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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yanagawa City Fukuoka

福岡県柳川市

Yanagawa CanalYanagawa is a hidden gem. Approaching either via train or car, you are presented with a typically dreary rural Japanese town: a mishmash of architectural styles that do not seem to have any connection to their surroundings; telephone poles and wires sprouting everywhere; gasoline stations, pachinko parlors, karaoke bars, and low end "snacks" (smoky hole-in-the-wall bars run by an often long-in-the-tooth mama-san) clogging the main streets; and then more and more of the above. To discover the town's beauty, however, all you have to do is look down.

Yanagawa has hundreds of kilometers of canals, and this is what draws in the crowds. The town was originally a farming village, and the canals were built hundreds of years ago for irrigation. They have since been restored and today are plied by donkobune--low flat boats powered by a man with a pole--that take tourists on short cruises.

Ornaments in Yanagawa, JapanAmong the highlights on the trip were Yoko Ono's great-grandfather's ancestral home, the many cherry trees in bloom, and a small snake that stared back at us from under a bridge as the boat slid by. The wind was strong and intermittent squalls of rain poured down (thankfully the boat was stocked with plastic raincoats), but our elderly boatman smiled and told stories throughout. At the end, he broke into a plaintive song, which elicited great applause.

Also of interest is the Ohana Seiyokan (pictured below right), the villa of the Tachibana family, which ruled Yanagawa from roughly 1600 - 1868. The building was completed at the beginning of the 20th century and is a massive pile intended to impress. Directly behind it is a Japanese structure that looks out onto a koi pond.

We were lucky to visit after Hinamatsuri--Girls' Festival--and many dolls and hanging ornaments were on display.

Yanagawa is also known for its river eel. Fried and laid on a bed of rice, it is wonderful. The tourist section of the city is enveloped by the smell of fried eel.

Seiyokan, Yanagawa FukuokaFollowing a lunch of said eel, we headed for our final destination: Hakushu. This is the former home of native poet Hakushu Kitahara; the building is now a museum that contains his works. It is built in the local style with cross-hatched white and black plaster walls (see below).

Access

From Fukuoka City, take the Nishitetsu train from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station to Yanagawa Station. The ride takes 46 minutes.

By car from Fukuoka International Airport, take the Kyushu Expressway to the Yamei exit. From here follow the signs to Yanagawa. About 80 minutes.

Yanagawa FukuokaDetails

The Kawakudari boat rides cost 1,500 for adults, 800 for elementary school age children. The ride lasts 70 minutes, though a 30-minute course is also available.


Yanagawa Tourist Authority: TEL: 0944-73-2145


Japanese Art - byobu screens

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