Yanagawa Canals and Cherry Blossoms

Weekend in Yanagawa: Hina-matsuri, Canal Punting, and Cherry Blossoms

What is Yanagawa Known For?

Yanagawa is a small city located an hour train ride south of Fukuoka city. Nicknamed “the Venice of Japan”, it has quiet streets and canals that can be traveled via punt (a long flat-bottomed boat). But to set expectations, unlike its nickname, Yanagawa is most definitely not like Venice. (Way less water, development, boats, architecture, people, etc).

Unagi is the most well-known dish in Yanagawa so you will find many restaurants selling this expensive delicacy. If you visit in the spring, the city becomes exceptionally beautiful- riding in the canals beneath blooming sakura trees is a truly breathtaking experience. Additionally, you can catch Hina-matsuri (Girl’s Day or Doll Festival) celebrations and see the many colorful decorations! Since Yanagawa is easy to travel to, it makes a great day or weekend trip. I visited at the start of my spring break and had a great time exploring the charming city.

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Yanagawa Canals and Cherry Blossoms
Yanagawa Canals and Cherry Blossoms

Table of Contents

Getting to Yanagawa

If you don’t have a car, I recommend taking the train from Nishitetsu Tenjin Station to Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station. The ride takes about an hour and costs ¥860 each way.

Once arriving at Yanagawa Station, I’m sure you will quickly notice how quiet and quaint the city is compared to the crowd and bustle of Fukuoka.

Things To Do in Yanagawa

I planned my visit to Yanagawa during cherry blossom season and the Hina-matsuri (Girl’s Day or Doll Festival). While you can visit at any time, these events were the highlights of my trip so I definitely feel this is one of the best times to go. Here are some of my recommendations for what to do when you visit Yanagawa!

Ohina-sama boat parade, Yanagawa
Ohina-sama boat parade

Eat Unagi (Eel)

Hopefully you like (or are willing to try) unagi as this is the city’s signature food! Seiromushi is the most popular unagi dish. First, a specially sauced rice is steamed in a wooden box called a “seiro”. Then fillets of charcoal-broiled eel are placed on top along with finely sliced scrambled egg. Altogether, the food is steamed once more. Though time-consuming to make, this method allows the dish to be served piping hot and for the eel’s flavor to completely soak into the rice.

Seiromushi- steamed unagi rice with a special soup on the side

Often included with seiromushi is a special soup called kimosui. This clear broth is rich in flavor and has a special ingredient: eel liver! (I’ll admit it looks a bit creepy and I was a little squeamish before eating it… After tasting, I found that the liver had a smooth texture, but not much flavor.)

Kimosui- eel liver soup
Kimosui- eel liver soup

Since unagi is very popular, you will find many restaurants selling it around Yanagawa. I had pleasant experiences at the two places I dined at: Ganso Motoyoshiya and Saraya Fukuryu.

  • Ganso Motoyoshiya– located 12 minutes from the train station, this restaurant provides an extremely elegant dining experience. Shoes are removed at the entrance and short tables are situated on tatami mats. A beautiful Japanese garden can be viewed from the large windows. A bit on the expensive side, their seiromushi set comes in at ¥3,700 (~$34). (Cash only)
  • Saraya Fukuryu- located in a small shopping square near the end of the canal punting route. There are three types of seating available: tatami seats, semi-private booths, and tables. This place also has a nice Japanese garden outside. At the time of my visit, the seiromushi set was ¥2750. A mini size was also available for ¥1870. In the front, this restaurant also sells steamed unagi onigiri. (Cash only)

Canal Punting

Something you must do if you visit Yanagawa is canal punting! Embark on a leisurely one-hour ride through the city, enjoy the peaceful scenery, ride under low bridges, and hear your guide sing traditional Japanese songs.

Yanagawa canal punting guide
Canal punting guide

There are multiple punting companies, but I went with Suigo Yanagawa Kanko. Though my boat guide only spoke Japanese and I couldn’t understand most of his explanations, I still enjoyed the experience and found it fascinating to watch him use the long pole to propel our boat forward. As an added bonus, since I went during cherry blossom season, I got to ride beneath the blooming sakura trees. It was magical!

It rained during my punting tour, so here I am in a protective poncho and hat!

Reservations were not required and adult tickets were ¥1500 each. The tour ends in the southwest of the city close to the small shopping square. (The unagi restaurant I listed above, Saraya Fukuryu, is located in this area so you can easily eat unagi after finishing your trip.) After the ride, the company provides a shuttle that takes you back to the launch point. Alternatively, you can walk back on your own (30-40 minutes.)

Suigo Yanagawa Kanko canal punting ticket
Ticket to ride in the canals

Hina-matsuri Celebrations and Decorations

Yanagawa goes above and beyond when it comes to celebrating Hina-matsuri. From March-April, the city is decorated and several events are held to pray for its girls’ good fortune and happiness.

  • Ohina-sama Water Parade – I was super fortunate to see this boat parade due to a short break in the rainy weather. Young girls dressed in ornate red outfits and gold headdresses waved to us onlookers as their boats drifted through the canals. Another boat of men playing traditional wind instruments and drums filled the air with a semi-melancholy tune.
Yanagawa Hina-Matsuri Boat Parade
Yanagawa Hina-Matsuri Boat Parade
Musicians during the Hina-Matsuri Boat Parade
Musicians during the Hina-Matsuri Boat Parade
  • Hina Doll Displays– These are elaborate multi-step altars that feature an Emperor and Empress doll along with other decorative items all on a bright red cloth. (I actually helped my host family set up one of these displays and was blown away with how many different pieces were included as well as how much storage space it required). Not to mention, a full 7-step display can cost multiple thousands of dollars!
Hina-Matsuri Girl's Day Doll Display
Girl’s Day tiered doll Display
Empress Hina Doll- Girl's Day Decoration
Empress doll for Girl’s Day decoration
  • Temari – These are decorative balls that are made with colorful thread and feature intricately woven patterns. They symbolize loyalty and friendship and were traditionally given to girls as a toy. (These days they are more decorative than functional). The detailed needlework and craftsmanship that goes into making these balls are incredible. Since you can find temari balls of all sizes and designs in Yanagawa they make a good souvenir!
Hanging Temari Ball- Girl's Day Decoration
Hanging Temari Ball
  • Sagemon– Another decoration, this one featuring many small, hand-sewn hanging elements. Temari balls and other sewn objects like animals and figurines are commonly used in Sagemon.
Sagemon- Hanging Hina Matsuri Decoration
Sagemon Hina-Matsuri decoration

Cherry Blossoms at Takahata Park

A great place for cherry blossom viewing is Takahata Park. Located close to where the canal boats launch, this park is filled with sakura trees, hanging lanterns, and a small pond.

Cherry Blossoms and Lanterns in Takahata Park, Yanagawa
Cherry Blossoms and Lanterns in Takahata Park

Every few steps I had to stop and take pictures of the trees since they were so beautiful.

Cherry Blossoms and Lanterns in Takahata Park, Yanagawa
Walking along the cherry blossoms 🙂

In the evening the lanterns are lit and the park transforms into a mystical place that feels straight out of a Miyazaki movie.

Nighttime lanterns and reflections
Lanterns and Reflections in Takahata Park, Yanagawa

Wisteria Viewing – Nakayama no Ofuji

Long vines of beautiful purple wisteria bloom in April in Japan. At Nakayama no Ofuji in Yanagawa, enjoy walking under large trellises of this lovely flower. You can visit the area by taxing a taxi, or for the more adventurous travelers, hop on a bike from Yanagawa station for a 30-minute ride.

Nakayama no Ofuji - wisteria trellis

Nakayama no Ofuji is one of the easiest, cheapest, and nicest places to see wisteria in Fukuoka, so be sure to not miss out!

Nakayama no Ofuji - wisteria flowers

Japan Thrifting

The area around Yame is known for producing traditional textiles and indigo-dyed fabrics. West Coast Yanagawa is a huge second-hand store that has a large selection of goods that would cost hundreds if they were new, including handwoven fabrics and kimonos.

Where to Stay in Yanagawa

Hatago Bed and Breakfast

I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called Hatago B&B. The woman in charge of the b&b was very friendly and the Japanese room I stayed in smelled wonderfully of tatami.

Hatago B&B, Yanagawa
Traditional rooms in Hatago b&b

Since the b&b runs out of a renovated 87-year-old house, there were traditional sliding doors and wood carvings. It was so cool!

Traditional Sliding Doors and Carvings
Traditional sliding doors and wood carvings

Check out this bed and breakfast for a great stay in Yanagawa!

Yanagawa Tachibana-tei Ohana

For a top luxury stay in Yanagawa, consider Yanagawa Tachibana-tei Ohana. Ohana is the former residence of the Tachibana family, a clan of feudal lords who ruled the Yanagawa domain during the Sengoku and Edo periods. Guest rooms overlook the large Shoten garden, and a vast tatami hall can be used for large events like weddings.

Here you can feel the history of the Tachibana family which spans over 400 years.

See availability for Ohana.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed spending the weekend in Yanagawa, eating lots of unagi, and taking in the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Since it is a pretty quaint town, most of it can be explored in just a day or two. I hope you visit soon and can experience the uniqueness Yanagawa offers!

Yanagawa Vlog

In this video, I visit Yanagawa to try the famous eel and see the beautiful wisteria!

If you are interested in other Fukuoka Day Trips, be sure to check out these posts!

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