The Best of Karatsu.

Yobuko. A small town where you can soak up the vibes of the local life, enjoy nature’s natural beauty, and taste some of the delicious seafood cuisine. Yobuko is a fishing port found in Karatsu on the island of Kyushu. If you’re looking for a fun and adventure-packed day trip from Sasebo or Fukuoka, I would recommend traveling to Karastu City. From the Karatsu Kunchi Festival in early November, the historic Karatsu Castle, and the famous seafood of Yobuko, this area also holds some other unique experiences that can be explored. Here are some of our recommendations for the best of Karatsu in a day!

TOWN OF YOBUKO

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Yobuko, Karatsu City.
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MORNING MARKET OF YOBUKO

  • Open daily 7:30am-12pm.
  • Located on the east side of Yobuko Port, the approximately 200m long street features about 50 street stalls full of fresh fish, shellfish, processed goods, and vegetables.
  • The Yobuko Morning Market is said to have begun in the Taisho Period (1912-1926). It is one of Japan’s three largest morning markets, along with those of Wajima City in Ishikawa prefecture and Takayama City in Gifu prefecture.
  • We arrived at the morning market around 9am, not super early, but still early enough to catch some of the market action. The people were extremely friendly (as everyone in Japan typically are!).
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Entrance to Yobuko’s morning market.
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Woman opening a sea urchin for us.
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Drying squid.
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Cleaning the fish.
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The fish on the plate were still moving!

YAKATAISHI-NO-NANASTUGAMA (Caves)

The Nanatsugama Caves are spectacular caves formed from the infamous rough waves of the Genkai Sea pounding against the cliffs and eroding them away over many long years. As the Japanese name suggests (literally “seven ovens”), the Nanatsugama Caves consist of seven caves in a row formed by deep erosion into the cliff face. The largest of the caves has an opening of 3 meters and depth of 110 meters. Legend says that Empress Jingu discarded an earthen vessel here that was memorabilia for her troops winning the war with Korea, and there is a shrine- Dokizaki Shrine- here which worships her.

There is a grassy plateau above the caves, (located about a 15 minutes drive from the morning market), with a lookout and walking trail that is a beautiful and peaceful stroll if you have extra time!

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Nanatsugama Caves below from the lookout trail.
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Otherwise the caves can also be enjoyed leisurely on a cruise boat with the Yobuko Excursion Ship. The departure ramp is right by the morning market. The “squid” boat leaves every hour starting at 9:30am, with the last one being at 16:30. It costs 1600 yen for adults and 800 yen for children (elementary age) and the voyage takes about 40 minutes total.

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Nanastugama Caves from the boat.
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Spectacular landscape!!
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BIRTHPLACE OF LIVE SQUID SASHIMI

The main industry of Yobuko is fishery. Squid, especially, is the most popular item and most of the restaurants serve sashimi of squid alive. Known as the birthplace of live squid sashimi, this title immediately attracts visitors and tourists to this city. And man, I can attest that this is absolutely worth it, even if it’s the only thing that you get to do on your trip to this town! You can see many signs for restaurants around the Karatsu area that specialize and serve live squid, so it’s not hard to find one without even knowing where to look. We ended up visiting Saikoutei, because it happened to fall smack in the middle of our chosen sightseeing area (one entrance is located right off of the morning market street and the other entrance leads out into the port area). But regardless of its location, the restaurant was superb!!

“Ika-no-ikizukuri (live squid sashimi)” is the name of the specialty dish of Yobuko town. A live squid is scooped from a preservation tank and quickly prepared after a customers order. Not only is the squid delicious but it it tastes extremely fresh (it’s really hard to describe the freshness of it). And lets not forget its appearance- the translucent body of the squid is really quite beautiful. The sliced sashimi pieces are a bit chewy and are tasteless for the most part but are yummy when combined with a dip in soy sauce! After enjoying the sashimi, the staff will take the squid back to the kitchen to cook the remaining squid into squid tempura. Keep in mind that if you do not wish to eat squid, there are other dishes available. We also tried the exquisite Saga beef which you grill on your own!

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It was just under US$30 for one live squid set meal (that seemed to be the price range for a few of the restaurants we saw that served squid meals). We bought one set meal to split between two adults and that was enough for us (we also had other side dishes as well).
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Beautiful presentation of the live squid!
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The squid’s tentacles would occasionally move.
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Translucent body of squid.
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Fried squid tempura (I preferred the sashimi better).

KARATSU CASTLE

Karatsu Castle in itself is a beautiful place and fortress. Yet, we were even more fortunate to have been able to visit during the sakura (cherry blossom) season which added a special beauty you do not get to witness throughout the rest of the year. Like most other castles in Japan, you can pay a small entrance fee (I think this one was 400 yen) to walk the different floors of the castle. As usual, photos are not allowed in the museum-like set up inside, but of course, you can go photo crazy on the lookout deck on the top of the castle.

— history —

The original construction of Karatsu Castle began in 1602 and took seven years to complete. It was built by Terasawa Shimanokami Hirotaka, a former retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Some of the construction materials are said to have come from Nagoya Castle, which was dismantled when the Tokugawa clan took power. Winged by swooping beaches, the fortress became popularly known as Maizuru-Jo (“Dancing Crane Castle”) because of a fancied resemblance to a bird. Following the Terasawa clan, the Okubo clan and later the Matsudaira, Doi, Mizuno, and Ogasawara clans became lords of the castle. In 1877, the castle precincts were opened as Maizuru Park. The present-day castle keep, built in the style of the early 17th century, was raised on foundations laid in the feudal period. It was completed in October 1966 as a cultural and sightseeing facility.

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Karatsu Castle.
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NIJI-NO-MATSUBARA (Pine Forest)

Niji-no-Matsubara, stretching along the Karatsu Bay coastline, is designated as a national scenic beauty spot and is considered one of the three greatest pine forests of Japan together with Miho-no-Matsubara and Ama-no-Hashidate… and it smells good too 😉

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Panorama of one of Karatsu Castle’s lookout angles. The Pine Forest is straight ahead across the bridge, to the left you can see a small strip of green. As you look further back the path widens into the Niji-no-Matsubara. (It was cloudy when we visited so it’s difficult to see).

Niji-no-Matsubara (“rainbow beach with the forest of pine trees”) is approximately 5km is length, 1km wide, and made up of around 1 million Japanese Black Pine trees. Its history dates back as far as the beginning of the 17th century when Hirotaka Terasawa, the first lord of the Karatsu domain, started planting pine trees on the dunes along the coastline for protection against the wind and tide. Niji-no-Matsubara is also famous as a place surrounded in seven mysterious legends:

  1. Cicadas do not cry in the area because Hideyoshi Toyotomi is said to have once scolded cicadas which were being noisy.
  2. The pine trees are all short. This is also believed to be due to Hideyoshi glaring at a tall pine and saying “You are haughty.”
  3. Only the Japanese Black Pine species grows here.
  4. There are no snakes. This is said due to a wish by Suwa Princess who is worshipped at Suwa Shrine.
  5. There were two trees with identical branch arrangement. Only one of these remains standing today.
  6. The water in the well at two tea houses near the sea is fresh water.
  7. The extension of the line connecting Takashima and Kashiwa Island is the middle of the pine forest.
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Peaceful drive through the pine forest.

We came across a very random find while we driving through the forest- a van selling burgers!?! Now, if I would’ve come across something like this in America, there’s no way I would’ve stopped. I mean, a van… in the middle of a forest… selling “food”… heck no!! However, this is Japan, so we figured we’d at least do a closer drive-by. Turns out it was a small burger shack selling Karatsu’s very own specialty gourmet food- the Karatsu Burger!! This burger reminded me a lot of Sasebo’s own “Sasebo Burger” with the egg and cheese, but this one had a very distinct and delicious dark sauce added to it! Eating burgers from a van is quite an out-of-the-box, must-do experience!

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Karatsu hamburger shack in Niji-no-Matsubara.

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Lindsay View All →

Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!

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