If you are a frequent traveler, have you been to Japan? Maybe you’ve been to Tokyo or even Osaka? Have you heard of Kanazawa or Fukuoka? Madeline and I took very long day trips from our base city of Osaka to visit Fukuoka and Kanazawa Japan. This blog post will give you the history of each. You can find our reviews of attractions and restaurants for both cities as well. Fukuoka is known for ramen. Our Fukuoka attractions post is here, and we cover ramen and other attractions. Kanazawa means "marsh of gold" in Japanese, and the city is sometimes called "Little Kyoto" because of its historical and cultural significance. Our Kanazawa attractions post is here.
Fukuoka is as near to Seoul as it is to Osaka. It’s about a 3-hour Shinkansen trip of 300 miles. We wanted to visit Fukuoka because it is so far away from Tokyo where Madeline and I lived on multiple occasions. We wanted to visit a city far away from both modern Osaka and Tokyo and see how we could fare without a tour guide. The city’s proximity to China and Korea gave it several unique advantages since it was easily accessible by sea since there was no rail traffic in the early history of the city. 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.
It is unclear who introduced rice-farming to the area. However, the time period of rice-farming is dated close to 500 BC. Fukuoka has historical evidence of this. As the rice grew, so did the prestige of the region. Fukuoka was a destination for emissaries to China and Korea. From the 7th century until the 9th century, Japanese diplomats, scholars, and priests set off for China from Fukuoka.
On their return, they brought Buddhism, Confucianism, knowledge of the Chinese legal system, and Chinese science and medicine to Japan. Japan's first Zen Monastery was established in Fukuoka.
Japan was ruled by various shogun and the rice production of Fukuoka was an important asset for any ruler. Mongols also coveted land and rice and invaded. They invaded multiple times but in 1281, divine winds were said to have destroyed the Mongolian fleet and repelled the invaders. There are remnants of Mongolian invasion in Fukuoka City. Stone anchors from sunken ships are still found here.
Mongolian ships are found at Hakata's Kushida Shrine, and a 700-year-old piece of anti-Mongolian calligraphy written by the Japanese Emperor Kameyama hangs over the entrance to the Hakozaki Shrine.
During the 16th century, Totomi Hideyoshi made Hakozaki Shrine the military headquarters during a campaign to unite south-west Japan. The Shogun's victory heralded a golden age of prosperity for Fukuoka City. In 1601, the Shogun built a new castle to the west of the Naka River by the feudal lord Chikuzen Nagamasu. He named the castle Fukuoka after the village of his birth.
The main city of Fukuoka Prefecture has a population of close to 1.5 million. Over 700,000 tourists visit Fukuoka annually. Nearly two-thirds of these are from South Korea; another 20% come from China. Few Westerners visit the city.
The city is the product of the fusion of two cities in the year 1889, when the port city of Hakata and the former castle town of Fukuoka were united into one city called Fukuoka. Fukuoka is a port city split by the Nakagawa River between what was once the castle town of Fukuoka to the west and the merchant quarter of Hakata to the east, Fukuoka is one of Japan's most dynamic and livable cities with many attractions for visitors.
Only a few relics of Fukuoka Castle still remain but the former castle grounds now form Maizuru Park, which merges west into Ohori-koen - Fukuoka's largest park-in English Ohori Park, encloses a lake, with a Japanese garden at its southern end. Coffee shops and other facilities make Ohori Park a pleasant place to relax in natural and historical surroundings. Just south-east of the park is the imposing Fukuoka Kengokoku Shrine.
Japanese reference the city by its older name, Hakata, which was the old city—the ancient trading port that grew up around the harbor. You can see the name of the train station retains the Hakata name. Fukuoka came later, and originally referred to the town that grew up around the castle of the local feudal lord during the seventeenth century. Fukuoka was where the rulers were, and Hakata is where you did your business.
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 because of its rich cultural heritage. Do make it even more confusing, when you go to Fukuoka, you will arrive at Hakata station. Be assured, you’ve arrived at the right place.
Fukuoka is Japan's gateway to Asia and the world. Tokyo is bigger, Kyoto is 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.
If you are going to Kanazawa, you probably want to go on the Shinkansen JR train. The Thunder Bird is what we took from Osaka.
The name Kanazawa means marsh of gold. Local legend says the name originated from the the present Kenrokuen Garden area which was called Kanazawago and Kanazawanosho in ancient times. Another version of the name tells the story of a peasant named Imohori Togoro who made his living digging potatoes. He washed gold dust from the potatoes into a well, now called Kinjo Reitaku. The locals named the area Kanazawa, meaning marsh of gold.
Both stories are charming but if you are coming to Kanazawa for gold mining, you will be sorely disappointed.
If you come during the time of sakura, cherry blossom time, you will think everything is pink or white. Gold is probably not what you’ll be seeing as the above picture would suggest.
The Buddhist Ikko sect set up a religious government in Kanazawa in 1583 with its center at the Kanazawa Gobo temple. The temple was destroyed by an army led by Oda Nobunaga in 1580. One of the retainers of Nobunaga, a man called Maeda Toshiie, came to Kanazawa in 1583 and built a castle in its stead and ruled the district from the site which later became Kanazawa Castle.
As you learned from Fukuoka, rice was very important to the people and to the governing ruler. Rice was power. You could feed your army and your people. Fukuoka was known for producing a million koku of rice annually which is the equivalent of 5 million bushels. We saw rice paddies on our trip as we neared Fukuoka.
The Maeda family governed the region for more than 300 years. During this period, the Maeda family was treated as the second greatest daimyo (powerful feudal ruler) next to Tokugawa Shogun, the central governor of Japan who ruled from Edi, now Tokyo.
The family's financial power from the harvest of rice was invested in both culture and learning. This led to the development of a number of cultural traditions including the production of Kanazawa gold leaf and tea ceremony and Noh theater.
During World War II, Kanazawa was Japan's second largest city (after Kyoto) which avoided destruction by air raids. As a result, the old castle town, such as the Nagamachi samurai district and chaya entertainment districts, have survived. Kanazawa is an important city in the region and is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture.
One of my close friends from working in Japan is named Ishikawa san. His last name is Ishikawa so the formal way to address him is Ishikawa san. Ishikawa san became a very good friend during my time in working with him and that friendship continues to this day.
We saw a picture of the Ishikawa Railway in Kanazawa. I thought that was very interesting. So, I sent the above picture to Ishikawa san and told him that he had his very own railway! Of course, it does not belong to him, and his last name is not uncommon in Japan.
As I said earlier, Kanazawa is sometimes called “little Kyoto” and for good reason. It has a major castle, it has one of the country’s best gardens, some great museums, and several beautifully preserved neighborhoods.
Both Kanazawa and Fukuoka are easy to navigate. Check out our other posts of attractions in Japan when you get a chance. We’ve reviewed quite a lot of the world but we spent a lot of time over the years in Japan so there are a lot of posts about Japan on our blog for you to check out.