Japan City Guides: Fukuoka Yatai
Yatai, Mentai, and The Dormy-Inn: Jet-lagged in Hakata
Joanne G. Yoshida
A night in Hakata is full of surprises. You could end up taking home a cat. One was offered to us by a soft-cream vendor. We'd love to take it, and we'd have called her "Ramen" if we could. But, our apartment doesn't allow pets and we were just in town for a stopover with two big suitcases. Our plane got in to Fukuoka too late to catch the last bus.
With no connection to get back to our home city until the next day, we took advantage of a chance to wander and explore Hakata under the half moon.
It was a jet-lagged night that just seemed to 'happen', though we had planned this evening stopover a few months before. My daughter - 11 years old and computer savvy - had researched a place for us to land for the night on our way back to Oita from a trip to the US during summer holidays.
To bring a long and winding story to the point, Dormy Inn Hakata Gion is the name of the place we stayed, and we recommend it if you need a convenient stopping place while laid over in Fukuoka, as a great base to begin a stay in Kyushu, or to spend a jet-lagged night.
My guess is that the name, Dormy Inn - written in small letters, dormy inn, as well as in katakana, ドーミーイン - is an original hybrid bringing together "dormitory" plus "inn". Which is a clever idea, and fits the bill well.
The reasonably priced rooms are small, like a dorm perhaps, with just enough space for a bed - in our case, a double - plus some floor space leftover. If, like my daughter, you bring your hula-hoop along when you travel, you can find just enough space beside the bed to get in some exercise after a long plane ride.
After all, it turned out to be much nicer than a dormitory, and maybe the name is just a fun play on the French word for sleep? We could "dormir" tres bien "inn" the comfortable bed. The price of our small double was 9800 yen.
There is an optional Viking-style (buffet) breakfast available for an additional 1200 yen per person. We decided to forgo the breakfast this trip, because of our jet-lagged schedule.
We couldn't make it up in time for the 9.30am last order. Instead we checked out at 11.00am, left our bags with the concierge and wandered through the nearby well-known shopping spot called Canal City looking for a place to brunch. Ended up exiting the Canal City, not quite ready for the excess and sat in a small basic kissaten which had just the right blend of coffee and mixed sandwich for me and curry for my daughter.
The hotel is conveniently located about 10 minutes by taxi from Fukuoka International Airport. (the ride cost 1450 yen). Or you could take the Chikatetsu Kuko-sen (Airport Subway line) if you are not dragging around too much luggage. It is a short walk (under 10 minutes) from the large Hakata Bus Terminal where you can catch buses to other destinations in Kyushu.
One of our main considerations when choosing a hotel in Japan is, if possible, to find one with an on-sen bath. In our budget, it's not always easy, but this one boasted a natural hot springs bath on its website, so we chose the hotel based on this factor, as well as it's proximity to Fukuoka's famous Ya-tai.
Ya-tai are outdoor stalls, which serve some of the city's culinary specialties. Al fresco stalls are set up along the streets, alongside parks, and along the river at night. There is a magical quality to these makeshift shops that don't exist (except as folded up wood roofed boxes on wheels) until the sun goes down. Ya-tai fill up late in the evenings especially in summer where there is no better place to sit and enjoy yakitori, oden, tempura, or other dishes particular to Hakata. These include mentaiko, ton-kotsu ramen, motsu nabe, gyoza, and their many incarnations, such as mentaiko tempura.
We ordered yakitori moriawase, which was an excellent selection of ika gesso (squid legs), buta-bara (fatty pork), gyu-kimo (tough beef liver), and mentaiko (spicy cod roe) wrapped around with buta-bara on skewers. All were served "shio-yaki", grilled in salt, which matched perfectly with a sultry summer night (4 skewers, 900 yen). A side order of Aspara-Ami-Yaki (700 yen) was also delicious - perfectly salted asparagus cooked on the grill, with a dollop of mayo for dipping.
Sitting along the river, we enjoyed the city view, neon lights, and listening to vendors call people in to their stalls with shouts of "I-ra-sha-I-ma-sse" which echoed past the neon reflecting in ripples of the night. In this paradise for jet-lagged travelers, we became intoxicated by the sights and smells.
The ya-tai are also known as popular nightspots for drinking. Drinks come in local varieties. You can try some Southern Japan sho-chu, such as Kuro Kirishima (Miyazaki sho-chu made from potato), or Hakata Mugi Sho-chu (each 500 yen per glass). I had ume-shu (plum wine, 600 yen) on the rocks, which turned out to be a delicious sweet tasting brand from Hakata called Akai-no-oni ("red demon"). It is advertised on the menu with a caption that reads:
(hamaru o-i-shi-sa, roughly: "a delicious taste that you can get into the habit of")
Savoring the sweet with the salty at this riverside stall was a great way to slip into a Japan state of mind after having spent the summer in New York. As much as I missed the ocean beaches where I'd just come from, we found a salty pleasure that could not quite take its place, but which in itself was a delicious taste of late summer.
We returned to the hotel late, way past my daughter's usual bedtime but this was still vacation and thus an exception. Soaking in the hot bath after midnight when we returned to the hotel, we both agreed - we prefer to enter Japan by way of an onsen. And, in combination with a late night walk to enjoy ya-tai, this could very well be the perfect antidote to jet lag.
Dormy Inn Hakata Gion
1-12 Reisenmachi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Tel: 092 271 5489
1 minute walk from Gion Station, Kuko Line subway
10 minute walk from Hakata Station
Other Dormy Inn Hotels can be found throughout Japan
Text + images by Joanne G. Yoshida