A gateway to the outside world since olden times, Hakata began to flourish as a commercial port city in the middle ages. Hakata began trading with Ming China under a system called kango boeki (“tally trade”; a system in which only ships officially registered by the Ming could engage in trade), but not long after, it expanded its reach to the Korean peninsula and Southeast Asia via the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa). As Hakata grew into a commercial hub, a handful of influential traders came to the fore, the three most powerful of whom were Sotan Kamiya, Soshitsu Shimai and Soku Oga.
Kamiya was born into a wealthy merchant family. He played a key role in the redistricting of Hakata ordered by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1587. It is said that he personally walked around the city with a measuring stick to get the job done. Not long after this, through his dealings with China and prime position in the rice trade, he rose to the top of merchant class in Hakata. The ruins of Kamiya’s residence can be found in present-day Narayamachi (Hakata Ward) along with Toyotomi Shrine, which is dedicated to Hideyoshi. Meanwhile, his final resting place is on the grounds of Myorakuji Temple.
Soshitsu Shimai, a merchant who won the trust of both Hideyoshi and Sorin Otomo (the lord of what is now Oita), made his fortune in sake brewing and finance. He is said to have forged a trading route with Korea that passed through Tsushima Island. The unique earthen walls surrounding the ruins of Shimai’s residence were topped with locally made shingles called Hakata-bei. Fortunately, these walls managed to survive the bombings during World War II, after which they were moved to Kushida Shrine for safekeeping. Shimai’s tomb lies within the premises of Sofukuji Temple.
Unlike Kamiya and Shimai, Oga was not a born-and-bred Hakatan: he came from Nakatsu in Buzen Province (now western Oita Prefecture). He moved to Hakata when Nagamasa Kuroda, the lord of the Nakatsu Domain, relocated to Chikuzen (now Fukuoka). He was pivotal in the construction of Fukuoka Castle and the surrounding town as well as the reconstruction of temples and shrines in Hakata. He also engaged in trade with Southeast Asia. Having won the trust of the Kuroda Clan, the Oga family flourished as merchants until the end of the Edo period. His grave is located at Genjuan, a subtemple of Shofukuji Temple.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn213, Sep. 2016)