Tsuetate Onsen’s Koinobori Carp Festival

For one month at Tsuetate Onsen, thousands of carp streamers are put on display to flutter above the rushing river in celebration of Children’s Day.

Koinobori – Carp Streamers in Tsuetate Onsen

Continue reading to learn more about the charming hot spring village, Tsuetate Onsen, and see what the koinobori carp streamer celebration is like!

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Originally published in May 2022, updated in April 2024.

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Koinobori Carp Festival for Children’s Day

Carp streamers or koinobori (鯉のぼり) are an iconic decoration used to celebrate Children’s Day. These colored fabric fish can span meters long and are displayed to honor children and bless them with a future of health and strength.

Koi is a symbol of Children’s Day as it is considered an incredibly spirited and lively animal – so full of power and determination that it can swim upriver despite rushing streams and cascades. The koi’s tenacity to overcome obstacles mirrors the same goal parents have for children to grow up strong and resilient.

Koinobori Chopstick Wrapper
Cute carp wrapping on the chopsticks!

Tsuetate Onsen in Kumamoto prefecture holds a Koinobori Carp festival every year from early April to early May. With the rainbow of colors dancing in the sky, it’s a dazzling sight you won’t want to miss!

How to Get to Tsuetate Onsen (By Bus)

Tsuetate Onsen is located on the border of Oita and Kumamoto prefectures in the middle of Kyushu Island. The area is known for its high-quality hot springs and nostalgic ambiance. Transportation is limited for those without cars, but a bus route allows for relatively easy (though infrequent) travel from Fukuoka’s Hakata and Tenjin Bus Terminals.

Tsuetate Onsen
Tsuetate is a town nestled between a river and trees

Purchasing Bus Tickets

I had difficulties getting Google Maps to show the desired bus route correctly. However, you can find current timetables for riding the Highway Bus‘s Kurokawa Onsen line to Tsuetate Onsen on this page.

Scroll down to the section that says “福岡〜黒川線”. The left blue button will show the timetable to Fukuoka and the right blue button will show the timetable from Fukuoka.

Click to see schedules to and from Fukuoka
Bus schedule to Tusetate Onsen. Check here for updated times

Note that bus travel requires reservations. Tickets can be arranged in person at major Bus Terminals like the Hakata Bus Terminal, or purchased online through websites (Japanese, English).

The Bus Ride

The bus ride from Hakata to Tsuetate takes just around two hours. Once you depart the city, prepare yourself to “ooh” and “aah” out the window as the most beautiful scenery passes by.

Bus Ride to Tsuetate Onsen
Scenic view aboard the highway bus

Side note: During certain days leading up to and during Golden Week, the location of the Tsuetate Bus stop may be different than usual. You can check to latest information on the bus reservation home page.

*Since Golden Week is an incredibly popular time to visit the area, traffic and parking can be difficult for those coming by car.

What to Do in Tsuetate Onsen

You made it to Tsuetate Onsen! It’s time to unwind in the small onsen village and take in the Golden Week festivities.

While the town is small, it is still nice to slow down and relax in the valley of nature.

Tsuetate Onsen Steam
Hot steam at Tsuetate Onsen

View the Carp Streamers

Take in the view of the flying carp from various places around town. You can relax by the river or stand on one of the many bridges to get a different perspective of the more than 3,000 swimming fish. When the wind picks up, they flutter in the air in ripples of rainbow color.

Since Tusetate Onsen is an onsen town, you should take a bath at one of the hot spring baths during your trip. Kissho Hotspring is a bit far from the main part of town but has 5 outdoor baths to enjoy. It’s a bit expensive at 1,600 yen, but the piping hot water, the feeling of being surrounded by nature, and the silky water that smooths the skin make it worth it. (Many steps lead down from the entryway to the reception area.)

From the Kissho Hotspring webpage. See more here.

Here is a full list of the onsens around town. You can choose from private family baths, local public baths, steam baths, or places for hotel guests only.  

Eat Steamed Food by the River

On weekends leading up to Golden Week, you can find a few small stalls selling Tsuetate pudding, charcoal-grilled food, ice cream, and onsen steamed eggs. Order your favorites and enjoy the snack by the river.

The salted-steamed egg tasted just like a regular boiled egg, but the onsen egg from the little stall above the rocks was delicious. The egg whites had been turned a light, tea brown and almost had a smokey taste.

Charcoal-grilled fish and chicken for ¥800.

Charcoal Grilled Fish
Charcoal Grilled Fish

Steam Your Own Food

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, Tsuetate Onsen has special “steam-it-yourself” locations around town. Since the area is gushing with hot water and billowing steam, these little stalls were built so that anyone can steam-cook their own food as they like.

Steam-it-yourself station

Each location has directions on how to use the steamer station including recommended steaming times. There are even vending machines around town that sell eggs, potatoes, and vegetables.

Buy a Carp Shaped Ema

One of the best places to see the carp streamers is at the edge of town on Momiji Bridge.

Momiji Bridge

In addition to seeing the carp float above the river, you can buy an ema (a small wooden plaque) to write your wishes and hang on the bridge. Ema cost ¥300 and come in different shapes like carp, hearts, and a bear (Kumomoto’s mascot is a bear).

Walk the Narrow Streets

After eating, explore the sedoyas, or small back-alley streets. These narrow roads twist and turn between the tightly packed buildings and occasionally offer a nice view of the river from above.

If your feet need a rest, head to the free footbath back in the middle of town. You will have to take off your socks and shoes, but afterward, you can sit in the covered space and dip your feet in the warm (not hot) water. There is a steaming station and an egg vending machine nearby.

About a 20-minute walk from the center of town is a small roadside stop that sells a variety of produce, food, and souvenirs. Stop here before heading to town if you want to stock up on items to steam in the steaming stations. You can also try Kumamoto specialties like mustard lotus root.

Take a break on the wooden terrace at Pukupuku Cafe. This small cafe sells different flavors of pudding, milk, and coffee drinks. Small koi-themed craft souvenirs are also for sale.

Where to Stay in Tsuetate Onsen

Many families who drive to Tsuetate Onsen only come for the day before heading home. If you’re limited to the bus schedule though, a day trip might feel quite rushed. Instead, how about staying the night at one of the traditional Japanese-style inns called ryokans?

Hakusui-so Ryokan is a good choice for solo travelers and those on a smaller budget. The rooms are Japanese style and have views of the river below, but guests do have to share a common bathroom down the hall.

If you are looking for a more upscale stay, Tsuetate Kanko Hotel Hizenya may be for you. When I visited, the hotel was undergoing renovation, but it is recommended by my friend who visits Tsuetate often.

Here is a list of other hotels provided by the Tsuetate Onsen Association. You can book directly on the different home pages. (While usually book my accommodations in Japan using Booking.com or Agoda, there are not many listings on these sites for this area.)

The ryokans at Tsuetate Onsen date back many years, some 100 to over 300 years old!

Japanese-style room in a Ryokan

Final Thoughts

Tsuetate Onsen is a bit out of the way from Fukuoka City, but if you make the venture out, you will be rewarded with a humble sanctuary full of history and nature. (I’ve only visited during the Carp festival in the Spring which is a time I highly recommend!)

Tsuetate Onsen Koinobori Festival

If you are looking to make a bigger trip out of a Tsuetate adventure, you can add Hita to the itinerary. Hita lies between central Fukuoka and Tsuetate Onsen and is also accessible by bus. It is another quiet town that is preserved in its times and is sometimes referred to as the Kyoto of Kyushu!

Sunset in Hita

Are you interested in more Japan adventures? Make sure to check out these blog posts too!

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