From Busan, Fukuoka is the easiest foreign city to get too. There’s the fast and convenient Beetle Ferry. There are multiple daily flights from the fairly accessible Gimhae airport to the very accessible Fukuoka airport on Air Busan. Most importantly for many of us, there is a Korean consulate from which to obtain a brand new visa.
On the downside, Fukuoka isn’t a top tourist destination in Japan. Most people want to experience the frenetic pace and energy of Tokyo or the serene ancient temples of Kyoto. Unfortunately, neither Tokyo nor Kyoto is particularly close, or particularly cost effective to get to from Busan, especially for a short holiday. So you’re probably stuck with Fukuoka, but that’s not bad because it can be a pretty cool place.
Stuff to do around Kyushu:
It’ll take two days to get your visa, so tacked onto a weekend, that gives you four days in Japan. I’d highly recommend picking up a Northern Kyushu railpass. They’re 7,000 yen (100,000 won) for three days and 9,000 yen (126,000 won) for five days. It sounds expensive, but it’s very much worth it.
Remember, internet connections are not so easy to find in Japan. Even coffeeshops and hotels rarely have free wireless. It’s good to plan ahead a bit and use the Tourist Information Centers. They are very helpful.
Fukuoka: The largest city on Kyushu island, there is plenty of shopping and eating to keep you busy if you choose to spend the whole time here. I enjoyed Ramen Stadium in the Canal City mall, where you can sample several different variations of Japanese Ramen. There are a few nice shrines within walking distance of the central train station. I was especially impressed with the giant buddha and buddhist hell to enlightenment experience at Tochoji Shrine, right outside Gion Subway station. If you want to make a day of shrine hopping, it’s probably worth making the train/bus trip out to the small town of Dazaifu, where you can rent bikes and spend an entire day visiting shrines and museums. I stayed in the Green Hotel right outside Hakata train station, it was decent and reasonably priced. For more Fukuoka Tourist info, check out:
Fukuoka is a great city if you love to shop and eat, but there is really much more to Kyushu. Luckily Japanese trains are amazing and with your rail pass you’ve got free reign over quite a few of them to get on and get off as you please. Here are some of the great places you can go:
Nagasaki: I’ve been obsessed with Nagasaki since reading David Mitchell’s ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet,’ which is based around Dutch traders in Nagasaki in the 1800s, after all Christians had been expelled or executed, and the country was closed off. You can visit the ‘Hill of Martyrs,’ where 26 christians were crucified, Dejima, the reconstructed island from which foreigners could do business, the atomic bomb museum and peace park, as well as a very nice china town and some beautiful bridges and Chinese temples. It’s a scenic two hour train ride from Fukuoka. There’s a very convenient tram system. We stayed at Nagasaki International Hostel AKARI, which was excellent. For more Nagasaki Info check out this site.
Kumamoto: Probably the most famous castle in Kyushu and one of the nicest in Japan, Kumamoto is only 45 minutes away on the Kyushu Shinkansan (bullet train). You ride a tram into the city and can walk around and tour the castle. Very cool architecture and some interesting history. Worth a half day trip or a stopover going to or from Mt. Aso. For more info on other stuff to see in Kumamoto go here.
Mt. Aso: From Kumamoto you can ride a train to Mt. Aso, according to wikipedia the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the largest in the world. From Aso station you can take a bus up to the top of the mountain. From there it’s a five minute ropeway or a twenty minute walk to the viewing point overlooking the open caldera. Smoke and sulpherous gases are pouring out all the time, so watch out when the wind changes. Get tourist information at the Kumamoto Station Tourist Info Center. Here’s some more info on getting to and around Mt. Aso.
Beppu: Because of an unfortunately misplaced railpass, I couldn’t make it to Beppu. My reading and tourist brochures told me there are monkeys and hot springs there. Both things that I would have liked to have seen. You can continue on the loop from Mt. Aso to Beppu to spend the night in a hotspring resort, or do it as a two hour train ride from Fukuoka. Here’s a bit more information.
Japan is expensive, here are some money saving tips:
-Buy the railpass, it may seem expensive, but it opens up a lot more options and is much cheaper than buying individual tickets. To and from Kumamoto will cost you more than the 3 day pass.
-Check beer prices before ordering. I like Japanese beer, but when most restaurants charge the equivalent of 10,000 won per beer, it’s really not worth it.
-Don’t take taxis. It’s easy to forget how spoiled we are by cheap taxis here in Korea. They’re probably three times the price in Japan. Stick with the subway and buses which are inexpensive.
-Use the Tourist Information Centers. They are extremely helpful and give excellent detailed information and maps. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and wandering if you just ask.
-Eat out once a day. Even Ramen is gonna cost close to 10,000 won. Find a supermarket. The prepared foods were usually quite a bit cheaper than the restaurants that I found.
Getting your visa: (Visa stuff is always changing, so this may no longer be accurate, it was as of January 2012, still check with the consulate)
For all the general annoyances that the trip might entail, getting your visa is amazingly easy. If you’ve got the forms filled out, you’ll probably spend a total of 5 minutes in the actual consulate. Drop off the papers (visa application with photo and confirmation number and passport), pay the money (4,500 yen when I went), leave. Return the next day, pick up your visa, finished.
Finding the consulate is a little more difficult. I got there via subway: Ride to Tojinmachi station (station 5 on the orange subway line), go out subway exit #1. Walk straight past two traffic lights. The third is at a big intersection. Turn right and walk for ten minutes to the next big intersection (you’ll see the Fukuoaka Yahoo! Japan dome further ahead). The consulate is at that intersection. Look for the Korean flag and the soldiers standing outside. From the ferry terminal it’s probably easiest to take a bus. Consult the Tourist Information desk at the terminal for bus information. Check out the Galbijim site for much more detailed information.