Nagoya and Yamaguchi are well-known for the traditional Japanese sweet called uiro, but some believe the chewy steamed cakes originated in Hakata. This is because of a stone monument on the grounds of Myorakuji Temple in Hakata Ward that bears an inscription stating “this is where uiro arrived [from China]”. While the word uiro now refers to the sweet, it used to be a title for a Chinese official.
In 1368, a Chinese uiro named Chen Yanyou (Chin En-yu in Japanese) sought amnesty at Myorakuji Temple in Hakata. Chen, who was well-versed in the healing arts, began selling a medical herb from China, and this medicine came to be known as uiro. Later, his son Soki was invited to Kyoto to serve as the physician for the shogun. He presented the shogun with uiro (the medicine), but the sweets served as a palate cleanser along with the bitter herbs were a hit, and these sweets eventually became what we now call uiro.
Myorakuji Temple was opened in 1316, and its sango (lit. “mountain name”; one part of the official name of a temple) was Sekijozan. This name (literally, “stone castle mountain”) derives from the fact that the temple, which was built atop a stone base on a beach facing Hakata Bay, looked like a stone castle from ships out at sea. It was an important diplomatic hub because it doubled as lodgings for the members of the envoys from Ming dynasty China, and trade with China at that time was so robust it came to be called the Myorakuji trade.
Myorakuji was lost to fire in 1586, and it was relocated to its current site by the Fukuoka Domain early in the Edo era. The temple is home to the tombs of the Kuroda Clan retainers and Sokan Kamiya, an influential Hakata merchant. Although uiro are not very prevalent in Fukuoka now, a local group is trying to make the sweet into a new souvenir. Hakata Uiro are available for sale at Hakatamachiya Furusatokan and other places in the city.