The growing political, economic and cultural center of Kyushu, the vibrant city of Fukuoka is the largest and one of Japan's ten most populated cities with many amazing places to vist. This guide will take you through the city introducing you to the recommended places for you to visit.
Canal City Hakata
Although it always pops up in travel guides to Fukuoka, Canal City Hakata feels a bit unusual at first, at least as a destination for out-of-towners. With retail tenants that include Skechers, Arnold Palmer and Claire's, the feeling is more Midwestern than the average upscale urban department store or retail-residential-office space complex in Japan. Digging a bit deeper, though, there’s a heck of a story here. The mall is an architectural landmark and it helped rebuild the city. Canal City Hakata is a particularly fascinating example of urban redevelopment: instead of knocking down swathes of old neighborhood, the two million square feet of retail was built to occupy territory that had once housed a decrepit clothing factory and other underused urban space.
The commercial space of Canal City attempts to reify both the history of Hakata as a commercial center, as well as its natural environment, represented by the canal that winds through the space. Jon Jerde, who spearheaded the design of Canal City, was behind less celebrated creations, like Newport Beach's Fashion Island and the Mall of Americas in Minnesota, but unlike the dead malls and casinos that brought mostly blight and low-paying jobs to the American suburbs, those crumbling edifices eulogized in Youtube videos to vaporwave soundtracks, Canal City has stood strong for over two decades and has played a role in revitalizing surrounding neighborhoods.
More than anywhere else in the world, save maybe Rome, traveling in Tokyo often involves the rapid transition from the commercial to the sacred. The Green Guide suggests this shrine in the neighborhood of Canal City Hakata, one of many guidebooks that pair the two places for reason of proximity. Dedicated to the deities of wind and thunder, Kushida Shrine, founded in 757, is city’s principal shrine. Perhaps the retailers of Canal City still come to the shrine to pray for success in business, just as the merchants of past times must have done, too.
The peaceful grounds of this shrine, especially on a cool weekday afternoon later in the year, could serve as a palate cleanser after the magical realist excesses of a mall with a canal running through it. Don’t miss out on catching the towering float that is prepared for Hakata’s Gion Yamakasa festival in the first half of July each year and then displayed on the shrine grounds throughout the year.
It can sometimes feel as if temples are recommended out of a sense of obligation: you must see this temple because it’s very old and was founded by such-and-such patriarch and was blessed by a visit from the shogun of such-and-such Domain. After several centuries, whatever holy aura, historic significance or value as a site of day-to-day worship can have faded, the original buildings long since rebuilt, the combined footfalls of eight centuries of tourists and pilgrims now drowning out the peace. Does the Green Guide recommend Shofukuji, the temple that Zen patriarch Eisai built upon returning from China, out of a sense of obligation or is it worth the effort? The answer is: it’s difficult to say; but yes, it is certainly worth a visit.
Seated now in a mostly unremarkable temple neighborhood (Tochoji, home to an enormous wooden Buddha, is perhaps the most significant), Shofukuji is, at the very least, austerely beautiful. The extensive grounds are an island of supreme tranquility in an already fairly quiet part of town.
Tenjin Underground Shopping Center
Again, the hard transition from sacred to profane, from religious to commercial, because the Green Guide advises a stroll through Fukuoka’s Tenjin Underground Shopping Center—or, less unwieldy, Tenchika, as locals call it. This is a space that is less Zen than Shofukuji, less storied than Kushida, and lacking the outsized ambition of Canal City. Interesting spot, though, nonetheless, and who can fault the Green Guide for including it? Below Tenjin Station and connecting to many other buildings in the area (including Fukuoka Parco and ACROS Fukuoka), the underground mall balances Japanese shotengai atmosphere with 19th century European arcade architecture. Pick up a map, ponder what Walter Benjamin would make of the place, and stroll down one of the dozen underground laneways.