A Day Trip from Fukuoka: A Yanagawa River Cruise & Unagi Restaurants
Yanagawa is the perfect day trip from Fukuoka, which is why we also made it our first stop on our Japan road trip. It is a small town in the Fukuoka Prefecture (Kyushu Region). Hence, you might be wondering why we’d make time to visit here. But despite its size, this town is full of character and some rather unique activities including unagi restaurants where you can try barbecued freshwater eel and a leisurely Yanagawa River cruise around the town that takes visitors to many historical sights.
Where is Yanagawa Located?
Yanagawa is located in the Kyushu Region of Japan in the Fukuoka Prefecture. This town lies about an hour south of Fukuoka City, making it a great day trip from Fukuoka!
How To Get To Yanagawa
Traveling to Yanagawa by Car
Since we were traveling the Kyushu region by car we chose to drive to Yanagawa from Fukuoka. The drive took about an hour on the E3 highway and had some toll roads but it was really scenic and easy to drive!
Traveling to Yanagawa by Train
The easiest way to get to Yanagawa by train is from Fukuoka City. You’ll take the Nishitetsu Train from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station to Yanagawa Station. The trip takes about 45 minutes one way. After getting to Yanagawa Station you can easily walk through the town of Yanagawa.
Parking in Yanagawa
If you decide to drive to Yanagawa as we did, you’ll want to find parking close to the Rankan-bashi Bridge which is next to the Shogetsu Punting Station where you can experience a Yanagawa river cruise and many of the other activities in Yanagawa.
There is a parking lot located right by the Rankan-bashi bridge that offers free parking but spots are limited. You can also park by the Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station which is a 5-minute walk to the Shogetsu Punting Station.
READ MORE: Things to Know About Driving in Japan
Transportation in Yanagawa
Walking Around Yanagawa
Since the town is relatively small it is easy to walk to many attractions and it’s a great way to explore more of the shops in the town! If driving or arriving by train, the Shogetsu Punting Station (where you go for the river cruise) is easily accessible on foot as it’s only a five-minute walk from Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station.
Local Buses in Yanagawa
If you’d prefer not to walk the entire time you’re in Yanagawa, you can also catch one of the local buses or shuttles in Yanagawa.
If you do decide to ride a bus after your Yanagawa river cruise, there is a free shuttle that is available every hour on the hour from 12:00pm-5:30pm from the Rokkyu restaurant (near the exit of the boat ride). It takes you back to Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station or the Shogetsu Punting Station where the course began.
Because we weren’t able to catch the shuttle at the right time, we utilized a public bus after our river cruise to head back to our car. The public bus is available from the Ohana-mae bus stop and costs ~¥210/person to get to Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station.
Since Yanagawa is a small town with many hidden places to explore it can easily be accessed by bicycle. Plus the views are really pretty along the canals, especially in the spring! There are three rental locations for bikes in Yanagawa including Nishitetu Yanagawa Station, Yanagawa Parking Ohana, and the Yanagawa City Tourist Information Center.
Hours: 9am-6pm daily
Yanagawa River Cruise
The hour-long Yanagawa River cruise is by far the most popular attraction in Yanagawa – especially during the spring when the canals are lined with many blooming sakura trees. This small town has become so popular with tourists and nearby locals, that it was dubbed the Venice of Japan (but with significantly fewer crowds!).
But before we go into our experience in Yanagawa, here’s a brief introduction. Yanagawa was originally a farming town in which the canals were used for irrigation. They have since been transformed into a tourist attraction where you can float down the canals in a wooden donkobune or punting boat with a local guide.
The oarsman uses a single pole to guide the punting boat through the canals of Yanagawa while providing entertainment in the form of traditional folk songs in Japanese and pointing out many iconic landmarks in Yanagawa.
There are two kinds of Yanagawa river cruises that we saw, something we didn’t know prior to our arrival. The first is called the Shared Hakushu Course. It is a leisurely sightseeing boat ride that is shared with other tourists – this is the one we went on.
The shared punting cruise started at the Shogetsu Punting Station. We went inside the station where we paid for our cruise and got in line with other visitors who would be on our shared punting boat ride.
Since it was sunny when we went on our Yanagawa River cruise I was offered a hat to borrow for ¥100. For such a low cost, I couldn’t pass that up. I definitely welcomed the slight shade I was able to get from this handcrafted straw hat because of the summer heat!
Our hour-long cruise was mostly sightseeing but there was some adventure mixed in too! Some of the bridges are really short and narrow so you have to watch your head and duck. I can still hear our guide shouting “BE CAREFUL!” while also laughing as we went underneath each bridge.
We made a couple of short stops while gliding through the canals. One was a small snack shop that was serving ice cream, cold drinks, and a few other items. We also made a brief stop by the Yanagawa Castle ruins and a few other landmarks.
The private punting cruise that we saw was also a sightseeing cruise but provided a bit more thrilling entertainment and had a slightly different route. The private cruise also had much tighter corners and spaces to fit in! It also hosts fewer people if desired.
READ MORE: 2-Day Fukuoka Itinerary
Yanagawa River Cruise Information
Shared Punting Tour
The shared punting tour is shared with up to 22 people and is on one of the regular wooden punting boats. The shared punting tour course is one-way from Shogetsu Punting Station to Ohana and lasts about one hour. Tours start at 9:40am and leave every 30 minutes until 4:10pm daily.
Cost: ~¥1,650/adult, ¥830/child, children under 5 are free
Hours: 9:30am-4pm daily
Private Punting Tour
The private punting tour takes you on the same course as the shared punting tour but is, as the name suggests, is a private tour. There are two different boats available, the first being the regular punting boat that can seat up to 22 people and the second being the cushioned-seat boat that can fit up to 6 people.
This Yanagawa river cruise would be perfect for couples who are interested in a more romantic boat ride or families who would prefer to rent their own boat too!
Cost: Regular Boat – ¥12,500 (up to 6 people), ¥1,650 each additional person over 6, Cushioned Boat – ¥15,000
Hours: 9:30am-4pm daily (reservation required)
Private Night Punting Tour
If you’d like to do an evening punting cruise to enjoy the canals at sunset, this is an option if you book in advance! It is the same as the regular private punting tour, except for the hours, and offers much less traffic because there are no shared tours at this time.
Cost: Regular Boat – ¥13,750 (up to 6 people), ¥1,820 each additional person over 6, Cushioned Boat – ¥16,500
Hours: 5pm-7pm daily (reservation required)
Where to Eat in Yanagawa
After a Yanagawa River cruise, there are a few more things you should enjoy in Yanagawa. The first is, LUNCH! We recommend stopping at one of the local restaurants known for unagi seiro-mushi. Unagi is a freshwater eel that is typically steamed, covered in a special sauce, and served with rice.
But in Yanagawa, the unagi is grilled and brushed with rich soy sauce over a bed of rice that has been mixed with a special sauce. It is then covered with small strips of egg omelet and placed in a bamboo steamer. This delicacy is so popular in Yanagawa you can find over 20 restaurants that specialize in it!
Popular Unagi Restaurants in Yanagawa
Most of the restaurants below have hundreds of years of history in preparing unagi in a variety of ways. A few also have a terrific ambiance with tatami mat floors and scenic views of the riverbank to enjoy while you dine. The lines at some of these restaurants can get really long, so if you’re pressed for time you can always hop over to another restaurant!
After lunch, consider stopping by some of the local gift shops to get some souvenirs or a drink before leaving Yanagawa. You’ll find many of the gift shops at the exit of the punting cruise. Inside the shops, there are a number of specialty local items including straw crafts and textile goods like tenugui towels. There are also food-related souvenirs such as onigiri (Japanese rice ball) with eel, fried eel crackers, shrimp crackers, and mochi.
If you are visiting Fukuoka, taking the short day trip to Yanagawa is definitely worth it for a quick river cruise and to try fresh unagi!