The recent renaissance of FUKUOKA (福岡), Kyūshū’s largest city, has been rather remarkable. Not too long ago this was an industrial nonentity, notable only for its transport connections to Korea and the rest of the island. Fast forward a few years, however, and we see a squeaky-clean metropolis whose energetic yet carefree atmosphere has propelled it into many a best-place-to-live list – witness the locals slurping happily away on their ramen at a rustic streetside yatai. Casual visitors may find actual sights thin on the ground, but Fukuoka boasts an undeniable charm that makes for a great introduction to Kyūshū, or indeed Japan as a whole, and it deserves a day or two of any traveller’s time.

Highlights here include one or two excellent museums and ranks of eye-catching modern architecture – most notable in the latter category are Canal City, a self-contained cinema, hotel and shopping complex built around a semicircular strip of water, and Hawks Town, which forms part of a major seafront redevelopment incorporating venues for shopping, eating and entertainment. The city is also renowned for its festivals and folk crafts, which are presented at Hakata Machiya Folk Museum. As with any self-respecting Japanese city of this size, Fukuoka maintains a lively entertainment district, in this case crammed onto the tiny island of Nakasu, though it’s safer on the wallet to head for the less glitzy bars and restaurants of Tenjin, the city’s main downtown area.

There are a couple of excellent sights just to the south of Fukuoka. First up is the ancient temple town of Dazaifu, once the seat of government for all of southern Japan, but now a pleasant backwater best known for its collection of temples and shrines, set against a backdrop of wooded slopes. For centuries, Dazaifu’s monks, priests and officials sought solace in the healing waters of nearby Futsukaichi Onsen. Both towns are easily accessible by train and can either be combined as a day-trip from Fukuoka or as a stopover en route to Nagasaki.