The Karatsu Kaido was a spur line of the Nagasaki Kaido, an Edo era highway that connected modern-day Kitakyushu with Karatsu (Saga Prefecture) via Fukuoka City. There were five rest areas along the Karatsu Kaido that now lie within the Fukuoka City limits: Hakozaki, Hakata, Fukuoka, Meinohama and Imajuku. Remnants of the old road are few, but in Hakozaki, Higashi Ward, you can still see traditional houses and warehouses, some of which are still in use today as shops.
One of these houses, the Hakoshima Residence, is a wooden house with striking latticework that was built in 1872, just five years after the end of the Edo era. An invaluable structure that conveys what it was like to live in Japan around that time, the house has been designated by the national government as a tangible cultural property. You can tour the house, but only on weekends, and the first floor can be rented out for exhibits, musical performances and the like.
In addition to the period architecture, several other features make the Hakoshima Residence unique. First of all, it is home to a traditional oven dedicated to Kojin, the god of fire. In fact, the home used to have a second oven that was only used for celebrations and rituals. The next feature is the useful hako-kaidan, or stairs that double as a chest of drawers. Also, the red paint used inside the residence is bengara urushi, an iron-containing dark red face paint. The inner garden reveals the remnants of a suikinkutsu, or water chimes, but unfortunately due to an earthquake, they no longer make the pleasant echoing splashing sounds they are known for.
Other nearby sites also tell the history of the Karatsu Kaido. Across from Hakozaki Shrine, you can find the old stone markers that used to demarcate the boundary between the districts of Omote-kasuya-gun and Naka-gun. Carvings on the stones indicate they were erected in 1804. It is said that Hakozaki is the station on the Karatsu Kaido where travelers from Hakata and further afield used to change out of formal dress into more casual clothing to continue their journeys.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn235, Jul. 2018)