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LastUpDate: April 9, 2015
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Hakata Culture vol.98


So, Who Was Mr. Watanabe?

So, Who Was Mr. Watanabe? image

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.


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.



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人名に由来する天神の「渡辺通り」

 福岡市の中心地・天神地区には南北を貫く「渡辺通り」があります。通り沿いには商業施設やオフィスビルが立ち並び、人も車も市内で有数の交通量を誇ります。なぜ、この通りを「渡辺通り」と呼ぶのかご存知でしょうか。実は、ある人物の名前に由来しているのです。博多の呉服商の三代目として生まれ、明治後期に福岡で活躍した渡邊與八郎(わたなべよはちろう)です。與八郎は家業を発展させる一方で、今日の福岡の発展につながるさまざまな事業に私費を投じて貢献しました。医科大学(九州大学医学部の前身)の誘致に率先して動き、苦学生には無償で奨学金を援助するなどしたそうです。

 数ある與八郎の功績の中で、最も大きな事業が新しい道路の建設と博多電気軌道の開業でした。博多を一周する循環道路を造り、そこに電車を走らせる構想です。この事業では土地の取得に加えて4つの橋を架ける必要があり、膨大な費用と労力がかかることが予想されました。さまざまな苦難を乗り越えて1911(明治44)年に開業した博多電気軌道ですが、與八郎はそれまでの過労がたたり、開通と同じ月に病気で没してしまいます。死後、彼を慕う人々が建設した道路に「渡辺通り」の名をつけました。名誉欲のなかった與八郎は、生前からあった「渡辺通り」という名称を固辞し続けたといわれます。海外には地域に貢献した人物の名前を地名などに使う習慣がありますが、日本にはそうした習慣はあまり見られません。全国各地に人名を冠した通りはありますが、有名人の出身地やゆかりの場所などで、どちらかというと観光的な意味合いが強いように思われます。地域に貢献したことで名前が残るのは珍しいケースではないでしょうか。