Driving Along the Calm Ariake Sea
The scenery along the coastal road from Isahaya towards Yanagawa was picturesque with quaint fishing villages surrounded by photogenic landscapes, the calm Ariake Sea on one side and lush, verdant hills on the other. Jerome and I had enjoyed collecting the cute fruit shaped bus stops and had turned it into a game to spot the next shelter along the undulating seaside road. After intermittently pausing at each of the 21 bus stops for a dash through the rain and an photo moment, we took a break at a classic Japanese roadside station, cherishing local mikan (orange) ice cream and admiring the varied fruit and vegetables on sale – real versions of the fake ones we had been picturing on our journey.
River Cruises and Unagi
Last and final stop for the day was at the nostalgic canal town of Yanagawa, also called Kyushu’s Venice. Famed for its river cruises and delicious unagi (eel) dishes, it is still largely unknown to tourists. Sadly the persistent rain had caused the willow-lined waterways to swell and the donkobune (faltboats) boatmen had abandoned their schedules, the water level made passing under the low bridges probably impossible. A boat ride is by far the best way to take in the stunning scenery and discover the ancient canal town, however we had to content ourselves with a stroll along the cobbled streets.
Yanagawa’s old centre holds a multitude of sights, including the beautiful Ohana residence, the former home of a feudal lord with a splendid garden and other notable buildings. Furthermore you should not miss the Iris garden in bloom during the months of May/June, plus the Hakushu Museum and Yanagawa castle ruins. Stay the night at Ohana, where once only noblemen rested their tired bodies or one of the other traditional ryokans to really appreciate the nostalgic atmosphere.
Our excursion led us besides the willow edged canal, reminiscent of Kurashiki, a delightful canal town near Okayama. Loosely following a suggested sightseeing route, we passed ancient merchant houses, many of them turned into shops and restaurants. The aim was to reach the Karatachi Bunjin, a public foot bath before it closed. Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted by a group of Japanese “oldies”, the only other visitors at the foot bath. Dipping our feet into the hot spring water undercover of the roof, we savoured the banter of the locals until the water was emptied from the basins punctually at six o’clock on the dot, as it is daily before being refilled the next morning.
Dinner at まる勝遊食膳
Naturally we should have eaten eel for dinner in Yanagawa but all the good rated eel restaurants were not open. Instead we indulged in the bibimbap set menu atまる勝遊食膳, a friendly izakaya run by husband and wife. It was late by the time we returned to Kumamoto and our lovely minshuku after a lengthy but enjoyable drive around the calm Ariake Sea but we were also excited about our upcoming adventures on Yakushima Island, where we would be spending the next week.
Where we stayed in Kyushu:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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