Entries in Fukuoka City (15)


Sumiyoshi in Summer




Japan's Wild, Wild West

1. Japan’s Wild, Wild West

Despite consistently ranking as one of best cities in the world to live, shop, or eat, Fukuoka also has a reputation among the Japanese as being one of the wildest, most dangerous places in the entire country. Because of its reputation for violence and crime, the prefecture has been called “Ashura no Koku” (阿修羅の国).[1]

So, why the bad rap?

For one, Fukuoka prefecture often tops the country in number of shootings and bombings with hand grenades—yes, that’s hand grenades. The prefecture also has the ignominy of being a leader in accidents caused by drunk drivers. The rate of burglary is high, as is the total number of sex crimes and the rate of sex crimes, and so on.[2]

The cause of the high level of crime has been attributed to the large number of organized crime syndicates operating in the prefecture, its proximity to the Sea of Japan, which is said to facilitate smuggling and exile, and tougher anticrime measures in Kantō and Kansai.


[1] Ashura in Buddhism is the name of the lowest ranking deities of the Kāmadhātu (Buddhist cosmology). They are described as having three heads with three faces and four to six arms. The state of an Asura reflects the mental state of a human being obsessed with ego, force and violence, always looking for an excuse to get into a fight, angry with everyone and unable to maintain calm or solve problems peacefully. (Wikipedia)

[2] *Fukuoka also has the highest rate in Japan of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s. This is supposed to be a “bad thing”, but personally, I believe it adds to the city's livability.



Torikai Shrine



Fukuoka Boomtown

Fukuoka City Hall, completed in 1923, was unfortunately torn down about two decades ago.

   I stumbled across some interesting growth projections for the city of Fukuoka the other day. The first graph shows actual growth from 1975 to 2005.

   Of the eight cities studied, Fukuoka (福岡、■) has grown the most (over 150%) during those thirty years, followed by Sapporo (札幌, ▲, 145%+), Sendai (仙台, ▲,140%), and Tôkyô (東京, ■, 130%). Much of the growth here, I suspect, is coming from depopulation of areas outside of Fukuoka. Evidence of this can be seen in the steady decline of Kitakyûshû's population (北九州, ●) since the mid 80s. Similar declines have occured in cities throughout the area. I visited the former coal mining town of Ômuta a few weeks ago and learned that in its heyday the city had over 200,000 people. Today, the population is half that figure.

   The next graph shows growth projections for a number of cities in Japan over the next twenty-two years. Using 2005 as the starting point, Ôsaka City (大阪) is expected to to see it's population drop to just over 85% of its 2005 population by the year 2035. The only cities predicted to maintain their 2005 population levels over the next two decades are Fukoka (福岡市) and Tôkyô (東京). The greater metropolitan area of Fukuoka City (福岡都市) is also expected to maintain its 2005 population level.


Thanks, China!

   It seems like the more China develops and "modernizes", the more it impacts us here in Japan, and not always in the most positive of ways.

   At first, our biggest concern here in the western part of Japan was the Asian dust, known as kôsa or yellow sand in Japanese, which would blow in from the deserts of eastern and western China every spring; now, we must contend with China's smog, too.

   Last Saturday (Feb. 23), air pollution levels exceeded Japan's recommended limit with PM2.5 particulates reaching a density of 50.5ugm/m3. As densities above 35ugm/m3 pose a health hazard, the prefectural government issued a warning, advising residents to wear face masks and to forego hanging laundry out to dry.

   Every time it gets as bad as this, I can't help wonder what it must be like in China. It's an awfully steep price to pay for (cough-cough) economic growth. 




   This time last year I was only a few weeks away from a long trip that took me and my family to PDX, SFO and HNL. This Xmas we are grounded here: Ah, FUK.

   For a salacious photo of fuk, click here.

   More notable airport codes can be found at aviationhumor.


The Incredibly Shrinking Nation

   In 2004 Japan’s population peaked at 127.8 million people[1]. Because the fertility rate[2] in Japan has remained far below the 2.2 or so needed to maintain a population, the population has been falling steadily. If nothing changes, the population of Japan is predicted to fall to less than 90 million by the year 2055.

   While the nation anxiously wrings its hands, I have to ask what to me seems like an obvious question: is this really a problem?

   Personally, I think there are far too many people in this crowded country and population decline ought to be not only welcomed, but celebrated as one of the successes of a modern society. If you go to and have a look at the birth rates, you’ll find that Japan is fourth from the bottom, down there with Macau and Hong Kong, two of the worlds most densely populated places.[3] The countries with the highest birthrates are, not surprisingly, poor, less developed, and predominately African ones.

   Now, I realize that with population decline comes a number of seemingly knotty issues, such as how the pension system will be funded, and so on.[4] But, on the whole, I think the demographic change provides far more opportunities than it does challenges. (The same can be said about last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami. I’ll write more about this later.)

   While the population of Japan as a whole has been in decline for the past eight years, you might be surprised to learn that cities like Fukuoka have grown steadily.

   When I first moved to Fukuoka in 1993, the city had a population of 1.246 million people. Since then, the population has increased and stands at 1.443 people today. The foreign community has doubled from 12,621 in 1993 to 24,555 in 2011.

   What is the cause of this growth? One theory (my own) ascribes the increase to the comparatively large number of attractive women in the Fukuoka, the so-called Hakata Bijin (博多美人, “Hakata Beauty”), which has eager men flocking to the city in droves.[5] Others point more correctly to kasoka (過疎化), or the depopulation of towns and villages as people pull up stakes and move to the cities where there are better-paying jobs and more opportunities. 

   Out of curiosity, I looked into the demographics of Iizuka, that oft-maligned (mostly by me) city to the northwest of Fukuoka, to see how the population had changed over the years. I was surprised to see that although the city’s population was down from a high of 140,463 people in 1995, it was still higher than in the decades following the end of the war when the mines were still giving up plenty of coal and jobs abounded. I guess having a powerful politician fighting for your cause—in this case former Prime Minister Tarô Aso—does have its benefits, if not plenty of pork barrel. The city is today home to one of the campuses of Kyûkôdai (九工大, Kyûshû Institute of Technology).

   Fukuoka, though, has much more going for it, which might explain why so many people from throughout the Kyûshû-Okinawa region relocate here. That might also explain why for several years running Fukuoka has been chosen by a number of magazines, including Monocle, as one of the world’s best cities. (Personally, I think that’s going a little too far. It is a nice place, but one of the world’s best? C’mon, who ya kiddin’?)[6]


[1] Numbers vary. The Japanese language site gave the above figure. Another English language site had the population at 128.1 million in 2010.

[2] The fertility rate refers to the average number of children born to women throughout their reproductive years. The fertility rate, which was 3.65 in 1950, fell to 1.91 in 1975. It stands around 1.37 today.

[3] Japan is the 38th most densely populated country in the world.

[4] I will discuss this so-called problem in the next post.

[5] Many young women will disagree with this, claiming that the city doesn’t have many men. They’ll even argue that there are eight women for every available man. I don’t know where this statistic comes from, but I’ve heard it again and again over the years. Funny, but the two single women who first told me of this imbalance have moved to Tôkyô where—surprise, surprise—they remain single.

[6] I often joke that “Fukuoka is a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit it”. There just isn’t that much for tourists to do and see. 






   And while I'm on the topic of things being shrouded, most of northern Kyûshû was blanketed in a thick fog a week ago Sunday. It started to roll in just after one in the afternoon and by evening most of the city was enveloped in it.

   In spite of Fukuoka's proximity to the sea and being surrounded on all sides by reasonably high mountains, fog is a rare occurrence. I'm no meteorologist, so I won't venture any guesses as to why this is so. I will, however, offer this up as an another example of how oddly the weather has been acting lately.

   We had an unusually chilly, dry April. But just as people started to worry about the level of water in the local dams, the weather changed lickety-split. Within a matter of days, we were soon experiencing weather more typical of the late rainy season in mid July: it was unbearably hot and humid, and, as a friend put it, wetter than an otter's pocket.

   I heard that the Kanmon Straits which separates the island of Kyûshû from Honshû, was closed to shipping as the thickness of the fog made it impossible to navigate the waters safely. Would like to have gotten some shots of it.  




   When composing a haiku, a poet must not only write three lines consisting of five, seven, and five on (syllables), but include a seasonal reference, known as kigo. Typical kigo for spring include, of course, the cherry blossoms for which Japan is famous, frogs, the Japanese bush-warbler, and so on. Haiku poets when stumped for a suitable kigo for their poems often consult a saijiki (歳時記), which offers an extensive list of word that give the reader a true sense of the season. 

   Permit me to offer up a new kigo for the times we live in: kôsa (literally, yellow sand).

   Also known as Asian dust, the yellow sands are kicked up by dust storms occurring in Mongolia and northern China and carried by the prevailing winds as far away as Japan where they can turn the sun into an angry white dot in the gray sky and cover everything with a fine yellow dust resembling pollen.

   In recent years, these sand storms have grown both more frequent and more intense. A little over a week ago, visibility was cut to less than five-hundred yards. The mountains outside my office window shrouded behind a thick veil of dust.

   It's believed that desertification in China and Russia as well as an increase in industrial pollutants in China are to blame for the worsening storms which, in addition to bringing dust also carry sulfur, industrial heavy metals, carcinogens, viruses, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, asbestos, and a host of other nasty particles to our shores. Not very encouraging news when you're raising children.