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Views Matsuri Days (3): A Guide to Hakata and the Yamakasa Festival
Fukuoka: The Ancient Gateway to Japan
In Search of the Historical Links Between Kyūshū and the Asian Mainland

Fukuoka is the largest city in Kyūshū. From ancient times, the city’s proximity to the mainland has made it an important gateway for cultural influences from China and Korea. Two members of the editorial team visited the city in search of traces of its ancient links to the continent.

Closer to Seoul than Tokyo

Kyūshū is the closest of Japan’s four main islands to the Asian mainland. Fukuoka, its largest city, is as near to Seoul as it is to Osaka (500 km)—and much closer to either than it is to Tokyo, roughly 1,000 km away (the same distance as Shanghai). Modern technology has shrunk these distances to the point where they hardly seem to matter. But in the days when slow-moving and disaster-prone ships were Japan’s only link to the outside world, Fukuoka’s proximity to the continent gave it a number of unique advantages. Today, Fukuoka is just one hour and 45 minutes by plane from Tokyo, but it retains many traces of its historical links to the cultures of China and the Korean Peninsula.

About Fukuoka City

A view of Hakata Bay and town from the 234-meter-tall Fukuoka Tower.

The main city of Fukuoka Prefecture has a population of around 1.5 million. More than 700,000 foreign visitors enter Fukuoka by air or sea every year. Nearly two-thirds of these are from South Korea; another 20% come from China. The city is often referred to by its older name, “Hakata.” Originally, Hakata and Fukuoka were two separate places. Hakata was the old city—the ancient trading port that grew up around the harbor. Fukuoka came later, and originally referred to the town that grew up around the castle of the local daimyō (feudal lord) during the seventeenth century. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the name of the city was officially changed to Fukuoka. But Hakata survives, both as an area of the modern city and, more widely, as a popular name for the city as a whole and its rich cultural heritage. We use the name “Hakata” in this wider sense throughout this article.

  • [2012.11.12]
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  • The Decorative Glories of Hakata’s Festival FloatsThe Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival dates back around 770 years. Among the unique attractions of the festival are its displays of intricately decorated floats. We talk to one of the men responsible for crafting these brightly colored works of art from scratch each year.
  • Eating with the Locals in HakataHakata’s ties to the Asian mainland can also be seen the city’s proud street food traditions. Two members of the editorial team visited the city to sample some of the best-known examples of North Kyūshū’s cuisine.
  • The Oiyama Race: A Rite of Passage for Men in FukuokaHeld on July 15 every year, the Oiyama race is the climax of Fukuoka’s two-week Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival. For participants and spectators alike the event kindles a community spirit.

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