Follow the Canals
The Humble Beauty of Yanagawa
A singing voice carries through the quiet canals, gently breaking the silence as a small boat sails by. The boatman stops his song to duck under a low bridge, then keeps sailing on with his mesmerized passengers.
Yanagawa is a small bucolic town in the south of Fukuoka Prefecture. Once a castle town, it's now a quaint and scenic destination where visitors can ride small boats called donko-bune along the town's narrow waterways.
The Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station is only about an hour train ride from Fukuoka city. Once you get here, the best way to explore the intricate network of canals is by foot. Walk along the water and follow the wide and narrow waterways while waving at the small boats passing by. When you're tired of walking, get on a boat and let the expert sendo, the boatman, lead you through the town while he tells you about its history.
Yanagawa is a town full of details. Following the water, you'll walk through shopping roads, parks, rice plantations, and hidden shrines. At every turn you never know what little wonder you will find, and the calm waters are always there to lead you forward.
The town is yours to explore so go ahead and find your own hidden spots and scenic views. It's like a treasure hunt where you get to pick what the treasure is.
If you follow one of the walking courses – you can pick up a map at the train station – you will likely run into a majestic white building. This is Tachibana-tei Ohana, the villa of the Tachibana Clan who ruled Yanagawa from 1620 to 1871. Inside is a museum and a gorgeous Japanese garden.
Near Tachibana-tei Ohana is an area with shops, restaurants and a retro feel. Pick up souvenirs or keep walking along the canal lined with old-fashioned buildings.
You'll see many little spots where you can sit along the canal and enjoy a coffee, a glass of wine, or some food. Try local sweets while you rest your feet and take in the view.
Once you're hungry enough for an actual meal it's time for eel, Yanagawa's traditional dish. Unagi no seiro-mushi is a bowl of rice mixed with sweet sauce, topped with juicy steamed eel and thinly sliced egg.
At the end of the day the boats are finally still, and the boatmen linger by the docks, chatting and smoking the last cigarette before heading home. You can end your day by soaking in one of Yanagawa's fine hot springs.
The scenery keeps changing in Yanagawa. Seasonal flowers like cherry blossoms and wisteria color the banks, and many festivals are held along the waterways throughout the year. Yanagawa will leave fond memories in the hearts of those who take the time to wander its canals, listening to the songs of the boatmen.