Nishitetsu operated streetcars—onomatopoetically dubbed chinchin densha by the locals—in Fukuoka City from March 1910 until 1979. The ceremony marking the opening of the line was held on March 9 that year and operations began the next day. The Fukuhaka Denki Kido, operated the line, and it was created by Momosuke Fukuzawa, the adopted son of Yukichi Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University and the man whose face appears on the ¥10,000 note, and Yasuzaemon Matsunaga, who later became known as a power company magnate.
The work to launch the line was expedited to coincide with the March 1910 opening of an expo known as the 13th Kyushu-Okinawa Eight Prefecture Confederated Exhibition. The line ran for 5.6 kilometers from the terminal stop in front of the Hakata Station’s location at that time, through Gofuku-machi and Hakozaki, where Kyushu University was located, to Nishi Park. The fare for each segment of the trip was two sen—one sen for the fare itself and one sen as tax.
For some perspective on what was happening in Fukuoka and Japan at that time, the Kyushu Imperial University opened in 1911. It is surprising that the Kyushu Philharmonic, Japan’s first amateur orchestra, was founded in the same year.
The route was extended in 1911 from Hakata Station through Tenjin (then known as Tenjin no Cho) to the stock exchange. A loop line was created in 1914 with the opening of the leg from Chiyomachi to Hakata Station. The creation of this streetcar line was the trigger for the development of Tenjin no Cho. Until then, Gofuku-machi and Kawabata-machi were the city’s primary commercial districts. The municipal offices were located in Tenjin, but it was some distance away from the centers of commerce. During this period of great change Fukuoka City took a giant step toward modernization with the exposition and the opening of the subway line. Transportation networks have always had the capacity to transform a city.
Traces of the chinchin densha can still be seen in the city. The bus stop on Maidashi-dori near the Kyushu University Hakozaki campus was the streetcar stop 100 years ago. The location is marked by the rectangular granite slabs one sees after getting off the bus at that stop. Though they’re overshadowed by the eaves of residential dwellings, it’s worth a trip to see the place from which streetcars departed for Hakata Station a century ago.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn147, Mar. 2011)