SAGA / FUKUOKA (CHIKUGO) (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 51)
Saga Prefecture is located in northern Kyushu, faced by the Sea of Genkai to the north and by the Sea of Ariake to the south. We will introduce popular tourist destinations in Saga Prefecture and its adjacent region of Chikugo in Fukuoka Prefecture.
The center of Kyushu is Fukuoka City. You can easily travel from Fukuoka’s major areas such as Fukuoka Airport, Hakata Station, and Tenjin to Karatsu in Saga Prefecture by taking the Fukuoka City Subway and JR Chikuhi Line via Meinohama Station. Fukuoka City Subway and JR Chikuhi Line operate on the same rail lines so that passengers can travel over both railway companies’ areas without transferring at Meinohama Station. It takes about 90 minutes to travel from Fukuoka areas to Karatsu Station. The train ride is enjoyable and provides a magnificent and dynamic window view of the Sea of Genkai.
Karatsu / Yobuko
Karatsu has long been prosperous as an international trading port town and at one time it also flourished as a castle town. Today, the city retains its historical atmosphere. Karatsu Castle is a dignified symbol of the city set against the backdrop of the Sea of Genkai. At Arupino Furusato Kaikan House, which is adjacent to Karatsu Station, there is a shop area where you can find local specialties of Karatsu and a travel information area where you can obtain travel information concerning the Karatsu region.
Saga Prefecture is one of the most famous pottery and porcelain centers in Japan. Karatsu-yaki porcelain has nearly 400 years of history. Karatsu-yaki ware is also called Karatsu “tea ware” and is used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Those who enjoy Japanese tea ceremonies will love Karatsu ware. On Ochawan-gama Street, located south of Karatsu Station, there are several pottery kilns as well as museums. A walk along this street is an exciting experience.
If you climb Mount Kagami, you can see from above the Sea of Genkai and Nijino-matsubara, one of the largest pine forests in Japan. With the sky spreading before you, the Sea of Genkai below, and the verdant pine forest that stretches 5km long and 1km wide, this is a magnificent view.
November brings the Karatsu Kunchi festival, an important intangible folk cultural property, and the city bustles with many people every year.
A 30-minute bus ride from Karatsu will take you to Yobuko morning market, one of Japan’s largest. It is open every morning from 7:30 and sells fresh seafood and vegetables on a shopping street called Asaichi-dori (Morning market street). Yobuko is very famous for squid. It is wonderful to eat fresh squid with transparent skin. There are eateries that specialize in squid dishes, and these will satisfy your stomach.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a warlord, 1536-1598) built Nagoya Castle to use as a base when he invaded the Korean Peninsula in 1591. The Nagoya Castle Museum is built on the remains of this castle to help strengthen the friendship between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Articles from the ruins of Nagoya Castle and other documents and materials regarding Japan and Korea are displayed here.
Imari / Arita
If you visit Saga Prefecture, you can’t miss pottery. Imari and Arita ware is one of the most famous potteries in Japan. In the mid-17th century, Yi Sam-pyeong from Korea’s Joseon dynasty, a potter, found a fine porcelain stone in Arita that could be used to make quality pottery. This was the start of Imari and Arita ware. Since the mid-17th century, when Sakaida Kakiemon introduced the technique of akae (enamel decoration on porcelain), more and more colorful and fancy porcelain products were created. These wares were transported from Imari Port to other parts of Japan, as well as to Europe. This is why these wares were called “Koimari” (old Imari).
Ookawachiyama, in the Imari region, has for centuries been a town of pottery and many kilns are still operating today. In the latter half of the 17th century, there was a kiln built by the Nabeshima clan for making special porcelain to be presented to the Tokugawa government and Imperial court. Nabeshima Hanyo Park is constructed here, and many kilns owned by highly skilled potters are built on this site.
Arita has many pottery shops and old houses and attracts many people from all over Japan, especially during the season of “Toki-ichi” (pottery market festival) from April 29th to May 5th every year. The streets of Arita are rich with the atmosphere of a pottery town. You can enjoy shopping at pottery shops and visiting kilns. There are also crafts centers where you can experience creating Arita ware using pottery wheels or with your hands, and finishing your creations with enamel decoration. Such experiences will leave you with good memories of your time in Arita.
Takeo Onsen hot spring / Ureshino Onsen hot spring
Takeo Onsen was one of the post-station towns along the Old Nagasaki-kaido Street that connects the towns of Nagasaki, Kita-Kyushu and Kokura. Post-station towns were once full of inns where travelers could stay. The symbol of Takeo Onsen is a vermillion-colored gate. Inside the gate are the public bathing facilities of Takeo Onsen hot spring. The “Tonosama-yu” bathtub here is very famous: it was specially designed for the lords of this region between the 18th and 19th centuries. Ureshino Onsen is an old town known for its hot spring and is also famous for Ureshino green tea. There are many hot spring inns along the Ureshino River, creating a nostalgic atmosphere. Ureshino Onsen is now selected as one of Japan’s best three hot springs and is noted as being good for beautiful skin. You can enjoy bathing in an open-air bathtub along the river, or in various other types of baths, such as green tea baths.
Yoshinogari Historical Park
Yoshinogari Historical Park is set in an area of 117ha. In this park lie the Yoshinogari ruins, one of Japan’s largest remains of moat-encircled villages, with an area of 40ha. The ancient village is about 2,000 years but has been restored and was opened as Japan’s second National Historical Park in 2001. The most distinctive feature of the Yoshinogari ruins is the design of the village, which was intended to defend itself from outside enemies. There are double moats encircling the village, and outer moats and inner moats of sharp V-shapes. Inside the outer moat are two main settlements called “Kita-naikaku (Northern Inner Enclosure)” and “Minami-naikaku (Southern Inner Enclosure),” where people were believed to have lived and traded products in the market or held festivals. This park elaborately reproduces the life of the people at that time, showing us how people traded products from other regions and stocked grains in the storehouses.
Inside the park, there is an exhibition room that shows unearthed articles such as earthenware or jar burials. There is also a workshop where you can experience fire-making or comma-shaped bead pendant making.
Saga International Balloon Fiesta / Kashima Gatalympic
Saga International Balloon Fiesta is held every year at the beginning of November. This is an international sports event held in the sky above the vast Saga Plain. More than 100 hot-air balloons will participate in this event, competing against each other in the vast sky of late autumn. This is the biggest hot-air balloon competition in Asia, providing a magnificent view of balloons of various colors flying in the sky.
Kashima Gatalympic is a unique sports event held in the mudflats of the Ariake Sea, off Kashima City. The event takes place every year at the beginning of summer (dates change from year to year depending on tidal conditions). There are many aspects of this event, including sliding on the mudflats with Gata-ski (body-length wooden boards used for mudskipper fishing) or placing narrow boards in a line on the mudflats and attempting to ride a bicycle on these boards without falling off, as well as many other exciting events that you will love to try.
Anyone can apply for this event. However, advanced reservations are required. Since more and more people have been applying to participate in this event, it is often limited to two programs per person and decided by lots. More details are available on the website: http://www2.saganet.ne.jp/gatalym/
Tosu Premium Outlets
Tosu Premium Outlets is now drawing people’s attention for being one of Kyushu’s hottest shopping sites. The facility was designed in the Spanish Colonial Style, based on the beautiful streets of Southern California. It holds about 120 shops and you can easily enjoy shopping here for a whole day. There is a nonstop highway bus service from Tenjin in Fukuoka on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays.
Yanagawa is located in the Chikugo region in the southern part of Fukuoka Prefecture. It once flourished as a castle town of the Tachibana clan and is also the hometown of the poet Kitahara Hakushu (1885-1942). These days it is a city of water, with multiple canals running throughout the town, converted from what were once moats around the castle. It is wonderful to get on the Donko-bune boat and enjoy a slow trip through the canals all around the town ? you will feel the history of the canals and the beauty of the surrounding nature. Yanagawa and its canals look different in every season, and if you’re lucky you might find a bride on the Donko-bune boat! After the relaxing boat tour, you can then take a walk to see some of the main sightseeing spots.
“Ohana” was built in 1697 as a villa for the Tachibana family, the lord of Yanagawa Castle. It is now used as a history museum and also features a restaurant and inns. You will be impressed with the beautiful view of the Japanese-style “Shoto-en” garden that was inspired by the landscape of Matsushima in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.
If you would like to experience something unique to Yanagawa, you can visit during the festival season of Yanagawa Hina-matsuri Sagemon Meguri (Yanagawa Doll’s Festival) between February 11th and April 3rd. During the festival season, you can find gorgeous Hina dolls and pretty decorations all around the town.
If you come to Yanagawa, you should not miss Yanagawa’s specialty: Unagi-no-seiromushi (steamed eel in a basket) is hot savory grilled eel on rice mixed with sauce, with shredded egg crepes scattered on top and steamed in a basket steamer. You will no doubt love the rich taste of eel with sauce that complements the white rice.
Kurume is the central city of the Chikugo region in the southern part of Fukuoka Prefecture. The Chikugo River runs through the city from the northeast to the southwest. You can enjoy picking grapes and persimmons in the eastern part of the city. Also, the world-famous tire maker Bridgestone was founded here, hence rubber-processing factories are dotted throughout the city. Kurume has become the third-largest city in Fukuoka Prefecture. Traditional Japanese craft products such as Kurume-gasuri (indigo cotton fabric with white splashed patterns) are widely produced here.
The Ishibashi Cultural Center was donated to Kurume City by the late founder of Bridgestone, Ishibashi Shojiro (1889-1976). On the vast premises of this center are Ishibashi Culture Hall, which is good for music concerts and conferences, and Ishibashi Museum of Art along with its annex. There are also a Japanese-style garden, pond, former atelier of painter Sakamoto Hanjiro, lawn garden, and public library on this site.
In the Ishibashi Museum of Art, works of Japanese-style painters such as Aoki Shigeru and Sakamoto Hanjiro, both of who were from Kurume, are exhibited.
Camellia trees have for centuries been cultivated at the northern foot of the Mino mountain ranges in the east of Kurume. Some trees are believed to be more than 300 years old and are still in very good condition. You can find old and historic trees of camellia in shrines and temples, or even in the gardens of private houses. In March 2010, the International Camellia Congress and Japan Camellia Summit will be held simultaneously in Kurume. In the 3ha premises of Kurume Camellia Garden, the main venue of these summits, 200 camellia trees of 500 species are beautifully planted.
Recently, Kurume has been drawing more attention as a class-B gourmet town. There are many yakitori (grilled chicken) bars in the town, and yakitori has become one of Kurume’s leading food cultures. Tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen noodles are the best known of Kyushu’s ramen varieties. Its characteristic is thin noodles and thick white soup, made by cooking pork bones for hours and hours. Kurume is said to be the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen and there are many good ramen shops in the city.
There are still many other places in Saga Prefecture and the Chikugo region of Fukuoka Prefecture that are not familiar to many people. Take a local train or bus to visit sightseeing spots. Alternatively, if you rent a car, you can further expand your itinerary. Visit there, you will be impressed by the warm hospitality of local people.