(English only today)
Have you ever been to Saga prefecture in southern Japan? No? Fear not, you are not alone. Many people I know, who even live in Fukuoka or Nagasaki, the neighboring prefectures, have never been to Saga. In the biggest consumer survey in Japan, conducted yearly by the Brand Research Institute. Inc. to find out, what prefectures and cities or towns are popular amongst Japanese visitors, Saga made it only to place 43 (out of 47 prefectures). And not only that, even many Japanese people, who come from Saga, cannot tell you if there is anything good to see in their own prefecture. That being said, having lived there for 2 years, I love Saga (well besides its really humid summer months) and I think it is a totally underrated travel destination. Here is why you should travel to this nice little prefecture off the beaten path:
If you are looking for the ultimate small Japanese town with beautiful old houses, traditional crafts and only a few other tourists (if any) around, visit this little gem. Of course I am a little bit biased, as I have lived there for two years, but Arita is indeed really nice and has a very interesting history, being the place, where porcelain has been made for the first time in the history of Japan. It might be difficult to get around without speaking Japanese, but that perhaps makes it all the more exciting 😉
Saga prefecture is actually home to three of Kyushu’s biggest festivals: 1. The Saga International Balloon Festa that claims to be the largest hot air balloon event in Asia and takes place every year at the beginning of November. It is recommended to go there early and see the balloons take off together with the sun rising! While in Saga, you may also visit 2. the Karatsu Kunchi, an old autumn festival, where hundreds of volunteers carry huge interesting looking floats, showing images of dragons and other fantastic figures, around Karatsu city. The Karatsu Kunchi also takes place at the beginning of November, this year from November 2 to 4. The third huge festival actually takes place in Arita, during Golden Week (April 29 – May 5) as the Arita Ceramics Fair (陶器市 – tokiichi). During the festival the main street of the town turns into a huge porcelain market und you can buy beautiful Japanese ceramics at bargain prices everywhere.
3. Karatsu castle
If you are a Japanese castle lover, Karatsu castle should be on your list to visit, too. The original castle was destroyed during Meiji period and the castle was rebuilt in 1966, which might be a little bit disappointing (but is fairly normal for Japan’s castles), but inside the castle there is a small museum with old original artefacts, where you can learn about the castle’s history. The highlight, though, is the beautiful view from top of the castle, from where you can see the ocean and parts of Karatsu.
I know, I know, wherever you go in Japan, you can find onsen, – but Saga’s onsen are said to be especially good for your skin. Here you can for example find Takeo-onsen, a city with a name that already indicates that a lot of onsen can be found there, and which has a very old public bath house near the station. Or, if you have a car, you could go to Ureshino, a town, that is famous for its green tea and for being one of the three best onsen in Japan for beautiful skin. There you could also relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Saga’s most popular onsen facility, Shiibasanso (椎葉山荘).
5. Yūtoku Inari shrine
In Kashima city in Saga prefecture you can find one of Japan’s most famous Inari shrines, Yūtoku Inari Shrine (祐徳稲荷神社). Typically for an Inari shrine, you there are a number of fox statues and rows of many red torii shinto gates. The shrine is really big, and as it is located on a little hill there are many opportunities to take scenic pictures.
Have you been to Saga prefecture? What are your Saga highlights?