Dive Into a Century's Worth of Japanese History at Mojiko and the Kyushu Railway History Museum in Kitakyushu
Are you a fan of trains, architecture, or history? If so, you absolutely can't miss out on Mojiko (Moji Port) in the Kitakyushu region. It is home to the 100-year-old Mojiko Station, where the first railway in Kyushu was built, as well as a plethora of other buildings and structures that showcase the modernization of Japan. In this article, we show you what our trip to Mojiko was like and introduce some of the top places to visit while you're there.
Apr 13 2021
Getting to the Magnificent Mojiko Station in Kyushu
Most people visiting Mojiko choose to stay in Hakata. Transportation between Hakata Station and Mojiko Station is easy - a train ride via the JR Kagoshima Main Line takes as little as 50 minutes. If you have the JR Kyushu Rail Pass, you can board the limited express train (but not the shinkansen/bullet train).
Some airlines now offer international flights to Kitakyushu Airport, which is even closer to Mojiko.
The JR limited express train departing from Hakata Station is called "Sonic,", and the photo above shows the dashing 883 series in metallic blue. Transfer to the local train at Kokura Station, and you'll see Mojiko Station last on the line. There is a Moji Station on the way, but it is not the same as Mojiko Station, so be careful not to get off at the wrong station!
If you are lucky, you may come across an old train from the Japanese National Railways (the business entity that operated Japan's national railway network between 1949-1987) era. If you do, enjoy that trip down nostalgia lane!
The 100-Year-Old Mojiko Station
Known as the cradle of Kyushu's railway system, the beautiful Mojiko Station is well over 100 years old. The first railway in Kyushu was built here in 1891, and a century later, during which it survived a tumultuous war, Mojiko still stands proud.
As the train takes you from Hakata Station into Mojiko Station, the charming platform and placards are there to greet you, alongside the retro trains that still run around Kyushu, offering a glimpse into the dynamic history of the region's railway system.
Built in 1914, Mojiko Station underwent renovation in 2013 and reopened after six years in 2019, its stunning Taisho-style architecture restored to its full glory. It is not only a National Important Cultural Property, but also the first train station to be recognized as such, with historical value surpassing even the famed Tokyo Station.
Before WWII, Mojiko was a commercial port following closely behind Kobe, Yokohama, and Osaka. The buildings and facilities nearby are telling of how busy and important the port used to be.
Next to Mojiko Station's platform is the "Departure Bell," which marks the starting point of the Kyushu Railway. As its name suggests, it was once the signal bell for departing trains, and its preservation is a symbol of joy and peace in itself. Another two relics kept frozen in time are the "Washbasin of Fortune," a bronze washbasin in front of the men's toilet, and the "Homecoming Water," a drinking fountain for travelers back in the day. Bits and pieces of the past are scattered all over Mojiko Station, and one might easily lose track of time trying to uncover them all.
Kyushu Railway History Museum
Compared with grand museums such as The Railway Museum in Omiya, Saitama, the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya, and the Kyoto Railway Museum, the Kyushu Railway History Museum is humble and quaint, yet there is no better place to learn about the storied history of Kyushu's railway system.
The museum sits right beside Mojiko Station; follow the signs and you will soon be there. The low admission fee of 300 yen is perhaps a nod to its modest size. Its train collection is small but diverse, encompassing the classics of Japanese railway history: the steam locomotive, DC and AC electric locomotives, the diesel locomotive, the sleeper train, etc. It is sure to satisfy any train enthusiast!
Established in 2003, Kyushu Railway History Museum preserves the history, trains, and relics of the Kyushu Railway. One can only imagine how exciting it is for railway buffs to see the iconic trains of the past century on display.
Apart from the train display hall, the main exhibition hall has its fair share of historical treasures as well, like signal lights and enamel signs. There is also an interactive area where visitors can enter the driver's compartment to experience a realistic simulation of operating a JR train.
The panoramic railway model is not to be missed - you get to control miniature trains running on the rail as if you are an actual train driver! Other than indoor interactive facilities, there is a very popular outdoor mini railway park where you can command petit trains modeled after the icons of the Kyushu Railway, e.g. Kamome and Yufuin no Mori. Each train can carry 3 passengers, making it the perfect family activity.
Admiring Mojiko's Retro Buildings
Walking around Mojiko, one might for a split second think they are in Europe. The retro buildings are a mix of Japanese and Western styles, transporting tourists back in time to an era long gone.
Aside from the beautifully vintage Mojiko Station, there is the former Moji Mitsui Club built in the image of a traditional German timbered house just across the road. Even the genius physicist Einstein had stayed there at some point! The building is now considered an important cultural property of Japan.
You'll also find the former Moji Customs Office and Kitakyushu International Friendship Memorial Library, both of which are Victorian-style red brick structures. They have become the heritage of Mojiko's modernization.
Another unique building is the former Osaka Shosen Mercantile Steamship Co. Building, a Japanese-Western structure with an octagonal tower, combining the best of two worlds. Last but not least, no architecture tour is complete without a visit to a classic Japanese bank building, in this case the Kitakyushu Bank Moji Branch.
A walk through Mojiko is like a journey through Japan's westernization, and the retro atmosphere is unforgettable. Although the advances in transportation mean that the 100-year-old port has lost its status, history has left its mark and it will surely continue to impress for a long time.
Blue Wing Moji is a pedestrian drawbridge that is also known as an altar for lovers. It is said that the first couple to cross the bridge after it is lowered will live together happily ever after; since the bridge is raised and lowered 6 times every day, many hopeful couples check the time beforehand to try their luck. It is a famous spot for watching the sunset as well.
A cross-harbor tunnel connects Mojiko with the main island of Japan. On the other side is Shimonoseki of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Many people walk through the tunnel to indulge in Shimonoseki's famous seafood.
Baked Curry: A Mojiko Specialty
Baked curry is a must-try item in Mojiko. It is served in most local restaurants, and is prepared by oven-baking a bowl of curry with a fresh egg on top.
Baked curry was apparently accidentally made. Years ago, a cafe staff put some leftover curry into the oven for a quick meal, then realized it tasted unexpectedly good, and so it evolved into a proper dish. If you happen to visit Mojiko in the winter, having a steaming pot of baked curry is nothing short of divine!
Before You Go, Drop By Kokura
Many tourists would stop by Shimonoseki before or after the trip to Mojiko, yet there is another worthwhile destination nearby - Kokura. It is conveniently located on the way back to Hakata from Mojiko. Unlike the large cities which are often very crowded, Kokura is a peaceful town with a rich history. Major sightseeing spots are all close to JR Kokura Station, and railway enthusiasts are sure to be delighted by the special monorail.
If you are in a hurry, the long-standing Kokura Castle should be your top priority. The elegant white castle, moat, and gardens are gorgeous. Next to it is the Matsumoto Seicho Memorial Museum, dedicated to the renowned Japanese crime writer.
Tanga Market, nicknamed the "Kitchen of Kitakyushu," can be reached via the local monorail. Seasonal ingredients and all kinds of cooked foods are sold there, making it a fantastic place for shopping and eating, as well as for experiencing the daily life of locals in a traditional market setting.
Want to fully immerse in the tranquility of a small town? Consider staying a night in Kokura!
Explore the Kyushu Area!
There are countless other historical places than Mojiko scattered throughout the region of Kyushu. If you're interested in exploring more of this vast region, check out the official tourist site for Kyushu below!
Visit Kyushu Official Website: https://www.visit-kyushu.com/en/
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.