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Fukuoka / Japan

Recommended Spots in Fukuoka—A Historic Walk in Hakata

Eiji Sato / Marubeni Kyushu Branch

* In this column, Marubeni Group staff members provide a glimpse of the cities in which they are living and working.

The spot the members of the Marubeni Kyushu Branch recommend is the courtyard on the third floor of the building in which our office is located. This is the historic garden site of a tea house built approximately 430 years ago by Hakata’s business tycoon Kamiya Sotan, which was visited by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Ishida Mitsunari. Did you know that?

The tea house was later owned by Fukuoka celebrity, Hiraoka Kotaro, and was designated as a national treasure. Unfortunately, the tea house was destroyed by war fires in 1945, but the garden remained intact, and was later transferred to the current location. You can see the stone lantern, and the stone on which Ishida Mitsunari sat waiting for Hideyoshi while taking care of his sword, since swords could not be taken into the tea house.

The garden site used to be a part of a sightseeing route, so everyone at the Kyushu Branch knew about it. But somehow, it seems to have become forgotten these days. So those of you history fans reading this article, do come to Kyushu and reminisce about the historic past in this garden.

■ A City Backed by the Power of Hakata Merchants

The city of Hakata has thrived as the base for continental trade since the old times, due to its geographical location. We can say that the ancient Hakata merchants are the predecessors of Shosha people like us. These days, the city is packed with a lot of inbound tourists, especially from East Asia.

Due to its prosperity, the city of Hakata was fought over by feudal lords and powerful families, and even burned down to ruins at one point. But in June 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi upon completing the Kyushu Conquest, ordered Ishida Mitsunari, Kuroda Kanbei, and other samurai, as well as business tycoons such as Kamiya Sotan, to restore the city of Hakata. The recovery progressed as a result of the effort of these people, and by the end of that year, the merchants who had fled to other places were called back. Hakata quickly regained the prosperity as the “Venice of the East.”

As part of the restoration, a land readjustment called Taiko-machiwari was made, with the creation of districts called nagare. After 400 years, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, a local summer tradition, is still carried out based on these districts.

Originally, the ancient merchant town was called Hakata, while the castle town built in the Edo era by Kuroda Nagamasa (Kuroda Kanbei’s son) was called Fukuoka, and these existed as two separate areas (with the downtown Nakasu in between). Now, the city is called Fukuoka City, the terminal station is Hakata Station, and the airport is Fukuoka Airport...so it can be a bit confusing. Yet, such ambiguity seems charming once you live here.

■ Japan's Food Has Roots in Fukuoka?

The monk Enni is said to have started the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. He is also famous for bringing back tea seeds from China and spreading tea cultivation. Although there are several stories, it is said that Enni brought back a flour milling technique from Song (China), and udon became a popular food across Japan. In the grounds of the Jotenji temple that Enni established with the help of Xie Guo Ming and other Song merchants, is a stone monument engraved “the birthplace of udon and soba.”

Since the monument for “the birthplace of manju” was also erected in 2008, it is evidence that udon, soba, and manju all originated from Fukuoka. Although the most famous image of Fukuoka is tonkotsu ramen, the roots of noodles and flour-based dishes in Japan are all right here.

If you stroll around the town, you will find lots of appetizing restaurants. So instead of depending on a gourmet guide, drop by any place that interests you. That’s one way to enjoy this friendly town.

Fukuoka is a historic city full of old temples and shrines, a place bustling with the vigor of merchants for many centuries, an international gathering place for tourists from abroad, and a famous gourmet town represented by mentaiko and the food stalls. The multi-faceted character is the allure of Fukuoka. So I hope you will get to know the various charms of the city, starting from the garden site in the courtyard in the building where the Kyushu Branch is located.

Marubeni Group communication site “MS+ (MS Plus)” (October 3, 2016)

  • Full view of the garden, with Mitsunari’s stone seat shown on the lower left
  • Lower left: Mitsunari’s stone seat (closeup)
  • (Left) Decoration Yamakasa in front of the Kyushu Branch office, a summer tradition
    (Right) The Japanese popular manga, Sazae-san cartoon family on the back. The cartoonist grew up in Fukuoka.
  • “The birthplace of udon/soba” monument
  • “The birthplace of manju” monument. The manju store sign written by Enni is in Tokyo.
  • The nearby Myorakuji temple has “The traditional place of uiro (sweet rice jelly)” monument. Enni is the benefactor for introducing sweets along with tea to Japan.
  • Hakata Sennenmon, the town’s new symbol

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