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Small Island, Big Fun – A Single Man’s Visit to Nokonoshima

By Ben Rosenberg for Fukuoka Now

When a kind stranger gives you two free tickets to Nokonoshima Island Park, what do you do? I grappled for some time with whether I should go with a date or solo. A flower park on top of a semi-tropical island, girls go gaga for that sort of thing. And two free tickets, a poor young man couldn’t ask for more. That said, only a complete sociopath would go alone. So I packed my day bag and prepared for a long day sharing my own company. It was the right choice.

Nokonoshima Island is located right in the middle of the mouth of Hakata Bay, about a mile off the coast. Ferries run all day from the Meinohama Ferry Passenger Terminal and tickets run ¥460 for a round trip adult ticket. A couple extra hundred yen to bring a bike, which is essential equipment to properly explore the island. Ferries run about every hour so if you are like me and just miss the departing ferry, you can spend your hour pleasantly walking the wharf chatting with the fishermen or checking out the trawlers.

Photo provided by the City of Fukuoka

When the ferry does come in, watching the docking process is a treat. The captain deftly guides the large front-loading vessel around to the ferry slip like he does it all day or something. The ramp drops and the passengers and cargo spill out, suntanned and beat from their day on the island. The fresh hoard of eager visitors boards and makes off for the island. A perceivable buzz of excitement is in the air as people clamor for the choice spots. As the island gets closer, pleasant anxiety overtakes you and the contagious giddiness of the crowd plasters a wide grin on your face. You have arrived.

You are faced with several options once you hit the docks on Nokonoshima. If you are worn out from the arduous 15-minute ferry ride, hop on the bus that will shuttle you up the hill. No one will judge you. If the sea breeze is making you feel fresh and frisky, why not hike to the top? The road to the left follows the beach to the southernmost point of the island. About 100 m after you pass Isobe Park, the road will turn right. Follow it uphill and you should find a small unmarked road that snakes up the backside of the western face. It is a nice, sparsely maintained shaded path that eventually spits you out at the top by the park. Option 3 is to hop on your bike and breathe in a lung full of fresh salt air, hang a right and mutter words of gratitude that you live here and not some forsaken place like Pahrump, Nevada.

There is something deeply restorative about ascending a tropical island by bike. Clutches of citrus groves, wildflowers and small island shacks intermittently appear out of the foliage while grand vistas of emerald coves take your breath. A balmy breeze off the sea makes you feel light as a feather as you grind up the hill. Friendly faces of those taking the hard route pass and there are small knowing nods exchanged. I’m at the top before I know it. I had been so occupied from the awesome views that I completely forgot to sweat. My system decided to play a bit of catch up.

Nokonoshima Island Park, May 2019. Source:

Rivers of sweat gush down my face as I pass the man my ticket but I am unconcerned. I’m here for the flowers. And what can I say about Nokonoshima Island Park other than it is a veritable garden of Eden? Vivid beauty fills your vision in any direction. Blue sky above, green sea surrounding and every other color are in attendance. The marigolds and poppies, the stars of the show, are in full bloom. I let slip an audible moan of delight from deep inside of me which startles the elderly woman next to me. The fields are full of amateur photographers snapping and ’gramming but who can blame them. A family loudly shouts instructions at their young son who is completely and hopelessly screwing up a family portrait. I can’t help but laugh.

A small ice cream shack offers the necessary antidote to the mid-day sun. Vanilla, matcha or the swirl are your options. I like the best of both worlds so I opt for the swirl. It is a vain attempt to stymie the sweating which has only seemed to worsen. Young couples bound past, dressed to the nines and caught with that loving feeling that only comes in spring. Flocks of exotic people of every shape and color parade around. A cacophony of foreign tongues fills your ears. Pure sensory overload. In a place so interesting and picturesque, it is impossible to avoid becoming part of the scenery. Unfortunately, my role just so happens to be the disturbingly sweaty man who is having an unnecessary amount of trouble eating a quickly melting ice cream cone. Yeegads, I make for the shade.

Photo provided by the City of Fukuoka

Luckily shade is in surplus here and there are many places to escape the glare of the sun. I found a quiet corner of the park by the goat pens. What neat critters goats are. I offer them some ice cream since they can’t get their own, scratch them where they can’t reach and bask in their musky company. If you ever find yourself at the goat pens on Nokonoshima, tell them Benny says hey.

Photo provided by the City of Fukuoka

If you and your significant other are feeling the biological urge to make tiny humans, I feel that a visit to this park is as close to the real thing you can get. The madness that is the family unit is on full display for the voyeurs’ delight. Wailing babies, children shrieking with joy or pain (it all sounds the same), harried parents well past their breaking point, sullen teenagers who are just like too cool to have a good time with their family and melting elderly folks who look like shrunken mushrooms under the brims of their large sun hats. So find a good spot in the shade and watch. One day it will be you.

Once you do a full lap of the park, your eyes and ears have probably had enough stimulation. So why not head off for a quieter corner of the island? Turning to the right out the park, wind uphill on the right-hand road and you will eventually see observatory tower on your left. Check out the top because it offers a stunning uninterrupted view of the island and the bay. Why not take some time up here to think some thoughts? Won’t you?

Photo provided by the City of Fukuoka

Now that all thoughts are thunk and the thinking is out of the way, it’s time to descend. You have several options at this point. All of them involve tearing downhill at high speeds so make sure you’ve told your mother you love her recently. The straight path out of the park will take you directly back the way you came up. A fast and thrilling ride consisting mostly of white-knuckle downhill burns fraught with the added thrill of running head-on into one of the buses or taxis that regularly use this route. Recommended for the young and dumb. Secondly, if you take a left out of the park, you will enjoy a mixture of straights and kinks that lead to a nice patch of beach on the northeast side of the island. Continue on the road and you will link up with the main seaside road leading back to the docks. Alternatively, you can take a right out of the park which will lead you up and over the summit an over to the backside route, the one least traveled. Mellow whooping turns that dip and stab through the shady forest create an exciting and slightly technical descent to the southwest corner. The forest breaks at certain points lending to sublime views of the ocean below. Wet leaves constantly litter the path so easy on the front brakes or you might have a fresh offering for the tooth fairy on a rarely traveled path far from town. On a lighter note, keep an eye out for wild raspberries and fiddlehead ferns, both are prime for picking right now.

Whichever route you choose, they all lead back to the docks. So make sure you grab a coffee and a souvenir from Noconico Cafe and a sack of oranges and a cheeseburger from Nokonoichi Market before you head back to the mainland. The park and island are designed for spontaneous exploration, so go alone or with someone who can keep up with you. This place is truly something special and it’s right in our backyard.

Nokonoshima Island Park
• Open: Mon. ~ Sat. 9:00~17:30, Sun. & hol. 9:00~18:30 (Mar. ~ Nov.) *open all-year round
• Adult (HS and over): ¥1,200, child (ES & JHS): ¥600, 3 y.o. and over: ¥400 *international student discount: present your student ID to get 50% off
Nokonoshima, Nishi-ku, Fukuoka
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Published: Jun 5, 2019 / Last Updated: Jun 5, 2019

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