屋台 yatai are small street stalls typically only open at night. It is a small wooden structure with curtains, and inside is a counter for customers to sit around while the owner(s) cook and prepare dishes. And as with most things Japanese, alcohol is often involved.
These are not common in Okinawa, unfortunately (there is one small “yatai mura” 屋台村 where there are about a dozen clustered together on a street in Naha, here). However, in Fukuoka (the site of my most recent adventure) they line the streets around train stations and canals in the evening.
We saw the most famous Kokin-chan 小金ちゃん, but the line was very long so we searched around and came to Yosaku 与作. It had a Japanese-only menu, and while still in the touristy area, a bit removed from the ones aimed solely at gaijin. My very tall husband and I took an awkward seat. I read the menu, and noticed this sort of savory pancake looking item on another customer’s plate. It looked oishii, so I asked “sumimasen, nandesu ka?” while pointing. She pointed at 山芋ネギ焼き on the menu, assuming I would not understand the answer. So I read it, turned to the owners and ordered (in Japanese) 1 regular ramen ラーメン, 1 yaki-ramen 焼きラーメン, 1 yama-imo negi yaki 山芋ネギ焼き and 2 bottles of beer ビール. The other Japanese folks decided to clap, I guess they were surprised. I feel like plenty of gaijin can speak Japanese, and mine is barely passable, but it is pretty much always a shock to 日本人 Japanese people. Anyway, when we got our beers, everyone kampai’d us and we spent an enjoyable time eating and drinking with the customers next to us.
If you find yourself in Fukuoka past 6pm, be sure to wander the streets near the train station and pop into one of these small stalls (avoid the canal area, it is mostly geared towards foreign tourists). Each one has different specialities, although Hakata ramen is available at pretty much all of them. Order a drink and some food, then slowly soak in the evening with the other patrons. It is a sort of quaint and unique experience that shows the real feeling of Japan.
Fukuoka also has some nice gardens where you can have tea during the day: here.
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