The former castle town of Yanagawa is most popular for its canal boat tours, during which guests are guided through a portion of the town’s remaining 470 km (292 mi.) of canals in poled donko-bune boats. Parts of this town are still preserved from the old days, making the boat rides as well as strolls around the old areas a true pleasure. And thanks to the abundance of natural scenery within the town itself, each season brings with it a new kind of beauty. Yanagawa is also known for its shellfish, which are caught in the nearby Ariake Sea, and its eel cuisine. Finally, there are several sights related to Hakushu Kitahara, one of Japan’s great early-modern-period poets.
Yanagawa can be reached in approximately 45 min. via limited express (tokkyu) train from Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station or Yakuin Station on the Nishitetsu Tenjin-Omuta Line.
The following are two recommended sights/activities for visitors to Yanagawa. There is plenty more to see, but these two provide a good starting point.
Yanagawa Kawakudari (Canal Boat Tours)
Despite this former castle town’s moderate size, it still retains a large portion of its canals from the old days. The kawakudari boat tours use donko-bune boats (long, flat-bottomed riverboats that are poled through shallow water) which take you at a leisurely pace through forested areas, paddy fields and residential areas, giving you the chance to see the old townscape from the same perspective as residents did hundreds of years ago. The tour guide offers occasional explanations and also sing old Japanese songs, and even reminds you to duck as you pass under some of the route’s impossibly low bridges (tall passengers will find themselves almost flat on the boat’s floor). The tour lasts about 70 minutes, and a free bus will take you from the ending point back to the station (city buses also run from the tour’s ending point).
Tickets for boat tour can be purchased at Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station, and a free shuttle bus will take you from there to the boat dock. Tours are 1,500 yen per passenger for adults, 800 yen for children age 5-12 and free for children age 4 and under, and boats operate from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day. Visit the website for more information.
“Ohana” Tachibana Villa and Shotoen Garden
The former Yanagawa Domain (柳河藩) was ruled by the Tachibana family from the early 17th century to the late 19th century, and this estate, known as “Ohana” (a shortened version of hanabatake, meaning “flower field”), was built by the family as a place of rest and relaxation.
The honkan building (completed in 1911) is constructed in traditional Japanese style (wood, tatami-mat flooring, etc.) and adjoins the beautiful Shotoen Garden, which is filled with pine trees that are 200 to 300 years old. The garden was designed to resemble the pine-covered islands dotting the sea at Matsushima, a famous scenic spot in Miyagi Prefecture, and it can be viewed from the massive ohiroma grand hall of the honkan building. The seiyokan building (also completed in 1911) is constructed in Western style, acting as a symbol of “modernity” at the time it was a built and an elegant example today of Japan’s imported Western architectural styles of the Meiji Period.
The Tachibana Museum exhibits armor, clothing, paintings, masks, household implements and other items from the Tachibana family. It also has a collection Edo Period (1600-1868) dolls.
The estate facilities are open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, and admission is 500 yen for adults, 300 yen for high school students and 200 yen for middle school students. It is located 2-3 min. on foot from the ending point of the kawakudari boat tours. Lodging and dining facilities are also available. Take a look at the website for more details.