Facilities that introduce Saga culture and history are located at the center of Saga city and can be visited in a day. This is a guide to a mini-tour to learn about Saga, mainly from the late Edo period to the early Meiji period when Saga influenced Japan the most.
The Saga Prefectural Museum is the best place to get an overview of the history and culture of Saga from prehistoric to modern times. First, let's head to the museum.
One of the attractions is Japanese swords. Though Japanese swords have become popular both in Japan and abroad due to the popularity of anime (Japanese cartoons), there are not many facilities in Kyushu where they can always be seen. The Saga Prefectural Museum has 300 swords, three of which are always exhibited. The lighting is designed creatively such that the beauty of the unique temper pattern of the Japanese swords can be appreciated and the swords look exceptionally beautiful if viewed by slightly bending forward.
On the museum east side is the "Okada Saburosuke Atelier" which opened in April 2018. The atelier (built in 1908) of Okada, who was a famous western-style painter hailing from Saga, was shifted from Tokyo. Furniture used by Okada such as chairs and stove, and plaster model figure are exhibited. You can click commemorative photographs as sitting on the chairs. There is also "OKADA-ROOM" whitch is the exhibition room of Okada's painting in Saga Prefectural Art Museum next to the museum.
Take the No. 6, 24, 25 or 26 bus from Saga Station Bus Center and get down at "Saga Terebi Mae" or "Hakubutsukan Mae” bus stops. The bus fare is 150 yen. Entry is free to the museum and OKADA-ROOM, and Okada Saburosuke Atelier (except special exhibition). Open from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM Closed on Mondays and December 29 to 31.
Across the Saga Prefectural Museum on Honmaru Avenue is the Saga Castle History Museum. The place where the castle owner lived and governed is called "Honmaru Goten". This facility faithfully restores a part of Honmaru Goten built by the 10th Lord of Saga, Naomasa Nabeshima, and introduces Saga of the late Edo period, and the Meiji period which had ushered in a new era.
The highlight is the building itself. You can get the feel of the area where Samurai's lived with a 45-meter long corridor covered with tatami, a 528 square meter (320-mat) outer reception room used for official ceremonies of the Saga clan, etc. Current materials have been used since it is a restored building, an exception is the living room of the lord, called "Gozanoma". Miraculously, the building material of that time remained, and the room was restored using the materials. There is no lighting or air-conditioning, and you can feel an atmosphere just like the old times. Many visitors come here to sit and spend time quietly.
One of the characteristics is the many hands on exhibits. There is a popular corner set up in the outer reception room where you can take a commemorative photograph with Naomasa Nabeshima and wear a Samurai dress or armor on the image on the monitor using AR (Augmented Reality) technology.
There were approximately 320,000 visitors in 2017 of which over 10% were foreigners. Therefore, we are focusing on developing foreign language skills. You can also borrow free audio guide equipment for Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean languages, information boards are also displayed in different languages within the museum.
Admission free. Open from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM. Closed from December 29 to 31.
Saga City Cultural Museum is not the name of one museum, but a collective name for the historic structures such as the Former Koga Bank, the Former Sansho Bank, and the old Ushijima Residence, etc. 7 facilities are registered at present, and the Saga city preserves and maintains them. The stretch with its retro atmosphere is perfect for walks and is highly popular among foreign visitors.
Since the interiors of old buildings are refurbished and occupied by cafes, variety shops, etc., you can enjoy various experiences and not just sight-seeing. For instance, dress up in Kimono at the old Hisatomi Residence and get yourself photographed at the photo gallery, sip Japanese black tea at the old Morinaga Residence, buy crafts of Saga, and watch a weaving demonstration of Nabeshima Dantsu (woven carpet). If you feel hungry, you can have lunch at “Romanza” inside the Former Koga Bank?
Entry is free to all buildings. Open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed on Mondays and December 29 to January 3. Access: Take a bus bound for Katatae from Saga Station Bus Center, get down at "Gofuku Motomachi" bus stop and walk for 2 minutes. Approximately 30 minutes on foot from Saga station. Bicycle parking is available on the east side of the nearby Former Koga bank.
"Okuma Memorial Museum" is also one of the places you would love to visit, it is approximately 10 minutes on foot to the east of the Saga Castle History Museum, and approximately 10 minutes on foot to the south of the Saga City Cultural Museum. Okuma, who hails from Saga, is the founder of the private university "Waseda University", that represents Japan. He was a highly-educated man and politician who twice served as the Prime Minister of Japan. The museum introduces the life of Okuma.
Okuma was attacked a dozen times during his life by ruffians. In 1889 he lost his right leg to a bomb. An artificial leg and a sword cane used for self-defense are exhibited in the memorial museum, which draws the attention of the visitors. The sword cane was made by a close aide and Okuma himself, did not like it much.
The building is unique. The exterior and interior were built by keeping Okuma in mind based on the design by the late Mr. Kenji Imai, who was an honorary professor at Waseda University and an architect. The big hole on the left side when you face the building is said to represent the right foot that was lost. The striking stained glass in the exhibition hall on the second floor is maroon, which is the school color of Waseda University and the dark red diamond shape is associated with the square cap of the same university.
Next to the memorial museum is Okuma’s parental house which he frequented up to the age of about 30. The atmosphere of the Samurai residence built about 300 years ago still prevails.
Admission fee is 300 yen for adults, 150 yen for primary and middle school students. Open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed from December 29 to January 3.
"Jofuku Long Life Center" is about 5 minutes on foot after getting off the express bus at “Kinryu” bus stop on the route connecting Fukuoka with Saga Station Bus Center. You visit on your way to Saga or on your way back to Fukuoka.
Legend has it that about 2,200 years ago, Jofuku (Xu Fu) set out to search for the elixir of life at the behest of the Chinese emperor and arrived at Saga. Jofuku Long Life Center exhibits materials on Jofuku tradition.
As you enter, the pure white statue of Jofuku enshrined in the center catches your attention. It is an approximately 1.5 meters tall marble statue weighing about 2.5 tons, China which is the homeland of Jofuku was requested to make the sculpture. People are said to offer money to the seated figure to get a share of the elixir of life which Jofuku had sought.
There is a sprawling medicinal botanical garden (3.5 hectares) with fifty thousand plants of 500 species around the Jofuku Long Life Center. Among them, "Bakuchinoki" (Prunus zippeliana) is gaining popularity among tourists, as the peeling flaky old bark reportedly increases the luck with money.
Guidebooks are available in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean languages, and a screening of the video "Dreams of Jofuku" (Japanese, Chinese and Korean) that traces the footsteps of Jofuku to interested visitors.
Admission fee is 300 yen for adults, 150 yen for primary and middle school students. Open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed on Mondays and December 29 to January 3.
The naval facility set up by the Saga clan of the late Edo period, carried out activities such as ship maneuvering drills, ship building, and ship repair etc. Mietsu Naval Dock was registered as a World Heritage site in 2015 as one of "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution". There is an open space since the remains of the embankment structure made of wood and stone were buried to preserve them. “Mietsu SCOPE” that virtually reproduces what the Mietsu Naval Dock was before is a must-visit item. Mietsu SCOPE can be borrowed from the neighboring Sano Tunetami Museum.
Open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed on Mondays and December 29 to January 3. 40 minutes by the Hayatsue Line from the Saga Station Bus Center, get down at "Tsunetami Sano Memorial Museum Iriguchi" bus stop.
The tidal flats facing Ariake sea have the highest tidal variation in Japan. It is a stopover for Japan’s prominent migratory birds and is registered in the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. You can see the living creatures of tidal flats such as Mudskipper and Fiddler Crab before and after low tides, while wild birds can be observed before and after high tides. Free binoculars are installed. One way by car from JR Saga station is approximately 34 minutes.