Saga Unveiled – Discovering Japan’s Ceramic Heartland, Culinary Delights, and Natural Retreats
December 07, 2023
Nestled in northwest Kyushu, Saga Prefecture is a captivating haven celebrated for its diverse flavours, picturesque landscapes, and rich cultural tapestry. Renowned for delectable seafood, Saga extends beyond culinary delights to showcase its unique culture, from high-quality beef to famed Saga rice.
With bustling cities like Fukuoka and Nagasaki at its borders, Saga’s beauty unfolds through the Ouo Shrine and the mystique of the Okawachiyama Pottery Village. Beyond its culinary and cultural allure, Saga beckons outdoor enthusiasts with mild weather ideal for kayaking and rejuvenating hot springs in Ureshino.
Read the article to discover the best attractions Saga has to offer!
Sea Kayaking at Fureai Nature School Hizen
Upon my arrival in Saga, I immediately immersed myself in the tranquil experience of sea kayaking at Fureai Nature School Hizen. Nestled in Saga’s scenic coastal region, we glided through the waters in sleek touring kayaks, learning to navigate gracefully with the help of a rudder.
The rhythmic paddling brought an overwhelming sense of peace as we explored the breathtaking coastlines of Saga. Fureai Nature School Hizen offered not just an adventure but a serene escape into nature.
Revel in the beauty of Saga’s limestone cave
We hopped on the “Ika Maru,” a pleasure boat departing from Marinepal Yobuko in Yobuko-cho, Karatsu City. This scenic cruise offers a 40-minute exploration of Yobuko’s natural wonders, including the mesmerizing “Nanatsugama” marine eroded cavern, comprised of magnificent basalt pillars. This cave complex, shaped by millions of years of natural processes, is now revered as a National Nature Treasure, celebrated for its breathtaking, untouched allure.
Departures are frequent, from 9:30am to 16:30pm, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of Yobuko’s coastline throughout the day.
Pottery Painting Workshop at Arita Porcelain Park
Arita Porcelain Park stands as a captivating marvel, reminiscent of a traditional German village. Its centerpiece is a remarkable replica of Dresden’s Zwinger Palace, showcasing Arita’s iconic porcelain, which significantly influenced European aesthetics.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to engage in porcelain painting, crafting my own unique piece of art. Arita Porcelain Park also offers immersive pottery-making experiences at their pottery studio. Following the workshop, a leisurely stroll through the park’s European garden proved enchanting. Besides the pottery kiln, the park also has a sake brewery, delightful restaurants, and a gift shop.
Yutoku Inari Shrine
Yutoku Inari Shrine is a revered Inari shrine, ranking among Japan’s top three. Founded in 1687, the shrine’s elevated main hall offers panoramic views of Kashima City and the Ariake Sea. Visitors can explore the wooded hillside, passing through torii gates and smaller shrines, leading to the serene Okunoin shrine hall.
Take a photo at the Ouo Shrine
Saga’s Ōuo Shrine, set against the backdrop of the Ariake Sea, boasts three floating torii gates during high tide, offering a mesmerizing spectacle. At low tide, visitors can wander around the gates, thanks to the area’s substantial tidal range. Legend has it that the shrine was built by a repentant magistrate saved by a giant fish, creating a protective deity of the sea. Located in Tara town, south of Saga city, it’s a short walk from JR Tara Station, accessible via the JR Nagasaki Main Line. These iconic gates, rebuilt every 30 years, stand as a testament to the region’s rich folklore and natural wonders.
Sake tasting at Hizenya
Hizenya, nestled in the heart of Hizen-Hamashuku in Kashima City, Saga Prefecture, stands as a renowned sake brewery deeply rooted in the region’s rich fermentation culture. This immersive experience includes the opportunity to taste-test the Sake, Amazake, fruit liquors, and nonalcoholic beverages.
Make your own healthy tea at Kusuki no Mori
Nestled a mere 7-minute walk from Imari Station, Kusuki no Mori is a hidden gem that emerged from the former site of Imari Driving School in 2020. This unique facility is a haven for mental and physical well-being, offering diverse experiences in oriental medicine and holistic health practices.
Upon entering Kusuki no Mori, visitors are greeted with an array of offerings designed to promote health and beauty. Notably, the facility hosts a regenerative pharmacy with a convenient drive-through system for prescriptions. Enthusiasts of holistic health can participate in engaging events such as Chinese medicine classes, Tai Chi sessions, and yoga workshops.
One of the standout experiences at Kusuki no Mori is the opportunity to craft your own healthy tea. In this hands-on workshop, President Tomoya Hirano selects Chinese herbs from a vast selection of over 100 varieties tailored to our specific constitution and health concerns. These herbs, ranging from ginger to mulberry fruit, are then meticulously blended and mixed, releasing a medley of captivating aromas during the process.
President Tomoya Hirano’s vision for Kusuki no Mori is evident in its commitment to offering a diverse range of activities centered around mental and physical well-being. From drive-thru prescription services to immersive workshops, the facility provides a holistic approach to health and beauty. Whether you’re seeking a serene escape or a hands-on experience with oriental medicine, Kusuki no Mori welcomes all with open arms and a plethora of enriching opportunities.
Buy Nabeshima porcelain at Okawachiyama
Known as the “Village of Secret Kilns,” Okawachiyama served as the official kiln of the Nabeshima family of the Saga Domain from 1675 to 1871. During this period, it emerged as a prominent production center, crafting high-quality porcelain for esteemed patrons, including the Imperial Court, the shogunate, and various lords.
They established a guard post at the village entrance to vigilantly control access. Skilled potters, granted samurai status, meticulously crafted Nabeshima-yaki pottery, custom ordered offerings characterized by strict production regulations. Today, Okawachiyama stands as a testament to over 350 years of Nabeshima-yaki heritage, preserving the pinnacle of Japanese pottery craftsmanship.
We explored Okawachiyama and delves into the rich history of Nabeshima porcelain ware, immersing ourselves in the village’s legacy of artistry. The area, surrounded by picturesque mountains on three sides, offers unexplored beauty at every turn. Nabeshima Hanyo Park, adorned with uniquely shaped rocks akin to a landscape painting, creates an enchanting ambiance throughout the seasons. As you stroll, ceramic pieces are artfully embedded in bridges and signboards, adding to the village’s allure.
Wear Kimono at Kotobukiya Ryokan
The adventure begins as you browse through an array of vibrant kimonos, guided by seasoned Japanese ladies in a meticulous process, transforming discomfort into beauty. Adorned in layers, crowned with intricate hair, and painted in traditional makeup, I became a living art piece. We were then introduced to the art of traditional dance, learning the graceful movements and rhythm. If you haven’t tried it, make it a must on your Saga itinerary.
EAT: Enjoy Onsen Yudofu at Hirakawaya Tofu & Cafe
Ureshino is renowned for its alkaline-rich hot springs, a gift from nature that not only rejuvenates the body but also gives birth to a distinctive local cuisine. The star of the show? Onsen yudofu, a dish born from boiling tofu in ceramic bowls using the mineral-rich waters of Ureshino’s hot springs. It tenderly transforms the tofu, endowing it with unparalleled softness and smoothness. They serve it up hot pot style, surrounded by an orchestra of fresh veggies and clear broth. With steam rising from your hot pot, and the subtle aroma of tofu filling the air, it was a good lunch. Not only do they serve onsen tofu. they also serve a variety of sweets such as Hirakawaya parfait made with Kure Tofu, soya ice cream, tofu dumplings and more.
EAT: Sizzling Hamburg Steak at Gyumaru Imariten
Walk into Gyumaru Imariten, and it’s like stepping into a log house dream. Super chill, wood everywhere, and major cozy vibes. It’s the kind of place that makes you go, “Yep, this is gonna be good.”
What’s the secret to their killer hamburg steak? Top-grade Wagyu beef that won’t make your wallet cry. Their hamburg steak is sizzling on a plate, doing a little song and dance. The Demiglace Sauce has been simmering for days, soaking up all those veggie and beef flavours. And here’s where it gets wild—you get to pour on the gravy. The hamburg steak is succulent enough for its meat juice to fill your mouth after a bite.
EAT: Grill Saga Beef at Yakiniku En Ju
Being in Saga means one thing: it’s Saga Beef time! They raise their cattle in the lap of luxury—clean air, fresh water, you name it. And boy, does it show! The beef is all about that “tsuya-sashi” or glossy marbling, making each bite a flavour explosion.
So, what’s the vibe at Yakiniku En Ju? Picture this: intimate sunken kotatsu seating, creating the perfect chill-out spot for savoring top-notch beef. They don’t mess around here; every cut hits the coveted grade 5 standard of Saga Beef. It’s like a beef lover’s dream come true. At Yakiniku En Ju, the grill sizzled, the marbling worked its magic. The menu danced with rare cuts and even threw in some domestic gyutan (beef tongue) action. We’ll grill, chill, and soak in the vibes of Saga Beef at its absolute best.
FESTIVAL: Saga International Balloon Fiesta
The Saga International Balloon Fiesta, Asia’s largest sky-sporting event, mesmerizes spectators over five days in early November. With 100+ hot-air balloons from 18 countries, the fiesta features thrilling tournaments, culminating in a grand finale with fireworks and a light show from 50 balloons.
Taking place near the Kase River, the main launch site is alive with competition balloons ascending at 7 a.m. and illuminating the night sky with flames from their burners, accompanied by live music. Apart from the captivating balloon displays, the event grounds offer food vendors, crafts, and cultural promotions.
Accessible by train, Balloon Saga Station opens near the venue during the event, offering a quick five-minute ride from Saga Station on the JR Nagasaki Main Line.
FESTIVAL: Karatsu Kunchi Festival
The Karatsu Kunchi Festival, a vibrant celebration of autumn in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, has been enchanting locals and visitors since the Edo period. Held over three days at the beginning of November, this grand festival features a spectacular parade showcasing 14 massive floats, known as hikiyama, meandering through the town and culminating in a procession from Karatsu Shrine to Nishino Beach.
Throughout the city, the floats parade through the streets, showcasing impressive designs ranging from samurai helmets to mythical sea creatures and dragons. These elaborate creations pay homage to the region’s bountiful harvests and cultural folklore. Notably, the Karatsu Kunchi Festival coincides with the Saga International Balloon Fiesta, adding an extra layer of excitement and festivity to the city.
To reach Karatsu, the most convenient mode of transportation is by train. From Saga Station, the JR Karatsu Line takes just over an hour to reach Karatsu Station. Travelers departing from Hakata Station can opt for various express lines, arriving in Karatsu in approximately 80 minutes.
Where to stay? Kanko Hotel Taibokaku
Don’t let the hotel’s “modern” look fool you, they have a truly rejuvenating onsen experience that surpasses expectations. Our spacious room exceeded all standards — immaculately maintained and serenely quiet. Adding to the allure is the exquisite kaiseki dinner, with the freshest ingredients stealing the show. Oh, and the live squid sashimi? A total experience that had us quietly thanking the squid for spicing up our meal!
Where to stay? Taratakezaki Onsen Hoyosou
Discover the enchanting town of Tara, and spend one night in Taratakezaki Onsen Hoyosou, where you can indulge in scenic open-air private baths overlooking the calming Ariake Sea.
The Taratakezaki Onsen boasts sodium hydrogen carbonate-infused hot springs, leaving your skin feeling remarkably soft and smooth. With a temperature of 45.5 degrees Celsius and a daily production of 346 tons of crystal-clear, slightly salty water, this onsen offers a rejuvenating experience.
Tara is home to nine accommodation facilities featuring hot springs, making it a sought-after destination, especially on weekends. Visitors are drawn by the allure of savoring Ariake Sea seafood, including Tara’s specialty, the Takezaki crab, after a leisurely soak in the hot tubs. Tara’s rejuvenating hot springs and delectable crab dishes create an unforgettable escape.
Hop on Futatsuboshi 4047 to Nagasaki!
Hop on the Two Stars 4047 for a chill ride along the stunning coast of West Kyushu, cruising from Saga Prefecture to Nagasaki Prefecture. This cool new sightseeing train is all about letting folks soak in the vibes of West Kyushu. Inside, the train is decked out with loads of wood, giving it that fancy yet laid-back feel. Now, Car 2, the middle car of the three, is where the party’s at. Picture this: comfy sofas for kicking back, seats perfectly situated for soaking in the views from the windows. Oh, and did I mention they’re serving up special boxed lunches with Saga beef and Ariake Sea nori if you book ahead? Plus, there’s a bunch of drinks and sweets made with love from both Saga and Nagasaki. It’s a vibe, and you won’t want to miss it!
How to Get To Saga
Saga is accessible from JR Hakata Station via the JR Kamome or JR Midori-Huis Ten Bosch line. A highway bus travels directly from Hakata Bus Terminal to Saga Station. Saga also has its own airport, with flights directly to and from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, as well as Narita Airport, Shanghai, Xi’an, Taipei and Seoul. Or, just join EU Holidays on a tour!
Craving a trip to Japan but want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse themselves in authentic Japanese culture, history, nature and food, Saga prefecture is the perfect getaway.
Thank you Saga Tourism Board for the invitation!