When I came to Fukuoka previously in 2005, some of the hotel cards featured 1500 Yen Ryokan (inn) places that were slightly away from the centre. This time, there were no such Ryokan in this price range on the cards, just upmarket, expensive places. There are probably still cheap Ryokan in existence, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly where I had stayed last time, so I wasn’t going to hang around trying to find it.
The night before I left for Fukuoka, I browsed for hotel options on TripAdvisor. There are actually LOADS of hotels in Fukuoka, so I don't think you need to worry about finding something - except perhaps at the end of July/early August, when it is the main summer festival season across Japan, and Fukuoka included has a huge festival event which attracts people from all over the region.
I have never pre-booked hotel accommodation through TripAdvisor, but the site did suggest that the cheapest options would be around 3000 Yen. I felt I could find cheaper still when I got to Fukuoka, but I couldn’t – unless you want to stay in a hostel dormitory. Hakata Riverside Hostel is one such hostel:
I asked the tourist information desk on the 1st floor if they had a map of budget accommodation. They did. Most of the places on the map are priced at an average of 6000 Yen per night. That was far more than I budgeted for.
Hotel Seagull is run by a very funny little character, although it bordered slightly on the funny-strange parallel, that I didn't get too friendly with him! In any case, my Japanese this time around was so rusty, it is almost no longer existent. This was a problem when I tried to insist that the map advertised his nightly rate at 3500 Yen a night, but he was charging me 4000 Yen. I managed to negotiate my 3-night stay down to 3900 Yen per night. His explanation for this 'price difference' was that it had something to do with my room being a Japanese-style room rather than a western one. However, my Japanese-style room was one in which the previous occupants must have died in tobacco orgies. I couldn't open the windows to air it either, because the room was right on the main road, and it would have been too noisy to sleep with the windows open. Anyway, it was spacious, and I didn't see a single cockroach, which I remember had been a problem in the room I had stayed in last time I was in Fukuoka. In that room, I had spent a couple of hours one evening with the hotel owner attacking a whole legion of cockroach offspring. Also, Hotel Seagull was equipped with a fridge, freezer, air-con, and a cable TV with the option of the 'Midnight Blue' channel (!) You also got a Yukata robe to wear, although that was a bit stained, and unfortunately had a random piece of 'Calvin Klein' elastic to make the belt! Anyway, Hotel Seagull was sufficient to recommend to others.
BUS FROM INTERNATIONAL FERRY TERMINAL:
Again, there is more simplicity if arriving at Fukuoka Airport - it is connected to the subway line, so real easy to get in and out.
However, if you arrive at the Ferry Terminal, it's either bus, taxi or on foot (at least 30 mins to walk downtown). Most people opt for the bus. I really try to avoid travelling on local buses in foreign countries. I always fear that I never quite know where I am going to end up when I get on a bus for the first time! When you don’t speak the local language, it can make it doubly difficult.
Japan has its own system for using the bus which is far from intuitive.
You need to decide whether you are going to Hakata Station or Tenjin Station. These are the 2 main station areas around which you'll find most of the hotel accommodation, while remaining close to the subway line. I chose to focus my accommodation search around Hakata Station, so I took that bus. The bus from Hakata Ferry Terminal to Hakata Station is either Number 11, 19 or 50. These days, the buses running to and from the Ferry Terminal also have Korean destination signage, so if you cannot read any Japanese, but probably read Korean, at least you know that you are on the right bus. There are also announcements on the buses to Tenjin and Hakata in Japanese, Korean AND English, so if all you need to listen out for is 'Hakata Station' (also 'Hakata Eki Mae' = 'Front of Hakata Station'), then you can't go too far wrong. It should only take around 15 minutes to get to either Tenjin or Hakata on the bus from the Ferry Terminal.
The first 3 'Chinese' characters in the photo below are 'Hakata Eki Mae/Front of Hakata Station'. According to this sign, the fare is 220 Yen, and you don't get change on the bus. I happened to have change, but if you don't, I am quite sure that last time I was in Hakata, I did get change.
When you get on the bus, you need to enter through the BACK door. You take a little paper ticket from the back entrance. It has a number on it. You check your number against the number displayed above the driver. The number corresponds to the fare you need to pay. When you reach your stop, you drop the fare money in the driver's box and exit out of the FRONT door.
If you need to know the 'Chinese' characters for 'Hakata International Ferry Terminal', here is an example printed on a bus stop.
All the bus routes from the Ferry Terminal are displayed at the bus stop outside the Terminal. It is all rather complex, so just get the bus to Hakata Station and don't worry about the rest of the map! (Unless you are braving going to the Korean Consulate straight away (see visa submission times below), in which case it's probably simplest to take the bus to Hakata Station. Transfer to the subway line, and go from there).
Unfortunately, my camera didn't capture the front display of this Number 11 bus which reads 'Hakata Station'. The second 'Chinese' character of Hakata means 'many'. This is made up of 2 characters which mean 'dusk'. You can remember the dusk character, as it looks like a moon at a low angle on the horizon (if you squint a bit and use imagination...).
The easiest way to get to the Korean Consulate is by subway - although of course you can do it by bus, taxi (I believe that 'Korean Consulate' is 'Kankoku no Ryojikan' in Japanese - although I could imagine that some drivers might not actually know where it is, or will fail to understand a foreigner's pronunciation of this), or even walking.
The nearest subway stop to the Korean Consulate is TOJINMACHI. There are essentially only 2 subway lines in downtown Hakata, and all labelled in English, so it's not very complex to use the subway network. The only confusion that I remember in 2005 was that the newly opened line that went from Tenjin Station didn't clearly explain how you transfer at the Tenjin Station stop, since there is about a 100 metre separation walk between the intersecting lines at Tenjin. If you're coming from Hakata Station - another reason just to stick to accommodation searching around Hakata Station - you don't need to worry about transfering lines.
The Japan subway system also has its own ticketing protocol. All tickets are purchased from the vending machines at the stations, although there are manned (literally) desks at all subway stations in case you get stuck (or try to jump the ticket gates as only a foreigner would do - you can always sense that these staff are just waiting for the foreigner to do something dumbass!).
Above, my station, Hakata, is circled in red. The display shows me that will cost 250 Yen to Tojinmachi. Therefore, you press the '250' display touch-screen button below. Insert your money - bills or coins accepted (change given) - and then your ticket and any change will be dispensed. Insert your ticket into the barrier gates, and make sure that you take it with you to insert in the barrier gates at your departure station.
From the Subway Station to the Korean Consulate:
Tojinmachi subway station sign:
A slightly wider angle shot of the junction in question:
This is the sight that you will see when you turn right at the junction. You can just about see the Chinese-temple style roofed building on the left of the road. The Fukuoka Dome roof is just out of sight behind the tree front right:
You need to walk straight down the road until you come to another large junction (about 5 mins walk). You will come to a crossroad where the Korean Consulate is clear to see in a Korean-style building with a white fence over it, and a pedestrian overpass bridge diagonally opposite it (out of shot here). The Fukuoka Dome behind it is also clearly visible:
Although this is written as a very simplistic, idiot's guide to the visa run, there is one even more simplistic point that should be kept in mind. When you get to the Consulate, you need to sign in at the security guard box. On the paper that you sign in, you need to write your personal particulars including your hotel address in Japan IN FULL. Just putting purely a hotel name down as I did with Japanese immigration did not wash with the security guard. Neither did the fact that I had no personal cellphone contact number. He really wasn't going to let me in unless I could put down the full hotel address including the zipcode and a telephone contact number. As I had left my hotel receipt with the address on it back at the hotel, I was stuck. I really nearly wasn't let in, although overcame this by glimpsing at another hotel address that just happened to be visible on the tourist map that was sticking out of my bag and penning that down on the paper. For the telephone number, I listed a random Korean number. After some deliberation, the wiley security guard let me through. As he let 3 other people through while I was laboring over coming up with an address, I really thought for a moment that I wasn't going to be let in and have to go all the way back to the hotel to get the address. So, be warned...
As mentioned in a previous section, all you need to do is fill in the visa application form, stick one passport photo on it, submit 5000 Yen, and note down your Visa Application Number somewhere on the form (the form hasn't caught up with this new system, and has no entry field for it). Then, next day, you come back, show your visa receipt, and hopefully you have your new visa in the passport ready and waiting for pick up.
Getting out of Fukuoka:
If you've picked up your visa in the morning, then potentially, you can either make it back by plane or ferry on the same day.
There are buses that go from close to the Korean Consulate. Alternatively, you can go back by subway to the Airport or to Hakata Station and then bus to Ferry Terminal.
What to see and do in Fukuoka if you have more time:
Fukuoka has quite a bit to see for just a day or two. There are some decent shrines and temples. You have Ohori Koen Park. You have the giant shopping center, Canal City, and you even have a beach. There are also novelties such as the Disaster Prevention Center, with typhoon and earthquake simulation rooms, as well as Robosquare, a small showroom of all the Japanese robots.
If you have a whole day to kill, then you might want to venture a bit further afield. Nagasaki is located about 100km away by train. This has an interesting cosmopolitan mix of building styles on the coast.
For half a day, there are some small islands off the coast of Fukuoka - although they are all annoyingly accessed by different ferry terminals which are not that comfortably close to each other. The ferry fees can go up to 1000 Yen, and some of the islands have park entrance fees of up to 400 Yen, which as I had already surpassed my budget owing to the costly accommodation, I wasn't willing to pay for.