Question: Why did the economic heart of Kyushu shift from Nagasaki to Fukuoka over the course of the 20th century?
Nagasaki was a sleepy fishing port that transformed into a major city of international trade when Portugese traders arrived in the 16th century. It remained an important trading city through the closed Edo period, when it was one of a few cities open to trade with ships from Holland and China. The industrialization of the Meiji-era saw the city become the nation’s main port for heavy shipbuilding and other heavy industries. It also became a major naval base and served as a strategic port during the Russo-Japanese War.
But the economic importance of Nagasaki as the ipso facto capital of Kyushu faded in the 20th century as the economic center transferred to Fukuoka. The northern area of Fukuoka and Hakata, close neighbors but separate cities until after World War II, became the center of Kyushu’s industrialization. Perhaps the official recognition of this was when the government moved the high court with jurisdiction over Kyushu from Nagasaki to Fukuoka in August of 1945 — just weeks before the atomic bombing.
The shift is evidenced by the population figures. In 1900, Nagasaki’s population was at about 150,000 people while Fukuoka’s population was only 50,000. But by 1950 Fukuoka’s population had expanded to 500,000 while Nagasaki was only at 250,000. Nagasaki’s population peaked in 1975 at 500,000 and has shrunk to under 450,000 today. Fukuoka’s population was 1 million in 1975 but is at 1.5 million today.
I can think of a number of reasons for this shift that I’ll throw out to start this discussion, in approximate chronological order.
* Nagasaki reached the physical limits of growth. Nagasaki’s population peaked in the 1970s and has declined ever since. Nagasaki city is situated on a very narrow strip of flat land between the bay and mountains and there is little room for further growth. Even today, 78% of the population lives on 13.1% of the city’s land.
* The decline in the importance of shipbuilding. Shipbuilding was more important as a form of domestic and international transport and travel in the 19th century. In the 20th century, goods and people are instead transported on trains, through highways, or in airplanes.
* The atomic bomb. “Fat man” devastated Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000 people, or 20% of the population, and destroying most of the city. By contrast, only 24% of Fukuoka was destroyed in the firebombing.
* Central planning. After the war, Fukuoka was a major beneficiary of national central planning where the bureaucrats in Tokyo deemed that Fukuoka, and to a greater extent the northern Kyushu area should be the economic power important hub. Which brings me to…
* The closeness of Fukuoka, Hakata, and Kitakyushu. Before World War II, Hakata, Fukuoka, and Kitakyushu were all separate municipalities and it was not that easy to travel between them. But after the war, Hakata and Fukuoka were effectively merged into one municipality, and the economy of nearby Kitakyushu was integrated with Fukuoka through industrialization and the modernization of public transportation.
* Fukuoka has successfully sold itself as Japan’s modern “Gateway to Asia.” Trade and tourism between Fukuoka and China, Korea, and Taiwan is growing. Businesses focusing on these nations are also concentrating in Fukuoka.
But those are just some thoughts — I’d welcome input from learned readers in the comment section with regards to this question. I’d also welcome readers who can share any Japanese or English articles or other sources on this topic.