The unknown Venice of Japan.
Known as Japan’s very own Venice, Yanagawa in Fukuoka Prefecture is as picturesque as the comparison suggests; hundreds of kilometers of peaceful canals criss-cross through an old town complete with traditional storehouses, narrow lanes, and willow trees dipping into the water.
The canals are Yanagawa’s star attraction. Visitors can ride a boat as their tour guide, garbed in traditional Japanese costume, entertains them with an engaging narrative of the city’s history.
Spanning approximately 470 kilometers, the canals were originally used as irrigation for the area’s primary industry; agriculture. However, with the rise of industrialization and the decline in local farming, the water became a medium for showcasing the city’s scenic beauty to tourists.
Called kawakadari, roughly translated as “descending the river”, the river cruise is an intimate experience – the sounds of the streets fade to silence as you slowly drift on the still waters. The tour guide will steer the boat with a 3-foot long pole, skillfully navigating through the narrow waterways.
One of the most famous people born and raised in Yanagawa is Kitahara Hakushu, a renowned poet and writer of children’s songs. In fact, the songs you’ll hear the boatmen singing are those written by Kitahara himself. His old home has been transformed into a museum dedicated to his works and there’s even a Kitahara festival in November.
Apart from the boat cruise, Yanagawa offers a wonderful variety of festivities throughout the year. In April, you can take in the blooming wisteria at the Nakayama Wisteria Festival, while in August, you can meander the streets of Yanagawa and sample festival eats from stalls set up around the city for the Ariake Sea Fireworks Festival.
Before you leave the city, be sure to try out the famous steamed eel served in a basket on a bed of steaming rice.