Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka is the capital of the province of the same name. It sits on the north shore of Kyushu, the most southwesterly of Japan’s islands, home to beaches, modern malls and ancient temples.

While Fukuoka is often seen as the gateway to Kyushu, it also serves as the gateway to Asia. After all, it’s less distance to Seoul than to Tokyo. As is a common occurrence in Japan, Fukuoka and its near neighbor Hakata merged in 1889 to create a single metropolis. It was to be named Hakata, until the intervention of disgruntled samurai from Fukuoka, an important feudal city. Indeed, you can still explore the gardens around the ruins of Fukuoka Castle, where you can spot remnants of the turrets, walls and moat system.

You may prefer to wander the serene grounds and gates of the Shofukuji Temple, the first Zen temple in Japan, or head for the renowned Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine that was built on the grave of the scholar Sugawara no Michizane, today revered as a Shinto god of learning.

Zooming off to the reconstructed Kokura Castle by bullet train is another possibility. It’s built on the site of the original fortification which dates back 400 years, and its museum includes centuries-old weapons and armor. Another glimpse back in time awaits at the Moji-ku historical district nearby which looks across to the island of Honshu. Here, many brick buildings from the Meiji and Taisho periods (1872 to 1931) have been carefully preserved, including shipping offices, banks and the local railway station.

If you’re here in April or May, a trip out to the Kawachi Wisteria Tunnels might be at the top of your to-do list. Vast numbers of pink, purple and white flowers have been meticulously landscaped to create vast fragrant tunnels the length of a football pitch. Closer to the port itself, and a delight all year round, is Noko Island. Sitting in Hakata Bay, it’s a jumble of beautiful flower paths, grand lawn and the intriguing memory lane filled with a collection of nostalgic retro exhibits.

Staying on the main shore, a more modern symbol of the city is the Fukuoka Tower, the tallest seaside tower in the country that stands 767 feet tall. Its observation floor offers views of Hakata Bay and across to the Kyushu Mountains. Then again, maybe soaking in warm, mineral-rich waters is more your style. In which case, why not seek out several relaxing hot springs nearby, such as those in the Chikushino area.

Countless picturesque green spaces include Ohori Park with its manicured traditional Japanese garden with mini waterfalls and wooden bridge. Other interesting discoveries include the Fukuoka Art Museum, and Kyushu National Museum, an incredible blue glass structure whose exhibits explore Japanese culture in the context of Asia as a whole. If there’s still time, try the seasoned cod roe (mentaiko), a local specialty.