First, great news! From World Tourism Organisation: Travel to Japan poses no risk.
However, today I’d like to share a little bit more about my travel experiences in the southern island of Kyushu. I had previously written that for those on the cautious side, now is the great time to explore the Southern side of Japan. Here’s some ideas.
We ended up on Kyushu by chance, all due to a late snow season. What was meant to be several days of skiing in Nozawa Onsen, due to the unseasonal absence of snow across Japan, became a spontaneous dash on Shinkansen to Fukuoka. We left the mountain village on an 8 am bus, had a brief stopover in Matsumoto to have a tour of Matsumoto castle and arrived in the Hakata station by around 7 pm.
Fukuoka is truly a getaway to Southern Japan, with convenient train connections to just about every part of the island. We picked the city to be our base as we explored the island in mere 3 days. We checked into a super cheap ‘the b hakata’ that was booked the night before for less than $60 AUD. Less than $60? Oh yes, welcome to another Japan – the super affordable one. The hotel was a short stroll from the central train station (Hakata), had free coffee and Internet in the lobby and a very well equipped room – albeit on a small scale.
A quick exploration of the neighbourhood took us to the Yodobashi camera mega store across the road. The upper floor housed a great selection of charming eateries – rather cheap, too! We settled on a Yakiniku place and had an endless stream of ¥400 ($4.5) wagyu plates delivered to our table. Did I mention Fukuoka was cheap?
A side note: I am seriously considering having my mini-retirement in Japan in Fukuoka. A quick check of real estate catalogues revealed a plethora of rather centrally located apartments for about $300-400 a month!! It is quite incredible, really, to think that an apartment in Japan could be rented for the price of a hotel room. Those into Lifestyle Design like to talk about economic arbitrage – e.g. using the power of the Western currency to get more bang for buck in less developed world – but I don’t think they mean Japan. Well, there you go. $300 a month.
My fondest memory of Fukuoka, however, was the Hakata train station. I loooove train stations in Japan for one simple reason – the amazing array of food and drink that can be purchased just before your train journey. (I am not talking about a quick ride on the local train, but those fun 2h+ rides on fast trains). First things first – there is a charming little bakery, right opposite the JR turnstiles, whose miniature croissants, hot out of the oven, are sold by weight for about ¥300/100g. Must grab a few chocolate ones before your ride!
Then, there are bento boxes. Bento can be thought of as a kaiseki-influenced packed lunch. Usually, it is a complete, balanced, harmonious meal. The ones sold at train stations are called eki-ben and the Japanese look forward to their train journeys so they can have an excuse to devour a box or too! So do I. I found that the ones sold at Hakata were particularly tempting. I was so overwhelmed with choice that I was never really satisfied with the ones I got.
Fukuoka (Hakata) was reached from Nagano in a mere day by following this itinerary:
- Take a bus to Togari Nozawa Onsen train station. There, catch a local train to Nagano.
- From Nagano, take Shinkansen to Nagoya.
- From Nagoya, take Shinkansen to Osaka. (If you are not travelling on the JR pass but buying Shinkansen tickets in Japan, you can splash on Nozomi – then a stop at Osaka unnecessary, go straight to Hakata)
- At Osaka, change to Sanyo Shinkansen to Hakata.