Fukuoka might not be as well known for historical attractions as some other Japanese cities (like Kyōto), but it’s got a few treasures of its own – including the remnants of an Edo-period castle.
Ahh, Japan – my beloved Japan. This incredibly beautiful, inexhaustibly fascinating corner of the world is one of just two countries that I try to visit at least once every year (the other being Korea), time and resources permitting. There’s just so much to see and experience that I would often travel around a part of the country I’ve been to before … and it would still feel as if I were seeing it for the very first time.
In this series of posts, I’ll document a spring 2015 holiday in Japan’s southern island of Kyūshū, my second time in the region and seventh in the country.
I’ll also introduce something that I should have done from the very start of my blogging days: that is, throw in pictures of the commemorative stamps (the inked kind, not the postal kind) that are pretty much ubiquitous in Japan. These colourful, often beautifully designed little works of art are probably amongst the best souvenirs one can bring home from a Japanese holiday … and best of all, they’re free. So the next time you fly to Japan, don’t forget to pack a blank notebook (or buy one as soon as you arrive) – by the end of your trip it will have been transformed into an album documenting the many interesting places you’ve seen all over the country.
It was already afternoon when my flight from Manila arrived at the international airport of Fukuoka, Kyūshū’s largest city. With much of the day gone, but enough sunlight still left for a quick round of sightseeing, I dropped my bags off at the hotel where I was to spend the night and made my way towards an important historical site right in the heart of the city.
From the early 1600s up to the abolition of the han system in 1871, Fukuoka Castle served as the seat of the Kuroda clan, who were installed as the local daimyō in return for their services to Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara. When the old order was dissolved, most of the castle’s wooden structures were torn down, leaving ruins that now form the centrepiece of Maizuru Park.
The park can be reached on foot from either Ōhorikōen Station or Akasaka Station, both on the Kūkō Line of the Fukuoka City Subway (I used the latter station on this visit).
In addition to stone walls and building foundations – which we’ll have a closer look at later – a few portions of the castle’s defensive moat have survived. I crossed what was once the northern moat by way of a wide, stone-paved bridge…
…but before proceeding to the castle ruins, I made a detour towards a large, empty space surrounded by a metal fence. Once a baseball field, this became an excavation zone in 1987 when archaeologists uncovered the remains of a kōrokan: a complex of buildings used for receiving diplomatic and trade missions from neighbouring countries, particularly Tang China and Silla (in modern-day Korea). Three such facilities were maintained in different parts of Japan during the Heian Period, with this one in active use from the 7th to the 11th centuries AD.
I first saw the kōrokan site during an earlier visit to Fukuoka, back in 2013, though I had come too late in the day on that occasion and the on-site museum was already closed. This time around, I arrived during opening hours and promptly headed inside.
The museum’s main exhibit is a small portion of the actual excavation site, which includes a partial reconstruction of one of the kōrokan‘s buildings. Additional exhibits – consisting of both contextual material and archaeological finds – are displayed along the raised walkway that surrounds the dig.
Now then, to prove that I actually visited this place, here’s the first of today’s stamps. (^_^)
From the kōrokan exhibition hall, I walked towards the centre of Maizuru Park, dominated by the formidable fortifications that were left behind when Fukuoka Castle was dismantled in the late 19th century.
Although these stone walls and foundations are the most prominent features of the former castle that can still be seen today, a small number of wooden structures have either survived intact or were recently reconstructed. On my previous visit, for example, I saw one of the castle gates, and this time I came across the Kinen Turret – saved from destruction by being dismantled and rebuilt at a temple, where it stayed for many years before its return and reassembly on the original site.
At the heart of the compound stands a lofty stone platform, which was originally designed to receive the castle’s main tower, or tenshu. There is some debate as to whether a tenshu was actually built upon this foundation (or whether it was left empty), though there is evidence to suggest that one existed for a time before being demolished early in the castle’s history.
The tenshu base is equipped with an observation deck, where I was able to enjoy great views over downtown Fukuoka. As lovely as it was, one can only imagine how splendid the vista might have been from the uppermost floor of a tall castle tower, if one were ever built.
In a sheltered exhibition room, a large model shows what the castle and its environs might have looked like during the Edo period.
Note how the tenshu is depicted as a white, ghostly tower in this model – a nod to the uncertainty surrounding its existence.
Now for the second stamp of the day. This one’s rather interesting, because it belongs to a special series of commemorative stamps that can only be collected at the castles included in the Nihon Hyaku-Meijō list drawn up by the Japan Castle Foundation. I’ve been collecting these for years, but this is the first one I’ve published on my blog – expect to see more of them in due course.
Note that these hyaku meijō marks follow a prescribed design that varies only slightly from place to place (usually in terms of colour, border shape, etc.), so you’ll be able to tell them apart from other types of stamp – a handy point of reference since even castles on the list will often have separate souvenir stamps of their own. The 日本100名城 (Nihon hyaku meijō, “Japan’s 100 Famous/Top Castles”) text at the top is standard. “85” at the bottom indicates the castle’s position on the list, which is ordered geographically and not by size, age, beauty, or other criteria of that sort; this explains why castles in Hokkaidō are at the top whilst castles in Kyūshū are at the bottom. 福岡城 (Fukuoka-jō, “Fukuoka Castle”) gives the name of the place where the stamp was collected. And in the middle, you’ll find an image of either the tenshu or some other prominent architectural feature, which will of course differ between castles. I’ve also seen variants that look like circular seals, with the 日本100名城 label and the number/name in a ribbon along the lower part, but most tend to look like the squarish one used at Fukuoka Castle.
A couple of other things. First, hyaku meijō stamps tend to be significantly smaller than your average souvenir stamp – this scanned version makes it look much bigger than it actually is. Second, they’re not always located in the obvious places (such as the ticket booth) where other souvenir stamps might be left out in the open for visitors to help themselves. More often than not, these will be kept behind an information desk, inside an office, or in some cases even in a museum near (but not on) the castle grounds, to be produced only upon request. It makes collecting them a bit more challenging, but also helps ensure that those who possess these stamps truly earned them by personally visiting the castles represented.
In the case of Fukuoka Castle … well, I’ll just keep the stamp’s location under my hat for the moment. I don’t want to deprive you of the pleasure (or torture, depending on how you view it) to be had from tracking it down yourselves. (^_^)
To be continued.