FUKUOKA — Fukuoka Harbor’s public foreshores grew again last October with the opening of a new designer outlet and shopping mall, Marinoa City Pier Walk, in the city’s west.

Unforeseen numbers of visitors have flocked to Marinoa City Pier Walk.

Pier Walk is one of the many harbor-side developments to have redefined Fukuoka’s waterfront. Over the last 20 years, about 570 hectares have been reclaimed to build modern docks and architectural landmarks in areas such as Momochi and Marina.

Landfills have been built for over a hundred years to overcome land shortages, but city planners say that today’s waterfront developments are as symbolic as they are pragmatic in aim.

“Fukuoka’s harbor was once an important trading port. The face-lifts made to the harbor in the late 20th century have helped rekindle its much-overlooked history,” said Yukio Hayashi of Fukuoka’s Ports and Harbors Authority. Historically, the harbor contributed much to local culture and to Japanese culture as a whole.

“Possibly 60 percent of Japanese culture first entered the country via Fukuoka,” claimed Yoshiyuki Tsuda, chief architect at local developer Fukuoka Jisho Co. Tsuda estimates that the remainder entered via Nagasaki and other points. His claims may seem far-fetched, but they are backed by some intriguing evidence.

Fukuoka, formerly called Hakata, prospered between the eighth and 16th centuries from trade and diplomatic ties with China and other East Asian countries. Zen Buddhism, green tea and Chinese ceramics are said to have been introduced in Hakata first — thanks to Fukuoka’s large, protected harbor — before being absorbed into Japanese culture. When the harbor became too shallow and after the Tokugawa Shogunate introduced the closed-door policy in 1639, Hakata’s trade suffered a decline.

During the rapid-growth 1960s, Fukuoka’s harborside developments were mostly industrial. But the developments of the ’90s, which define Fukuoka today, are residential and leisure-oriented, such as Bayside Place, Momochi and Marina Town.

Strongly influenced by similar projects in the United States and Europe, they were the city’s first efforts in decades to bring a warm, user-friendly face to the harbor.

Barren at first, the landfill projects have since been graced with over 22,000 coastal pine trees planted by volunteer groups such as Hakata Yume Matsubara-no-Kai. Few Fukuokans can deny that the harborside has been transformed from a seedy maze of concrete fishing and shipping docks into an array of sunny, attractive areas now indispensable to leisure in the city.

Strolling on Marizon beach and promenade, Momochi

At Momochi in Fukuoka’s west, visitors stroll along promenades on weekends the year round and fill its museums, library and 1.4-km-long golden sand beach. Recent newspaper reports suggest that the nearby 35-floor Sea Hawks Hotel & Resort and the low-lying but gargantuan Fukuoka Dome, built by retailer Daiei before the ’90s recession hit, have failed to turn a profit.

New developments now are less likely to involve such expense. The simple structure of Pier Walk suggests that developers are streamlining costs. “During a recession, it’s hard to predict what the future will bring,” says Pier Walk’s manager, Ryoji Tanoue of FJ Urban Development, Co. “We’ve kept costs down at Pier Walk, operating on a short-term business plan and staying tuned to changing trends.”

Eventually, FJ will proceed with plans to build residential blocks that blend in with the well-heeled surrounding suburbs. But right now Pier Walk, with its colorful warehouse buildings, palm trees and Ferris wheel is drawing unforeseen crowds eager to shop at the 43 “outlet” stores.

Some issues concerning Fukuoka’s new harborside remain unresolved. Bayside Place, Momochi, Marina Town and Marinoa City have inadequate public transport, virtually no ferry services and few waterfront promenades. Environmental issues also continue to affect the harbor. While Fukuoka City has a modern sewerage system and little pollution from factories, high levels of red algae and pollution were recorded in 2000 because of drainage flows from some outlying towns.

Even during Fukuoka’s sweltering summer, few beach-goers choose to swim at Momochi’s pretty beach. New environmental problems are expected when Island City is completed, an artificial island being built near Wajiro in the harbor’s east.

The west of Fukuoka’s harbor, nearest the harbor mouth, offers the brightest potential for balanced future development. With the city government’s plans for this area slated to include public promenades, tree plantations and clean pebble beaches Fukuokans can expect future harbor-side developments in their city to be smaller, and greener.