Itinerary: Kid-friendly vacation in Fukuoka, Japan
Our last out-of-the-country venture was in November 2014 – Akira was still very much a baby at 7 months. We didn’t have to worry about the cold this time around, sure, but we learned that it is definitely worlds’ apart to travel with a toddler than a baby!
Akira is 3 years old. We no longer use a stroller or carrier for her, but she’s still fond of asking to be carried. She is also energetic, oddly enough. When she’s had a good meal or when she’s already taken a nap, there will be plenty of wrestling and running around. She’s also a bit of a picky eater. She will eat familiar vegetables and dishes, but sometimes only after mommy turns into the Hulk.
Fukuoka, Japan is a good match for her and toddlers like her. Here’s why:
Japan is a wonderful country to visit for families and families with toddlers because there are a lot of places and activities that kids can enjoy. There are also plenty of food options that are not only delectable but real kid-pleasers, too.
While a lot of families have their eyes on Tokyo Disneyland or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, Osaka, it took a popular budget airline seat sale for us to escape the rains and see what Fukuoka had to offer.
Fukuoka is located on Japan’s southernmost island, Kyushu, and is touted as a gateway to Asia given its close proximity to China and South Korea. Fukuoka is closer to South Korea than it is to Tokyo. The bulk of its visitors seem to be either Chinese or Koreans, too.
Fukuoka has its own unique draws and offerings. Visitors that are interested primarily in 1) getting culturally immersed 2) getting gastronomically satisfied and 3) getting some shopping done will not be disappointed, as we found out.
Japan’s 6th largest city is famous for its ramen, mentaiko or salted cod roe, and gyoza. It is also a cultural hotspot with plenty of art museums, traditional structures like castles and shrines worth seeing and learning more about, and just like what we discovered, a few surprises just for the little one.
We were with a little girl that loved to play, so when we found an Airbnb apartment listing 5 minutes away from this popular landmark, we immediately took it.
It’s a lovely park, and quite big. The first thing you would see is the lake and the bridge. The locals take full advantage of their beautiful park with lots of kids and families playing in the playground, people walking dogs, and people of all ages jogging, running and biking.
Locals and visitors alike enjoy renting the boats to go out in the lake, and to buy feeds for the turtles. A lot of us are used to feeding koi in ponds, so it was something to see an actual turtle feeding frenzy. My kid could do this the whole day.
The Boathouse rental shop is right next to a Pinkberry café. It’s the usual yogurt shop plus breads, pastries and good coffee. Restaurants and shops in Fukuoka typically open at 11 am, so we ended up here for breakfast. Coffee is good and it’s a nice spot for enjoying the view (and some A/C, it was really hot).
The park proper is part of a bigger area that includes the Fukuoka Castle Ruins (the lake is actually part of the castle’s old moat system), the Fukuoka Art Museum and the Ohori Park Japanese Garden. Actually, a full day can be dedicated just for Ohori Park, but in our case, we were hot and sticky from exploring the castle ruins in the morning, so we opted to go indoors for the rest of the afternoon instead.
Fukuoka Castle Ruins
As the name suggests, what you would see and explore are the remains of what used to be Fukuoka Castle, the biggest castle in Kyushu. Most of the towers are gone and what’s left are its thick walls and serene gardens.
This site would have probably been more interesting with a guide taking us through its history, or it would have been breathtaking to visit during cherry blossom season, but as it is, at the height of Japanese summer, the castle ruins are something you can mark in your itinerary as optional, in my honest opinion.
Tenjin Underground Shopping Mall
Tenjin Chikagai is a long, basement, shopping arcade at the heart of Tenjin Station. It’s a great shopping destination, full of interesting items and a taste of local fashion. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants for pit stops as well.
The place is cool, it’s great for hanging out, and it’s easily accessible. I was able to do a bit of shopping while Aki took a nap in Apetito. I got a couple of socks as pasalubong for Akira’s classmates (1,000 Yen for 3 pairs!), and an ampersand décor from my personal best discovery here: home and lifestyle brand ‘salut!’
Gee! Store and Mandarake
I’m a big fan of anime and manga myself, so I wouldn’t say we went to Otaku shops just for my husband and brother. And while I personally didn’t find anything I liked, visiting these shops was really interesting. There were the usual fan merchandise like shirts, stickers and key chains; there were lots of manga but everything’s in Japanese; and then there were the cosplayers’ things. Clothes, wigs, contact lenses, props – everything was there and the quality is amazing.
Mandarake, as a specialized store, is impressive. It had a lot of vintage toys and figures, and even old Game & Watch games and Family Computer cartridges.
We didn’t get to really explore Canal City, to be honest, but our experience here is funny and one for the books. Seeing that we have visited Gee! Store and Mandarake plus watching this live, our Day 1 in Fukuoka could very well be Otaku Day.
It seemed that a One Piece movie was showing and there were a lot of promotional gimmicks everywhere. They had a special set up in Canal City with life size figures of the characters as well as a mall show.
Canal City led to our last stop for the night – Naka River and the yatai food stalls.
You can take a boat ride in the Naka River, but after an unbelievable day where my itinerary for 2 days happened all in one day, we were happy to just admire the beautiful boardwalk and cap the day off with street food.
The boys were pretty pleased with their ramen.
Day 2: Art + Pan
This is the day that we planned to retreat inside museums to escape the heat!
Coming from the Shintencho Shopping Arcade in Tenjin, we walked to the Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art.
We were only able to explore one gallery, and it was a good opportunity to ‘get to know’ Japanese visual art that isn’t Yayoi Kusama or Takashi Murakami.
Maybe it was the long walk, the heat, or both, but Akira got really sleepy when we got here. It’s a situation that worked well for everybody because this was a really quiet and serious museum, and we were able to enjoy the art.
Honestly though, this wouldn’t be a good idea if Aki were awake and running about.
We needed to hang out somewhere again where we can lay Aki down and wait for her to wake up. We had our eye on the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum but quickly changed our minds when we saw this
Obviously we weren’t familiar with the characters this conveniently located theme park was about. But from what we initially saw – it looked like a Kidzoona that was four times larger and had several things that Aki loved like slides and the sim town (simulation town where kids get to pretend play). It had several dining options inside too, and we figured this was one place where it was totally ok if a child ended up napping.
The entrance fee is pretty steep, but it’s all access. We had lunch and stayed in Heart Shaped Café until Aki woke up.
Anpanman Children’s Museum is a huge indoor play park celebrating Anpanman, a popular cartoon superhero that’s been showing in Japan since 1988. Thanks to the anime ‘Yakitate!! Japan’, I’m aware that pan means bread. But there’s already a toast-looking character and Anpanman is round. Turns out that he is made from anpan, a kind of bun with sweet red bean paste. This information convinced me that we should go to Anpanman Children’s Museum.
The place is huge and occupies two floors. There are 8 dining options including an udon noodle shop, a fruit shake stall, a restaurant that serves beer (love you, Japan), and of course, a bakery that features actual edible bread and pastries fashioned after the Anpanman characters.
There’s a photo studio (like The Picture Company), a mini arcade, and several souvenir shops. But what will really drive the kids nuts are the play areas. It really took some convincing to get my daughter out of there when it was time to go home.
There were slides, a sandbox area (this alone can get a toddler preoccupied for hours), a bouncy castle, a ball pool, and a sim-town (simulated area where kids get to pretend play). It was like Kidzoona times five.
As a place for children, the Anpanman Museum is spotless, and the staff is generally friendly and very helpful. There’s always a smiling museum worker nearby who’d offer to take your picture, for instance. My husband’s only critique of the place is that he wished the food shouldn’t be expensive anymore, but this tends to be the norm with theme parks anywhere.
For families with small children, Fukuoka is the perfect mix of playtime for kids and for grownups too. What's your favorite family vacation destination? Sound off in the comments! – Rappler.com
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