Fukuoka is an excellent base to begin exploring Kyushu. To get a sense of the city, walk along the meandering Naka-gawa River. The stunning Canal City shopping complex, a 15-minute walk west of Hakata Station, is full of great people-watching, shops, and dining. You'll find a bit of everything, from global coffee and fast-food outlets to famous local ramen.

For night owls, there's plenty happening in the west-central downtown alleys in an area known as Tenjin at truly astounding hours. Friday nights only begin at midnight, usually with a huge and hearty bowl of tonkotsu (pork-bone soup) ramen—often referred to as "Hakata ramen"—a rich, tasty staple that locals seem to depend on for their legendary all-night stamina.

The Naka-gawa River divides the city. Everything west of the river is known as Fukuoka, while everything east—including the train station—is referred to as Hakata, so trains might say to or from Hakata rather than Fukuoka. But don't be confused: Hakata is just a ku, or district, of the whole place, which is still Fukuoka.

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