“Sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.” ~ Anthony Doer.

Looking for a Yanagawa day trip itinerary? While Fukuoka may be known for its famed Canal City shopping and entertainment centre in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture also boasts a hidden canal city most foreign tourists have never heard of!

Located about 1.5 hours south of Fukuoka city by road, Yanagawa 柳川 is a charming, preserved old town that is a scenic time capsule from centuries past. Lined with willow tree branches dipping into 470 kilometres of canals throughout, this sleepy town is a lovely day trip destination to contrast Kyushu’s busier cities.

Yanagawa Day Trip Itinerary: Fukuoka's Hidden Canals | The Invisible Tourist

The canals are the pride of the town, earning it the title the “Little Venice of Kyushu” alongside Okayama’s “Little Venice of Japan” in Kurashiki.

When researching places to explore in Japan off the beaten track, Yanagawa is a city you won’t find in guide books, or even on other Japan travel blogs. So I decided to put this Yanagawa travel guide together to help you make the most of your day. 

If you’re wondering about the things to do in Yanagawa, ways to get there and what not to miss, read on for more!

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Yanagawa Day Trip Itinerary: Fukuoka's Hidden Canals | The Invisible Tourist
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How to get to Yanagawa

Yanagawa city can be easily reached from major hubs such as Fukuoka and Kumamoto. I personally did my Yanagawa day trip from Kumamoto because I used it as a base when following my Kyushu itinerary.

If travelling by train, the nearest station to the central canal area is Nishitetsu-Yanagawa Station.

Fukuoka to Yanagawa

Depending on traffic which can vary day-to-day, the journey from Fukuoka by car takes between 1 hour 15 minutes – 2 hours on the E3 highway, 70 kms.

Kumamoto to Yanagawa

1hr 15 mins north of Kumamoto by hire car on the E3 highway, 61 kms.

How to get from Kumamoto or Fukuoka to Yanagawa Map
Kumamoto or Fukuoka to Yanagawa Map

Things to do in Yanagawa: One Day Itinerary

TIP: This Yanagawa day trip guide forms part of my 7 days in Kyushu itinerary, so take a look for more inspiration once you’re done here.

Originally a form of defence crafted for Yanagawa Castle, the expansive canal system snaking throughout the town was built by hand over 400 years ago. At the time, they were also used to transport trade and samurai goods. 

During the Meiji Period (1886-1942), a local poet became famous throughout Japan for his work. Today, the boatmen of Yanagawa sing the poems in gentle melodies as they paddle guests, especially as they navigate beneath the low-lying bridges to amplify their voices. It really feels like a world from a time long gone!

See plenty of boats during your Yanagawa day trip

Wondering what to do in Yanagawa? Here are some things to add to your Yanagawa day trip itinerary:

Enjoy a lengthy Yanagawa river cruise

Did you even visit Yanagawa if you didn’t take one of its famed boat rides, named O-hori Meguri? Gliding through the still canal waters, the traditional sightseeing river cruises are the most popular activity here. You can book them in advance (in the box down the page) or turn up on the day and try your luck.

I didn’t book my Yanagawa river cruise in advance as there are few vendors to choose from. While I did want to take an English-speaking one (from the vendor called Yanagawa Kanko Kaihatsu Punting Station) due to my limited Japanese, the queue was over an hour long. 

NOTE: Unlike in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter in Okayama where you’re given a ticket and time slot to return, at this vendor you need to stand in the queue the entire time. 

To save waiting time for my Yanagawa sightseeing cruise, I went to Suigo Yanagawa Kanko and only had to wait 15 mins instead. While it was great, the obvious trade off was I missed some of the narration about significant buildings we went past as our boatman didn’t speak any English at all (which is fine!)

Yanagawa boat ride

Add a traditional boat ride to your Yanagawa day trip itinerary

Narrow and low bridge of Yanagawa

Yanagawa river cruise tickets and hats

Dress up in a kimono for the day

If undertaking a Yanagawa day trip on your own and not part of a guided tour from Fukuoka, why not see the sights dressed in kimono or yukata? You can book your kimono rental experience in Yanagawa here.

Explore the southern end of the canals

The boat cruise I took was not a return journey (most of them aren’t), meandering through the canals to the other side of town. 

This means you can explore the little streets and eateries at the southern end of the town and leisurely walk back, about one hour. Or, your boat company may provide a free shuttle bus to get back to where you started.

Take this as an opportunity to have some lunch and explore the little shops. Tachibana-tei Ohana, a grand Western-style building once the former residence of a feudal lord family, is now a restaurant.

TIP: See if you can spot what I like to call the boatmen “ninja,” where they jump up onto bridges while allowing their boat with passengers to glide beneath. They then jump back down into the boat as it emerges from under the bridge on the other side.

Southern canals of Yanagawa, Kyushu

Seeing the canals is a must for a one day Yanagawa itinerary

Enjoy lunch in a small cafe

Yanagawa is known for its freshwater eel, or unagi, which is a popular Japanese dish. It’s nicer than it sounds (it tastes like fish) and has many health benefits. The unagi is grilled in a sweet soy sauce marinade then served over a bed of rice.

However, unagi has become an endangered species in Japan. So while it is the local specialty, if you’d like to give this dish a try it may be a good idea to seek out restaurants that source their unagi in a sustainable way. More info about unagi here.

There are plenty of other little eateries around the town so why not enjoy lunch and finish off with an ice cream afterwards?

Unagi: Grilled Eel Served with Rice

Practise your Japanese

When venturing off the main streets in Yanagawa, if you are of Western heritage it is likely you’ll be stopped by locals for a chat – even though they don’t speak English and you don’t speak Japanese, it doesn’t seem to matter!

I was approached several times by retired locals, wanting to know why I was visiting Japan and the country I call home. Western tourists are not a common sight in some areas of Yanagawa.

TIP: Use my Japanese for tourists cheat sheet to learn some basics!

The ojisan and obachan (grandfathers and grandmothers) are very friendly and want to talk. A ojisan even stopped his bike to have a quick chat while I was resting on a bench taking this photo!

Collect omamori from Mihashira Jinja

Its entrance framed by a dark torii, enshrined in Mihashira Shrine is the first lord of the Yanagawa domain and his relatives. Built in 1826, it features a large koi pond, a small row of red torii, expansive gardens, and is known for its unusual omamori

There are 13 kinds of omamori decorated in different symbols such as a lightning bolt, moon, phoenix, fish, baby and children to name a few. Omamori make delightful souvenirs from Japan!

Mihashira Jinja Shrine, Yanagawa

Don’t miss the views from Rankan-bashi Bridge

Directly opposite the torii to Mihashira shrine, this pedestrian-only bridge has a lovely view up the Nisa River. During spring, the riverbanks are lined with pink cherry blossom flowers.

View of Yanagawa Boatman from Rankan-bashi

Catch a seasonal festival on your Yanagawa day trip

The sleepy town of Yanagawa hosts some major festivals throughout the year. 

Hakushu Festival

Named after Hakushu Kitahara, in November the Hakushu Festival is held, celebrating Yanagawa’s beloved local poet. It’s his poems made popular during the Edo Period that the boatmen sing to their guests today.

Along a 4 kilometre stretch of the canal during evenings of the three day festival, the waters are illuminated by lantern lights from 35 wooden boats gliding along to music. You can read more about the festival here.

Nakayama Oto wisteria festival

Held annually at Nakayama Kumano Shrine, the Nakayama Oto festival celebrates an incredible “Grand Wisteria” within the shrine grounds. Every year from around mid-April, the tree awakens from its barren slumber and bursts into delicate purple blossom. 

It’s believed the seeds were brought to Yanagawa from Osaka during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). At over 300 years old, its lengthy branches weave their way through a giant pergola and framework over an arched vermilion bridge.

The best part? The festival is free to attend! The wisteria is also illuminated each evening, making for a beautiful sight.

Wisteria is one of my personal favourite flowers, so if you attend the event I know you will fall in love with it too. Read more about the festival here.

Where to stay in Kumamoto

I can recommend lovely Fav Hotel Kumamoto, which was where I based myself during my week in Kyushu. It has parking across the street, a kitchenette, is close to konbini (convenience stores), a coin laundry and tram stop are a few moments’ walk.

I recommend this hotel for anyone including groups where you all want to stay in the one room! Plus the views of the sunset over the city were amazing.

Where to Stay in Kumamoto for a Kyushu Trip

Concluding this one day Yanagawa itinerary

So, is Yanagawa worth a visit? As it hasn’t quite hit the mainstream foreign tourist radar just yet, Yanagawa is worth a day trip for those who wish to explore a picturesque period town without crowds.

That wraps up this one day in Yanagawa itinerary! Whether you decide to visit as a day trip from Fukuoka or DIY, now you can select the things to do in Yanagawa that will suit you. But whichever things you choose, be sure to include a special Yanagawa sightseeing boat cruise with a lovely local boatman!

While you’re here, why not check out my my extensive Japan travel blog sharing other places to visit during your time in Kyushu? Read my:

If you found this Yanagawa travel guide helpful or know someone who is planning a trip to Japan, please share it around! You can also come and join me on Feel free to join me on Facebook, PinterestInstagram for more Japan inspiration!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist

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One Day Yanagawa Itinerary: Fukuoka's Hidden Canals | The Invisible Tourist

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2 Comments

  1. Unagi is an endangered species. I think that food choices (and preserving the local biodiversity) are part of being an “invisible” tourist. (Most unagi in Japan isn’t locally sourced because of massive overfishing, pollution, …)

    1. You’re absolutely right that preserving local biodiversity is part of being an “invisible” tourist. I was not aware about unagi being an endangered species, so appreciate you letting me know!

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