Now spring is here, it’s time to get outdoors. Karatsu is nearby and makes for a refreshing day trip. Here’s a few spots we think are well worth checking out. And remember, Karatsu is nearby. By train (Tenjin to Karatsu) can take as little as 61 minutes!
Niji No Matsubara Pine Grove
The highlight of any visit to Karatsu is definitely a drive-through, or even better, a walk through this otherworldly forest. Roughly one million black pines form a 4.5 km by 700 m belt along a crescent-shaped sandy beach. Hirotaka Terazawa planted the trees, the first lord of the Karatsu domain at the beginning of the 17th century as a protective barrier from winds and the tide, and it’s been maintained by locals ever since. Some of the tree trunks sport bizarrely convoluted shapes, while some lean into a slant from the prevailing winds. Try shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) or bath at the beach! #karatsupinegrove
JR train: Get off at Nijinomatsubara Station, and you’re almost dead center in the forest. Check the Map.
It took seven years (1602 and 1608) to build this castle situated in the northern part of Karatsu City and facing the sea. It became known as Maizuru-jo (Dancing Crane Castle) because its tower keep said to resemble a bird’s head and the two swooping shaped beaches on either side, which look like wings. In 1966 the current modern structure was opened. Inside there are exhibits of local history, including suits of armor and swords. You can walk out of the balconies of the top floor for a 360-degree view. The view is also excellent (and free) from the base of the castle when in spring, some 220 cherry trees and then weeks later, Wisteria flowers come into glorious bloom. It’s a 222 m climb up a rocky staircase, or for ¥100, you can zip up in an elevator. Inside there’s a souvenir shop and a tourist information counter. #karatsulegend
JR Train: 20-minute walk or 8-minute taxi ride from Karatsu Station. A 7-minute bus ride from JR Karatsu Station on Showa Bus. Get off at “Karatsujo Iriguchi” bus stop.
Hopefully, you’ve experienced a drive or walk through the Niji No Matsubara Pine Grove. But wait until you see it from above! From the observation deck at 284 meters high on Mount Kagami, you can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of the town, forest, beach, and sea. On clear days you can see Iki and Tsushima Islands too. The observation deck is situated inside a park with seasonal blooms, refreshment stands, and space to picnic. Paragliders use it as a jump-off spot, and of course, its ideal place for couples. #karatsulookout
Unfortunately, there isn’t any public transportation to the top. However, there is free parking for 175 cars and a taxi from Nijinomatsubara Station will cost about ¥2,260 (6.9 km) or it’s 90-minute on foot. By bus: Take the Showa Bus bound for Hirota at the Karatsu Oteguchi Bus Center and get off at Kagamiyama Iriguchi stop. (¥320/17minutes) then walk up about 4 km. Check the Map.
Mention Karatsu, and for food, most people will think of seafood and especially fresh squid. Beef, or more specifically, Saga Beef, the local brand of premium beef, is another. And then there’s the established Karatsu Burger available from a food truck inside the pine grove. But, we found a new gem that specializes in pork cutlets and other dishes using pork from their hog ranch. Lunch sets start at just ¥1,000 and can be upgraded to include premium tenderloin fillet or their hearty butajiru (pork and veggie soup.) If you love pork, then go and thank us later!
• 193 Shinkomachi, Karatsu
• 3 minutes on foot from Karatsu Station
• Open: Tue. ~ Sat. 11:30 ~14:00 (L.O. 13:30), 18:00 ~23:00 (L.O. 22:00), Sun. dinner only. Close: Monday
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn256, Apr 2020)