Charming castle towns, feudal villas transformed into grand public gardens, and an internationally acclaimed porcelain tradition are just some of the many reasons to visit Kyushu’s Saga and Fukuoka prefectures. What's more, autumn is a phenomenal time to explore this historically and culturally rich landscape while indulging in the cuisine inspired by the land. Spend the day breathing in the fresh autumn air before relaxing in an ultra-stylish hotel for an unforgettable trip to northern Kyushu.
With its centuries-old stone walls and storybook rural scenery, Akizuki is a popular getaway for couples and families during the peaks of spring and autumn. Once a stronghold for the samurai clan that ruled over large portions of Fukuoka prefecture, the Akizuki Castle Ruins now symbolize the peaceful remnants of the region's feudal past. Walk down the cherry tree-lined main boulevard of Sugi-no-Baba and browse small shops selling local wares before reaching the ancient stone stairway that leads up to the ruins. The reconstructed Kuromon “Black” Gate is one of the best spots to witness the seasonal foliage, with vibrant red maple leaves framing the structure. The town is easily explored on foot. Stroll past idyllic residential homes with beautifully kept gardens and drop into one of Akizuki’s antique shops selling Japanese, Western, and other vintage treasures. On the town’s outer edge is Megane-bashi, or “Spectacle Bridge,” one of the few granite stone bridges in Japan, built by the same stonemasons as Nagasaki’s famous Spectacle Bridge.
Dine on Seasonal Cuisine at Dangoan
Warm your soul with a bowl of Dango-jiru miso soup at Dangoan, a local restaurant in the upper foothills above Akizuki. This restaurant is shaded by a canopy of Japanese maple trees and partially built on platforms directly above the Nocho River. Go early to secure a spot in the coveted outdoor seating area, where you can admire the full spectrum of changing flora around you. The babbling creek will instantly put you at ease as you satiate your appetite with one of Dangoan’s special lunch sets. Seasonal fare is inspired by the local setting, as the menu features hot bowls of Dango-jiru soup including sato potato, burdock root, winter vegetables, and fat, glutinous “Dango” noodles, along with fresh ayu river fish salted and grilled to mouth-watering perfection, and a crisp persimmon slice for a light dessert.
Take an Exclusive Stroll through the Kunenan Gardens of Kanzaki
Head into Saga prefecture to Kanzaki’s exclusive autumn-viewing destination: Kunenan Gardens. Unlike other Japanese gardens, Kunenan Gardens only opens its doors to the public for a brief nine-day window during autumn. Kunenan Villa offers one of the most stunning seasonal photo ops, though there are plenty more seasonal sights to admire in the surrounding 68,000 square meters. The 1892 villa is modeled after a traditional Japanese teahouse, and Saga businessman Taro Itami spent nine years building it into his holiday home. With over 100 maple trees and several local varieties of moss in the garden, it’s no wonder why the businessman came here to escape the pressures of city life. The gardens remain one of Saga’s uniquely exclusive autumn highlights. If you can, plan to visit early in the day to beat the crowds and fully appreciate the spectacular autumn foliage.
Take in Autumn Scenery at the Garden of Mifuneyama Rakuen in Takeo
Autumn is an ideal time to visit Mifuneyama Rakuen, as its green landscape becomes increasingly saturated with fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. This garden was built in 1845 by Lord Nabeshima Shigeyoshi, who chose Mount Mifuneyama, the symbol of Takeo, as the location for his holiday villa. All year round, the 150,000-square-meter garden highlights Japan’s four distinct seasons in a kaleidoscope of colors, from spring blue azalea-covered hillsides to wintery white snow-covered trails illuminated by outdoor lights. Even during peak times, there’s plenty of room to roam the gardens without bumping elbows. Wander from the mountain base to the 170-year-old maple tree, then seek out the cave’s secluded tree tunnel leading up to a viewpoint overlooking the surrounding Takeo area. Return in the evening, when a fantastic light show casts the garden in otherworldly hues during its Autumn Leaves Festival. Retrace your steps as illuminated trees and glowing paper lanterns are reflected on the glassy surface of the central pond.
Enjoy Stylish Accommodations at Arita Huis
Settle into the sophisticated ambiance of Arita Huis, a contemporary hotel located on Arita’s porcelain shopping street of Arita Será. Browse modern interpretations of Arita’s 400-year-old history at the hotel’s ceramics art exhibition space and select gift boutique. Lounge in your room with an espresso or Saga’s famed Ureshinocha green tea in stylish Arita porcelain cups, followed by dinner in the restaurant. Arita Huis’s in-house chef brings seasonal local ingredients to life with an innovative multi-course meal inspired by traditional Japanese and international flavors served on exquisite Arita porcelain. The friendly hotel staff will give you peace of mind with their Covid hygiene safety measures, such as regular cleaning of restaurant surfaces, face masks, social-distanced seating, and hand sanitizer at the entrances, reception desk, and tables.
Find Exquisite Japanese Porcelain at Arita Será Shopping Street
Arita Será is a shopping street dedicated to Japan’s famous Arita-yaki porcelain. With over 20 select shops of traditional and contemporary styles at a variety of price points to choose from, you’re sure to find your fancy. In 2016, Arita celebrated its 400-year anniversary with the “2016 Project,” a collaboration that brought fresh Japanese and international talent to collaborate with Arita’s traditional craftspeople. See these modern interpretations at 2016/, a showroom featuring 16 collections from prominent international designers, or at 1616/ arita japan for a sleekly designed shopping experience. If you still haven’t reached your fill of Arita porcelain, head to the Izumiyama district, which offers several more shops of Arita’s finest. Nearby is Izumiyama Quarry, where Korean potter Yi Sam Pyeong first discovered Arita-yaki’s raw materials in 1616. Complete your trip with a visit to Benzaiten Shrine, home of the 1,000-year-old ginkgo tree. This national living monument may be the most massive ginkgo tree you’ll ever see, and it’s a perfect way to finish your autumn excursion across northern Kyushu.
9:00 - 11:00
11:00 - 12:00
Seasonal Cuisine at Dangoan
12:30 - 13:30
Kunenan Gardens of Kanzaki
14:30 - 16:30
Mifuneyama Rakuen in Takeo
17:30 - 20:00
Barbecue dinner and glamping
17:00 - 20:00
20:00 - 22:00
Autumn Illumination Festival at Mifuneyama Rakuen
10:00 - 12:00
Arita Será Shopping Street
12:30 - 14:00
Izumiyama Quarry and 1,000-Year-Old Ginkgo Tree
Note: This article was written during a time when preventive measures for COVID-19 were being undertaken. These measures are expected to be relaxed going forward.
Mika is a writer for Voyapon.com and Lostin-Kyushu.com. In 2018, she made her way from her hometown in Canada to the countryside of Oita Prefecture. Since then, she's been exploring the tradition, art and culture of inaka life, and most likely sitting in an onsen right now.