Lake Merritt’s sister lake

Fukuoka, Japan is one of Oakland’s sister cities; nothing amazing about that, we have lots of them. But Fukuoka has a special twin it shares with us — a lake converted from an arm of the sea. Fukuoka’s counterpart to our Lake Merritt is Ohori Park.

All photos Wikimedia commons

It’s got boat rentals, a bird island and a Japanese garden, just like we do. It’s in the middle of the old city, just like ours is. But it’s considerably older.

The lake was formerly an inlet at the mouth of the Hii River; then the daimyo Kurodo Nagamasa repurposed it in the early 1600s as part of the moat (ohori) around his brand-new castle, diverting the river and building new land across the inlet’s mouth. To all appearances it’s been a freshwater lake for a long time.

While Lake Merritt has a couple of nice pedestrian bridges in its outlet channel, Ohori Park has four of them crossing the lake from end to end that connect three little islands.

Where we have green, great blue and black-crowned night herons, Ohori Park has the Old World’s gray heron, Nycticorax cinerea.

Ohori Park also has an art museum and a Noh theater. It doesn’t have our free-form public spaces, or our ice-age history and monsters. It’s got a Twitter account, but Lake Merritt doesn’t, far as I can tell. We’re different cities, but our lakes are near-twins.

In Oakland, we’ve been altering our lake for the last 150 years. It started out quite different, as a shallow muddy slough with patches of marsh around it and a muddy shore. It’s been dredged and dammed and armored and built up. Today it’s a highly contrived place, an open-air aquarium.

If we felt like it, we could fill in the channel and make it a one-way floodgate. In not too many years, the lake would turn freshwater, as Dr. Merritt intended when he built his dam back in 1868.

We took this lake into our own hands a long time ago. I like it very much today, but we can change it any time we feel like.

3 Responses to “Lake Merritt’s sister lake”

  1. Andrew Alden Says:

    From Elaine Donaway Edmond:

    In the 50’s we couldn’t go to Lake Merritt..we had Defremery Park. I raised my 3 kids on Chetwood lived on 37th and Webster in the sixties so I enjoyed Mosswood and the Lake. I’m 67 a Oakland native. I reside in Stockton now but I remember my first trip to Fairyland and the magic key. I would take my 47 yr there for Halloween. I ways saved old bread to feed the ducks. I must visit that lake one day. It’s the only lake I know.

  2. Andrew Alden Says:

    From ktnoon:

    Thank you for posting about our Oakland’s sister lake. Back in 2018, I was exploring a “hands across the sea” science experiment collaboration between between Oakland schools and a Fukuoka Eco-Club and local high schools. My understanding then was that Lake Ohori was slightly brackish, maintaining some ground water connection with the sea, but I could be wrong.

    Both Lake Ohori and Lake Merritt are on major bird migration flyways.

    The museum in Fukuoka offered natural history activities for children. It would be great to bring that back to Lake Merritt at the Rotary Nature Center.

    “Oakland’s Sister City Sends Community Ambassadors – Youth Science Collaborations”

  3. Andrew Alden Says:

    From Amelia Sue Marshall:

    Great info – not many people are aware of this history of Fukuoka, I bet.

    While I am sure that Andrew’s comment about blocking the channel is whimsical, the newly re-opened channel has allowed Chinook salmon to enter Lake Merritt during the recent heavy rains. Now, all we need is a fish ladder and fishy-signage telling them where to find some gravel beds to spawn.

    Back in the day, when there was a Huchiun Ohlone village in Trestle Glen (formerly “Indian Gulch”), Lake Merritt must have been a marsh wetland, teeming with shorebirds and fish, all the way up to Crocker Highlands.

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