Affectionately nicknamed ‘Fukuoka’s little Venice,’ Yanagawa mirrors its Italian sister city in both its serene beauty and rich local history. Its plethora of attractions, however, are what establish this southern city as a cultural jewel in its own right.
Nestled between the peaceful countryside and coastline, Yanagawa is situated slightly off of the road routinely taken by many a tourist who find themselves exploring Fukuoka and its neighboring environs. Yanagawa’s discreet location paired with its authentic Meiji Period-style charm cement it as a destination more than deserving of being on every traveler’s list of Kyushu to-dos.
Day One: A Day of Historic Sightseeing
Right from the get-go, visitors are whisked into a cityscape seemingly lost in time. Travelers will greatly benefit from spending their first day exploring the historic sites located within the city’s central area starting with a visit to the local shrine.
Hiyoshi Shrine is more than just a pretty face. Not only does this shrine’s ornate entrance provide a great photo op for visitors, it’s also a central scene of the Yanagawa Dolls Festival, a celebration held from February to April during which various events take place to celebrate hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day). This two-month-long celebration cannot be experienced elsewhere and is not to be missed.
Situated about one kilometer from Hiyoshi Shrine are the ruins of Yanagawa Castle and Ohana, the former residence of the Meiji Era’s Tachibana dynasty. Despite the castle being destroyed due to a fire in 1872, the site’s historic significance remains through the presence of the castle ruins. Ohana’s traditional architecture and lush gardens are reminiscent of Japan in centuries long past. An internal museum features noh costumes and dolls from the Edo Period among its many exhibitions.
Tucking into a serving of unagi (eel) during your stay is a must. Yanagawa’s most iconic dish is steamed, drizzled with syrup sweet soy sauce atop freshly cooked rice and garnished with shredded egg crepe. Recommended haunts include Ganso Motoyoshiya, Kawayoshi, Wakamatsuya and Daito Enterprise – the latter of which combines dining out with another quintessential Yanagawa experience: river cruising.
Daito Enterprise’s Kawakudari boat tours allow travelers to explore in true-to-Yanagawa style. The seasonal Kotatsu Bune, boats equipped with heating and blankets, and the Akari Bune, lamp-lit evening tours, ensure a pleasant cruise for travelers no matter the season.
Day Two: Sun and Seaside Fun
Day two features nearby coastal activities to help travelers unwind and soak up the local natural wonders.
One such wonder is the Yanagawa Sunflower Park. Neighboring the Ariake Sea, the vivid hues of blue and yellow are a sight to behold. The park is only 20 minutes by car from the city center and is home to some 500,000 sunflowers which bloom biannually between mid-July to early August. Be sure to catch this seasonal spectacle during either of these periods.
Within 13 minutes walking distance from the park is Mutsugoro Land. From camping and fishing to grape picking and salt making, Mutsugoro Land’s recreational grounds have activities to suit all interests and is a popular space among casual sightseers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Spectacular fiery sunsets over the nearby shoreline are also a seaside staple and make for a perfect close to the final evening spent in Yanagawa, a city seemingly worlds away from both the typical tourist traps and the humdrum of the everyday.