Karatsu (唐津) is a coastal city in Saga Prefecture on Kyushu, about 50 kilometers west of Fukuoka. In the past, Karatsu was a major stop for ships making the journey towards Korea and China because it is one of the closest Japanese cities to the Korean Peninsula.
Today the city is known for its castle, the annual Karatsu Kunchi festival (November 2-4) and its local pottery. Several more attractions are found on the nearby rural Higashi Matsuura Peninsula, including beautiful coastal scenery and the ruins of a huge castle that Toyotomi Hideyoshi used in his invasion attempt of Korea in the late 1500s.
Attractions around central Karatsu
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:40) Closed: December 29 to 31 Admission: 500 yen (plus optional 100 yen for an elevator up the castle hill)
Karatsu Castle is located on a small hill along Karatsu Bay. It was built in 1608 using material from the dismantled Nagoya Castle of the nearby Higashi Matsuura Peninsula. The current castle keep is a ferroconcrete reconstruction of 1966 and houses a museum about the castle's history and Karatsu ceramics. The top floor offers views of the bay, the city and the pine grove.
Karatsu Hikiyama Exhibition Hall
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: First Tuesday and Wednesday of December, December 29-31 Admission: 310 yen
The Karatsu Hikiyama Exhibition Hall stores and displays the 14 large floats of the Karatsu Kunchi Festival which takes place annually from November 2 to 4. The exhibition hall is a ten minute walk from Karatsu Station and is located across from Karatsu Shrine, the shrine responsible for the festival.
Karatsu-yaki Pottery Gallery
Hours: 9:00 to 18:00 Closed: Thursdays, New Year holidays Admission: Free
Located on the second floor of the Furusato Kaikan Arpino next to Karatsu Station, this is one of the better places to see some of the local pottery. The gallery outlines the history of Karatsu pottery and has many artworks on display. Locally made pottery is also sold at the gallery, and there is an experience section where visitors can try their hand at painting pottery.
Niji no Matsubara Pine Grove
Niji no Matsubara is a five kilometer long stretch of about a million pine trees planted along Karatsu Bay, just outside of the city center. Dating back to the Edo Period when the trees were planted as a natural seawall, it is one of Japan's top three pine groves alongside Miho no Matsubara in Shizuoka and Kehi no Matsubara in Fukui Prefecture. A long sand beach lies between the trees and the sea, and a road leads through the grove.
Mount Kagamiyama is a 284 meter tall, flat-topped mountain just outside of central Karatsu. Around the summit, there is a large park with seasonal flowers and shops selling Karatsu-yaki ceramics. The Kagamiyama Observation Deck at the northwestern end of the park offers excellent views over the pine grove, bay and city.
Attractions on the Higashi Matsuura Peninsula
Nagoya Castle Ruins
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: Mondays (or following day if Monday is a holiday), December 29 to 31 Admission: 100 yen
As one of the closest points to the Asian mainland, the peninsula was chosen by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the site of a huge castle, Nagoya Castle, that served for the invasion of Korea in the late 1500s. Only some walls and foundations can be seen today; however, visitors are able to better understand the grandeur of the former castle thanks to virtual reality tablets that can be borrowed from the nearby museum for free.
Nagoya Castle Museum
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: Mondays (or following day if Monday is a holiday), December 29 to 31 Admission: Free
The well-done Nagoya Castle Museum displays the history of Nagoya Castle and Hideyoshi's invasion attempt, and promotes the intercultural exchange between Japan and Korea. It stands across from the castle ruins. Signs are mostly in Japanese and Korean, while audio guides are available in Korean, English and Chinese.
Yobuko Morning Market
Hours: 7:30 to 12:00 Closed: January 1
This public market is held daily along a 200 meter long street in the small port town of Yobuko. With over a hundred years of history, it is considered one of the top morning markets in Japan, alongside the ones in Takayama and Wajima. Vendors line the street, selling dried seafood, vegetables and other local foods. Squid is a local specialty and can found prepared in various ways.
Nanatsugama Sightseeing Cruise
Hours: Hourly departures from 9:30 to 16:30 Closed: During bad weather and high waves Fee: 1800 yen
Nanatsugama are a series of natural sea caves that were created by wave erosion. While the name implies seven (nanatsu) caves (kama), there are in fact more than that in the area. There is a walking path above the caves, but the best way to see them is by 40 minute sightseeing cruises that leave from Yobuko Port. The boats draw right up to the entrance of one of the larger caves.
Getting there and around
How to get to Karatsu
Fukuoka and Karatsu are connected with each other by direct trains along the JR Chikuhi Line from Meinohama Station. Some trains along the Fukuoka subway line run directly all the way from Fukuoka Airport via Hakata Station, Tenjin Station and Meinohama to Karatsu. The one way ride from Hakata Station to Karatsu Station takes about 90 minutes and costs 1160 yen. The Japan Rail Pass is valid between Meinohama Station and Karatsu, but not on the subway line section east of Meinohama. Rail pass holders will have to pay an additional 300 yen from Hakata Station.
How to get around central Karatsu
Central Karatsu has two railway stations: Karatsu Station and Nishi-Karatsu Station. Karatsu Station is the larger and more central among the two. The city's bus network hub is Karatsu Bus Center, also known as Oteguchi (大手口) bus stop, which is a five minute walk north of Karatsu Station. Many of the bus lines also stop at Nishi-Karatsu Station.
How to get to and around the Higashi Matsuura Peninsula
One or two buses per hour connect the Karatsu Bus Center with Yobuko (30 minutes, 760 yen one way, 1-2 buses/hour), the site of the morning market and departure point of the Nanatsugama cruises. From Yobuko, buses run to the Nagoya Castle Ruins (about 10 minutes, 200 yen one way, one bus every 1-2 hours, get off at Nagoyajō Hakubutsukan Iriguchi, 名護屋城博物館入口). There are also a few direct buses between the Karatsu Bus Center and the Nagoya Castle Ruins, but they are very infrequent. All buses between Karatsu and the peninsula also stop at Nishi-Karatsu Station.
A rental car is a good, alternative choice for exploring the Higashi Matsuura Peninsula. Several rental outlets are located around Karatsu Station and central Karatsu.