Craving a trip to Japan but want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city in popular destinations like Tokyo and Osaka? Make a visit down to the quieter and often overlooked Saga prefecture in Kyushu, located right next to Fukuoka.
The area is rich in history and culture, and is known for its pottery, tea, and sake. It is the ideal destination for those who just want a break from the fast pace of life and immerse themselves in authentic Japanese culture, history and nature.
If you’re thinking of how to get to Saga Prefecture, Changi Airport is directly connected to Fukuoka Airport in Kyushu with direct flights by Singapore Airlines. From Fukuoka, Saga Prefecture is just a 35mins train ride away (from Hakata Station in Fukuoka to Saga Station).
Read on for the many things you can see, do and experience in Saga prefecture!
1. Yutoku Inari Shrine (Kashima City)
The Yutoku Inari Shrine is the third largest shrine dedicated to Inari, one of the most popular deities in the Shinto religion. Shintoism – Japan’s native belief system – is the polytheistic and animistic belief in spirits that inhabit everything in the natural world.
The shrine is beautifully surrounded by nature and absolutely picturesque. It’s particularly known for the Japanese garden at its base where seasonal flowers bloom. It’s also famous for its tree peonies in winter and spring. Along with azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas that bloom in spring.
For the best views, take a 10-minute climb up the stairs behind the main hall to reach the top for a higher vantage point. From there, you’ll be able to get stunning views over Kashima City and the Ariake Sea. You’ll find a small Okunoin shrine too.
Address: 1855 Otsu, Furueda, Kashima-shi, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Yutoku Inari Shrine: Opens daily
Shrine Garden: Opens daily from 9:00am to 4:30pm
Shrine Museum: Opens daily from 9:00am to 4:30pm daily
2. Kankyo Geijutsu no Mori Park (Kyuragi Town, Higashi Matsuura Province)
This park is surrounded by a 20-hectare private forest, made up of 10,000 maple trees. It’s sure to take your breath away with its brilliant show of colours in autumn. The forest was created over the span of 30 years by environmental artists who wished to restore the beauty of the forest, previously ruined by human intervention.
Another feature to note is the Fuyusansō, a building made up of scrap material from a 100-year-old house. Here, visitors can sit and enjoy a 360-degree view of the trees around them through ceiling-to-glass windows.
The park has an entrance fee of 700JPY (S$7) for the general public, and a fee of 300JPY (S$3) for children aged six to 15.
Address: 667, Hirano, Kyuragi-machi, Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Opening hours: Opens daily from 9:00am to 4:00pm
3. Oouo Shrine (Tara Town)
The most popular features of Oouo Shrine are the three torii gates stretching into the Ariake Sea. They are famous among photographers for how they look like they’re floating just above the surface of the sea at high tide. At low tide, visitors can walk out onto the seabed to take a look at the gates up close.
The town the gates are found in is called “The Town to see the Power of the Moon” because it is where the tide difference is the largest in all of Japan—a whole six metres. That’s taller than a double-decker bus!
Another photographic spot in the area, also created because of the huge tide difference, is the Tara Undersea Road. This is a path that leads straight into the ocean at low tide and is lined with streetlights.
Address: 1874-9 Tara Oaza, Tara, Tara-cho, Fujitsu-gun, Saga Prefecture, Japan
4. Hamanoura Rice Terraces (Hamanoura District, Genkai Town)
Hamanoura Rice Terraces are set into the steep hillside, creating the illusion of giant steps leading straight into the Genkai Sea. The rice fields, located in the northwest corner of Saga, span 11.5 hectares, or 283 small rice fields - a huge area for you to explore and capture photos during sunset!
The best view of the rice terraces comes in mid-April when they get filled with water till early May when the rice is planted. From the observatory point, you can get a good view of the orange hues of the sky reflected onto the calm waters of the rice terrace. The effect makes them look like brilliantly coloured shards of glass.
Address: Hamanoura, Genkai-cho, Higashi Matsuura-gun, Saga Prefecture, Japan
5. Yoshinogari Historical Park (Yoshinogari Town, Kanzaki District)
The Yoshinogari Historical Park is where you’ll get your fix of history. It is the largest and most important archaeological site for the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD) in Japan. For a more immersive experience, visitors can enter the reconstructed villages, explore the exhibitions and even participate in some hands-on activities.
The sprawling historical grounds also include recreational areas like a field where people can have a picnic or play sports. Don’t worry about needing to bring your own equipment because they offer their own playsets for rental!
The park also features a Forest of Ancient Plants (where they tried to replicate a forest from the Yayoi Period), an outdoor cooking area for barbeque and a petting zoo. This family-friendly attraction is sure to occupy you for the whole day.
The park has an entrance fee of 460JPY (S$4.60) for individuals older than 15, free for students under the age of 15 and a subsidised fee of 200JPY (S$2) for elderly above 65.
Address: 1843 Tade Yoshinogari-cho, Kanzaki-gun, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Opening hours: Opens daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm (Closed on 31 December, the third Monday of January and the following day every year)
6. Uranosaki Station Cherry Blossom Tunnel (Yamashiro-chō Tachiiwa, Imari City)
The small, local Uranosaki Station is home to a row of 80 cherry blossom trees, forming a Sakura tunnel along the train tracks. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in late March to early April. The scene looks like something straight out of an anime as the train chugs along peacefully under the overarching branches of pale pink flowers.
For all sakura lovers or photographers, this stop can’t be missed. You can choose to enjoy the sights either at the station or by sitting in the train carriage itself, operated by Matsuura Railway along the Nishi-Kyushu Line.
Address: Tachiiwa Yamashirocho, Tachiiwa Yamashirocho, Imari, Saga Prefecture, Japan
7. Saga International Balloon Fiesta (Kase Riverside, Saga City)
If you’re travelling to Saga in autumn, don’t miss out on the Saga International Balloon Fiesta!
The annual five-day festival takes place along the Kase River just outside Saga City, where over a hundred hot air balloon enthusiasts gather to fly their balloons - happening from 1 November to 5 November in 2023.
Over the festival period, participants will take part in flying competitions and tasks. A key festival event is the La Montgolfier Nocturne—a night show where hot air balloons are moored and lit up simultaneously to the sound of live music playing, along with fireworks in the background.
Other than the competition area, visitors can spend their day at the Balloon Plaza or Rest Area where there is a food market and live entertainment. The festival itself has no entrance fee, but visitors who drive and wish to use their temporary parking lot will have to pay 1,000JPY (S$9.90).
Address: Oazahagino Kasemachi, Saga-shi, Saga Prefecture, Japan
8. Karatsu Kunchi Festival (Karatsu City)
Can’t get enough of the festive vibes after the Saga International Balloon Fiesta? Head straight to the Karatsu Kunchi Festival, which takes place at the same time in early November every year.
The three-day cultural festival involves 14 huge floats, called hikiyama. They would be paraded through Karatsu town and then dragged through the sand at Nishino beach.
The floats, made out of mostly lacquer wood, are designed after mythical creatures such as Aka-Jishi (The Red Lion) and Shin-Machi (The Flying Dragon). Float bearers are selected from families living in the fourteen traditional neighbourhoods in Karatsu.
The festival culturally signifies the celebration for a bountiful harvest and usually gathers large crowds of between 150,000 and 500,000 as spectators.
Address: Shinko-machi, Karatsu-shi, Saga-ken
Not to worry if you can’t make the event though, since the tall floats are also put on display year-long at the Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall.
Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall
Address: 6-33 Nishi-jōnai, Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Opening hours: Opens daily from 9:am to 5:00pm
9. Ureshino’s Tea Tourism (Ureshino City)
The heart of tea culture in Saga is in the city of Ureshino. Scattered among the tea plantations in Ureshino are three unique locations where you can witness a traditional sacred tea ceremony, performed by tea farmers.
The three locations are Tenchadai (or the “heavenly tea table”), Mori-no Chashitsu and Chatou.
Watch in awe as the tea master skilfully brews the locally grown tea up close, and prepare your tastebuds for an exquisite experience during the tea tasting. As a part of the programme to learn more about the tea culture, there are cycling or walking tours which allow you to enjoy the city’s unique local tea while exploring the area. This will fit into the itinerary of those who are Japanese tea lovers or those who just want to immerse in tranquillity and enjoy a warm, nourishing drink.
Reservations for the experiences are recommended and the tea experience at each location costs about 10,000JPY (S$99). Find out more about the different tea experiences here.
Address: Otsu-738 Ureshinomachi Oaza Shimojuku, Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, Japan
10. Ureshino Onsen (Ureshino City)
In the same city of Ureshino, finish your relaxing day by visiting Ureshino Onsen, a hot spring town home to natural onsen waters rich in minerals. In fact, the water is often referred to as “bihada no yu” which means “skin-beautifying water”.
Relax in one of 30 hotels and Japanese-style inns in the town. At Hisago Ryokan, a room for three and an Omakase-style dinner and breakfast, costs 14,850JPY (S$146) a night. You even get access to a private bath and full amenities in your hotel room.
If you’re only there for a day visit with no intention to stay the night, you can still visit a public bath house just for a soak. One of such is the famous Siebold-no-Yu, a red-roofed gothic-style building—a go-to for tourists and locals alike.
The town is also known for its green tea, leading to a unique fusion of the two at Yuzen no Yado Toukai. For 2,800JPY (S$27.70) per person, you can soak in private giant onsen teacups for 50 minutes, in addition to the price for a one-night stay (6,500JPY, S$64.30).
Address: 2145, Oaza Shimojuku Otsu, Ureshino-machi, Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Address: 818-2, Oaza Shimojyuku Otsu, Ureshino-machi, Ureshino, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Yuzen no Yado Toukai
Address: 871-5 Shimojuku Otsu, Ureshino-machi, Ureshino, Saga
11. Hizen Yoshida-Yaki Pottery Hall (Ureshino City)
Pottery is steeped into the history of Saga - in fact, it is the birthplace of ceramics in Japan! Complete your cultural dive into the area by trying your hand at pottery.
The Hizen Yoshida-Yaki Pottery Hall has a showroom where they sell a wide variation of porcelain products. You’ll have much to choose from if you’re looking for a unique souvenir to brighten up your home!
If you want to try your hand at making pottery, the pottery hall also offers pottery workshops where you can paint and hand form your own pottery pieces.
Address: 4525-1, Ureshino-machi Oaza Yoshida Tei, Ureshino-Shi, Saga Prefecture, Japan
Opening hours: Opens daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm (Closed on 29 December to 1 January every year)
12. Tosu Premium Outlets (Tosu City)
The Tosu Premium Outlets is Kyushu’s largest premium mall featuring a total of 164 stores—you can be sure to get your shopping fix here! Get handbags, accessories and clothes for a steal from popular brands such as Kate Spade, Swarovski and Nike. Local brands, like Onitsuka Tiger and Takeo Kikuchi, are available here too.
If you are planning to visit from Fukuoka, there is a direct bus that runs from Nishitetsu Tenjin Expressway Bus Terminal in Fukuoka to Tosu Premium Outlets (approximately 45mins), which makes it a convenient spot for some retail therapy. It costs 1,400JPY (S$14) for a round trip ticket and 770JPY (S$7.70) for a one way ticket.
If you need a break from walking, the outlet mall also has a food court and various restaurants and cafes to fill your stomachs with, like Ippudo Ramen. Check out the full list of shops on Tosu Premium outlets website.
Address: 8-1 Yayoigaoka, Tosu City, Saga Prefecture, Japan
From March to January: Opens daily from 10:00am to 8:00pm
In February: Opens daily from 10:00am to 7:00pm
Closed on the third Thursday of February every year
From culture, history, to shopping and adventure, Saga offers it all. No matter the season, there will always be something for you. It’s a lesser-known tourist destination; a breath of fresh air compared to the usual commotion you’ll find in big cities. Here, you can pause, connect to nature, and finally relax.=
Saga Prefecture in Kyushu is just a 35 mins train ride away (from Hakata Station in Fukuoka to Saga Station) from Fukuoka - directly connected to Changi Airport with direct flights by Singapore Airlines to Fukuoka Airport.
This story is brought to you by Saga Prefectural Tourism, Japan.