As far as politics, economy, and culture go, Fukuoka is the first city in Kyushu. Long ago the Nakagawa River ran through and divided Hakata a mercantile town to the east, and the Kurodashi family castle town to the west. They used to say “East is Hakata, west is Fukuoka.” The city got the name Fukuoka in 1889, but the original names still remain, as can be seen with JR Hakata Station.
Before the third century AD (when this area was its own country known as Nanokuni), Hakata was a gateway to the Korean Peninsula, and ancient China. It was flooded with new and exotic culture. They didn’t call it Hakata until the Nara Period. At this time, Hakata was a place of international trading ports with such resting places for foreign delegates as Korokan*.
It was here at around this time that Japan saw the map of Europe. Hakata was the largest mercantile town in the day, until it was destroyed in the fires of 1569. Fukuoka began to emerge in the early seventeenth century, amid the rich history of Hakata, when Kuroda Nagamasa became the lord of Chikuzen’s 520,000 koku (koku are bales of rice that were used to pay taxes). He constructed a castle atop the highland where the ruins of Korokan lay, giving it the name “Fukuoka Castle” in memory of his hometown Bizen Fukuoka. Thus was the castle town of Fukuoka born.
This is what got people to start saying “east of the Nakagawa River is Hakata, the town of merchants, west of the Nakagawa is Fukuoka, the town of warriors.”
There was a time in 1889 (the twenty-second Meiji year), where, for the city’s inauguration, a vote was cast to decide what to call it. It was a tie between Hakata and Fukuoka. Eventually, officials decided on Fukuoka.
The Fukuoka of today is much more than a mere mercantile town. It is now a huge urban area, the biggest in Kyushu, and is centered on politics, culture, transportation, and information. Though Fukuoka is the biggest city in Kyushu, the old vibes of Hakata still have a grip on hearts of the locals. If you look closer, you are sure to find that old sentimental Fukuoka everywhere you turn, such as Hakata Ningyo, Hakata Ori, Hakata Dontaku, and Hakata Gion Yamagasa.