#FindingFukuoka: Your stories

I’ve been to Japan before. Twice, in fact. And on neither trip did I make it down to Kyushu, the southern island from where most of Hawaii’s immigrants came.

And it’s always bugged me.

Kyushu — namely the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Kumamoto — are where my great-grandparents were born. They immigrated to Hawaii during the turn of the century — like thousands of other Japanese — to work in the coffee fields in Kona.

My grandparents, both of whom were born in Kona, traveled once to Japan, and I never got a chance to talk to them about it. Both are gone now, and I decided I would visit their hometowns, too, to see what it looks like, see how they might have lived.

So when Hawaiian Airlines announced it was flying directly to Fukuoka, a nearby prefecture — and one of the oldest cities in Japan — I snatched up the chance to go.

I realize Fukuoka isn’t the city of my ancestors. It’s now a cosmopolitan harbor town with modern architecture, major department stores, a 767-foot-tall mirrored tower, and a very popular baseball team.

But the old world still remains. You can find it in the shops that sell clay Hakata dolls and obi silk sashes. And Yamakasa, a 700-year-old festival, is still celebrated every July.

This is the Fukuoka I’m hoping to see.

I’m leaving on April 16 on Hawaiian’s inaugural flight. Then I’m staying in Japan — I had already booked a trip there before Hawaiian announced its new route — and touring around Kyoto, Tokyo and Chigasaki.

Part of this journey — and I’m blogging about Japan all this week! — is to reconnect with my Japanese roots. I want to learn about where my mother’s family came from — and I’m hoping this blog inspires you to do the same.

Post your family stories here. Tell us what you remember about the stories of your grandparents or great-grandparents. Or share what you’d want to do if you could visit Kyushu. Hawaiian Airlines will pull some of these stories and re-post them on its Facebook page.

And stay tuned for more about all things Japan!

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24 Responses to “#FindingFukuoka: Your stories”

  1. zzzzzz March 26, 2012 at 1:17 am #

    Yamaguchi-ken is not on Kyushu, it’s on Honshu, albeit the part of Honshu closest to Kyushu.

    I don’t think most of the Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i in the late 1800s to early 1900s came from Kyushu either. What I’ve been told is those immigrants came largely from Kumamoto, on Kyushu, and Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, on Honshu.

    And then there are the Okinawans, who some consider Japanese.

    • Catherine Toth March 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      Thanks for your input! Hey, Okinawans ARE Japanese. Right…? :D

  2. David Jackson March 26, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    I’ve been to Kumamoto City before, loved the place. While there I looked up Charlie Nagatani who is Japan’s most famous country musician. He performs in a little hole in the wall bar there. Enjoyed that visit tremendously. Not a big country music fan but like some of it a lot. Charlie was an awesome guy!

    The only family member who has been traced back to close to where we came from is my mother’s mother. Her family came to the US in 1600 landing in Virginia. Her family later moved to NC in about 1640. My dad’s side came to the US in the late 1500’s and also headed to NC in the 1600’s just not exactly sure the date. So when I say I am a NC native I go pretty deep here.

    So why then does Hawaii feel like home… no clue…

    • Catherine Toth March 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

      Thanks for the tip on Charlie Nagatani! Wonder how he got that American name…

      Wow, your family has some deep roots in America. Where are they from originally?

      • David Jackson March 27, 2012 at 1:12 am #

        Mother’s mother is from Ireland, we have it back to the 1300’s. Mother’s father is also Irish but the record evaporates pretty quickly. Dad’s mother is English, mother is Scottish. Therefore, you could say we are British Isles mutt class. Maybe that is where the island loving thing comes from.

  3. Nate March 26, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    I’ve been to Fukuoka a couple of times and it’s a great city. It’s not as fast paced as Tokyo and it doesn’t have as many cultural sites like Kyoto has, but it’s kind of in the middle. There’s a huge underground shopping area called Tenjin which is pretty impressive. And there’s another shopping center called Canal City which is a walkable distance from Hakata station It has a ramen stadium that has 7 or 8 different ramen shops with different specialties.

    It’s great that Hawaiian is starting different routes into Japan. My wife and I used to fly into Tokyo and make our way down through Kyoto to Fukuoka and fly back from there, but the airline we have our miles with no longer does that route. Hopefully someday we’ll make the trip with Hawaiian instead.

    Have fun Cat!

    • Catherine Toth March 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

      Tenjin — I read about that. You think it’s worth checking out? I’m putting together a loose itinerary…

      I haven’t flown Hawaiian to Japan, so I’ll let you know how that goes. Let’s see how it compares to JAL and ANA! Stay tuned. You KNOW I’ll be blogging about the plane ride!

  4. matt March 26, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    great topic. I love Kyushu. all of Japan, really, but my family is from the Fukuoka area (actually, Kurume, about a half hour away). Been there a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. some of it was the family factor (it seems most of my family is from the surrounding areas so I got to meet many relatives I never knew I had), some of it was the fuud factor (no idea where we went to eat but it was all guud). and some of it was the history/culture factor. when we went to the castle in Kumamoto, i was amazed to realize that it dates back to pre Columbus times.

    also, after Tokyo and Hong Kong (and Ho Chi Mihn City), I found Fukuoka and Kumamoto kind of “small-town” and Kurume positively rural. color me amazed when I found out the Fukuoka has almost 3 million people, Kumamoto about a million and a half and little Kurume clocks in at 300K. the scale of these cities in Asia is amazing.

    One of my favorite memories was riding in the canals in Yanagawa (about 45 minutes from Fukuoka). There are a series of canals around the town and, for a small fee, boatmen will tool you around for a tour. doesn’t matter if you speak Nihongo or not. they’re pretty hilarious. afterwards, hook up some unajyu. best unagi you’ll ever eat.

    have fun. I major jealous.

    • Glenn March 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      Good comments, Matt. You’re right that Kurume is kind of dull compared to the major world cities you mentioned. I used to live there, and my wife is from Kurume. It’s not much of a tourist town, but it’s a low-stress place to live, and the people are as nice and sincere as you’ll find anywhere. So you must come from good people.

      Totally correct comment on size and scale. A city of 300,000 doesn’t even seem very big. Having lived in Tokyo, too, I’d rather make a home in Kurume (though I’d miss the foreigner crowd). Much better for families. Fukuoka hits the sweet spot. Kind of like Sendai. More metropolitan, so more to do, but not so large like Tokyo-Yokohama-Osaka that you get that lost feeling.

      Glad to see there are more direct flights between islands and Kyushu.

      Have a great time, Cat!

    • Catherine Toth March 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      Your family is from Fukuoka??? Wow, I’ll be on your stomping grounds! I’m super excited about the food/fuud, as I’ve heard how good it is. Too bad you can’t remember where you ate! I would’ve definitely checked out those places!

      Those canals sound awesome — too bad we won’t have time. But maybe since it’s got the best unagi… I’ll find a way…

  5. Makiki March 26, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Looking forward to your posts about and hopefully from Japan. All I really know about my family history is that we are from Kumamoto and I hope to get there some day. Reminds me that I need to spend more time with my few remaining Aunties to get the scoop to pass on to my kids!


  6. Ty March 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    I’m reading this post from Japan, funny it popped up on my own trip. My family is from Fukuoka as well. I also have family from Hiroshima that managed to survive the bomb. Its so awesome to look up family roots.

    My family there was very wealthy, and owned a lot of land but lost it all when their dam broke and the ensuing flood decimated the nearby village, or so the story goes. My great grandfather then came to Hawaii with aspirations of studying to become a doctor in California. However these dreams were crushed with the outbreak of what I believe was Spanish influenza, and he was quarantined in Honolulu. Like many immigrants, not having the skills to get a job other than the plantations, he chose to take the difficult path of a business owner, and once again became well to do.

    My other great grandparents were farmers from Hiroshima and came to escape the high taxes and encroaching government of a transforming Japan. They worked in the plantations and built a nice new life for themselves and their kids through hard work and a little frugality.

    Some of the children went on to fight the Nazis in the legendary 442. Many also started their own businesses, and my family continues this tradition today.

    Many great people and great stories from Fukuoka!

    It’s been a bit late moving into spring here and it’s been a tad colder than usual, but when you arrive it might be perfect.

    It would be cool for you to find old pics of your family villages, towns etc, and then shoot the same shot from the same angle and compare then on the blog. I bet with a little hunting you could find Lots of pics of old Fukuoka etc.

    Enjoy your trip!

    • Catherine Toth March 26, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      Wow, thanks for sharing your family history. I’m hoping people get motivated to learn more about their personal histories. These stories die eventually unless we find a way to share them.

  7. EdW March 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Have a safe journey. Looking forward to reading about this adventure.

  8. Patrick March 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    “I want to learn about where my mother’s family came from — and I’m hoping this blog inspires you to do the same.”

    Gotta admit, I have been thinking about going to Ireland for a couple of years. Maybe 2012 will be the year I get back to County Cork.

    Have a terrific trip!

  9. pam March 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    enjoy your trip…looking forward to hearing of our adventures!

  10. anklebiters March 27, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Hey, we may be related!! …LOL… I was born in Yamaguchi and my grandparents & families on my mom’s live there. My dad’s grandparents also were immigrants to HI in the early 1900’s. They worked the cane/pineapple fields in Kahuku. When I was in HI last year for my dad’s funeral, the kids and I tried to find the home that my grandparents lived in but to no avail….my mind is not like Google….

    My first trip back to Japan in like 40 years was several years ago, we didn’t quite make it past Hiroshima as we ran out of time. I remember taking the train from Tokyo down to Yamaguchi several times to visit my mom’s family when we were kids. One of the things that stick out is the creek/river/canal that ran alongside the streets and the little bridge to walk across to reach the front door. Grandma would always get after me for poking holes in the sliding shoji doors as they are covered in paper. From what my mom tells me, her side of the family were samurai’s from way back, as she’s been told. I’m going to have to grill her about her family’s heritage when I visit her later this year…I discovered things about my dad I never knew at his funeral….and I’m sure there are many other events that he took with him to his grave.

  11. M March 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    We went to Okinawa to visit my wifes relatives and learn about her family. Man did we find out a lot. Her family was traced back to the Shuri Castle thousands of years ago where her ancestor was a priest to the ruler of Okinawa and another ancestor was a General of the Samuri army in the castle. Her relatives took us to 1000 year old, 500 year old and 100 year old graves sites where only her family members was buried and the graves site was given to her family by the ruler at that time. They took us to a village where there was a shrine built for her ancestor priest to the ruler thousands of year ago and till today the people in that village still worship him. It was so awesome to find out about my wifes ancestors, it gave us chicken skin knowing that she came from a royalty family….

  12. M March 27, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    I forgot to mention that those grave sites of my wifes ancestors were more like a tomb where you could enter though a small hidden entry way….

  13. Julie April 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Hi there
    I am going to Fukuoka on the 19th…wanted the inaugural flight but at the time didn’t have the cheapest fare…guess not too many folks going there since they added more $318 ow on the 16th. Going to Kumamoto as well and hope to find some Hawaii connection but doesn’t seem like it…I’m searching the web for that to see if some place in Kumamoto they have recognition of those who immigrated to Hawaii….
    Doing a tour of Kyushu—been there before but going with two h.s. classmates who’ve never been. I have friends in Fukuoka …so this will be my 3rd time around. Hope I get to go to Yanagawa…read about it and saw on tv about the canals…
    Fukuoka-Nagasaki-Kumamoto-Kagoshima-Miyazaki-Nobeoka-Takachiho-Beppu in 9 days. Have fun yourself…looking forward to onsen.

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