Small but prehistorically formed
Saga is the smallest prefecture on the island of Kyushu best known for its prized, and pricey, pottery.
Sandwiched between the lively cosmopolitan centers of Nagasaki and Fukuoka, Saga’s attractions are refreshingly rural. Visitors are drawn to the picturesque natural landscape, plus the hot springs that come with it, safe in the knowledge that prefecture won’t be overrun with other tourists. Still Saga’s influence spreads far and wide in the form of its world-renowned pottery which you can experience in the towns of Arita, Imari and Karatsu. Japan history-buffs could get emotional over the acclaimed preservations at Yoshinogari Park, an archeological site from the prehistoric Yayoi period, while the rice terraced fields of Hamanoura are movingly beautiful.
In 1615, Korean potter Lee Cham-Pyung discovered white kaolin clay in the mountains surrounding the town of Arita marking the beginning of Saga’s prosperous porcelain trade. Museums, galleries, kilns and workshops are dotted around the town’s quaint streets. The bi-annual ceramic fair is usually held around the end of April and again in November. It’s about a half hour to Imari, from where you visit the Okawachiyama kilns to see the pottery production in action.
Head down the coast to Karatsu, the biggest of Saga’s pottery centers, to browse the numerous ceramic stores, galleries and gardens overlooking the sea. If you’re interested in purchasing a piece, beware of the hefty price tag – one tiny teacup could you set you back as much as $150. Elsewhere, Karatsu castle up on the hill has a small museum inside or you can relax post-purchase on the pretty beach. Towards the tip of the peninsula, Yokubo fishing port offers up live squid prepped in under 30 seconds, though locals warn you shouldn’t make eye contact with it before you eat.
The Yoshinogari Historical Park dates back to the 3rd century BC and is the largest Yayoi excavation in Japan. You can learn about life during the Yayoi period, exploring the ancient ruins and buildings recreated across the settlement site.