Now Reports

So, Who Was Mr. Watanabe?

Watanabe-dori is the north-south thoroughfare that runs through Tenjin in downtown Fukuoka. It is lined with commercial buildings and offices and is always bustling with people and vehicles. But do you know why it’s called Watanabe-dori? The name comes from Yohachiro Watanabe, a third-generation kimono merchant active in Hakata in the late Meiji era.

Watanabe not only expanded his family business, he also invested in a number of projects that fueled Fukuoka’s development. He led the charge to bring the Fukuoka Medical University—a branch of Kyoto Imperial University and the predecessor to the Kyushu University Faculty of Medicine—into the area and even provided scholarships to low-income students. Of his many successes, Watanabe’s greatest achievements were the construction of a loop road around Hakata and the establishment of the Hakata Streetcar Line along the very same road.

fn196 fukuoka topic

Since this project required the acquisition of land as well as the erection of four bridges, it was expected to be very costly and time-consuming. After overcoming many obstacles, the Hakata Streetcar Line went into operation in October 1911, but sadly, Watanabe, who had worked so hard to see the project through, fell ill and died later that month. After his death, the road built through Tenjin was named Watanabe-dori in honor of Yohachiro. Watanabe never sought fame or honor when he was alive, and it is said that he consistently refused to let anyone use his surname as a road name.

Although many foreign countries honor people by naming places after them, the practice is still not very widespread in Japan. Although there are some places named after people throughout Japan, they are mostly the birthplaces of famous people. (More often than not, the naming is used to attract tourists.) So, the next time you walk down Watanabe-dori, remember that streets named after people who contributed to the development of their communities are quite rare.

Art & Culture
Fukuoka City
Published: Mar 27, 2015 / Last Updated: May 30, 2019

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.