Fukuoka

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Fukuoka is just the right size. It is big enough to offer everything that most people need--from abundant shopping, restaurants, businesses, transportation and accommodations to an exciting array of entertainment activities--but small enough to be manageable. This manageable size provides for easy navigation and easy explanation of the city's layout. To begin, the city is divided into seven wards called ku. They are: Nishi, Sawara, Jonan, Chuo, Hakata, Minami, and Higashi.

Nishi-ku?literally "West Ward"'stretches down the rocky southwest coast. The further you drive, the more rural it becomes, with town-like districts scattered among the stretches of preserved nature. If you are traveling to any one of the fine beaches in this area?like Futamigaura?you may have a hard time believing this is actually the city. Where this ward abuts Sawara-ku closer to the city, you have Meinohama, a somewhat suburban residential area with much marina activity, including ferries to paradisiacal Nokoshima.

Sawara-ku may seem like a bustling suburban area, but that is only because the two districts most people are familiar with?Nishijin and Momochi'share these qualities. Visitors really should try to see the beautiful Momochi region at least once, and will likely have to pass through the more jumbled Nishijin Arcade area to do so. The rest of the ward meanders southwest into suburbs patched with rice-fields and, eventually, into a mountainous region so deserted that residents hiking or biking in the area sometimes encounter monkeys!

Jonan-ku is a small wedge located east of Sarawa-ku, but south of Chuo-ku. This is mostly a residential area that reaches back into the elevations of Aburayama. There is perhaps little reason to pass through here (and its random rice-fields) unless you are going to Fukuoka University or Fukuoka University Hospital, or are heading into the mountains.

North of Jonan-ku and east of Sawara is Chuo-ku, meaning "Central Ward." This, for most people, is the city proper. The majority of visitors will spend the bulk of their time in this ward?-for good reason?-and most Fukuoka residents will pour into the area at some time (or several times) during the week. Close to Sawara-ku, just after you pass over Hiigawa River from Momochi, you have the Fukuoka Dome and Hawks Town. From there, moving closer to the skyscrapers of Akasaka and Tenjin, you encounter Ohori Park and Maizuru Park. These two create the last refuge before you enter downtown.

In Tenjin, there is almost too much to name. For bars and entertainment, stroll down Nishi-dori or Oyafuko-dori. For shopping, try Keiyaki-dori or the chic Daimyo area. Other shopping centers in the bustling area include IMS, Solaria, Mitsukoshi, Daimaru and Iwataya Z-side. Move north from Tenjin, and you enter the Nagahama region. Besides a number of businesses, this area is famous for its port activity and its nationally famous ramen of the same name, served at shops throughout the area.

At the eastern reaches of Tenjin, where you will find Chuo Park, cross the Naka River via the Deai Bridge to arrive in Hakata-ku, specifically the famed Nakasu entertainment district. Just south of this quasi-island is the equally famous Canal City, and to the immediate west, Riverain, Hakata-za and the Okura Hotel. To the north, you have Bayside Place and one of Japan's busiest ports. This entire area was actually a merchant city called Hakata before the modernization of Japan beginning in 1868 saw it combined with the aristocratic Fukuoka domain around Ohori Park. For this reason, and despite the confusion it sometimes creates, the major station in this district, and also the biggest in Fukuoka and Kyushu, is called Hakata. Located southeast of Nakasu and the port area, Hakata Station is surrounded by dozens of hotels and businesses. Farther east, across the Mikasa River and beyond the city expressway, a large area comprising a significant proportion of the district accommodates Fukuoka Airport.

South of Chuo-ku and Hakata-ku lies Minami-ku, which means "South Ward", even though Sawara-ku reaches considerably deeper into the southern elevations. Minami-ku is primarily residential, with hundreds of schools dispersed throughout its several districts. To the far south-west, you can reach Aburayama Citizens? Forest. Nearby, Sawara-ku, Jonan-ku and Minami-ku converge near the modest 569.4-meter peak of Aburayama.

While the final ward, Higashi-ku, means "East Ward", it is located more to the north of Hakata-ku. Like Minami-ku, this area has many blue-collar residential districts and numerous schools, including Kyushu University. A sprawling port, where many of the residents work, is located to the west, along Hakata Bay. Travel north and you are eventually able to travel east along the peninsula that makes Hakata Bay a bay! Much is located along this peninsula, including the countless attractions of Uminonaka-michi and the sights of Shikanoshima. Other locations of note are Hakozaki Shrine, easily the most famous in Fukuoka, and the Genkai National Park located in eastern elevations that also mark the eastern limits of the city.

History of Fukuoka

Fukuoka's place in Japan's long history of cultural exchange is quite remarkable. Rice-farming was probably introduced to Japan via Kyushu in about 500BC, and it is in the Yayoi-era village of Itazuke in Fukuoka-ken that the earliest evidence of this agrarian revolution has been found. As the rice grew, so did the prestige of the region. In 57AD, the Late Han Dynasty Emperor Guan Wu presented a fine gold seal?-the Kin-in--to a local ruler as part of a diplomatic mission. (The seal was discovered by a farmer on Shikanoshima in 1784 and is now the prize exhibit of Fukuoka City Museum). The power and respect the local rulers must have commanded during this and later periods is also evident in the preponderance of "Yamato" Koufun burial mounds in the prefecture ' many of which contain prestige tomb goods imported from across the Japan Sea.

Later, as the rest of Japan came under central control in the Nara and Heian eras, Fukuoka remained an important focus for trade and travel. The Kokoran diplomatic mission (the remains of which were discovered under an old baseball stadium) was a staging post for emissaries to China and Korea. From the 7th century until the collapse of the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century, Japanese diplomats, scholars, and priests set off for China from here. On their return, they brought Buddhism, Confucianism, knowledge of the Chinese legal system, and Chinese science and medecine to Japan. It is no coincidence that Japan's first Zen Monastery was established in Fukuoka; and it is worth bearing in mind how important these links must have been with what, at the time, was one of the most advanced civilizations in the world. International exchange, however, did not stop at highbrow culture: proud Fukuokans fiercely maintain that Japan's first gyouza and ramen shops were also established in their city.

The decay of the Tang Dynasty meant the end of diplomatic missions to China but not the end of trade. Indeed, it may have been the sight of a prosperous Fukuoka just across the Korean Staights that first brought invading Mongolians to the city in the 13th century. Fortunately, the first invasion by the Khan's forces was largely decimated by storms before they could establish a significant presence on land, and the city (and Japan's future as an independent nation) was temporarily left in peace. Delighted at their good fortune, but not willing to leave things to chance a second time, the Kamakura Shogunate began building a 20-kilometre system of defences and fortifications around Hakata Bay.

When the second invasion did come however--on the 15th August 1281--it was the Kamikaze divine winds, rather than any man-made plans, that wrecked the Mongolian fleet and saw off the invaders. Reminders of the Mongolian invasion still abound in Fukuoka City: stone anchors recovered from the drowned Mongolian ships can be seen in Hakata's Kushida Shrine, and a 700 year-old piece of anti-Mongolian calligraphy written by the Emperor Kameyama still hangs over the entrance to Hakozaki Shrine. Fukuokans, it seems, have long memories!

War came to Fukuoka again in the 16th century when Totomi Hideyoshi made Hakozaki Shrine his military headquarters during the campaign to unite south-west Japan. The Shogun's victory heralded a golden age of prosperity for Fukuoka City. In 1601, a new castle was built to the west of the Naka River by the feudal lord Chikuzen Nagamasu. On a whim, he decided to name the castle Fukuoka after the village of his birth, thus creating a division between east and west, old and new, that persists to this day. The old merchant's town to the east of the river is still known by its traditional name, Hakata; while the newer "lordly" west of the city is referred to as Fukuoka. Confusion, however, arises when visitors to "Fukuoka City" arrive at Hakata Station and worry that they took the wrong train!

It was also during this period that the merchants of the now bustling city began to develop and market their own tastes in pottery, textiles and cuisine. Wander down any street in the Kawabatamachi district and the fruits of their industry can still be seen and sampled: Hakata dolls, Hakata-ori textiles, Yame Fukushima funerary alters, Agano Ware pottery, Hakata ramen, and Kawabata Zenzai are just a few of the Fukuokan specialities on offer.

With the Meiji Restoration, Fukuoka-ken entered the modern era and became one of the driving forces in the Japanese industrial revolution. Factories were built in nearby Kita-kyushu, and the rural hinterlands of the Chikuho area became a major source of coal for the burgeoning economy. In the Second World War, a less benign form of intercultural exchange took place with the forced immigration of Korean and Philippine slave labour to work in the mines and factories. After the end of the war, however, many of these immigrants stayed on and their continuing influence is partly responsible for present-day Fukuoka's reputation as an international city.

Little wonder, then, that Fukuoka has been called Japan's gateway to Asia and the world. Tokyo may be bigger, Kyoto may be better known, but from the introduction of rice farming in the 5th century BC right up until its modern role as an international city, Fukuoka has played an equal--if not greater--role in shaping the destiny of the nation.

 

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