The Difference Between “Hakata” and “Fukuoka”

Fukuoka CastleWhy are both Fukuoka and Hakata used to refer to the same city? This is something I think few Japanese outside the Fukuoka area know the answer to, let alone expats and visitors from abroad. In fact, I didn’t even know this until recently–the city is called Fukuoka but some people call it Hakata, the main Shinkansen station is called Hakata Station, the ramen and dialect are referred to as Hakata ramen and Hakata-ben, one of the wards in Fukuoka City is called Hakata Ward, and one of the most visible landmarks is called Fukuoka Tower (which faces out onto Hakata Bay, the seaport of Fukuoka). So…which is it??

The answer to this question requires, as with many place name puzzlers, a historic approach. Hakata was the name of a city with a rich history spanning centuries that that developed a strong mercantile culture and economic base, and its port played an important role in international trade and exchange. Fukuoka, on the other hand, was a castle town headed by the Kuroda and dominated by samurai culture. The Nakagawa river divided these two neighboring cities, with Fukuoka on the west and Hakata on the right.

In 1889, as part of the Meiji Government’s systematic rationalization of geographical divisions throughout Japan, the two cities were combined, and after much heated debate (and demands by some that the cities be kept independent), Fukuoka won the title despite it being the smaller of the two cities. Some say the committee was at a 13-13 tie and the chairman, who was a samurai from a former Fukuoka domain, cast the final vote. Some say the name Hakata was selected, but then a group of samurai crashed the meeting and forced them to choose Fukuoka instead. My personal (groundless) theory, based on instinct and the fact that Fukuoka sake is delicious, is that the Hakatans lost a drinking contest. Either way, Fukuoka was chosen, and, most likely as a concession, Hakata was chosen for the name of the central JR rail station also put in place that same year (which is why the name of Fukuoka’s central JR station is Hakata Station).

But Hakata culture didn’t disappear just because the official municipal name did. That’s why we have Hakata ramen, Hakata Port, Hakata Bay, Hakata dialect, and so forth. The section of modern Fukuoka where Hakata was once located is now Hakata Ward. Some people call the city Hakata out of ignorance, probably because they are from far away and only know the train station’s name. Other citizens call it Hakata out of personal preference, or because of pride in Hakata family history.

So there you have it. The answer to the Fukuoka-Hakata riddle.

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3 Responses to The Difference Between “Hakata” and “Fukuoka”

  1. Pingback: New Hakata City « Gaijin Chameleon

  2. Pingback: Fukuoka Tower | Finding Fukuoka

  3. Pingback: Fukuoka Subway Station Symbols: Kuko Line | Finding Fukuoka

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