Kitahata (北波多) is a medium-sized village south of Karatsu and northwest of Ouchi famous for its fine pottery, known as “Karatsu-yaki.”

Its roots in this art date back to Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea in the 1590s, which brought Korean pottery masters into Japan. Hideyoshi settled them in the low mountains surrounding Kitahata before moving them further south to Arita. Their kilns have fallen into ruins – eight have been discovered and opened to the public as national relic sites—but the art lives on.

After the Meiji Restoration Kitahata quickly industrialized, but now it’s a quiet farming town and distant Karatsu suburb.

Who’s here

There is one ALT in Kitahata. The ALT lives in the Tokusue District, the town’s heart and the intersection of the 202 and the 52, two busy two-lane highways.

Because of Kitahata’s proximity to Onizuka, Kitahata ALTs will almost certainly be asked to work at Onizuka’s junior high and elementary schools.

Places of interest

  • Mt. Kishidake – This prominent mountain with a crescent-shaped peak was once home to a large castle, but all that remains is moss-covered foundations. The northeastern foot of the mountain is home to a small temple, Hoan-ji, while the southern slope is cut by a paved road that links Kitahata to the southwestern parts of Ouchi (Nishiouchi Station). The hike to the peak from Hoan-ji takes 30-45 minutes and requires little training. Beware of snakes, spiders, and boars during warmer months!
  • Hoan-ji – This small Buddhist temple at the foot of Mt. Kishidake is locally famous for its huge collection of Buddhist statuary, including a large horizontal Buddha carved into the nearby cliff. There’s a small path leading up and down the cliff’s face with 88 numbered statues. Anyone interested in Buddhist art would do well to visit this temple and walk the trail.
  • Ruins of Ancient Kilns – Several centuries-old kilns have been discovered and opened to the public. However, they’re fenced off for their protection.
  • Shikinooka Park – This small park features an astroturf slide (free sleds are available in the nearby shed) and a long slide made of rolling metal bars. There’s also a trail or two that winds through the surrounding woods and around the park.
  • Karatsu-cha Factory – A factory that manufactures Karatsu-cha—“Karatsu tea”—is nestled between two mountains in western Kitahata.
  • The nearby rivers – especially the ones in the southernmost Kitahata districts, are some of the best places around to watch fireflies in spring.
  • Food and Drink – There are several small izakayas, karaoke bars, and small restaurants near Tokusue, the central district.  Basaraka Ramen: This place serves decent chashu (pork cutlet) ramen and gyoza. It’s on the southeastern corner of Kitahata’s busiest intersection, where the two aforementioned two-lane highways meet. Senryuu Shokudou: This tiny family-owned eatery is across the street from Kitahata’s baseball field. It serves a huge variety of Japanese food at bargain prices. The elderly couple that runs it are very kind and will probably strike a conversation with you, but be prepared: They don’t speak any English! This place closes at 7pm.
  • Community Center – Kitahata’s main community center (kouminkan) is next to the branch office. It offers a variety of free or low-cost classes to the public, including a cheap month-long pottery class held every autumn. Many community events are held here (e.g., making kadomatsu just before New Year’s Day). There’s also a tiny community library open until 7 or 8pm.

Things to do

  • Hotaru Matsuri – Every spring, residents gather in a small park near the western foot of Mt. Kishidake to celebrate the coming of the fireflies (hotaru). There’s usually lots of music: 2013 featured a small taiko performance. Admission is free and most people stay afterwards to watch the fireflies dance above the small river nearby.
  • Gion Matsuri – This is Kitahata’s “mini Kunchi.” It’s held late in July, usually immediately after the town’s summer festival. Unlike Karatsu Kunchi, there’s only one float, but it’s different every year: Local craftsmen spend weeks building it next to Tokusue’s small Shinto shrine. If you’re lucky, you might be able to help pull it! The festival lasts for two days (the float is pulled through the central districts both evenings) and often includes local residents inviting each other into their homes to eat and drink.

Getting around

Buses to and from Karatsu and Imari pass through Kitahata almost every hour. Buses to Karatsu are either direct (heading towards Onizuka) or pass through Yamamoto to the east, home to the closest train station. Yamamoto connects to Karatsu, Imari, and Saga City. The Showa Bus Imari-Fukuoka line has a stop in southern Tokusue almost directly across the street from Basaraka Ramen.

A one-way bus ride to Ooteguchi in downtown Karatsu costs 520 yen. Taking a taxi costs approximately 3,300 yen. Be careful: The last bus heading to Kitahata leaves Ooteguchi at 7pm! Walking to Karatsu takes 1.5-2 hours.

A train ride from Yamamoto to Karatsu Station costs 220 yen. It costs less than 1,000 yen to ride to Saga City. Yamamoto is a gentle 40-50 minute walk (20-25 minute bike ride) from Tokusue.

The Showa bus to Fukuoka (Tenjin and Hakata Station) stops in Tokusue almost every hour and costs 1,270 yen one way. (Some buses go to Fukuoka Airport, too.) Taking the bus from Yamamoto costs 1,000 yen.