In the middle of Higashi Park stands a bronze statue of Emperor Kameyama, who ruled in the Kamakura period at the end of the 13th century. When the Mongols invaded, he visited shrines throughout Japan to pray for their surrender. During the first Mongol invasion, Hakozakigu Shrine was burned to the ground. When it was rebuilt, Emperor Kameyama presented the shrine with a piece of calligraphy reading tekikoku kofuku, or “surrender of the enemy nation,”and these same characters now hang above the shrine’s tower gate.
The sculptor of the Emperor Kameyama statue was Choun Yamazaki (1867~1954). He was born in Fukuoka—his real name was Harukichi—in what it now known as Reisenmachi in Hakata Ward. After learning traditional wood carving techniques from a Buddhist sculptor, he moved to Tokyo to become an apprentice to Choun Takamura, one of Japan’s leading sculptors. Yamazaki won awards at many exhibitions and was involved in the founding of the Japan Sculptors Association. He later became one of the major forces in modern sculpture in Japan. He spent a great deal of energy training the next generation of sculptors, and one of his many students was another Fukuokan, Chodo Tominaga (1897~1987).
Although many of Yamazaki’s works are on display in museums, some of them, like the statue of Emperor Kameyama in Higashi Park, can be found in public places. What’s more, at Hakozaki Shrine, you can see the impressive six meter tall wooden model used to make the bronze statue. The wooden models for bronze statues are usually discarded, so the fact that this one remains is quite rare.
You can also find another Yamazaki work called “Katsura no Kage” on Meiji-dori Ave. “Katsura no Kage”, a reference to an ancient Chinese legend, means moonlight, and the statue shows a small child holding a rabbit and counting down on his fingers awaiting spring. Yamazaki also sculpted another statue of a child that is located next to the Jonan Ward Health Center. Called “Shuzo” (literally, “smallpox vaccination”), it shows a child peering at his arm after having just received a smallpox vaccination.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn219, Mar. 2017)