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Saga Travel Guide In search of pottery and gourmet squid!

Red shrine and autumn leaves in Saga prefecture

Saga prefecture (佐賀県) is located in northwest Kyushu. Blessed with its access to Ariake Sea and Sea of Japan, Saga enjoys an abundance of seafood fresh and dried. Squid sashimi in Yobuko (呼子) will satisfy the most discerning tastebuds. Admire the world-famous Arita and Imari pottery and watch the colorful Karatsu Kunchi Festival (唐津 くんち)  in  November. With so many things to offer, Saga prefecture is the perfect place to enjoy a mini-getaway, golf break.

Things to do

So many things to see and do in Saga. 

Yobuko, the morning seafood market comprises of over 40 pop up stores selling anything from salted dried squid to squid burgers. Some stores double as standup sashimi and tempura restaurants. The market opens at 7:30 am and ends at noon. Popular stores will sell until inventory depletes. 

If you like castles visit Karatsu Castle, construction started in1608 and took seven years to complete. The observation deck offers a fantastic view of the surroundings. Famous for its cherry blossom in late March and wisteria viewing in mid-April. You can also visit Yoshinogari History Park, an ancient architecture complex, the largest excavation of its kind. This area is believed to have been constructed during the Yayoi period ( 3 c B.C. To 3 c A.D.). Villages of wooden slit houses with thatched roofs were the typical architectural style of the time. Located in the Kanzaki area, these ruins offer a glimpse of the red-rice cultivation culture of an ancient era. 

Saga is probably most famous for pottery.  Arita and Imari are two famous pottery towns that produce colorful ceramics and are believed to be the foundation of Japanese pottery culture. The Kyushu Ceramic Museum and the Arita Ceramic Art Museum will give you the historical background of Arita-yaki. Imari also has a long history of producing excellent pottery for export to Europe. Different klins have store fronts and do-it-yourself pottery workshops.

PHOTO: Yobuko Dried Squids, Wikimedia Creative Commons


Events and Seasonal Happenings

Saga Balloon Fiesta

Saga is always a beautiful destination but if you are lucky you can plan your trip to enjoy some of the many colorful events and festivals that happen throughout the year.

The Karatsu Kunchi Festival has been designated as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event. Karatsu Kunchi is a colorful Shinto Festival which takes place in fall.  The extravagant procession re-enacts the daimyo or lord going through Ouchi town to Edo (the old name of Tokyo) in alternate-years. Acrobats and street performers throwing Haguma spears are regular cultural events during the festival.

Look to the skies for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta. Beautiful hot air balloons from Japan and overseas gather once a year in late October for a kaleidoscope display in the skies. Competitions on balloon maneuvering and design take place over a 6-day period.

And in Spring the Arita Pottery Festival takes place every year-- during Golden week from the end of April and beginning of May.  500 merchants will line the 4 kilometers roadside from JR Arita station to Kami-Arita station selling and showing some of the finest pottery in the world. 


Flavors of Saga

Sweet and tender squid sashimi

Gourmet squid is Saga’s specialty.  Facing onto the Sea of ​​Japan, the town of Yobuko-cho is famous for a particular type of local squid. Transparent in body and firm in texture, Yobuko squid has a is melt in your mouth sweet. Numerous restaurants in Yobuko offer squid sashimi, tempura, fried-rice, dumplings and more. If seafood does not suit your fancy, local tofu courses and Japanese beef served in elaborate Arita or Imari porcelain dishes can be a delightful alternative. 


What to Bring Back

Pottery for sale in Saga prefecture

Pottery, pottery and more pottery. Arita and Imari ceramics come with lots of choices. Sets of cups and saucers make excellent souvenirs. There are workshops for those who want to have a do-it-yourself experiences. Keep in mind the klins may take a month or two to ship your finished piece overseas.

Want something a little more pop-culture, why not pick up a local special-- Hello Kitty key chain- World famous Kitty- chan transforms into a Saga squid?! Available at different local  souvenir stores and at the Saga airport.


Where to stay

Wataya A historical Japanese inn, this hotel was the previous private residence of Masahei Tashiro, a coal mining tycoon. The 13-room inn offers a saga beef course or Yobuko squid course for dinner and serves a Japanese style breakfast. Relax in the public cypress open-air hot spring baths in Karatsu.

Onyado Chikurintei Located in Takeo area, the luxurious hot spring ryokan offers private hot spring baths on a deck. Bamboo-lit dinner and tea bar service are nice options. The VIP room has hosted Emperor Akihito and Empress Machiko in 1992. The kaiseki (course) dinner plan features 13 different seasonal dishes served in elaborate ceramics. 

Wrap up

Japanese people call Saga prefecture “the squid gourmet” region. Delicious foods and different festivals in the area turn the otherwise quaint and quiet towns into giant elaborate and colorful experieces. A visit to the pottery towns of Arita and Imari provide a glimpse into Japanese ceramics history. Saga is a perfect getaway destination for your golf vacation.

Getting there

From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Saga Station. One way journey takes about 6 hours. Alternatively, fly 2 hours from Haneda Airport into Kyushu Saga International Airport and connect with a bus into Saga City. Karatsu is an hour train ride away from Saga City.

From Osaka, take Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Saga Station. One way trip takes 3 hours and 20 minutes.

From Hakata, there are buses servicing Imari area. From JR Hakata Station, there are trains going to and from Yoshinogari and Arita.

Rental cars can be picked up at Saga City and the vicinity of Kyushu Saga International Airport.

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