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A yatai in Fukuoka

Flying Finnair

Finnair started its new Helsinki route to Fukuoka on May 6, operating three times a week until October 9. Flying the shortest route geographically to Asia really makes a difference on long-haul timings, and timetables are designed to minimise transfer traffic. The flights depart from Heathrow,

Manchester and Edinburgh with a connection at Helsinki – a super- efficient hub with the added bonus of Moomin merchandise. Economy return fares start from £676.


Hisatoshi Sakamoto, head of the overseas division, Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization: “On April 14 and 16 this year, two large- scale earthquakes in Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu took the lives of 49 people and damaged buildings and roads. Kyushu Island has a comparable size to Switzerland, but the damage mostly occurred in only three towns and cities near the epicentre. For the most part, these are already returning to normal. Most major expressways and railway lines affected by the earthquake have returned to normal operation, as has life in nearly all of the Kyushu regions.”

famous yatai, or street food stands. Come evening, a riverside stroll down rain-glossed streets takes city visitors past a series of covered yatai, of which there are more than 150 scattered across the city. They typically serve grilled chicken

skewers (yakitori), hot pot (oden) and most famously Hakata ramen, a noodle dish featuring thin ramen noodles in a pork bone-based soup. More slurping ensues and I ask one

of my fellow slurpees what they would recommend about Kyushu. “It’s just really friendly here,” I’m told. “And it has some of the best surfing in Japan!” I can’t vouch for the surf but the

warmth of the locals is palpable, plus it feels very safe, even stumbling back to the hotel sake-soaked in the wee hours.

w SELL: A FLYING START Finnair’s new flights to Fukuoka from Helsinki are opening up this lesser- known corner of Japan. It’s a timely opportunity given that March saw the highest number of monthly UK visitors to Japan in the country’s history. The subtropical climate and coast

cater for sun lovers, while history buffs are spoilt for choice with rebel samurai relics and Shinto shrines aplenty. Getting around is easier than you might think. Drivers are generally courteous and law-abiding, and cars drive on the left so there’s little adjustment to make. Just make sure to book an English satnav, and double-check, as sometimes the voice directions are English but the interface and buttons are in Japanese which

makes life a bit trickier. Guessing where you’re going from signs is not really an option. Alternatively, the trains here are

famously efficient – not cheap but not extortionate either – and clean and fast to boot. Car hire is as reasonably priced as train travel, and there are also plenty of good-value options for accommodation, so with the favourable exchange rate you can get a lot for your yen.

w SEE: BATHS AND BLOSSOMS Hot-spring onsen abound in Kyushu and nowhere more so than in Beppu, a two-hour drive from Fukuoka. This coastal resort offers nutrient-rich waters and an array of treatments, from sand baths to mud and steam. Do bear in mind that tattoos are not

welcome in most onsen because of the association with yakuza (Japanese gangsters), but if you have ink, it’s worth asking about private baths. The northern prefecture of Nagasaki

is fascinating. Its grim history is solemnly commemorated in the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park, but this is a vibrant destination in its own right. A colourful trading history has infused the area with a rich mix of cultural influences. Nagasaki’s most prestigious restaurant, Kagetsu, is one of Japan’s oldest, dating back to 1642. It was once a brothel that entertained famous writers, artists and samurai. Japan is commonly perceived as

expensive but a many-course meal at this most exclusive of restaurants is around £85, not cheap to be sure

50 19 May 2016

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