as Manami-san explained to us as to why the station is called JR Hakata Station when we're in Fukuoka. The station's name probably got a lot of tourists confused since bigger cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto have train stations named after them.
Hakata is one of the oldest cities not just in the prefecture, but in Japan as a whole. Naka River separated it from Fukusaki, later named as Fukuoka by Kuroda Nagamasa. However, the two areas merged later on as Fukuoka-ku. And even though the city got Fukuoka-shi eventually as its official name, the train station built was still called Hakata Station.
At the JR Hakata Station, you can see easily spot the presence of distinct blue and white tiles. Some of them are floor tiles, while others are on the walls and columns protected by glass. The locals of Hakata hand-painted the tiles which Hiroshi Senju, from Tokyo, designed.
Just outside the entrance of JR Hakata Station, there's an intricate stone carving of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa — one of the most popular summer festivals in Japan. For this year, it happened between July 1-15. Interestingly enough, Manami-san's father, Yoshimasa Shimoda-san, had his time as the BouSabaki of the festival about 40 years ago.
Hakata Old Town
From the JR Hakata Station, we started to explore the rest of Hakata Old Town. Along the way, we passed by the symbol of the Gold Seal from China, which now lies at the Fukuoka City Museum. Don't be confused, though. What we found was just the symbol because the real Gold Seal is incredibly small. Along the way, we also saw glasses used in buildings designed with patterns of Hakata textiles.
Our first actual destination was the Jotenji Temple. This is the part where I learned that Shinto was the first religion in Japan and that they have about eight million gods. I have visited Miyajima Island during my first Japan trip, but it's only recently that I knew that people treat it as a god. On another note, Shinto is very tolerant, so it practically coexists with Buddhism in the country.
We also saw the stone in this temple where worshipers in the old days used to go around to for a hundred times for their wishes to come true. There are a couple of stones with red bibs, too. They believe that children who died very young (including the unborn) don't go to Heaven. That's why parents work hard in praying for them so that they could make their way to Heaven as well.
Did you know that soba, udon, yokan, and manju were all inspired by dishes from China? Shoichi Kokushi, a Japanese Buddhist Monk, brought and taught the process of making them to Japan after his visit. Inside the temple premises, you can even see a stone monument which commemorates the birth of udon and soba here!
Additional Access to Jotenji Temple
Since we had Manami-san with us as our guide, we were able to get inside and walk on the pathway of the Zen Garden leading to the tombs. The garden here, unlike in other temple gardens in Japan with ponds and lotuses, is what you call the dry/stone garden. All this time, I thought that the raked stones and sand are just for design and bear no meaning at all. But I found out that they symbolize the waves of the ocean. That's one of the things that made me appreciate coming to this tour. Aside from getting access to places that I would probably have missed if I was traveling by myself, I also get to know trivial stuff like this.
The main hall is not open to the public as well. However, if you get the chance to join the worshipers as they practice zazen (silent meditation), you can appreciate the garden from the main hall as if you're overlooking the whole of Japan.
At the end of the pathway, we were also able to take a peek at the cemetery. I learned that 100% of Japanese people undergo cremation after funerals. I've always wondered how in dramas, family graves take less space, and I finally know why now.
Kamikaze (The Divine Wind)
During our conversation, Manami-san also brought up the word "kamikaze" and how the word is related to Fukuoka. Many years ago, the Mongols were able to get into some islands of Japan. But they had to go back to China because people from Hakata Bay made it hard for them to enter and land. The typhoon hit them, and a lot of ships sank. And when Genghis Khan's group returned to Japan many years later with over 100,000 men for their second invasion, they saw the Hakata Wall.
The Hakata Wall forced the Mongols to stay afloat while looking for a place to land. But then, they met the great typhoon, also called as Kamikaze or God of Wind / Divine Wind. Kami means God in Japanese, while Kaze means wind. The Mongols never returned to Japan after that, so it's said to have saved Japan from the invasion. I remember studying this in Asian history during high school, and it's nice to hear the story again when I was in the same place and prefecture where it happened.
After visiting Jotenji Temple, we walked ahead to go to our next destination- Tochoji Temple. We first visited The Great Buddha of Fukuoka. At the entrance, you can light up three pieces of incense and a candle. We needed to light the small candle first from the big candle available, then burn the incense from there before burying the incense in the sand and putting the candle on the candle stand.
When visiting places like this, I would always excuse myself from doing the practices since I'm afraid to do it the wrong way. I noticed how other tourists would light the candles and incense straight from the big candle. So, I was thrilled that Michal and I had Manami-san with us to teach us the proper way to pay respect.
This part of the compound doesn't allow photography. But it was amazing to see the Great Buddha of Fukuoka, which is the largest seating wooden Buddha in Japan. Behind it were 5,000 small, carved Buddhas the followers made for about four years.
Heaven and Hell
The treasure exhibition hall was another exciting part of this place. It started with pictures of hell, including the unborn kids and then ended with the darkroom. It was a short stride where you're supposed to hold the handrail on your left and search for the ring on the right side of the wall. The place was so dark that I felt vulnerable the whole time. The saving grace was the chance to hold the ring, which supposedly brings you good fortune if you get a hold of it. And guess what? I did!
The darkroom signifies Pure Land (Heaven) and Hell. Aside from "bringing good fortune" when touched, the ring also represents salvation. Based on their beliefs, the ring connects us to Buddha, who will save us and take us to Heaven.
Some people believe that one of Buddha's around 80,000 pieces of ashes is at the bottom of the five-tiered pagoda in this temple. But of course, we can't know for sure, especially since we're not allowed to get inside. Fascinatingly, each tier of the pagoda was made separately, and the pole in the middle holds it together. This minimizes destruction or collapsing as a whole in case of earthquakes since Japan is prone to it.
You can also find the graveyard of the Kuroda clan in the same grounds.
Quick Break with Peach Ice Cream
After visiting Tochiji Temple, we had a quick stop at the shop next to it. It's summertime, so it's a good idea to have some ice cream for a break. Michel generously invited us for a treat and of course, Manami-san and I happily accepted. Summer season is the peach season, so we were able to taste a flavor different than the usual vanilla or chocolate. It was perfect, by the way! I'm not quite sure how long they offer such flavor, but it's one of the best I've tasted so far. The sweet and sour combination made such a refreshing summer treat, especially with how long we've been walking under the heat of the sun!
Michal, if you're reading this, thanks again! I had so much fun with you and Manami-san. I hope you enjoyed Fukuoka and the rest of Japan as much as I did.
Hakata Machiya Folk Museum
Our next destination was the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum, where we could see the machine the locals use to make Hakata textiles. Although they make use of imported threads, it was still quite a sight to see how they transform the patterns into designed materials. It's like seeing how a computer works. There's only one machine in this museum, I believe, mainly to demonstrate to tourists how they produce the textile they are known for in Japan. Apart from that, the small museum also depicts the daily life of the old times.
Just outside the museum, you can find a Hakata Wall replica. It has a specific design that is distinct and easily recognizable around Hakata Old Town. We even found another one as we walked from Ryokan Kashima Honkan built more than a hundred years ago. We didn't get inside the facility, but what caught my attention was that instead of barbed wires or electric fences, they use sharpened bamboo to avoid burglars from coming inside.
A few meters before we reached Kushida Shrine, we saw a huge torii gate. I learned from Manami-san that torii gates are put in front of shrines to ward off evil spirits. It also marks as the entrance to a sacred place. I remember visiting Miyajima Island, where you can find The Great Torii, which serves as the divider between the spirit and human worlds. It looks as if it's floating in the sea during high tide, but visitors can also walk close to the giant torii during low tide.
Back to Kushida Shrine, if you haven't noticed, there are almost always two guard dogs in front of Shinto shrines. However, they are not identical. One of them has its mouth open representing "ah" or beginning. The other dog's mouth is closed, representing the end. Above the entrance of Kushida Shrine, we can also see pictures of the Zodiacs.
Visiting a Shinto Shrine
Unlike in visiting temples, visiting a shrine in Japan is a little different. For starters, we should bow and face the main hall. Also, we need to cleanse or purify ourselves first before getting closer to the main hall. Here are the steps that we followed during the cleansing:
Take the ladle with your right hand to scoop a cup of water.
Wash your left hand and switch the handle to be able to wash your right hand.
Hold the ladle again with your right hand and cup water to rinse your mouth.
Remember not to drink the water. Just rinse!
Hold the ladle upright to wash the handle with the remaining water in the cup.
Return the ladle.
When we went to the main hall, we also learned how to make a coin offering properly:
Throw your coin offering on the box.
Ring the bell twice.
Clap your hand twice.
Offer your prayers.
I found some omikuji, a fortune-telling paper strip, machine in front of the main hall. It's using Vendo style where you have to put in 100 yen in the slot before choosing from English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese readings. In most shrines like in Asakusa Temple in Tokyo, you have to shake a box with wooden number sticks to know where to get your fortune strips. Omikuji is a message from Shinto gods, showing the present time or present you.
You can either get a lucky or unlucky omikuji. If you get the unlucky/cursed one, you have to fold and tie it to a pine tree or pole inside the shrine and leave it there. This way, the bad luck won't attach itself to you and instead wait by the tree. If you get the lucky/blessing one, you have the option to tie it as well for the reading to have an even a more significant effect or keep it.
I got a "very lucky" strip of paper! And it indeed made me feel lucky during the whole trip. Remember that I was able to hold the ring in Tochoji Temple, too! What's interesting though, is that I won a first prize lottery in the Sanrio Store in Canal City Hakata after the tour!
But don't forget, you shouldn't be negligent or arrogant just because you get a good fortune reading. Many people think that lucky omikuji are supposed to help you work harder and achieve the success that's ahead of you.
Omikuji Reading Validity
Usually, Japanese people come to Shinto shrines to get their omikuji during New Year's Day. It doesn't have a validity date, though. Some believe that it lasts for a few days, a month, a year or until the next time you get another omikuji. But since Shinto is pretty tolerant, it's not distinct.
Right before we exited the Kushida Shrine, we saw the existing Kazariyama Yamakasa float. As I mentioned earlier, our beloved tour guide Manami-san's father, was once the BouSabaki of the festival, which made this tour even more special. When he was around 45 years old, he joined one of the seven teams called Nishi Nagare. As the BouSabaki, he directed and controlled those who carried the Kakiyama floats around the city while running. These carriable floats are about five meters high. They are also heavy, so the persons take turns as they run through the town.
Each year, after the festival, they destroy the Kakiyama floats, leaving out the Kazariyama floats like the ones we found at Kushida Shrine and Kawabata Arcade. However, when another season of Yamakasa Festival approaches again, they also destroy the Kazariyama floats to make way for the new ones.
Kawabata Shopping Arcade
On our way to Hakata Traditional Craft Center, we also walked past one of Canal City Hakata's entrance. It's a shopping paradise. I'm telling you. I also watched Tenki no Ko (Weathering with You) there, which was my first order of business upon arriving in Japan. Yes, I watched it without subtitles. And yes, I was sniffling during the climax of the movie. But I guess it's okay because my guy seatmate was doing the same.
Also, we walked through a part of the Kawabata Shopping Arcade. This avenue almost has everything from a hostel, udon restaurant, Korean shop, Daiso, Kakigori place, barbershop, to a massage parlor! Two days before I left Fukuoka, I revisited the arcade and got a massage in one of the shops. It's pricier than the massage I can get in the Philippines, but I am thankful that I tried it. First of all, I didn't know that I hurt in places that I didn't even know existed. Second of all, their foot massage was just as impressive as the body massage. It was worth it, especially because I've exhausted my calves the day before.
Hakata Traditional Craft Center
Our last stop for the Fukuoka Walking Tour was the Hakata Traditional Craft Center. On the second floor of the shop, there was a doll and textile exhibition. We're only allowed to take a photo of Fuku no Kami (God of Fortune). But it's a great stop since we were able to take a closer look at the intricate designs of the Hakata dolls. At first glance, you'd think that the traditional and modern Hakata dolls are wearing clothes only to find out that they're all pure clay.
On the other side of the museum, you can also see the goods produced using Hakata textiles. Weddings in Japan are also starting to be modern that some brides are no longer using Kimono. So, they tried making a wedding gown using Hakata textile. Aside from that, there are also bags and other accessories made with the use of thread.
At the staircase landing going to the exhibition, I noticed a couple of handprints of Kabuki actors, Shoji champion, and other known names who have visited Fukuoka. The craft center used the same method used with Hakata dolls to make the hand impresses.
Okay, it's not a real tea ceremony. But the last part of the tour was delightful, too. Manami-san taught us about what happens in a tea ceremony — how to prepare green tea and how guests should enjoy it.
Before preparation, we had to eat sweets. This helps us work around the bitterness of matcha. All of us had our chance to prepare our tea. And in this video, you'll see Manami-san teaching us how to do it.
Aside from showing us how to prepare the tea, she also taught us how to drink it as if we're in a ceremony. You should hold the cup with your right hand and support it with your left hand. Raise the teacup to show respect to the host who prepared it for you. Then, turn the cup clockwise twice and drink it. After drinking, you have to turn it again, counter-clockwise twice. Remember, you need to drink from the back of the cup and not on the decorative side of it.
Even with the heat of summer, I still appreciated this last bit of our tour. I didn't know how Tea Ceremonies take place, so merely talking about it is already a great takeaway. Also, green tea tastes great!
Perks of Joining a Walking Tour
Exercise and Trip Planning
First and the most obvious of all is the walking part. Who said we don't get to exercise when we travel? Walking for almost three hours from time to time is excellent for the body!
Starting your trip with a walking tour will help you narrow down your itinerary later on. It will also help you plan out the rest of your journey since you get the chance to talk with a local. They are always happy to help you if you have questions like finding a specialty restaurant, or even day trips from the city you're visiting.
Exploring Through the Eyes of a Local
There are stories that only locals know and even though we usually say that the internet has it all, it's not as if you'll stare at Google as you walk around, right? A walking tour is not just scenic; it's informative as well. Michal's and my experience with Manami-san was charming, and she made sure not to waste any time.
We talked about various things like Japan's history. We even covered Segodon, which I honestly just knew about because of Nishikido Ryo playing his brother in the Taiga Drama. It's fun how Manami-san, Michal, and I were able to make a conversation that didn't involve awkward crickets and yawning. Three hours just passed by so quickly!
Widening your Network
Another perk of joining tours is meeting people from around the world and all walks of life. Michal is a Jewish Jungian Analyst from Los Angeles, but it didn't stop her from appreciating what we discovered that day. As for me, I knew from the get-go that I wanted to write about this trip. So now, I'm in contact with Fukuoka Walks because I want to let people know that walking tours like this also exist in Japan.
It was such a nice bonus that I got to meet Makoto-san, the President of the company. I love the way they take care of their guests that he even took the time to meet us personally to talk about Michal's plans. I've always been impressed with the Japanese hospitality, and this experience was not a disappointment at all.
Cons of Joining a Walking Tour
Since I took the trip during the summer, it's pretty hard. There's heat involved, so you have to take precautions. I finished two bottles of water during our three-hour trip, yet none of us didn't even feel the need to go to the restroom. My theory? We were sweating too much!
Also, please don't forget to apply sunblock! Even though Japan has four seasons, their summer is notoriously hot. Just this year, many people in the country died from heatstroke. We sure don't want to be a part of the statistics, do we? But yeah, we can't control the weather, so it's us who need to adjust.
If you prefer joining "free" walking tours, having to pay upfront instead of deciding how much to give at the end may be a downer. But I'd like to remind you that the tipping system practically doesn't exist in Japan, so it's understandable. And if you're joining this particular walking tour; I think it's worth it. I felt that I got what I paid for, if not more!
My Takeaway from the Fukuoka Walking Tour
Fukuoka Walks helped me see Fukuoka in a different light. After all the stories that I learned and the companionship I enjoyed, it's not hard to understand why Michal wanted to explore Dazaifu with Manami-san the next day.
Traveling to Fukuoka was honestly not a part of my plans this year. I only went there since I wanted to attend a particular concert. But after joining Fukuoka Walking Tour, it completely changed my perception about the prefecture. I think the best way is to call it a revelation. It made me realize that, sometimes, you only have to take a risk. What looks good on photos may not be as good in person, and what looks dull on the internet may have a fascinating story behind it. For me, Fukuoka is the perfect example of the latter.
Fukuoka has this chill and laid-back vibe that I can't get enough of until now. I learned from Manami-san that even though Japan's population is decreasing, Fukuoka's number of residents is increasing. Having lived in Tokyo for ten years, she can't even imagine living there again after going back to Fukuoka. I understand her. Fukuoka is a different kind of Japan that everyone should visit. Like in Aomori, I think it's one of the places in the country that a tourist shouldn't skip. Japan is not only about Tokyo and Osaka, people! I think it's the time that we all realize that.
So now, do you still plan to skip Fukuoka or has this Hakata Old Town Tour convinced you that it's worth the visit?