Ⅶ. Gateway to Japan
Vicki L. Beyer
Now and in the past, Kyushu has been the
cultural gateway to Japan. This is largely because of its location, being the
Japanese region closest to the Asian continent. There is just about 200 kilometers
of island-dotted sea between the Korean Peninsula and Kyushu, a body of water
known as the Tsushima Strait. It is believed that some of the earliest humans
to inhabit the Japanese islands arrived by sailing across the strait from
Korea, effectively island-hopping to make the crossing. In later generations,
other cultural influences from China and Korea appear to have similarly reached
Japan and, as sailing became more sophisticated, also came across the East
China Sea. Moving northeast across the East China Sea is also the route by
which European traders reached Japan in the late Middle Ages. Still today,
Kyushu’s proximity to Asia perpetuates its gateway role. Additionally, as the
first of the Japanese main islands to be populated by humans, Kyushu is
significant in Japan’s origin legends.
Origin Legend – Ninigi comes to earth
It was to the island of Kyushu that Ninigi
(in full Ninigi no Mikoto), grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, on the
direction of his goddess grandmother, descended to bring rice cultivation to
humans in a period of prehistory known in Japan as the “Age of Gods.” The
legend tells that Amaterasu gave Ninigi several stalks of rice for the purpose
of teaching humans how to grow it, as well as three material gifts: the sacred jewel
(a symbol of benevolence), the sacred mirror (a symbol of purity), and the
sacred sword (a symbol of courage). These three gifts subsequently became the
imperial regalia of Japan still revered today. There are many sites across
Kyushu associated with Ninigi and his progeny, making Kyushu central to Japan’s
earliest history. (See “Spiritual
Island” for more details.)
Myths and legends notwithstanding,
archaeological evidence indicates that humans first reached Japan between 35,000
and 40,000 years ago. At that time, the Japanese archipelago may have still
been connected to the continent by land bridges, although that connection may
have been inundated by as long ago as 100,000 years. Thus, it is more popularly
believed that Japan was settled by seafaring peoples.
In 1975, Japanese anthropologists
constructed a wooden boat based on a clay model found in an ancient tomb in
Miyazaki Prefecture and managed to sail it from Korea to northern Kyushu by
island-hopping via Tsushima and Iki, two of the larger islands in the Tsushima
Strait. The boat used both oars and sail but still struggled to negotiate the
tricky currents of the strait. Nonetheless, the anthropologists managed to make
the crossing and reach Hakata Bay near the modern city of Fukuoka, which is
still today regarded as one of the best natural ports of the northern Kyushu
coast. They proved that Japan’s earliest human occupants could have made such a
A similar experiment launched in 2016
attempted to row a boat made of bundled grass from Taiwan to some of the nearby
Okinawan islands. It, however, foundered, abruptly ending the experiment. The
expedition’s participants believed the problem was the boat construction, which
was similar to the reed boats still sailed on Lake Titicaca in South America
and the boats used by Thor Heyerdahl in his famous Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947.
There is also a theory that the Kuroshio (also known as the Black or Japan
Current), the world’s second-largest ocean current, may have carried boats from
the Indonesian archipelago to the shores of southern Kyushu.
Howsoever they reached Japan, the earliest
settlers, known as Jomon people, were hunter-gatherers. They lived in small
settled communities or possibly made seasonal migrations to multiple
encampments. They also made stone tools and utensils, as well as bisque-fired
earthenware pottery decorated with rope-like markings that led to the name
Jomon (meaning “rope mark”).
Agriculture presumably began in Japan
around 1,000 BCE with the arrival of another wave of migrants — now known as
the Yayoi people — who most likely came from Korea by way of the Tsushima
Strait. It is widely believed that the Japanese of today are descended from
these people, who proceeded to spread across the Japanese archipelago.
Archaeological discoveries across
northeastern Kyushu have revealed that the area has been relatively densely
populated for thousands of years. Further, the oldest archaeological sites in
all of Japan relating to the Yayoi people are in northern Kyushu. One in
particular, Yoshinogari, just a short distance east of Saga City, revealed a
highly sophisticated society with advanced political development.
The Yoshinogari site, first uncovered in
1986, is believed to have been occupied from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd
century AD. It was a small fortified city of some 40 hectares (nearly 100
acres). Among the finds unearthed by archaeologists are remnants of moats and
foundations for watchtowers, as well as a separately enclosed inner area that
could have served as headquarters for the local ruler. The site now hosts a
historical park containing reproductions of various structures based on the
archaeological record. Visitors can freely roam and imagine for themselves life
in those primitive times.
Living in settled communities, the Yayoi
traded with each other as well as with the peoples of the Korean peninsula and
even with China beginning more than 2,000 years ago. Chinese coins from as far
back as the first century AD have been found at Yayoi archaeological digs, a
clear indication of interactions with Chinese people at that time.
Besides engaging in wet paddy rice
cultivation, the Yayoi wove textiles and made and used bronze and iron tools
and weapons, often based on models provided by visitors from China.
The Jomon and Yayoi Periods are
prehistoric times for which only the archaeological record remains, meaning
there is much about them that remains unknown.
The first written records relating to
Japan are references made by Chinese historians writing toward the end of the
first century AD. At that time, they referred to the Japanese as “the people of
Wa.” Himiko, identified by the Chinese
as the great queen of the Wa people, lived in a city called Yamatai. Although
many aspects of Yoshinogari correspond to descriptions by those ancient Chinese
chroniclers of Yamatai, archaeologists have yet to confirm that the two are, in
fact, one and the same. It is worth noting that one of the early names for
Japan, “Yamato,” is also believed to have derived from the name of the city
Archaeologists have also found that the
Yayoi people had elaborate burial rituals, possibly forerunners of the kofun
burial mounds that marked the next period of Japanese history.
Cultural imports from Asia
The Kofun and Asuka periods of Japanese
history, collectively referred to as the Yamato Period (250-710), were a time
of cultural development for Japan as the Imperial line was established in
central Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands. Archaeologists have
found significant evidence of shared culture between Honshu, Kyushu, and the
Korean Peninsula. Kyushu, including Tsushima and Iki islands and northwestern
coastal settlements like Hakata and Munakata, served as the gateway for this
human and cultural migration. For example, 20th-century excavations on the
sacred island of Okinoshima near Munakata unearthed over 80,000 artifacts, many
of which revealed substantial interaction between Kyushu and the Asian mainland
in the 4th to 9th centuries.
Excavations of kofun across Kyushu have
provided similar insights. The earliest kofun are prehistoric, dating to the
time of the people of Wa more than two thousand years ago. These kofun were
simple mounds of earth to inter a body and certain prized possessions. Several
of these kofun have been found around the coastal city of Itoshima, west of
Fukuoka, an area those first-century Chinese writers referred to as Ito-koku.
Various artifacts have been excavated from
kofun in the Itoshima area and are housed in the Itokoku History Museum. The
museum also contains a small exhibit on the 1975 expedition that sailed from
Korea to nearby Hakata Bay (see above).
The center of the museum’s main exhibition
hall features a reproduction of an excavated kofun, showing particularly where
the body and its various adornments were found. A fascinating aspect of these
kofun is that they all contain several bronze mirrors that appear to have been
deliberately broken. According to the museum’s curator, Osamu Kawai,
archaeologists are still trying to determine why broken mirrors were buried
with bodies. The current theory is that mirrors, with their light-reflective
capability, represented an unearthly power. Bronze mirrors were introduced from
China, but the Yayoi people soon developed the skill to produce their own.
One of the Itokoku History Museum’s most
prized possessions is the largest Japanese-made mirror of the Yayoi Period
(bronze mirrors are another object originally introduced from China). The
mirror is indeed large: 46.5 centimeters (18 inches) in diameter and weighing
nearly eight kilograms (17.5 pounds). A polished replica allows visitors to see
for themselves how such an object was awe-inspiring in its day.
Don’t forget to look up as you enter the
main exhibition hall to see a replica of one of the dolmen stones that created
the cavity inside a kofun that contained the body and various possessions
buried with it. Many features of kofun resemble ancient Chinese and Korean
burial mounds. But even if Japan followed these influences when commencing the
practice of using kofun, later kofun contain distinctly Japanese touches. One
could argue that Japan’s penchant for borrowing from other cultures but making
the borrowed item uniquely Japanese developed very early.
In particular, over the first few
centuries of the first millennium, kofun gradually evolved into the distinctive
keyhole shape that Japanese burial mounds are best known for: a tall circular
mound connected to a shorter square mount to form what looks like a keyhole
when viewed from above. These later
kofun, believed to be the graves of aristocrats and upper classes of society,
are dotted across Kyushu but are also found in clusters at several sites,
including in Fukuoka (e.g., Goroyama), Kumamoto (e.g., Eta Funayama), and
Miyazaki (e.g., Saitobaru).
During the Yamato Period, increasing
amounts of Chinese technology flowed to Kyushu. Exhibits at the Kyushu National
Museum in Dazaifu show that this initially occurred as an exchange, with raw
materials being sent from Kyushu as a tribute to the Chinese imperial court,
and in return receiving Chinese finished goods, purportedly gifts from the
The Kyushu National Museum was opened in
2005 in an impressive building designed by Japanese architect Kikutake
Kiyonori. Its permanent exhibition focuses on the history of Kyushu and western
Japan and especially “Japanese cultural formation in the context of Asian history.”
This exhibition in particular offers insights into goods, technology and ideas
that flowed into Kyushu from various parts of Asia. The museum’s location in
Dazaifu, some 10 kilometers (6 miles) inland from Hakata Bay, is especially apt
as this was the center of Kyushu’s early contact with Asia.
Not only goods but knowledge was also
introduced from China. A very early import was Confucianism, a philosophy
relating to the ordering of society, which came to Japan via Korea in 285 AD.
Confucianism has been hugely influential to the development of Japanese
society, and continues to exert influence even today.
Another import was a writing system. The
Japanese language had no writing system prior to the introduction of Chinese
characters (kanji) in the 5th century. Accordingly, the earliest historical
records relating to Japan and its people are written by the Chinese based on
their interactions with Japan, most notably with the people of Kyushu.
The initial entry of kanji to Japan
probably occurred when literate Korean or Chinese emissaries brought written
messages from the Chinese imperial court, most likely arriving first at Hakata
Bay. These emissaries likely read these
messages aloud in Chinese, which was then orally translated into Japanese. Over
time, Japanese scholars learned the meanings of the Chinese characters and
adopted them as the Japanese writing system, often keeping pronunciation close
to the original Chinese but additionally assigning a Japanese word (with
Japanese pronunciation) to the same character based on its meaning, a practice
that continues to vex many students of Japanese to this day.
The art of papermaking first reached
Kyushu in 610 AD, introduced by a Korean monk named Doncho. As with other
items, over time, it was modified and refined to become the distinctively
Japanese washi paper that is treasured by so many today.
Japan was also the easternmost point of
the famed Silk Road trading route that connected Asia to Europe, beginning more
than 2,000 years ago. Just as the Silk Road carried Buddhism from India to
China, the first Buddhist monks to reach Japan via Kyushu, arriving in 467 AD,
also came from northern India. Nihon Shoki, Japan’s second oldest indigenous
history, written in the early 8th century, reports that Buddhism was officially
introduced to Japan from China in 552 AD.
As Japan began to take to Buddhist
teachings and other knowledge from China, Kyushu served as a gateway for both
arrivals and departures. Emissaries from Korea and China arrived in Japan
predominantly through the port at Hakata. Most travelers bound for the Korean
peninsula or later for ports on China’s eastern coast similarly departed from
To appropriately receive the inbound
visitors and monitor departures, the imperial court established a satellite
administrative center at Dazaifu in the 7th century, not far from the present
site of the Kyushu National Museum. Dazaifu means “great government
headquarters,” and it has been referred to by some scholars as the “Immigration
Office” of Heian Japan, while others call it Japan’s then-“Ministry of Foreign
Affairs.” Operating as a satellite of the Japanese imperial court, it was
usually headed by a high ranking member of the imperial family, someone
suitable to represent the emperor of Japan to these outsiders.
The Dazaifu administrative center was laid
out in Chinese design, with cloisters around the perimeter, administrative
buildings, and a large central reception hall — architecture, as this shows, is
another import from China. Doubtless, the presentation was calculated to
impress visitors with the greatness of the Japanese court. While the buildings
were long ago destroyed, the site is now a broad, open park where foundation
stones of the original buildings can still be seen, giving visitors a sense of
its scale and majesty. Helpful signboards around the park often include
depictions of what the buildings may have looked like.
Lying between the port at Hakata and
Dazaifu was Tsukushi Lodge, the luxurious guesthouse where foreign emissaries
were sequestered while waiting to be formally admitted to Japan by the
authorities at Dazaifu. Tsukushi Lodge was later known as Korokan, a name
derived from a similar facility in China. Korokan served this function for
literally hundreds of years and is widely regarded as key to Japan’s reception
of many aspects of Chinese culture and knowledge. The site, on the grounds of
Fukuoka Castle, was rediscovered in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until excavations
in 1987 officially confirmed it to be the remains of Korokan. There is now a
museum near the site, including reconstructions of the ancient guesthouse.
Early emissaries from Asia were not the
only ones who brought Chinese culture and knowledge to Japan. During the same
time period, young Japanese Buddhist monks traveled to China specifically to
study Buddhism more closely and return with what they learned. They, too, would
sail from Hakata to Korea or even across the East China Sea to mainland China,
returning, often years later, by the same route.
Among the earliest of these was the highly
influential monk Kukai (774-835; posthumously known as Kobo Daishi), who
studied in China from 804 to 806, before returning to travel the length and
breadth of Japan teaching and founding temples. One of Kukai’s contemporaries,
Saicho (767-822), traveled to China for study at much the same time. It is
believed that the two met in Dazaifu, near Hakata Port, while waiting to sail.
Although he aimed to learn more about
Buddhism, Saicho is also credited with being the first person to bring tea
leaves from China to Japan in 805. The leaves were initially regarded as a form
of traditional Chinese medicine, albeit one that soon grew popular among the
upper classes who could afford the luxury import.
Tea began to be cultivated in Japan after
the Zen Buddhist priest Eisai (1141-1215) returned from China in 1191 with tea
seeds/seedlings. Eisai believed that tea was a medicine that helped monks to
meditate. Eisai first planted his seedlings on the northern flanks of Mt. Seburi,
which sits on the border between Fukuoka and Saga. With the successful
cultivation of tea, Eisai could introduce tea ceremony, which combined tea,
Zen, and meditation into a highly stylized ritual that remains popular even
today (see tea section of “Cuisine”). Eisai also founded Shofukuji, Japan’s
first Zen temple, in Hakata before moving on to Kamakura, where he continued to
spread Zen Buddhism and wrote Kissa Yojoki (Drinking Tea for Health), a
treatise on tea drinking that is still known and well regarded.
Another import from China in the first
millennium was pottery glazing. Although Japan has one of the longest histories
of pottery/ceramic production in the world, with some Jomon earthenware pots
dated to nearly 17,000 years ago, glazing was only introduced from China in the
At the end of the 16th century, when the
warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) returned from campaigning in Korea —
another use of Kyushu as a gateway—, he brought with him Korean potters who
found kaolin in the Arita region in Saga Prefecture. Kaolin is the key mineral
required for porcelain production and its discovery launched Japan as a
porcelain producer. These same potters also helped improve kiln technology,
launching a new industry for this area, which is still well known for its fine
porcelains. (See “Evolving Traditions of Production”)
Another beneficiary of Hideyoshi’s
campaign to Korea was his distant cousin, the daimyo Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611).
While Kiyomasa was in Korea with Hideyoshi, he learned various aspects of
castle construction, which he brought back to Japan and put to use in building
his own fortress, Kumamoto Castle, as well as Nagoya Castle. This imported
knowledge was leveraged by castle builders across Japan. The ramparts Kiyomasa built
for Kumamoto Castle between 1601 and 1607 were impregnable, until cannon could
fly over them to burn the keep in 1877. A ferroconcrete reconstruction was made
in 1960. Alas, a number of Kiyomasa’s stone ramparts could not stand up to the
2016 earthquake that struck Kumamoto. Repairs are expected to take about 20
years, and, as of present, only limited parts of the castle ground are open to
the public. The castle has assumed a new role as a symbol of Kumamoto’s
determination to rebuild after the destruction of 2016, making it all the more
popular with tourists eager to learn more about this historic fortress.
Cultural imports from the West
An unexpected source of outside knowledge
blew to Kyushu just a few decades before Hideyoshi’s Korean campaign, when in
late 1543, a Chinese junk carrying three Portuguese merchants drifted to
Tanegashima, one of Kyushu’s small coastal islands south of the mainland. The
merchants were a great curiosity, both in terms of their physical appearance
but also for some of their possessions.
They were carrying guns, which they willingly demonstrated for their
hosts. Within five years, clever metal workers in Kagoshima had managed to
produce working replicas that were used, apparently effectively, in domestic
In 1549, another kind of outside knowledge
arrived in Kagoshima in the form of the Catholic missionary Francis Xavier
(1506-1552), who proceeded to preach his faith. Xavier traveled and preached in
Japan for about two years, before moving on to China. The glowing reports he
sent to Goa regarding his reception in Japan inspired other Jesuit missionaries
to follow him. While some traveled to Honshu, the missionaries had their
greatest success in Kyushu, particularly along its western coast, where some hundreds
of thousands of Japanese peasants, and even a few daimyo lords, converted to
this “new” religion within a few decades.
Nagasaki, on Kyushu’s west coast, was
designated by one of those Christian daimyo, Omura Sumitada (1533-1587), as a
safe haven for Portuguese ships, effectively turning the small fishing village
into a Jesuit colony and eventually a hub of international trade.
The Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, and
the traders on whose ships they sailed, introduced Kyushu not only to the new
ideas of Christianity, but also to a variety of new foods and culinary culture.
Among those were bread and the Portuguese word borrowed into Japanese for it,
pan; tempura and the idea of deep-frying food; and the “castella” sponge cake,
which is now regarded across Japan as one of the foods for which Nagasaki is
Meanwhile, on the east side of Kyushu, a
Dutch trading vessel shipwrecked near the castle town of Usuki in April 1600,
having come through harsh Pacific storms. Only 23 of its original crew of 100
had survived to this point, but only nine of those men were even strong enough
to stand. One of them was an Englishman named William Adams (1564-1620), who
ultimately became a favorite of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the first of the
Tokugawa shoguns. Ieyasu was fascinated by Adams’ knowledge of mathematics and other
matters relating to navigation.
Adams lived the rest of his life in Japan,
dying at the English trading settlement in Hirado, north of Nagasaki, in 1620.
He has graves at both Hirado and Henmi on the Miura Peninsula, where he
maintained an estate, a gift from Ieyasu. Adams was instrumental in aiding both
the English and the Dutch in their efforts to trade with Japan. James Clavell
used Adams as the model for the character of Blackthorne, in his popular 1975
novel, Shogun. On the now-uninhabited Kuroshima Island where Adams’ ship, De
Liefde, ran aground, there is a small free museum with exhibits relating to the
ship’s ill-fated voyage. Kuroshima sits only a couple hundred meters from the
north shore of Usuki Bay; ferries run during the summer months.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries,
Asian and Western traders, coming to Kyushu from China, Korea, Portugal, Spain,
Holland, and England, were beginning to introduce all manner of new goods to
Japan. Besides the foods mentioned above, they also introduced tobacco, sweet
potatoes, cayenne pepper, and raw wool. Chinese silk, Chinese medicines, and
precious metals also continued as popular trade items.
The newly emerging Tokugawa shogunate felt
the need to exert greater control over the developing international trade, and
so designated that Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese vessels could land only at
Nagasaki while Dutch and English vessels had landing rights only at Hirado,
which lies about halfway between Hakata and Nagasaki. The southern port of Kagoshima
traded predominately in Chinese goods, sometimes brought via the Ryukyu Islands
(now Okinawa). Hakata’s influence waned from this time.
In the 1630s, the Dutch and British
constructed stone warehouses at Hirado, further introducing stonemasonry to Kyushu.
The volcanic stone of Kyushu proved easy to work yet durable, perfect for
bridge construction. Even today, Kyushu boasts more stone bridges than any
other part of Japan, although most of them were constructed in the late 19th
century. A replica of the warehouse built by the Dutch in 1639 stands on the
Hirado waterfront and is now a museum, providing further insights into those
early trading days.
Even Japanese shipbuilding was influenced
by the various foreign ships to call at Kyushu ports. William Adams oversaw the construction of a
number of vessels at the shogun’s request. Nagasaki shipwrights built vessels
that were part Chinese junk and part Spanish galleon. Nagasaki is also the site
of the Meganebashi Bridge, the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, constructed
under the supervision of a Chinese monk in 1634.
By the 1630s, the Tokugawa shogunate had
become concerned about the growing influence of the Christian religion (not to
mention the in-fighting between Jesuit and Dominican missionaries) and banned
Christianity in Japan. Expulsion of all missionaries and active persecution of
Christians ensued. Many recanted their faith or died for it. A memorial to 26
Christians martyred in 1597 during an earlier purge and canonized in 1862
stands on a hillside in Nagasaki. (see “Ocean and Islands” for more on the
Christian history of this area)
At the same time as expelling the
Christian missionaries, the Tokugawa shogunate further reduced outside
interaction with Japan by closing Hirado as a port in 1641. After that, only
the port of Nagasaki remained open to foreign trade and only licensed Chinese
and Dutch traders were allowed in.
The movements of the Dutch traders, in
particular, were severely restricted, as they were confined to a small man-made
island in Nagasaki Harbor known as “Dejima.” Built originally for the
Portuguese in 1636 and used by the Dutch from 1641 until 1859, the fan-shaped
island was roughly a hectare (2.2 acres) in size and was usually occupied by
15-20 Dutch traders who often remained for only a couple of years. It was
connected to the mainland by a single heavily-guarded bridge. For two centuries, only a limited number of
Japanese officials could cross onto the island, while the Dutch were permitted
off the island only twice each year. The first time was to attend the annual
festival at nearby Suwa Shrine (see “Festivals”), and the second, to make a
yearly trip to Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to report to the shogun.
In spite of the limited interactions
between Japanese locals and the Dutch traders, the Japanese soon realized that
the Dutch also possessed knowledge that they wanted to acquire. This led to the
development of a field of study known as Rangaku (Dutch Studies), meaning all
things Western. Young samurai from all
over Japan made their way to Nagasaki for the chance to acquire this new
Since the annual trips to Edo by the Dutch
retinue were in the style of paying tribute, the shogunate even went so far as
to request particular “gifts” — items such as eyeglasses, medical instruments
and texts, navigation instruments and telescopes, globes, and exotic animals.
This was another way to acquire Western knowledge and study it to determine how
it could best be used to the Japanese advantage. At the same time, many of the foreign
traders who made the trip to Edo made careful records about their experiences,
which they later published, the earliest introductions of Japan to the West.
The German physician and naturalist, Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), for
example, served as physician to the Dutch at Nagasaki from 1690 to 1692,
traveling twice to Edo. Kaempfer studied Japanese acupuncture and moxibustion
and published a book on Japanese plants as well as a “History of Japan” that
was the primary source for Western knowledge of Japan for nearly two centuries.
Due to steady land reclamation in Nagasaki
Bay over the past 150 years, Dejima is no longer an island. It is now
surrounded by streets and buildings. However, the perimeter of Dejima has been
marked and several replica buildings containing historical exhibits now occupy
the site, allowing visitors to imagine how those early Dutch traders lived
around 1820. The large two-story Chief Factor’s house contains period
furnishings to aid in that exercise — it is indeed curious to see how Western
furniture fit on tatami mats back in those days.
The “back” windows of the Chief Factor’s
house, which would have once looked out on Nagasaki Harbor to see approaching
vessels, now overlook a sea of cars on the busy street below. Other reconstructed
warehouse buildings contain exhibits on the types of goods that passed through
Dejima and how goods for export were handled as well as exhibits of artifacts
unearthed during the restoration that revealed such information as what the
Dutch traders ate and how it was prepared as well as how they spent their days
in such cramped space.
The Chinese traders in Nagasaki both
outnumbered the Dutch and had far more freedom of movement. In the 1620s,
Chinese from Nanjing, Zhangzhou and Fuzhou permanently settled in Nagasaki in
significant numbers, each group establishing Chinese temples associated with
the land of their birth. In the 1670s, a fourth Chinese temple was established
by migrants from Guangdong. It is thought
that by the middle of the 19th century, 1/5 of the population of Nagasaki were
Chinese. Most of these settlers were
accorded the same treatment as the local Japanese, which meant they could not
leave Japan but could obtain permits to travel within the country. Many
Nagasaki locals readily acknowledge that they have some Chinese ancestry,
although they are usually a bit vague on details.
Even today, Nagasaki boasts a vibrant
Chinatown, full of Chinese restaurants and shops selling imported Chinese
goods. It is regarded as one of the oldest such communities anywhere outside of
China. Most of the Chinese living there are from Fuzhou, which has a sister
city relationship with Nagasaki.
Chinatown hosts an annual “Lantern
Festival” at which more than 15,000 red Chinese lanterns are strung above the
streets of Chinatown for a two week period at Chinese New Year’s. Other Chinese
New Year festivities are also observed.
Another legacy of the long Chinese
presence in Nagasaki is the noodle dish chanpon, another food for which
Nagasaki is famous. The word “chanpon” means something like “all mixed up” and
this big bowl of noodles features pork, seafood and various vegetables in a
mixed broth — truly a blend of Chinese and Japanese styles.
By the middle of the 19th century, the
Tokugawa shogunate was crumbling and feeling the pressure of the United States
and other Western powers to open its ports. An early reaction to this pressure
was to become better prepared to resist the pressure. This included developing
its own naval capacity, and for this, too, the Japanese turned to the knowledge
of the Dutch traders in Nagasaki.
In 1857, with the help of Dutch advisers,
the Mitsubishi Corporation established a foundry in Nagasaki. A shipyard soon
followed, a facility that became a leader in Japan’s industrialization and
remains in operation to this day. Four structures in the Mitsubishi Shipyard on
the northern shore of Nagasaki Harbor are part of the UNESCO World Heritage
listing relating to Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: No. 3 Dry Dock, Giant
Cantilever Crane, Pattern Shop, and Senshokaku Guest House. While none of these
are currently open to the public, the crane is visible from just about anywhere
on Nagasaki Harbor.
Modern international entrepreneurship
The latter half of the 19th century was a
heady time for Japan as it rushed to modernize and Westernize. Kyushu played a
significant role in the introduction of Western technology to Japan as well.
The port of Nagasaki was opened to all
comers in 1859, at the same time as major ports were being opened across Japan
due to American and British demands. That same year, a young Englishman named
Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911) arrived in Nagasaki as a representative of
Jardine Matheson, the Hong Kong-based British trading firm. He soon established
his own trading firm and engaged in various business enterprises in Japan for
the remainder of his days, including real estate investments, arms dealings,
coal mining and beer production (he was one of the originators of the beer
known today as Kirin).
In 1863, Glover built a Western-style
house on the hillside overlooking Nagasaki Harbor. Soon a number of his Western
colleagues and competitors followed suit, creating a small Western
enclave. The Glover House is now the
oldest Western-style wooden building in Japan and attracts some two million
visitors a year. It is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing relating
to Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution. Its displays on the lives of the people
in that time of early industrialization are enlightening.
Glover also consulted with the Mitsubishi
Corporation when they commenced shipbuilding in Nagasaki in 1868, importing the
materials necessary for the construction of Nagasaki’s first dry dock, and
continuing to provide advice and support thereafter.
Down the hill from the Glover House,
nearer to the waterfront, is a Western-style stone building built in 1904 to
house the Nagasaki branch of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, the first foreign
bank to operate in the city. It is one of the largest Western-style buildings
remaining in Nagasaki and was also briefly a police station. It is now a museum
with exhibits on the bank’s history and the history of Nagasaki’s foreign
Even though Westerners were allowed to
enter Japan after 1859, prior to the restoration of imperial rule in 1868, the
Japanese were prohibited from leaving the country. This didn’t sit well with
the Shimazu lords of Satsuma (modern-day Kagoshima), who had by then recognized
the necessity of studying Western ways. In 1864, 19 young men of Satsuma were
smuggled out of Japan to study in England. Upon their return, each of these Kyushu
natives went on to play a significant role in Japan’s modernization and
Even before dispatching the young men to
England, Nariakira Shimazu (1809-1858), 11th Lord of Satsuma and then-head of
the Shimazu clan, recognized the need for industrialization and took action. In
1851, he began construction of a factory complex on the shores of Kagoshima Bay
near his villa, Sengan-en. Known as Shuseikan, Lord Nariakira and his
successor, Hisamitsu, spent 20 years developing the site, which included a
reverberatory furnace and a machinery factory. This history and the longer
history of the Shimazu clan as lords of Satsuma, is preserved at Shuseikan,
which is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing relating to Japan’s
Meiji Industrial Revolution.
By 1889, new shipping ports in Kyushu were
also being established. Moji, at the very top of Kyushu, in the Shimonoseki
Strait, was one such port. A number of the historic fin de siècle buildings
associated with its role as a port are now preserved as the Mojiko Retro
District. Moji particularly played a key role as the departure point for troops
bound for Korea during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
Hakata, which had been the most
significant Kyushu port up to the 17th century, also modernized as it became
the city of Fukuoka in 1889. The name Hakata is still in use as the name of
Fukuoka’s main train station, the original Kyushu terminus of the Shinkansen
high-speed trains. It is also now a major shipping and ferry port, with ferries
crossing the Tsushima Strait to Busan in South Korea. It also has a cruise ship terminal as
cruising around Japan becomes more popular.
These days, Fukuoka is a vibrant, modern
city well known for its welcoming attitude to foreigners. It is becoming particularly known for
policies that support and encourage foreign entrepreneurs and others from
distant lands, continuing Kyushu’s role as the gateway to Japan.
But Fukuoka is not alone in being open.
Kyushu’s history and role as a gateway proves that the people of Kyushu have
long been more welcoming to strangers, more open to new ideas, and more willing
to try new things. This is all part of what makes it such a fascinating place
to visit today.