As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting on this site very much. Unfortunately, that will not be changing in the near future. I have been occupied with work and other matters, and this blog has become a bit too much to handle. I don’t want to post filler material just to keep the updates coming, so I will try to add some larger articles when I have time, but I can’t make any promises.

Thank you for reading, and I hope that the current information on the site can still be used for reference purposes by Fukuoka/Kyushu visitors and residents alike.

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Unforgettable: Kyushu by Local Train

Traveling across the Shimabara Peninsula

Traveling across the Shimabara Peninsula

In the spring of 2012, I took a trip around the island of Kyushu by train. The route was a massive loop hugging the coasts of the island, and the journey lasted almost two weeks. My primary means of transport was local trains with an emphasis on small, local lines (without use of limited express services or Shinkansen), although I was forced to use a bus and a ferry one time each as well as a train pulled by a steam locomotive (which was classified as a limited express train).

Train travel is undoubtedly one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to get around, and slow travel on a rustic train while sipping a beer or chu-hi and gazing out at coastal and mountain scenery has become one of my favorite pastimes. Shinkansen and limited express services get you where you need to go in a hurry and offer top-level comfort; highway buses provide a cheaper alternative to local trains; and air travel via low-cost airlines offers an inexpensive and extremely fast way to get between major urban centers. But these focus on efficiency in one form or another — in terms of time and/or money — which is what most standard, non-commuter train lines were originally intended to achieve.

Today, using standard trains to travel long distances is considered (in Japan) to be slow, inefficient and tiring. Nevertheless, there is something truly appealing about the inefficient, old-fashioned feel of traditional train travel. Those of you who rarely leave the urban centers of Japan may not realize just how small and clunky countryside trains can be as they follow single tracks (not pairs) through century-old tunnels and brightly colored agricultural fields one moment and sway precariously along cliffside, coastal tracks the next. And because Japan is an extremely mountainous country, direct routes are often difficult and expensive to build, resulting in indirect paths that take more time when compared with expressways, high-speed rail routes and the like.

Yet all trains are, by design, efficient in many ways. Trains and rails combined actually form some of the largest machine assemblies in the world, and passengers are conveyed quite effectively within these integrated systems. Trains also offer a relatively smooth ride compared with sea, air and road-based travel, and they are able to achieve high travel speeds with Shinkansen and other high-speed rail at the upper end of this spectrum.

More importantly, rural trains in Japan have character. They have soul.

In Saga Prefecture

A one-car  train in Saga Prefecture operated by a sole driver

They are also more human than machine. During my 2012 trip, I experienced something along these lines while traveling in a single-car train through an  extremely rural part of Saga Prefecture. We were crawling along at about 40 km/h (25 mph) across green paddy fields and through perfectly round tunnels punched through numerous small hills, moving parallel to a one-lane country road. As we neared the next station (with only one or two lone houses in its vicinity), a couple of young students came into view on the adjacent road. One was pedaling her bike furiously while the other yelling from behind while trying to keep up on foot. Both were heading toward the station to catch the only train that would come in the next two hours — their only public transportation lifeline. Obviously, the children were not as fast as the train and thus unable to make it to the station on time, but the driver was a kind old man and knew that no other trains would be coming for a while, so he simply waited an extra minute or two (unthinkable on an urban line) as the girls scrambled to buy their tickets and, bowing in apology, scurried aboard the train. Rural train services feature this type of human touch in an otherwise mechanical and rigid transport system, and it is one of the reasons that riding on such trains is so enjoyable

Viewing different cities as well as rural and suburban landscapes from the train window is another rewarding aspect of slow trains. Kyushu in particular has a wide range of local cultures, climates and traditions, and the variations in scenery that can be seen during a train journey is stunning. Although many people from other parts of the country (especially the mass media) arbitrarily label Kyushu as a homogeneous and static region, in reality it is one of the most diverse and dynamic places in Japan. The island is quite large and has a lot to see  and experience — I have only scratched the surface during my three years of constant traveling here. It is a place that begs the tourist to adopt a more leisurely pace, to avoid mere sight-based tourism as when visiting Tokyo or Kyoto.

Cherry blossoms and steam from hot springs in Kannawa Onsen (Beppu)

Cherry blossoms and steam from hot springs in Kannawa Onsen (Beppu)

Then there is the matter of solo travel. Although many people find traveling alone to be daunting and lonesome at times (which it is), traveling by yourself helps you take time off from daily obligations to observe, experience and meditate on the world you live in, which in turn encourages you to ruminate on your own life and changes you as a person. Putting personal, work-related and other issues aside and simply immersing yourself in new worlds, watching the people in them, and even interacting with those people if you feel so compelled can be deeply rewarding, and the sense of independence experienced through solo travel is both exhilarating and liberating. Every trip I have made by myself has changed me in a significant way and sculpted me into the person I am now. Such experiences are priceless.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Hirado

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Hirado

In 2012, my journey took me through all seven of Kyushu’s prefectures in the following order: Fukuoka (starting in Fukuoka City), Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Oita and then Fukuoka again. More specifically, I went out to Karatsu in Saga Prefecture, popped down to Imari, took the Matsuura Railway west  to Hirado and then into Sasebo, went from there to Nagasaki City and then continued out around the Shimabara Peninsula using the Shimabara Railway Line, and crossed to Kumomoto City by ferry after visiting Shimabara City. After that I took a steam locomotive to Yatsushiro, rode the Hisatsu Orange Railway to Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture (stopping at Minamata along the way), and then continued on to Kagoshima City and did some sightseeing in the area, including visits to the famous Ibusuki hot spring sand baths, the mountain town of Chiran (famous for samurai-district gardens and its museum on World War II “kamikaze” pilots) and Nishi-Oyama Station (the southernmost station in mainland Japan). Next I cut through the mountains via Miyakonojo over to Miyazaki City, took a slight southern detour to Aoshima Beach, continued up along the coast all the way into Oita, visited the old castle town of Usuki and stayed in Kannawa Hot Springs in Beppu, then followed the coastline again up to Kitakyushu to visit the lovely Mojiko port area before catching a train on the Kagoshima Main Line back to Fukuoka. (I have provided a rough outline of the route below.)

Nearly every day was packed with inspiring discoveries and unforeseen happenings. Here are just a few that stick out in my mind today:

(1) Karatsu Castle: The view on a sunny day out over the Nijinomatsubara pine forest, neighboring sandy beach and serene townscape is positively soothing. Additionally, the owner of the nearby ramen shop I visited was originally from my neighborhood in Fukuoka.

(2) Meeting a generous man on the bus that crosses the bridge into Hirado Island: He spent the rest of the day showing me around his deeply historic and beautiful town, including its castle, churches and museums, and even arranged for a ride back to the station when I missed the last bus. We still keep in touch today and have met up in Fukuoka.

View from Karatsu Castle

View from Karatsu Castle

(3) Skirting around an infamous volcano on the Shimabara Peninsula on a teeny, rickety train while chatting with a kind old man I met on the platform (there were only two of us). He was nice enough to make sure that I found my hotel when I got off in Shimabara City, seeing as it was my first visit.

(4) Riding the SL Hitoyoshi, a train hauled by a restored steam locomotive.

(5) Traveling the entire length of the Hisatsu Orange Railway, from Kumamoto to Kagoshima Prefecture, while savoring one of the most delicious handmade ekiben I have ever eaten (sold at the small vegetable shop inside the waiting area of the terminal station). This railway also had the best track-side scenery of any line I rode on during my trip, especially on the sections that pass right along the shore of the Yatsushiro Sea with the Amakusa Islands visible in the distance.

The SL Hitoyoshi departs from Yatsushiro Station

The SL Hitoyoshi departing from Yatsushiro Station

(6) The compact yet impressive gardens at various samurai residences in Chiran that have been opened to the public, and the friendly locals who made it so easy to strike up numerous conversations. Also, the delicious green tea, something the area is famous for. And the French couple I met, who were in Japan for their honeymoon.

(7) From the city center of Kagoshima, hearing the nearby volcanic island of island of Sakurajima rumble and watching it spew columns of smoke and ash over the city (as the common saying goes, nobody in Kagoshima owns a white car).

(8) Visiting Aoshima Beach, one of my all-time favorite beaches, in Miyazaki and enjoying a long conversation over beers with a pair of visitors who happened to sit nearby.

Sakurajima showering the city with ash, as viewed from Kagoshima-chuo Station

The volcano island of Sakurajima beginning to shower the city with ash (viewed from Kagoshima-chuo Station)

(9) Discovering the town of Usuki, one of the most beautiful places in Kyushu that retains the feel of old Japan…and becoming hopelessly lost in its tangle of old-fashioned, narrow streets when trying to return to the station.

(10) Visiting Mojiko for the first time and learning that the industrial city of Kitakyushu has more to it than initially meets the eye.

Retro architecture, old and new (in Mojiko, Kitakyushu)

Retro architecture, old and new (Mojiko, Kitakyushu)

These are just a few of the journey’s highlights in terms of food, people and scenery. There were also a handful of mishaps, such as my poor choice of capsule hotel in Sasebo (filled with loud-snoring, drunken salarymen) and poor choice of guesthouse in Kagoshima (lots of bugs, peeling paint and no insulation).

To conclude, I will leave you with a suggestion, which you can choose to consider or ignore: Take a week or two and travel in this fashion around Kyushu or any other part of Japan that interests you. You can travel cheaply by planning your lodging places carefully (or by camping or staying in capsule hotels / manga cafes), and using only standard trains, buses and ferries. Look out the window, walk slowly, and spend a majority of your time trying good food and wandering aimlessly rather than following a strict sightseeing itinerary. Go by yourself, no matter how daunting a challenge it may seem. Do things you would normally shy away from — break out of your shell. If you follow this advice, I guarantee that you will have an unforgettable, life-changing experience.

Back in Hakata Station (Fukuoka City) at the end of my journey

Back in Hakata Station (Fukuoka City) at the end of my journey

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Hakata Hanami 2014: Cherry Blossoms in Fukuoka City

Cherry blossoms in Nishi Park, Fukuoka

Cherry blossoms in Nishi Park, Fukuoka

This year’s winter weather has been up and down, with a few unusually cold and warm patches. In Fukuoka, the first cherry blossoms are expected to appear as normal or slightly earlier than usual. In 2014, most flowers will open around March 19 and the best time for viewing the flowers in is predicted to be from March 25 to April 2 (subject to change depending on the weather — I will update these dates periodically based on the latest forecasts). The following is a list of popular spots for viewing cherry blossoms in Fukuoka City.

Atago Shrine

A hilltop shrine with a great view of Hakata Bay and the surrounding city.

  • Location: 15 min. walk from Muromi Station (Kuko Subway Line)
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 2,000

Maizuru Park

A large park with lots of space for picnics, with the remains of Fukuoka Castle as a backdrop.

  • Location: 7-10 min. walk from Ohorikoen Station (Kuko Subway Line)
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 1,000

Nishi Park

A hillside park, known as one of the top 100 cherry blossom spots in Japan.

  • Location: 10-15 min. walk from Ohorikoen Station
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 1,300

Uminonakamichi Seaside Park

Cycling, disc golf, and seaside strolls combine with beautiful cherry blossoms in this massive multipurpose park.

  • Location: Near Uminonakamichi Station. Transfer from the JR Kagoshima Main Line at Kashii Station, and take the JR Uminonakamichi Line to Uminonakamichi Station (park entrance and bicycle rentals just outside the station).
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 2,000

Minami Park

Cherry blossoms and greenery tucked away in a quiet corner of town.

  • Location: 15 min. walk from Sakurazaka Station (Nanakuma Subway Line)
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 1,400

Nokonoshima Island Park

Gorgeous natural scenery on one of Hataka Bay’s nearby islands.

  • Location: 10-15 min. by bus from Tosenba-mae (渡船場) bus stop on Nokonoshima Island. From central Fukuoka, take the train/subway to Meinohama Station (Kuko Subway Line, JR Chikuhi Line), take bus 98 from Meinohama Station (north exit) to Noko Tosenba (能古渡船場) bus stop (15 min.), then take the ferry from the nearby terminal to Nokonoshima Island (10 min.). Buses on Nokonoshima Island are infrequent, so it may be faster to take a taxi to the park.
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 300

Forest City Aburayama

The beautiful Mt. Aburayama provides laid-back hiking trails and amazing scenery (including an unparalleled view of the city and bay from the summit). The addition of cherry blossoms makes it even more stunning.

  • Location: Take bus #13 from Tenjin (急行 / kyuko express bus) bound for Hibaru Eigyosho, or bus #113 from Hakata Station (急行 / kyuko express bus) bound for Hibaru Eigyosho, and get off at Aburayama Danchi-guchi (油山団地口) bus stop (takes approx. 30 min. using either bus). From Aburayama Danchi-guchi, it’s about a 1 hour walk to Forest City Aburayama or a 15 min. taxi ride, but there are special buses that go up on weekends (buses don’t run late and they arrive about every 1.5 hours — bus schedules are provided in Japanese on Forest City Aburayama’s website).
  • Approx. number of Cherry Trees: 2,000
Note: “Approx. number of Cherry Trees” statistic taken from http://www.innovade.co.jp/en/seasons/04/hanami/fukuokashinai.html
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B-kyu Cuisine: Delicious Undercurrent in the Japanese Culinary World

HIroshima-style okonomiyaki

If you have been in Japan for some time or enjoy following Japanese cultural trends, chances are you have already heard the phrase B-kyu cuisine or B-kyu gourmet. It is often used in reference to cheap and tasty foods, but what exactly does the phrase B-kyu mean?

The English phrase “B movie” was imported into Japanese not literally as B-eiga, but using the more natural wording B-kyu eiga. Out of context, the term B-kyu (B級) roughly translates into English as “B-grade” or “B-level” — in other words, something that is sub-par in some way, like a B movie. This has led many writers and translators to mistakenly explain the phrase B-kyu gurume as “B-grade cuisine” or similar, which misses the point entirely. For example, this article written by a shockingly uninformed writer describes it as “B-grade food” and also as a fad (only true if you define “fad” as a trend that continues for decades) as part of her unimaginative “look at this wacky country!” approach to travel writing. Unfortunately for diners everywhere, this type of misinterpretation/distortion is common in the Western world when it comes to the topic of B-kyu cuisine.

In reality, B-kyu cuisine exists in pretty much every country around the world (under different names). It encompasses ramen, takoyaki, yakisoba, deep-fried foods and other selections enjoyed by the average Joe (average Tanaka?) in Japan. The food is inexpensive, savory, filling, sometimes greasy and always satisfying. B-kyu is meant to act as a counterbalance to high-class cuisine such as kaiseki — it opposes the snobbish gourmet culture dating back to the Bubble years in Japan and instead focuses on down-to-earth, affordable cuisine that everybody can enjoy. In some cases, B-kyu cuisine also lacks the history and sense of established tradition found in other types of locally rooted cuisines, instead representing something innovative and fresh. Culturally, eating B-kyu in Japan is equivalent to going to your favorite local burger joint, pizza shop, burrito restaurant or food truck in the United States.

Although similar in wording to B-kyu eiga (B movies), B-kyu cuisine does not imply a lack of quality. However, as with B movies, B-kyu in this case does allude to a certain cult quality as well as a surprisingly high level of satisfaction despite low prices. B-kyu food is rarely served at high-end hotels and wedding receptions, and a restaurant serving B-kyu dishes is not the kind of place you go to impress your date or celebrate a wedding anniversary. B-kyu does away with all the high dining costs that come from famous names, lavish food arrangements, stuffy traditions and upscale restaurant atmospheres, instead providing the hungry and tired masses with something scrumptious to enjoy together with a glass of beer after work or on the weekend.

Personally, I think that B-kyu cuisine is much more rewarding than what is offered at most high-end izakaya and restaurants. Because our money is a direct representation of the time we devote to working rather than doing what we really want to do, wasting money is the same as wasting time, and time is the most valuable resource that we have in this life. I find it much more satisfying to spend my hard-earned money on a big plate of fried kushikatsu skewers with friends, some of Fukuoka’s top-tier ramen, or perhaps an iron skillet full of crispy, garlicky gyoza dumplings topped with a thick layer of molten cheese, than to blow it on a few tiny morsels served on an expensive plate in a restaurant with good mood lighting. I don’t care much for restaurants where waiters wear bow ties and bottles of wine are sold for upwards of tens of thousands of yen, because I feel more at home in a boisterous, bare-bones establishment with wooden benches, cheap drinks and food that leaves my stomach feeling happy.

Give B-kyu a chance. You may be surprised at just how “A-level” it can be.

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Finding Fukuoka: Kindle Edition

Happy New Year! The Kindle Edition of Finding Fukuoka: A Travel and Dining Guide for the Fukuoka City Area is now available via Amazon sites around the world! That means it can be purchased on Amazon Japan, Amazon USA and elsewhere (just search for “Finding Fukuoka” on your country’s Amazon website). This e-book version can be viewed on Kindle devices as well as smartphones, iPads and other devices (after downloading the Kindle app). It can also be viewed on your PC using free Kindle software from Amazon. Furthermore, customers who bought the original paperback edition from Amazon can purchase the Kindle edition for just $2.99.

The paperback edition is also available in Japan via the Finding Fukuoka online store and direct from me on Amazon Marketplace.

Happy reading!

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Finding Fukuoka Released in Japan (New Online Store)

book covers

The Finding Fukuoka online store is officially online! This means that  Finding Fukuoka: A Travel and Dining Guide for the Fukuoka City Area is now available to customers in Japan. My first travel guide, Osaka Insider: A Travel Guide for Osaka Prefecture, is also available in the store, and both works can be purchased together as a set for a discounted price.

Furthermore, customers in Japan have the option of adding and author signature and/or a personalized message to the book(s) they order. For customers in Europe and the United States, both Finding Fukuoka and Osaka Insider are still available as usual on amazon. Click on the appropriate link in the “My Publications” of the sidebar on the right or else visit to online store for links to relevant pages on Amazon in your country.

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Finding Fukuoka Guidebook Released in the United States and Europe

Finding Fukuoka cover

My second guidebook, Finding Fukuoka: A Travel and Dining Guide for the Fukuoka City Area, is now available in the United States and Europe through Amazon.

Finding Fukuoka is the first definitive English-language guide to the city of Fukuoka, Kyushu’s gateway to the world. It is packed with sightseeing information for all of Fukuoka City as well as nearby Dazaifu, Mojiko, Yanagawa, Karatsu and Okawachiyama (Imari). Furthermore, the restaurant and bar sections include more than 170 hand-picked shops — see for yourself why Fukuoka is considered to be one of Japan’s top dining destinations! The addition of a ramen guide, sake guide, beach guide, event guide, local train line guide and plenty of general information to help you get oriented in Japan makes this book a helpful resource for both visitors and current residents alike.

In about a week, I will begin selling copies of the book in Japan (along with Osaka Insider) through a new online store on this website. Payment via Paypal, Japan Post Bank transfer (free of charge between postal accounts), regular bank transfer and cash on delivery (COD) will be possible, and buyers here in Japan will be able to choose from additional options including author signature and personalized messages. Furthermore, I am currently working on the Kindle edition, which will most likely be ready for worldwide release in December.

To purchase the print copy of Finding Fukuoka, please visit one of the following sites. For buyers in Japan, the book will available in just a short time on this site’s new online store. If you do purchase a copy through Amazon and are satisfied with your product, please feel free to rate it and review it on the lower part of the Amazon page 🙂

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Top Ten Japanese Character Mascots 2013

The time has come to announce Finding Fukuoka’s top ten yuru-kyara (character mascots for PR purposes) for 2013. The intense proliferation of these characters in every aspect of Japanese life has presented a plethora of amazing candidates for this list, and it has also made it much more difficult to choose just ten.

In Japan, yuru-kyara are designed for just about anything you can think of — cities, prefectures, companies, brands, websites, projects, events, sports teams, products and more. This list is a ranking of my personal favorites, chosen from the thousands that exist throughout the country. I also list some special category award winners at the end.

I have decided to exclude previous two-time winners such as Kumamon, Barii-san and others. I have also left Sento-kun off of the list this time around despite the fact that he is still the most creepy character in Japan. When footage was available, I have opted to use videos instead of photographs to give readers a better feel for how the characters move, sound, and look from different angles.

For those who are interested, the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix event, during which people throughout Japan choose their favorite character for the year, has closed its polls and will announce their winners on November 24, 2013. (The website is in Japanese only.)

Enjoy Finding Fukuoka’s top ten yuru-kyara picks for 2013!

Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

#10: Kabota Fugusuke

With the proliferation of yuru-kyara among nearly every company, local government and organization throughout Japan, it’s nice to see one with a truly handmade feel. This adorable fellow is the mascot for Usuki YEG (Young Entrepreneurs Group) located in Usuki City, Oita Prefecture (right here in Kyushu!). He supposedly lives together with his father, who is a kabosu (green citrus fruit that Usuki is known for), and his mother, who is a fugu (blowfish), which explains his name and appearance.

Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

#9: Ton-tan

Ton means pig and tan is a very casual and somewhat cutesy version of the honorific -san used when addressing people by name in Japanese. Ton-tan is easily one of the most adorable characters out there — his fuzzy outer layer makes you just want to pet him. According to his description, Ton-tan is very curious and enjoys searching for new things. Ton-tan is the character for the Ton × Tan information sharing website based out of Hokkaido.

#8: Muki-Panda

How great is Muki-Panda? He’s a panda character wearing the costume of a panda character, with a scarf (cape?) draped around it that makes him look superhero-eque in a way. Furthermore, he manages to stand out amid a flood of panda-type characters around the country. Muki-Panda is the self-appointed ambassador of tourism for Daisen-cho, a town in Tottori Prefecture (the source of some of Japan’s best yuru-kyara).

#7: Lerch-san

This Niigata-based character is modeled after a real-life Austr0-Hungarian figure from the past, Theodor Edler von Lerch, who was said to be 270 cm (8.9 ft.) tall! People often said that once you got a look at old Lerch you never forgot him, and the same goes for Lerch-san! And the best part about Lerch-san? He actually skis (and snowboards), costume and all! Check out the video above of Lerch-san hitting the slopes.

#6: O-chan and Ucchii

This pair of roly-poly characters was established to mark the 650th anniversary of the establishment of feudal government in Yamaguchi under the Ouchi clan. O-chan is a feudal lord and Ucchii is a princess, and both are designed to look like traditional dolls. The art of creating cute mascots has reached a level of near-perfection in Japan, and these two are some of the best yet. Admittedly, it’s tempting to give them a gentle push to see how far they will roll.

Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

#5: Tatamin-kun

This character is simply made of several tatami mats stuck together and, not surprisingly, he is the mascot for a Tatami shop in Kyoto Prefecture. The goal in creating this character was to spread the appeal of tatami mat flooring, the act of spending time in a traditional tea room with one’s family, and the general goodness of Japanese culture. Just like mascot #10 on this list, Tatamin-kun has sort of a thrown-together, made-at-home feel that is balanced out with cuteness and uniqueness, making him a top contender in this list. According to his description, Tatamin-kun is a “fairy” of the tatami mats.

#4: Chitchai Ossan

Chitchai Ossan’s official website gives him a fitting and adorable English name: Small Middle-aged Man. And that’s precisely what he is. Not only does his facial expression never fail to make onlookers burst into laughter, he exudes all the stereotypical qualities of an ossan (old men) in Japan, right down to the the silly (drunken?) grin, ring of hair and track pants. This Hyogo Prefecture character has a universal appeal that is quickly making him one of Japan’s most popular.

#3: Kiiboh

There should be no reason to explain why Kiiboh ranks as one of the best characters in 2013. Just look at her! As I mentioned above, the art of cuteness in the field of yuru-kyara has reached an unprecedented high in recent years, and Kiiboh is easily one of the cutest around. Plus that look on her face would melt anyone’s heart. Kiiboh is the mascot for the Anjo Tanabata Festival in Aichi Prefecture: this star festival celebrates the legend of two lovers who are separated by the Milky Way and only allowed to meet once per year.

#2: Mojaroh

This is a hard mascot to describe. It looks like a pudding monster and some green glass melted and then fused to a carpet, which was then draped over a regular person who decided to just keep walking around like that. Representing the Isesaki Monja Festival in Gunma Prefecture, Mojaroh is actually meant to look like Isesaki monja, a type monjayaki which, in case you are not familiar, basically looks like okonomiyaki that somebody barfed up. At any rate, that’s the story behind Mojaroh, one of the most hilarious characters in Japan today.

#1: Funasshii

Some of you may be familiar with Funasshii, the character that took a trip to London to ensure that not only Japan, but other countries as well, were sufficiently terrified of Funabashi City. Yes, Funasshii is one of the funniest, scariest, most unique, most twisted, and best yuru-kyara out there, and although she tends to appeal to a different audience than the legendary Kumamon, she may just steal his throne one day. Funasshii is a promotional mascot for Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture, and her uncontrollable convulsions, eerie jumping motions and high-pitched, desperately screeching voice tend to scare young children but make her popular among everyone else. During her trip to London (first video above), we see her screaming “I love you” to women in a passing convertible, yelling “fish and chips! Ya-hoo!!” as she eats, skipping down the street passed terrified pedestrians and convulsing uncontrollably on the grass in a park. No other character does it quite like Funasshii.

Special Award Winners

Best Naming: Saipanda

This one gets recognition for its clever name and handmade feel, and also for helping to spread the yuru-kyara craze beyond Japanese borders. Saipanda is a panda from Saipan, hence the name. It was created to draw more tourists to the island.

Most Adventurous: Gen-san

Gen-san is the mascot for Toyooka City, Hyogo Prefecture and also for San’in Kaigan Global Geopark. He is described as a stone mason who likes volcanoes. As shown in the video above, Gen-san was chosen as “most adventurous” because of his paragliding adventure, which honestly seems a bit dangerous for the person inside the costume.

Most Disgruntled: Igosso

Hailing from Kochi Prefecture, Igosso (a word that means “stubborn person” in the local Tosa dialect) is the mascot for a hobby museum in the town of Shimanto-cho in Shikoku. There is no other yuru-kyara in Japan that looks like it hates to be at work more than Igosso, which is why he was chosen as most disgruntled.

Click for Image from Yuru-kyara Grand Prix

Most Threatening: Ashigaru-kun

He is a mascot that carries a gun. Enough said.

Most Terrifying: Funaken

This thing looks like the spawn of Satan. Like something straight out of a Resident Evil game. Like a creature that logically should not exist, even in the world of fiction. This unfortunate half-canine is the mascot for a boat racing stadium in Nagoya, which is probably why he has been genetically engineered to be half fish. I’m not sure what the goal of creating such an awful character was, but it’s sure to result in more than a few bad dreams.

Creepiest: Okazaemon

Despite all the cute and goofy characters out there, creepy ones like this seem to pop up on ocassion. Okazaemon was created as an art PR mascot for Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture. I’m hoping that the art in Okazaki looks a little better than this, because all I see when I look at Okazaemon is a suspicious, middle-aged man in creepy felt pajamas. His face is designed to look like the oka (岡) in Okazaki, and zaki (崎) is written on his chest. Check out the video of Okazaemon above to see just how eerie he looks when he…well, does just about anything.

Most Rapey: Muzumuzu

Okazaemon is creepy, but Muzumuzu is somehow worse. He represents Imizu City, Toyama Prefecture, and he is supposedly the king of the water spirits (hmm). The word muzumuzu usually indicates a creepy feeling, an itch to do something, or something irritating. That unfortunate and terrifying smile never leaves his face…the king gets what he wants.

Click for Image if You Dare

Most Shocking: Mister Balls

Mister Balls is exactly what he sounds like: a pair of balls. He was created to promote testicular cancer awareness and help promote relevant research, and his name over in Brazil is Senhor Testiculo (best name ever). He is apparently popular among women and children. The designers obviously paid attention to the small details, including his thick head of curly hair (eww). In all seriousness, this is an excellent example of how to use a character’s shock value to do good in the world — what better way to raise awareness? Click here to read more about Mister Balls.

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Tensuian Miki: A Solid Izakaya with Excellent Sake


Tensuian Miki (呑酔庵 味季) specializes in mizutaki and other cuisine using fresh, local chicken (including chicken sashimi). The nihonshu (Japanese sake) menu boasts a regularly updated, diverse, fascinating selection of reasonably priced drinks that even connoisseurs can enjoy, and their selection of shochu and other beverages is also quite good. Furthermore, Tensuian offers a plethora of side dishes to savor together with your drinks, such as fresh avocado slices, savory chicken karaage and fresh fish sashimi.

Tensuian Miki has two shops: one near Hakata Station and a newer shop (opened in 2013) in Takasago near Yakuin Station.

Open: The Hakata Shop is open from 5:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. (last order at 1:00 a.m.) and the Takasago Shop from 5:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. (last order at 2:00 a.m.). Both are closed for irregular business holidays.
Access:  The Hakata Shop is 4-5 min. on foot from the Hakata exit of Hakata Station (Kuko Subway Line, JR lines). The Takasago Shop is 2-3 min. on foot from the south exit / exit 2 of Yakuin Station (Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line, Nanakuma Subway Line) or 5-6 min. on foot from exit 1 of Watanabe-dori Station (Nanakuma Subway Line).
Phone: 092-206-3333 (Hakata Shop) 092-406-8894 (Takasago Shop)
Japanese Address: 福岡市博多区博多駅前4-10-17 (Hakata Shop), 福岡市中央区高砂1-23-17 (Takasago Shop)

Hakata Shop:

Takasago Shop:

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Naka River / Hakata Bay Sightseeing Cruises

Sightseeing boat in front of Canal City

Sightseeing boat in front of Canal City

Three companies operate sightseeing boats in Fukuoka City along five courses starting from Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge in Tenjin Central Park, and passengers can enjoy Fukuoka’s cityscape from the water day or night on cruises that travel up and down the Naka River and (in some cases) out into Hakata Bay. The “Tenjin / Bayside Place Course” linking the centrally located park and the Hakata Bayside Place ferry terminal also provides a convenient way to get to or from the city center if you are arriving in or departing from Fukuoka by ferry.

The following are short summaries of each course. Availability and schedules may change due to weather, season, vehicle maintenance, lack of empty seats or other such factors. Fares, travel times and schedules are listed in the table on the next page.

  1. Tenjin / Bayside Place Course: Operated by Bellcruise Fukuoka. Runs between Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge and Bayside Place. This is one of the less interesting courses, but it departs quite often, doesn’t take much time and provides a convenient link between the city center and the ferry terminal. Boats operate both day and night.
  2. Naka River Boat Tour Course: Operated by Bellcruise Fukuoka. This night course heads down the Naka River away from the bay, between the neon-lit banks of the Nakasu and Haruyoshi/Tenjin districts. It is short but offers some of the best night views that can be had of the Fukuoka cityscape and the famous Nakasu-area yatai food stalls, making it an ideal choice for tourists.
  3. Naka River / Hakata Bay Boat Tour Course: Operated by Noko Marine Kanko. A bit longer than the other courses, this night course continues out into Hakata Bay, providing stunning night views of the illuminated city. There are only a few services per day and cancellations due to weather are more common than with other courses, so customers should call in advance (in Japanese) if possible.
  4. Tenjin / Nokonoshima Island Course: Operated by Noko Marine Kanko. This is one of the most rewarding of the five cruises. Boats travel all the way from Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge out to Nokonoshima Island, providing fine views of the city as well as a convenient means of traveling directly from the city center to Nokonoshima Island.
  5. Nakasu Cruise Course: Operated by Nakasu Hakatabune. This is a two-hour dinner cruise rather than a standard sightseeing course. Although it is a bit expensive, it offers the chance to dine on beautifully prepared Japanese-style cuisine with main dishes such as sashimi and nabemono (one-pot dishes) while sipping on a cold drink and looking out over the river. A Western-style boat is available for daytime cruises and a Japanese-style boat is used for nighttime cruises against the backdrop of a neon-lit Naka River. The nighttime cruises are particularly popular during the warm summer months. Fares vary by meal, and reservations are required.




Departure Schedule

Tenjin / Bayside Place Course

Adult: 500 yen
Child: 250 yen

20 min. (one-way)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 10:35 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 2:10 p.m., 3:20 p.m., 4:55 p.m., 6:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 8:15 p.m.
Bayside Place Hakata: 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:40 p.m., 3:55 p.m., 5:25 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 8:45 p.m.

Naka River Boat Tour Course

Adult: 500 yen
Child: 250 yen

20 min. (loop)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 6:15 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 8:15 p.m., 8:45 p.m.

Naka River / Hakata Bay Boat Tour Course

Ride: 2,000 yen
Charter: 18,000 per boat

50 min. (loop)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.

Tenjin / Nokonoshima Island Course

1,300 yen

30 min. (one-way)

Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge: 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m.
Nokonoshima Island: 12:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 16:00 p.m.

Nakasu Cruise Course

6,000–10,000 yen (including meal)

120 min. (loop)

Contact Nakasu Hakatabune (092-734-0228) in Japanese for details
  • Access: The boarding point is at the west end (Tenjin side) of Fuku-Haku Deaibashi Bridge in Tenjin Central Park, located 4–5 min. on foot from exit 14 or 16 of Tenjin Station (Kuko Subway Line), exit 1 of Nakasu-Kawabata Station (Kuko Subway Line, Hakozaki Subway Line), the North Gate of Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station (Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line) or exit 5 of Tenjin-minami Station (Nanakuma Subway Line).
  • Additional Information: Boat operators take irregular business holidays on occasion, and they may also suspend operations during rough weather. Call in advance to confirm the current day’s schedule.
  • Contact Numbers: 092-263-8113 (Bellcruise Fukuoka), 092-651-6555 (Noko Marine Kankou), 092-734-0228 (Nakasu Hakatabune)
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