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Deciding to Call Fukuoka Home

Insights into life in Japan's startup city.

Deciding to Call Fukuoka Home

10 min read

Considering launching your startup in Fukuoka? The city's appeal goes well beyond our incredible startup community. Alexa Huth, American expat and Head of Content for local startup Qurate, explains why she recently chose to return to Fukuoka. Keep an eye out for future articles written by Alexa as she gives you her perspective on what makes Fukuoka and its startup scene so unique.

When I step off of the airplane in Fukuoka, I feel at home.

An unexpected feeling considering it’s a city in Japan I only became aware of because my sister presented a paper at a tech conference here a few years ago. Her enthusiasm for the city shone through the stories of her quick trip. I chalked it up to our familial love of travel.

Enjoying a good adventure, I moved to Fukuoka when the opportunity arose not long after hearing about her trip. I figured I would only be in town for a year or two at most. Instead, I found my home in Fukuoka. I don’t mean just an apartment filled with my things from my life in America. Instead, I found real and solid anchor points that make this city feel like a part of me.

Settling into a new city (and country) is a very personal journey. The city needs to complement your personality and make you feel comfortable. That’s what always surprises me about Fukuoka. There are people here from so many different backgrounds and absolutely all of them are adamant that this city is home. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how one city could exert such a pull on people.

Fukuoka is loved by pretty much everyone I talk to, and not in a casual, “sure it’s ok” sort of way.

Every person has their own reason that makes it their Fukuoka. It’s a place that supports so many lifestyles and perspectives that it’s simple to carve out something that feels authentically yours. For me it’s the variety. I need options to stay interested, and being in one setting just doesn’t cut it. No matter what neighborhood I live in, I know that I’m a short train ride from beautiful sandy beaches, breathtaking hikes, and lively downtown vibes. The option to take a short flight over to Seoul or Taipei makes it easy for me to go new places without much planning. 

The city is filled with interesting little experiences that make every day feel like a small adventure to me. Some days I just walk. Wandering around Fukuoka unlocks these little gems, tucked away vintage shops, upstairs cafes, unexpected festivals, suddenly you’re transported into a day you couldn’t possibly have planned. Winding side alleys hide cozy coffee shops where you can hole up for hours just watching people go past. It’s a seasonal city too, meaning that with each shift in weather the city is enveloped in a new motif that will be the backdrop of the next few months. Hanami is a favorite in spring when cherry blossom trees line the stunning green spaces while groups of family and friends spread out picnics under their shade.

Expats tend to joke that if you’re here longer than a few years, you’ll never leave.

It’s true, but not because we get complacent. Really, it’s just hard to match the tone of the city anywhere else. Fukuoka resonates with people in a special way. The melding of traditional and modern, the exceptional food, and the creativity of the people who live here all make Fukuoka feel both bold and fresh while also somehow being unfailingly calm. Building a life and incredible friendships comes easily here, and almost every day I accidentally bump into a friend or two out in Tenjin shopping or getting lunch. A lot of my expat friends came here originally to study. Our universities bring in people from all over the world, and once they get a taste of Fukuoka they’re always looking for a reason to come back.

After almost three years of living in Fukuoka, I began to question whether my years of traveling caused me to feel at home everywhere. I wondered if that was why I had become so attached to this city. So last February I packed up my life in two suitcases and moved to Bangkok for a month, Siem Reap for a month, and my home state of Pennsylvania for a month. Once those three months were up, I was going to figure out my next move.

After just a few days in Bangkok, I started to get homesick for Fukuoka.

Thinking it would fade, I forged ahead on my journey. In a way, my perseverance paid off because I really gave the other cities a chance. Still, I noticed myself longing to be able to hop on a Fukuoka train and get to my favorite…well everything. I missed the ease of life and the vibrant community I had left. Never sitting down to yakiniku (or tiny grilled meats as I call it) and discussing the latest pitch contest with my friends again was a disappointing thought. You forget after a while why you truly love a city. Things become normal and you don’t notice them until they are gone. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that despite their fantastic qualities, those other locales weren’t going to be home.

I realized that no matter where I went, Fukuoka was the place for me. When I heard there was a new startup hub and Qurate, the company I freelanced for, had an open spot for me, I jumped at the chance to come back. The moment I landed back in Fukuoka airport I knew I had made the right choice. Jet lagged and exhausted I couldn’t help but swing by growth next the day after I arrived and jump right back into the startup life. Working surrounded by passionate people who focus on their dreams every day keeps me motivated. Living in Fukuoka, a city that I feel connected to, makes that motivation even stronger.

Photo credit: Nobu Tanaka and Daniel Yoder