I spent some time in Fukuoka the other weekend, the closest “major” city to my home in Kumamoto and the largest city on the southern island of Kyushu. Truth be told, Fukuoka is a tough place for tourists. There aren’t that many actual sites – the castle is in ruins, there aren’t many notable temples and traditional gardens are thin on the ground. Fukuoka would be a great place to live though – a hopping restaurant and shopping district, lovely public parks and a convenient transportation system.
Fukuoka DOES have a number of good museums and my favorite from the trip was the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum. (In case you didn’t know, Fukuoka is essentially two cities in one – the old castle town of Fukuoka and the merchant town of Hakata. A bit like Minnesota’s Twin Cities, perhaps, but Fukuoka and Hakata are officially joined together to form one of Japan’s major cities.) This is a small museum, located just outside the front gate of Hakata’s Kushida Shrine. The permanent display is small and takes up only the downstairs room of the museum but the exhibits are fairly interesting. There are dioramas of Hakata during the Meiji and Taisho Periods, a series of telephones where you can listen to people talking Hakata-ben (the Hakata dialect) and a corner dedicated to the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, one of Fukuoka City’s major festivals. If you aren’t in town for the first 15 days of July to catch this event, you can watch a (subtitled) video here on it every hour on the hour. It’s pretty fascinating actually, and I now have the festival on my to-do list for next summer.
Upstairs, you’ll find a workshop area where Hakata artisans demonstrate various old crafts and techniques. The type of craft changes every day – they were working on Hakata dolls on the day I was there. There are also weaving demonstrations next door in the old machiya (merchant) residence, for a few hours in both the morning and afternoon. Even if the weaver is not at his loom, you should pop in to check out the building’s architecture, as it is a superb example of an old Japanese residence.
If you’re interested in bringing home something special from Hakata (or Fukuoka in general), the attached souvenir shop has some beautiful hand-crafted toys and decorative objects alongside the usual gift shop fare.
It won’t take you more than 30-60 minutes to see this museum (depending on if you watch the video and/or the craft demonstrations) but it forms part of what I like to think of as the Hakata Triangle. Just down the road is the Hakata Traditional Craft and Design Museum (free), which showcases some beautiful examples of Hakata dolls and woven textiles. And, as I mentioned above, the Kushida Shrine is across the street. This shrine is basically the epicenter for the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival in July and you can stop by here any day of the year to see one of the huge festival floats on display.
For more information on opening hours, admission fees, and access to the museum, you can visit their English website here.