Flower Viewing and Strawberry Picking Day Trip

When sakura season coincides with some uncharacteristically warm weather, there’s surely only one thing to do: stake out the best hanami spot! And how better to find such a place than with a bilingual guide and private transport, ensuring you see the best flowers Fukuoka has to offer?

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View of Kitakawauchi Park from the megane bridge

On a (very) warm and sunny April morning, Fukuoka Now Contributor Hannah and her parents Mark and Jackie (both visiting from the UK) did just that, testing out JTB’s second tour: Flower Viewing and Strawberry Picking Day Trip. The tour, which takes guests to southern Fukuoka, includes a visit to a charming, little-known hanami hot-spot, a Wagyu beef lunch, an exploration of the sleepy town of Yame Fukushima and is rounded off with an afternoon of pick-your-own strawberries.

• Just ¥9,500 /person!
• Sun., Wed. & Fri. (April 2016)
• About 6 hrs
• Min. 1 person
• Pick up and drop off in Tenjin or Hakata
• Includes English or Chinese-speaking guide
• Flower park admission, strawberry picking, lunch and transport included.
Full details and booking info here.

With Mark and Jackie having arrived in Fukuoka fresh from Kyoto the evening before, they had a brief first-sighting of Hakata as we walked to Hotel Nikko (a mere five minutes from Hakata Station) to meet our tour-guide. We were able to find our guide Moka-san (“Moka like the coffee!”) in the lobby straight away as she was waiting for us with a name sign and a huge, friendly smile. She quickly introduced us to our driver who was ready and waiting with a pristine mini-bus which was even equipped with umbrellas, should the weather have taken a turn.

We jumped on the mini-bus and began to head south. For Mark and Jackie, not only was this trip their first time in Japan, but also their first glimpse of Asia. Moka immediately whipped out a map of Asia and began explaining the geography of the continent and the particular relevance of Fukuoka as a “gateway” to Asia and the significance of Kyushu in opening up Japan to the rest of the world.

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Ready to board the bus!

Moka held our attention for the entirety of the one hour ten minute journey to Kitakawauchi Park, diverging to tell us (in faultless English) about all things Japan – how Fukuoka and Hakata got their names, why there is “Hakata Station” but not “Fukuoka Station”, Samurais, WWII, the latest developments to the Shinkansen…! As we rolled through countryside, mountains and rice paddies Moka would keep pointing out little details and offer additional insights into our surroundings. She immediately proved herself to be a fountain of knowledge and we knew we were in very capable hands!

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Beginning our walk through Kitakawauchi park

Our first stop was Kitakawauchi Flower Park, which offered beautiful views even on the approach. We pulled up right by the entrance and hopped straight off the bus and began following our guide. The scenery was breath-taking and difficult to soak up all in one go; from the megane (spectacles) bridge – so called as this is what its two arches resemble when reflected in the water – to stepping-stones, running water and low-hanging blossom trees. We simply didn’t know where to look first! Japan, once again, proved itself to be endlessly photogenic, and keen photographers and artists would have a field day at this beautiful location!

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…all photos can be enhanced with a little sakura!

After having spent the previous week in Kyoto, where a single blossom tree is swamped by hordes of people trying to strike the perfect pose with the beautiful pink flowers, it was refreshing to admire the sakura from somewhere so peaceful and tranquil. Moka explained that being further south in Fukuoka, Kitakawauchi wasn’t such a busy hanami spot, yet certainly must be one of the most beautiful!

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Moka explained her own reason for the hype surrounding sakura blossom; as it has no leaves when in full bloom, just delicate flowers, it is considered to be extra beautiful!

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Moka points out a “sticky” plant which was her favourite when she was a child

We followed Moka up and down the park from one beautiful view to another, working up an appetite, before heading back to the bus and on to lunch!

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As well as sakura being in bloom, the bright yellow rapeseed also looked beautiful contrasted with the turquoise water

From the park, it was a half hour journey on to Creature Cafe, the restaurant where we had lunch. The journey took us along local roads, showing us “the real Japan” – Japanese houses, gardens and of course, more sakura! – which was one of the advantages of being chauffeured around via private transport. We wound upwards through many hills to be met with increasingly beautiful views as we climbed higher and higher.
We stopped at the Greenpia complex, a large holiday and leisure park with restaurants and hotels.

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Steps up to the restaurant

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The restaurant, Creature Café, was very calm and peaceful with a sophisticated dark wood interior. We had a table by the window and our lunch was beautifully presented and waiting for us when we arrived.

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After making sure we were seated at our table, Moka left us to our Wagyu beef steak lunch. We were each given a small burner and the waiter came over to light the fuel in the bottom of it, instructing us to wait two to three minutes before we began cooking the beef.

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We really enjoyed the novelty of cooking our own beef on the small burner and the dipping sauce was delicious!

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We had an hour to enjoy lunch before boarding the bus and beginning the afternoon’s activities.

On the drive up to the restaurant we passed an observation platform which looked really beautiful. Sensing our enthusiasm to be back outdoors taking in the brilliant scenery, Moka incorporated this into our post-lunch itinerary and we made a couple of brief stops to admire the wonderful views from this vantage point.

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A brief pause at a scenic overlook

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Moka explains that on an even clearer day you can see the sea from here!

We next travelled thirty minutes to Yame Fukushima, a sleepy town with traditional Japanese wood and white plaster buildings. On one of Yame’s oldest streets there was a variety of shops including a tea shop and a newspaper printing shop.

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An en route encounter with the symbolic “welcome” cat!

Moka took us to visit Sakaiya – a traditional Japanese house which used to be the residence of the Kinoshita Family. This former sake brewery which dated back to the Edo Period, was then donated to the city in the 1970s.

As we entered we were met with a beautiful, raked garden which, as Moka explained, represented the whole world: the gravel represents the sea and the rocks represent land and islands. The idea is that as you stand and admire the garden from the path, it is as though you are presiding over the world.

We took off our shoes and entered the house itself, which had all its screen doors open to keep it cool. There were beautiful window panels with Mount Fuji and flowers frosted on them, which contributed to the sense of calm we felt as we sat on the tatami mats, looking out into the garden.

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Light and dark: looking from the shade of the inside to the bright, summer-like day outside

Feeling more cultured, we then went in search of dessert, making the short three-minute trip to the nearby pick-your-own strawberry farm, Poo Strawberry Garden.

Moka ensured we were each equipped with a bucket and pair of scissors (given to each person upon entry to the greenhouses) and instructed us to cut the strawberries and put the remaining stalks in our buckets. She advised us that the further into the greenhouse we went, the more likely we were to find the tastier fruit (which certainly seemed true)!

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We had free run of three greenhouses, and despite being very warm inside given the beautifully sunny day we had, nothing could distract us from the wonderful, juicy taste of fresh strawberries! We had an hour to eat as many strawberries as we wanted on-site, and additionally, we purchased a cardboard box for ¥200 (adult) which we filled with additional strawberries and then paid to take home (¥150~250/100g depending on the time of year).

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On the way out we noticed a bakery selling strawberry pastries and doughnuts; perhaps it would be worth saving a bit of space to try one on the way home – they looked delicious!

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Sign for the bakery and shop

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One last photo opportunity with Moka before heading home

As we boarded the minibus for the final time and began the journey back to Fukuoka we were happy to sit and watch the Fukuokan countryside whizz past outside our windows. However, the tour wasn’t over yet! Moka gave us each a square of origami paper and taught us how to make the famous origami crane. She then showed us photos of her family in traditional Japanese dress, making the one hour ten minute drive back to Hakata station fly by.

This lovely personal touch was a great way to round off a great cultural trip to a beautiful part of Fukuoka!

• Just ¥9,500 /person!
• Sun., Wed. & Fri. (April 2016)
• About 6 hrs
• Min. 1 person
• Pick up and drop off in Tenjin or Hakata
• Includes English or Chinese-speaking guide
• Flower park admission, strawberry picking, lunch and transport included.
Full details and booking info here.

Please note that the flowers and flower viewing location change according to the time of the month: cherry blossoms in early April, rhododendron and azaleas in mid-April, and wisteria and shibazakura in late April.

Read the details about this tour and JTB x Fukuoka Now’s upcoming May tour here. Be sure to mention Fukuoka Now when you book – and we’ll continue to introduce more great tours!

Text & Photos: Hannah Smith, for Fukuoka Now

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