For optimal results: eat, sleep, and repeat.
A port town named Hakata combined with a neighboring castle town produced what is present-day Fukuoka. Intricate temples adorn many corners of the city, while contemporary high-rises ornament the skyline. These traits blend together to give a modern, yet ancient, quality to this Kyushu city. Fukuoka’s heritage is another fusion of sorts. This is clear in the area’s unique culinary identity. Here you'll find an interesting mixture of traditional Japanese, Chinese, and localized fare.
While visiting Fukuoka, your itinerary must include ramen. The city is known all over as having the best of these noodles. Try the Hakata ramen, appropriately named and unquestionably delicious. Your adventure isn’t complete without a trip to the street stalls of Nakasu. This nightly bazaar of food vendors is your go-to spot for tasty and cheap eats. Find everything from more bowls of ramen to yakitori. Also, the Nakasu neighborhood has some affordable options for any level of culinary traveler.
With a population of over 2 million, it’s hard to imagine Sapporo as one of Japan’s youngest cities. The history of this Hokkaido city only dates back to the late 1800s. But what Sapporo lacks in narrative and traditional architecture, it makes up for in its culinary wealth.
Expect to find all the classic nosh like sushi, ramen, and unagi — but seek out some of Sapporo’s unexpected specialties, too, which include seafood and dairy. The cold waters surrounding Hokkaido supply the city with fresh selections every day. Everything from the salmon on the sushi to the grilled oysters from the street is premium quality. Always save room for soft cream, the Japanese version of ice cream, only softer and creamier. Hungry travelers will want to stay close to Daimaru Sapporo, a department store with an entire level dedicated to local foods.
There was a time when Naniwa was Japan’s capital city. This was in the 16th century, and since then much has changed. Today, Tokyo is the capital, and Naniwa is present-day Osaka. The change in name happened gradually as the city transitioned into the Edo period.
For many reasons, Osaka has transformed into one of Japan's most important cities. For one thing, history-laden Osaka has no end of attractions and important landmarks. Its culinary offerings are just as impressive. Once referred to as the “nation’s kitchen,” Osaka is a must-visit for any culinary adventurer. The city has been featured many times in the media, but the Osaka food scene is best experienced in person. How else do you expect to eat fugu, the notoriously toxic blowfish? Or sip on the refreshing ginger drink called hiyashi ame? Foodies flock to the Dotonbori district, an excellent place to start looking for accommodations.
History and culture are well-preserved in Kyoto. Temples, palaces, and thoughtful gardens establish its reputation as Japan’s “most beautiful city,” Much of this splendor is unfortunately dwarfed by the urban sprawl of Kyoto that includes impressive steel and glass structures. But first impressions aside, Kyoto’s beauties unveil themselves to any traveler willing to wait. This also applies to its rich culinary scene.
Kaiseki-ryori is one dining experience travelers shouldn't miss. It's a multi-course meal traditionally served to the wealthy or aristocratic, and you won't find it being offered at any common establishment. To eat this special meal, travelers must stay at a ryokan, a Japanese-style inn where it’s customary to offer kaiseki-ryori to guests.
Cover photo via Flickr by LWYang
Fukuoka photo via Flickr by Ethan Kan
Sapporo photo via Flickr by Marufish
Osaka photo via Flickr by m-louis
Kyoto photo via Flckr by Joe deSousa