Karatsu is a small, unassuming coastal town located in the Saga prefecture in the western part of Japan. Most people would skip over it for its more popular neighbour Fukuoka, but this local town has got quite a distinct charm. For travellers who enjoy uncrowded exploring and lots of sky and sea, Karatsu is a fantastic option.
It’s fairly off the beaten path so you won’t encounter crowds here, ever. Well, except maybe in November when it holds its biggest festival of the year. (Psst, it’s called the Karatsu Kunchi, but more on that later!).
It’s a town where you can spend the entire day exploring, if that’s what you’re after. Otherwise, you can spend the entire day relaxing – simply take in the sights, relax in your ryokan, go for a stroll.
It’s a seaside town with lots to offer – rest and relaxation included.
If you’re interested in including Karatsu on your itinerary, read on as we outline the best of what it has to offer!
How to get to Karatsu
The easiest way to get to Karatsu is via Fukuoka. If you’re coming from Fukuoka City itself, there are trains that travel directly to Karatsu. If you’re coming from Fukuoka airport, there are trains that head to Karatsu via Fukuoka.
From Fukuoka City, hop on the JR Chikuhi Line from Meinohama Station. This will take just over an hour and will cost 860 yen.
From Fukuoka Airport, take the subway or JR Chikuhi Line bound for Karatsu or Nishi-Karatsu. This will cost 1,140 yen one-way and take around 90-minutes.
Where to stay in Karatsu
Our number one suggestion when visiting these smaller coastal towns is to stay in a ryokan These traditional Japanese accommodation items will heighten your experience exponentially. They’re unique in almost every aspect of accommodation style and you will feel like you’re getting the most of your stay.
Ryokan Wataya is an amazing ryokan to say the least. Unperturbed by crowds of tourists, it has remained true to its roots of being as authentic as it can get. It’s located in a great location near the station, but feels like it’s in a world of its own. It’s small yet charming and offers all the amenities you need for a comfortable stay. The rooms are spacious, there are private bathrooms, and free Wi-Fi throughout. There are also some amazing onsite onsen baths available for guests.
Book It Now: Ryokan Wataya >>
This beachfront hotel is absolute luxury seaside living. It’s noted as one of the top picks in Karatsu, and for good reason. The guestrooms are beyond spacious and the views are just spectacular. There is a seasonal outdoor pool which can be enjoyed by anyone. There is also bike hire for exercise/cycling enthusiasts. If you’re keen for a short, picturesque wander after you’ve settled in, there is a beautiful garden and terrace to check out.
The key selling feature of this hotel? There is actually a rooftop onsen which can be booked by guests for an hour at the reception desk. The serenity of bathing in an onsen whilst getting lost in the beauty of the ocean during golden hour is just *chefs kiss*.
Book It Now: Hotel Uohan >>
The 8 Best Things To Do In Karatsu
1. Karatsu Castle
The number one activity to do in Karatsu is to visit Karatsu Castle. Many consider it to be the face of Karatsu. It stands tall on a hillside which overlooks the city, so its views are definitely one reason to visit!
The locals sometimes refer to the castle as Maizuru, which means dancing crane. This is because the exterior of the castle is quite a beauty. It was built in a way that resembles the lithe body of a graceful crane with its head, body and wings. A picture from outside the castle is a must!
Inside the castle, you can learn about the castle’s history as well Karatsu ceramics at the museum section. However, most people come for the observation deck on the top floor. This observatory offers a 360-degree view of the city and Karatsu Bay.
The best time to visit this castle would be during spring and autumn. The respective cherry blossoms and autumn leaves blanketing the surroundings of the castle makes for a gorgeous picture!
- Address: 8 Higashijonai, Karatsu, Saga 847-0016, Japan
- Access: It is a 20-minute walk from Karatsu Station. Otherwise you can hop in a taxi and it will take 7-minutes to get there.
- Hours: 9:00am 5:00pm
- Cost: 410 yen
Karatsu city is fantastic, but if you’re looking for an extra bit of pizzazz, the nearby Higashi Matsuura Peninsula is a great option. It encapsulates beautiful coastal scenery and attractions for nature and history buffs.
2. Yobuko Morning Market
This delightful morning market has been around for over a hundred years. Every morning, local vendors set up shop from 7:30am until midday. They sell random wares alongside dried local seafood (a specialty!), fresh vegetables and other local foods.
We recommend heading there on an empty stomach. Try the local dishes such as dried squid (freshly dried overnight!) and the squid dumplings. It’s a great way to start the day – just remember to bring gum! 😀
- Address: 4177 Yobukocho Yobuko, Karatsu, Saga 847-0303, Japan
- Hours: 7:30am – 12:00pm
The Nanatsugama attraction is a beautiful natural wonder that’s hidden away from main tourist crowds. The seven natural sea caves were created by wave erosion over time which resulted in this current stunning landmark.
You can view these caves from the cliff above, but for the true experience, hop on a boat tour. The sightseeing cruise will leave Yobuko Port and take you right up to the entrance of the large caves.
- Address: Yakataishi, 847-0135, Japan
- Hours: Saturday and Sunday 10:00am – 4:00pm
- Fee: 1,000 yen
4. Cape Hado
A trip to a coastal town is not complete without an epic view of the ocean. At Karatsu, you will get this at Cape Hado. The sunset at this cape (the westernmost point of the Higashi Matsuura Peninsula) is apparently the best in the prefecture!
Most visitors make the effort to head there a little early to find a good spot. If you have time, sample the local foods from the stands nearby selling items such as grilled seafood. There is also an underwater observation tower nearby which is a great activity for kids.
5. Karatsu-yaki Pottery Gallery
The locals are super proud of their pottery products, and you will be able to see why at the pottery gallery. The gallery is located close to Karatsu station on the 2nd floor of the Furusato Hall Arpino. It is home to hundreds of pieces of intricately created pottery pieces. You will also be able to learn about the history of Karatsu pottery here.
After you peruse the gallery, you can then head to the souvenir shop and purchase a locally made piece to bring home. If you want an even more immersive experience, you can try your hand at painting there!
- Address: 2881-1 Shinkomachi, Karatsu, Saga 847-0043, Japan
- Access: It is a 1-minute walk from Karatsu Station.
- Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm
6. Former Takatori Residence
The former Takatori residence belonged to Takatori Koreyoshi. He was a prominent figure in the Meiji period. He rose to fame when he started a mining revolution to fast-track the coal business of Japan. His contribution was so great that they established a nickname for him – ‘The King of Coal’.
His former residence is now considered an Important Cultural Property. When you visit the place, you will notice just how visually appealing the architecture is. It boasts a stunning mix of Western and Asian influences into a timeless classic residence. The tour of the premises will open your eyes to the history during Takatori’s time.
- Address: 5-40 Kitajonai, Karatsu, Saga 847-0015, Japan
- Access: From Karatsu Station, it is a 20-minute walk.
- Hours: 9:30am – 5:00pm (Closed Monday)
- Cost: 510 yen
7. Karatsu Kunchi Festival
During the first few days of November, the Karatsu Kunchi Festival draws some impressive crowds to the town. It’s been a celebration of Autumn for over 400 years. Beautifully decorated hikiyama floats adorned with bright paint and ornaments are pulled through town over three fun-filled days.
The bearers who pull the floats through the streets are chosen from families who reside in the fourteen traditional neighbourhoods of Karatsu. It’s quite an honour! The sounds of taiko drums and flutes will fill the air every night. Many stalls will open alongside the surrounding streets offering delicious Japanese festival foods.
For the rest of the year, the floats will rest in the Karatsu Hikiyama Exhibition Hall. If you’re visiting outside of the festival time, you can pay a visit to this hall. The 14 large floats will be on display all year.
- Karatsu Hikiyama Exhibition Hall
- Address: 6-33 Nishijonai, Karatsu, Saga 847-0014, Japan
- Access: It is a 10-minute walk from Karatsu Station.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: 310yen
8. Try Yobuko Squid
One of the perks of being a seaside town is, of course, the fresh seafood! Whilst there are plenty of the usual suspects to eat here (for example crab and octopus), the specialty here is actually Yobuko squid.
It’s been said that no matter where you eat squid in Japan, none is fresher and tastier than Yobuko squid in Karatsu. There are various types of Yobuko squid to try throughout the year. For example, sweet sword tip squid is usually around from May until October. Big-fin reef squid is usually seasonal from October to February.
The best way to savour Yobuko squid is by eating it ikezukuri-style – sashimi with still living seafood. Sometimes, you’ll see the seafood still moving on the plate as it’s being served!
Many restaurants in this area will serve Yobuko squid, but Genkai is a hot favourite. Apparently, they are the birthplace of squid ikezukuri dish! If you’re not a fan of sashimi, they offer an extensive list of other squid dishes to try.
- Address: 508-3 Yobukocho Tononoura, Karatsu, Saga 847-0304, Japan
- Access: From Karatsu Station, it is a 26-minute drive to the restaurant.
- Hours: 11:00am – 8:00pm; Tuesdays from 11:00am – 4:00pm
This charming little seaside town is quite the respite from the big cities. If you’re heading over to western Japan, we highly recommend adding Karatsu onto your itinerary. An overnight stay will ensure you make the most of your visit here. However, even a day trip from the early hours will be sufficient – the close proximity to Fukuoka plus Japan’s super-efficient transport system makes sure of that!
And if you want to explore more Kyushu island, feel free to read these articles too: Kyushu Japan.