Visiting Yanagawa, a former castle town approximately 45 minutes away from Fukuoka city by the limited express train, was not originally on my itinerary. As the lady-owner of the o-zenzai shop recommended that I visit Yanagawa to experience the canal boat tours, I decided not to go to Yufuin, the popular onsen town in Kyushu, and spend my last day in Fukuoka at Yanagawa.
I took the limited express train from the Nishitetsu (Tenjin) Station and arrived at Yanagawa at around 10am. It was a cloudy morning and the sky threatened to pour. I spotted a cafe across the street from the train station and popped in for some coffee and breakfast. The cozy family-run cafe served an excellent cup of expresso, satisfying my cravings for one, and the yummiest French toast I have ever eaten.
The chief attraction in Yanagawa is the canal boat tours using long flat-bottomed riverboats and that was the activity that interested me the most. I strolled to the canal tour embarkation point by following the road signs, paid for a ticket (Yen 1,500 per person for an adult) and waited for the next boat ride to start. When it was time to board, I hopped onto the boat together with 10 other passengers, all Japanese.
Our boat-man, who also acted as the tour guide, provided nuggets of information regarding the history of the area. He even entertained us by reciting poetry, singing Japanese enka songs and cracking jokes. My fellow passengers were laughing half the time. It is a pity that I understood nothing of what he said. I could only clap whenever everyone else did the same, at the end of a performance of a song.
And off we went!The boat ride took us on a leisurely and scenic tour through residential areas lined with beautiful trees that have just started blooming, low curved bridges, shrines, paddy fields and forested areas with hanging willow trees. During the 70 minute riverboat ride, we got a glimpse of the town from the perspective of residents living in that area hundreds of years ago.
Oooh, kappa statues. Would we actually spot a real one jumping out of the water, if the water spirit is not a myth?
Every time we approach one of these low bridges, we dunk our heads.
It must be awesome to live in one of these houses, having so much natural beauty at your doorstep, and each changing season would bring a different kind of beauty along with it.
I had a lot of fun on the boat ride, and am so glad that I made the last-minute decision to visit Yanagawa. Even though it started to rain shortly after we started the ride, the wet weather, freezing cold and gloomy skies did little to dampen my enjoyment of the natural scenery that was before me. I put on raincoats provided by the boat-man and tried to stay dry. It was freezing cold! My fingers were so stiff, I nearly dropped my iPhone into the water while snapping photos.
At the end of the boat ride, we disembarked and headed to one of several restaurants (pity I cannot remember the name of the one that I had eaten at) housed in former warehouses at the boat dock for lunch.
I was invited by fellow passengers – a mother and two daughters – to share a table with them at lunch. Yanagawa is famous for unagi seiro mushi – eel steamed in a bamboo basket – and that was what I ordered. I LOVE eating unagi. The cold air made me ravenous and a hot bowl of miso soup never tasted better. My table companions lived abroad for many years and had recently moved back to Japan. It was fun chatting with them in English about travelling around Southeast Asia, as we tucked into a delicious meal of unagi jyu.
^ My huge ‘plate’ of grilled eel over rice, topped with egg that had been steamed in a bamboo box 🙂
After lunch, we waited for the free shuttle bus (provided as part of the tour) which would send us back to the Yanagawa train station. I left the other attraction in Yanagawa that I would be interested to explore, the Ohana villa, a residence owned by a local daimyo, for my next visit. I highly recommend a side trip to Yanagawa to anyone who is visiting Fukuoka.