Even though Saga is considered fairly rural, there are plenty of places to spend your time and money. It usually doesn’t take a great effort to find things to do. From the larger cities to the smaller towns, you will be surrounded by restaurants, bars and izakayas (Japanese pubs), arcades, shopping centers, and, of course, karaoke.
There are certainly some popular haunts in each town or city, but there are plenty more waiting to be discovered. Try new places, ask locals for their recommendations, and make your own new favorites.
Although Saga doesn’t have as comprehensive of a public transit system as other, more urban areas, its transit is definitely sufficient. For those without a car, you will almost always be able to find a train, bus, or, if all else fails, a taxi to get you where you’re going.
Saga City is the largest city in the prefecture and has plenty to offer in terms of shopping, movie theaters, and entertainment, but it’s not the only worthwhile destination. The surrounding towns and cities have great pull as well. Hop on a train to Takeo to experience great food and some of the best nightlife in Saga Prefecture. Roll on up to Karatsu to relax on the beautiful beaches or take a dip in the ocean. Take a day trip to Arita to learn about its world famous pottery and try your hand at making your own bowl. Hitch a ride with someone to Mitsuse and go apple picking while you take in the beautiful fall colors. While you are there don’t forget to eat at “Herb Garden,” one of the best restaurants in Saga. Take a drive out to Ureshino for Saga’s best hot springs. These are just some of the things that Saga has to offer. With plenty more to explore, you will never get bored as long as you make the effort to go out and see it all!
Saga’s Great Outdoors
If you’re an outdoorsy type, you’ll be glad you came to Saga. As stated earlier, Karatsu and Imari have great beaches for swimming and surfing. There will be beach parties and surfing excursions during the summer. There are plenty of great hiking spots all over Saga, like Mt. Tenzan, Mt. Sefuri, Mt. Kurokami; and further out in the Tara-dake Mountains. These areas are also great for BBQs and camping.
If you are a bit of a thrill-seeker, the mountains in Ureshino hold waterfalls and cliffs just begging to be jumped off of. Ureshino is also famous for onsens (hot springs), but it’s certainly not the only place in Saga where you can find them. They are an amazing way to relax and rejuvenate after a hard day’s work. If you bike as your main mode of transportation, cycling is a nice way to get out and take in the surrounding nature, too. Links to and information on rental cycle shops throughout the prefecture can be found here. Some people have cars or scooters, and ride out to explore harder-to-get-to places. If you are lucky enough to have a motor vehicle, use it and take friends with you!
Saga’s Cultural Events
Aside from being entertained by clubs, bars, beaches, and mountains, you also have Japan’s great emphasis on culture to keep you busy. Local matsuri (Japanese festivals) are happening all the time, especially in the summer. For example, in Saga City, the Sakae no Kuni Matsuri happens in early August. Representative of most matsuri, there will be dancing and drinking, and there are fireworks and delicious Yatai (street vendor) food.
Local neighborhoods and communities may also have festivals and events. You may even be asked to take part in some. Some important cultural events are: Ureshino Fireworks Festival, Saga Balloon Festival, Karatsu Kunchi, Gatalympics, Dragonboat races, Saga Sakura Marathon, and much more! For info on these and other great events that happen regularly around Saga, see the events page or check out each individual district page.
Art and History
If you’re an art of history buff, Saga has a lot to offer you. Kyushu is famous for the various clans that existed here. A few train stations away from Saga city you can explore the Yoshinogari Historical Park. If samurai are your thing you can also visit Karatsu Castle Museum and Saga Castle Museum. If you’re into theater or music, then you’re in luck because the Saga City Cultural Center brings in the big names in music, theater, and dance.
Sports and Leisure
If you’re a hands-on kind of person then you’ll be more than pleased with the volume of both traditional and modern sports and activities Saga has to offer. From full contact karate to Japanese calligraphy, you can find all sorts of traditional sports and activities to enjoy in Saga. ALTs may have the opportunity to participate in these activities with their schools. If not, dojos and classrooms are not hard to find. Just ask your coworkers, neighbors, or friendly sempai JETs. Western sports are also very popular in Japan. Regardless of your interest, you will most certainly be able to find what you’re looking for.
For more information, check out Cultural Pursuits to find out what activities current and former Saga JETs have been involved with.
Outside of Saga
Once you get your bearings, you might want to get out of Saga every once and awhile. Fancy more of a metropolis? Fukuoka City, Kyushu’s largest city, is next door. Depending on where you live you can expect a commute of anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half. Fukuoka is very international and has a lot to offer in the way of nightlife, great shopping, concerts, Sumo wrestling, museums, Softbank Hawks’ baseball, and more.
Nagasaki and Sasebo are also doable day trips too, about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Saga City by express train. Nagasaki is famous for its Dutch and Chinese cultural influences and has its very own Chinatown. Ride the ropeway up the mountain there and see the absolutely breathtaking night view. Sasebo is famous for its Western influence due to the large United States Navy base. If you are missing any foods from home you might be able to cure your cravings in Sasebo.
If you are looking to get out of Saga for the weekend, then head over to Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, or Kagoshima, all of which are famous for different types of nature. Oita has beautiful outdoors and seaside hot springs famous across Japan. Kumamoto is famous for Mt. Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. Miyazaki is the surfer’s paradise in Kyushu. An abundance of beautiful beaches bring in people from all over Japan. Miyazaki is also famous for its complex topography, with stunning mountains and valleys that make for the best hiking excursions. Kagoshima is also worth a visit. Not far from this southern city is the island of Yakushima, a tall but small island that inspired the setting for the famous Hayao Miyazaki tale, “Princess Mononoke.” The island is home to one of the world’s most ancient forests, and Japan’s oldest tree, Jomon Sugi.
With so much to do in Kyushu, you may find it’s a while before you get the urge to leave. When that time comes, you have ample options to get to Honshu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido. Saga Airport offers biweekly budget flights to Tokyo, and Fukuoka International Airport has many more options. You can also consider taking the Kyushu Shinkansen, which connects to the nationwide Shinkansen network. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can take a ferry from Hakata Port to Kobe, Osaka, or even Busan! Of course you can also drive, but with so many convenient public transportation options this may not be the quickest or cheapest method.
For a guide to transportation in and around Saga, click here.