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Fukuoka

With two-and-a-half-million people, Fukuoka is the most populous city in Kyushu, and the fifth most populous in Japan. Often referred to by its original name Hakata, this sprawling coastal metropolis is bordered on three sides by mountains and dissected by the Naka River, which flows out into the Sea of Genkai. Fukuoka's central position in Asia and easy accessibility have helped it flourish both economically and culturally, placing the city high on livability rankings and offering much for the modern traveler (of which two million visit each year). Fukuoka holds a number of claims to fame. It's the home of Hakata ramen, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks baseball team, and the 700-year-old Yamakasa festival - which sees teams of men race through the city carrying gigantic floats. Edo-period Fukuoka Castle is a must-see, with its 47 turrets and sprawling sakura-dotted grounds. More contemporary attractions include the city's art galleries and museums, its immense shopping malls, the bustling Hakata Port, Marine World, and the iconic, tree-covered Acros Fukuoka building - a "center of international, cultural and information exchange."

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