Yamaga Onsen: A cozy hot spring town preserving the culture and townscape of yesteryear
During the Edo period (1603-1868), daimyo (provincial lords) frequented Buzen Kaido, the highway connecting Kumamoto Prefecture and Northern Kyushu that thrived as a route of the sankin-kotai (alternate Edo residence system), whereby daimyo traveled from their domain to Edo and then back every two years. The small town of Yamaga Onsen is located just along this road. To this day, the town has cobblestone streets that exude a retro atmosphere and is home to sake breweries and malted rice shops existing since the middle of the 19th century. Throughout the ages, it has captivated the hearts of all of its visitors.
Yamaga Onsen has both mildly alkaline simple hot springs and alkaline simple hot springs. The water is known for its smooth, soft texture, as well as its benefits for nerve pain, cold hands and feet, and even pores. There are welcoming facilities throughout the onsen town alongside bathhouses that are open to drop-in customers. “Sakura Yu,” said to be the origin of Yamaga Onsen, is an elegant, historic hot spring that accurately replicates the architectural style of the Edo period. The soft water of the onsen is dubbed “maiden skin.”
The allure of Yamaga Onsen is not just the hot springs. Yachiyo-za, a Nationally Designated Important Cultural Property established over 100 years ago, is a small theater house that continues to showcase the kabuki theater house of the Edo period. The Yamaga Lantern Folk Art Museum is located inside a renovated bank first built in 1925 and displays Yamaga lanterns passed down trhough the ages.
These lanterns can also be seen at the “Yamaga Lantern Festival,” a traditional event held every August. It is a unique festival famous for the female dancers wearing yukata (traditional Japanese cotton robes) and golden lanterns on their heads (the 2021 festival has been canceled).
There is also Kongojo-ji Temple, said to have been founded by great priest Kukai (774-835). The oldest temple in Yamaga, it has a round-shaped stone gate on the temple path, a shape that is rarely seen in Japan. The gate has made the temple a popular spot for visitors seeking for good marriage from the influence of this round “full” shape.
The retro town has many other facilities where visitors can experience the historic culture of Yamaga. There are mini Yamaga lantern-making workshops that teach the traditional craft utilizing only washi paper and a little bit of glue. Visitors can also experience mud dyeing with reddish soil obtained from the base of Fudogan Rock near Yamaga Onsen, or head out to miso and sake breweries, handmade rice cracker shops, and many more enticing sites that are impossible to be enjoyed in just one day.
Yamaga Onsen—a beloved hot spring preserved for centuries by those who love it. This loving care is felt throughout the town, and you too are sure to be entranced by the nostalgic atmosphere of Yamaga Onsen town.
Haneda Airport -> 100 min by air -> Fukuoka Airport -> 80 min by expressway bus Hinokuni -> Ueki IC -> 30 min by Kyushu-Sanko bus -> Yamaga Onsen
Yamaga Onsen Kanko Kyokai (Tourism Association)
*The information herein is as of May 2021.