January 1, 1970
by Jackie Lim
Inside this once upon a Medieval Town
The irony of being known as an ancient castle town when the place itself is now considered as one of the modern well-developed districts around Kitakyushu. It may seem located at the far side of Fukuoka, but with the country’s highly advanced rail and subway system, travel time between airport to Kokura will just take approximately an hour. I was really impressed on how each station are intertwined one after the other. The journey will just be in a flash. There are three major trains under the umbrella of JR Kyushu Railway Company brand:
- Limited Express
- Local Train
Each varies per speed capacity. I know it would seem to be fair if we all take the cheapest option all throughout the journey but when time is of the essence, take the fastest route. Upon our arrival in Fukuoka International Airport, we opted Shinkansen as we need to be at the hotel before 11 P.M. We were able to save some money, as we have paid half of what should be the fare of a private car service. It just so happens our heftiness depleted as we carried all our luggage to a great degree. I suggest even if there’s an English option on the ticket booths, please do your research first or better yet, read the instructions before selecting any on the screen as this could be a terrible mistake. I opted Shinkansen without the physical Express ticket. It’s a combination where you must have these two together, or else you won’t gain entry at the port of embarkation. We were running like headless chickens inside the Hakata Station as our tickets were considered invalid to the fact that there’s one missing. Here’s a tip, head for the information ticketing booth instead rather than be a wisecracker just like I was. Good thing, a Japanese guy was there to help us and he’s really good in conversational English. I sort of interviewed him and we found out he studied in the US only in a span of four months and he was able to use the language fluently. I really admire those who are bilingual and what more if he’s multilingual! It was such a relief be onboard where we suppose to be headed. After a few minutes, we arrived at the Kokura Station.
Our second tip would be to search your hotel under google maps to have a clear view where to go and keep some few pointers or directions rather. Street view is a must. Super Hotel is just a few steps away from the station. We were in such a hurry as I thought we won’t be able to check-in after 11 P.M. but since we had it prepaid through Expedia, everything has been covered.
As we roam around Kokura, we just found ourselves walking towards Kokura Castle. Aside from the wifi device rented at the airport to access google maps, street signs are firmly lodged and strategically placed on the walking path crossing Chugin Dori. You may even find a map on the wall in front of Life is Beer! 11TAP allocated right after you step off the escalator adjacent to Colet Shopping Mall. On the mural, you will figure out exactly where the tourist spots, malls, and restaurants are conveniently positioned. It is in Japanese language, but the colorful drawings made it easier for us to decrypt.
Upon reaching the castle, you will be enthralled on how this structure was duly preserved and maintained as if it was just been built! You have the option to fully understand the history of this once Castle Town for a minimal fee of JPY 300-350 or just enjoy the scenery for free. This a must see. It’s just around RiverWalk Kyushu Shopping Mall where you can freshen up after exploring the walls of Kokura Castle. As I was standing on the bridge overlooking the river, it somewhat occurred to me that this spot is quite similar to Clarke Quay in Singapore exceptionally at night time. The Murasaki River is situated in between this six-story mall and restaurants on the other side, line up along the riverwalk, so paying guests may enjoy a nice view of the Kokura Castle and Japanese Garden from afar.
Filipinos comparable to Japanese, both enjoy cooked white rice partnered with any fried or saucy dish. Going back on our first night in Kokura, we dined at this place near Vogue Slot Rave. I wasn’t able to get the name of the restaurant but you may still check it out if you’re in this town through its distinguished facade. It was around 11:30 P.M. and both of us are too hungry to function. Our choices narrowed down to two, either McDonald’s or Lotteria. Since we are trying to cut out fast food cravings and decided to eat healthy, we ended up discovering this little place – street location right in the middle of the above-mentioned known burger chains. The vendo ordering machine is located on the left most area inside this average-sized restaurant. Food choices are indicated in front. Payment must be made before selecting your preferred meal. Once completed, hand over the dispensed ticket to the food attendant. My personal favorite is the Gyudon for only JPY 290!
On our second day, while walking around Kokura, near KFC, we were able to experience authentic Japanese ramen. Hand-pulled noodles poured with Udon based soup starting at JPY 290 paired with either Shrimp or Chicken Tempura, depends on your liking, each costs JPY 100 as an add-on. Tight budget? Head out to any Family Mart, buy some rice or gohan, about JPY 274 for a three-piece pack and choose any delicacy or street food you can find and pair it with, like Yakitori, Fried Squid or Chicken Kaarage.
Moving on with the desserts, aside from the Matcha series everyone is raving about, another popular pastry I find addicting would be the Chocolate Croissant from il Forno del Mignon. Four pieces only cost JPY 225! Mouth-watering chocolate at the center of each buttery and flaky dough.
So if you’re planning a short trip in Japan, drop by Kokura. You definitely won’t regret it!