Vis­it­ing our dis­tant sis­ter

Neil Porten has a short, but sweet, re­union with Auck­land’s sis­ter city, Fukuoka

Whangarei Report - - FEATURE -

I’m here to visit a sis­ter. Well, a sis­ter city. Fukuoka, on the north­ern coast of Ja­pan’s Kyushu is­land, has been a sis­ter city of Auck­land since 1986. Sis­ter city re­la­tion­ships don’t have a high pro­file these days but, in Auck­land at least, the con­nec­tion was re-es­tab­lished in 2017 with the open­ing of the re­de­vel­oped Fukuoka Gar­den in Western Springs Lake­side Park, which is about a 10-minute walk from my house. The orig­i­nal gar­den was gifted to Auck­land in 1989 and built at Auck­land Zoo but was re­moved years later dur­ing expansion.

Fukuoka has a sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tion to Auck­land and it too is grow­ing — un­usual in Ja­pan where the over­all pop­u­la­tion is de­clin­ing. Both are port cities with an in­ter­na­tional outlook; Fukuoka’s prox­im­ity to China, Korea, Tai­wan and the Philip­pines at­tracts trade and tourists from Asia and the rest of the world. And it is the his­tory of this an­cient city which draws the vis­i­tors.

Whether you ar­rive in Fukuoka by cruise ship or train, the Hakata Old Town is within easy walk­ing dis­tance and is a great place to be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence the city’s his­tory. Hakata Sen­nen-no-mon Gate wel­comes tourists to the his­toric tem­ple area. This im­pres­sive, four-pil­lared tim­ber struc­ture may have boards made from a 1000-year-old cam­phor tree, but it was put up in 2014. Carved into the tran­som is a tra­di­tional Hakata-ori tex­tile pat­tern, strongly rem­i­nis­cent of Maori tukutuku de­signs.

Jotenji Tem­ple, built in 1242, is re­garded as the birth­place of Hakata-ori tex­tiles and also soba and udon noo­dles and manju, the sweet red bean paste so pop­u­lar in con­fec­tionery. Ev­ery morn­ing the wavy Genkai Sea mo­tif is newly raked into the fine grey gravel at the tem­ple en­trance.

Shoichi Kokushi, who built the Jotenji Tem­ple, is said to be the founder of the Hakata Gion Ya­makasa fes­ti­val held ev­ery July. You can see an ex­am­ple of one of the heavy floats car­ried through the city at the nearby Kushida Shrine.

The shrine of Daza­ifu Ten­mangu is ap­proached over three bridges rep­re­sent­ing the past, present and fu­ture. The main shrine dates from 1591 and is built over the grave of famed poet and cal­lig­ra­pher Michizane Su­gawara, now de­i­fied as Ten­jin, the Shinto kami, or god, of schol­ar­ship. Among the 10 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year are stu­dents hop­ing for di­vine favour and ed­u­ca­tional suc­cess. The heads of ox stat­ues may be rubbed to make you smarter. Small em­broi­dered amulets, omamori, can be bought to carry home the good luck. My son, much to his re­lief, is now fully pro­tected from all aca­demic “calami­ties”.

Be­fore my ship leaves, I head up the Hakata Port Tower to take in the view. The Muromi River winds south­ward through the high-rise build­ings and out be­yond the pen­cil-thin break­wa­ter Nokonoshima and Shika Is­lands mark the chan­nel for our de­par­ture.

It’s been a too-short fam­ily re­union with this sis­ter from an­other coun­try. But once I’m back home, I know just the gar­den where we can meet.

Photo / Getty Im­ages

The Hakata Gion Ya­makasa fes­ti­val is held ev­ery July at the Kushi­da­jinja shrine.

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