Saga was the next stop on my summer road trip in Kyushu. I had a total of five days designated for my trip and in total I visited three prefectures. So, I broke up my time with two days in two prefectures and one day in the third prefecture. I made the decision to make Saga my one day stop, and I am sad that I did because Saga ended up being my favorite part of the trip.
Since I moved to Kyushu, I have heard that Saga is boring. I was told that there is nothing to do in Saga. Japanese and foreigners alike view Saga as a pass through prefecture to get to Nagasaki and often don't stop to explore. Because I want to visit all 47 prefectures in Japan, I had to know what was so "bad" about Saga.
Saga is the least populated prefecture in Kyushu with a whopping population of 849,788 (smaller than the population of South Dakota!). It is situated northwest in the Ariake peninsula and is just north of Nagasaki, west of Kumamoto.
It is most known for Yoshinogari Park. Yoshinogari was once an archaeology site where findings date back from about 300 B.C.E. to 250 C.E.! All the artifacts in the area belonged to the Yayoi peoples. The Yayoi lived in pit dwellings and built suspended storage houses and watch towers. These villages were encircled by moats. Some historians believe that Yoshinogari is the location of Japan's earliest form of a state government. Like any civilization, there was a class system divided between the rulers and the general public. The rulers lived in the northern part of Yoshinogari while the commoners lived in the south. The idea that the north ranks higher than the south is an idea that is believed to have come from ancient China.
Another idea that the Yayoi seemed to have borrowed from China is the creation of a market. The markets discovered in Yoshinogari were identical to the structures that could be found in Chinese markets. All of the structures that are at Yoshinogari Park today are recreations of what the pit dwellings and high structures would have looked like. You can enter the pit dwellings to get an idea of what it would be like to live underground. These underground dwellings did a surprisingly good job at keeping the hot summer air out. My favorite pit dwelling had a fan and vending machine, maybe not historically accurate, but anything to get away from the summer humidity is a treat. You can also climb up the watch towers to view the entire village and enter the storage units to get an idea of what stores looked like and how food/products were made.
In addition to the discoveries about the Yayoi peoples daily lives, archaeologists also learned a great amount about their spiritual beliefs. In the village, there was an area where the priests lived. It is believed that products were made here as offerings to the gods. Some of the offerings might have included alcohol and silk. Additionally, members of the community were buried in large jars. There are two different types of burial jars: one consists of two pieces in which the jar meets in the middle, and the other is a jar that is covered with a flat stone. Historians aren't sure about the meaning behind the two different shaped jars, but they think it might have something to do with a person's social class. These jars have only been found in Kyushu, and archaeologists found about 2,000 of these jars while excavating the land! Part of the archaeological grounds are preserved today in a temperature controlled building that you can enter. In addition to the burial grounds that are weather protected, there are also some of the burial jars outside that you can see - they are also very well preserved despite how old they are.
I have always been interested in learning about history and societies, but for the majority of my life I was mostly interested in modern world history (WWII and onwards). However, right before I came to Japan, I worked as a short term English/Ancient History teacher at a middle school. It was a lot of work because I had to relearn a lot of history, but it truly piqued my interest in ancient history. Since then I have taken an ancient history class through Sacramento City College, and seeing Yoshinogari in person was incredible! It was like seeing ancient history come alive and it was by far my favorite part of my trip, I really enjoyed nerding out.
In addition to the historic village, there is a museum with pottery, tools and jewelry made by the Yayoi peoples, there is a recreation park for kids, and there is a lot of land that include various plants and flowers in the theme park. My favorite part of the gardens was seeing the water lilies.
After spending hours at Yoshinogari, I drove to Saga City and checked into my hotel room. Unknowingly, I booked a smoking room or at least I was placed in a room that smelled like smoke. But again, I was only there for one night, and I could live with it for one night. As a Californian, I am so used to being in smoke free areas that I don't even think about how smoking indoors still exists in other places. I remember as a very young child (possibly toddler), that restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections. However, this practice ended when I was still very young. Japan continues to have a "large tobacco market", despite a huge decline in smokers among millennials and gen z. Part of the reason for the high number of smokers in Japan is because cigarettes are so cheap. Cigarettes aren't taxed the same as they are in California or the rest of the United States for that matter. An average pack of cigarettes is about ¥400 - ¥570 (or about $2.88 - $4.11 at the time I am writing this blog entry).
For dinner, I went to an Indian restaurant and ate chicken curry with cheese naan.
The next morning, I woke up early so that I could drive down the peninsula to see a shrine in the sea. This shrine is called Oouo Shrine. Oouo Shrine is in a small fishing village called Tara. Legend has it that over 300 years ago, the village was ruled by a corrupt and greedy samurai. One day, locals invited the samurai to drink sake with them on an island off the coast of Tara and ended up leaving him behind. The tide came in, and could have killed the samurai. However, a giant fish named "Namiuo" found him and brought him back to shore. The samurai supposedly came back to Tara a changed man and built Oouo Shrine as a thanks to Namiuo. Many people come to Oouo Shrine to pray for the ocean and an abundance of sea life for the fisherman to catch. This spot is unique because not only is the shrine in the water, but the tide difference is drastic. There can be up to a distance of 6 meters (or 19 feet) difference in the tide! So sometimes, the torii gates are fully visible with no water around, other times, the torii gates are partially submerged in the waves. I just so happened to catch Oouo Shrine on a day where the tide was high.
After visiting Oouo Shrine, I was really tempted to visit another theme park in Saga called Arita Porcelain Park. This park is modeled after a traditional German village and also has a wide display of pottery. Saga is known for being the first region to produce pottery in all of Japan (which started with the Yayoi peoples). However, I decided against making the trip down to the park because it was further south and out of my way (very close to the Nagasaki border).
In addition to Porcelain Park, there is an annual hot air balloon event in Saga I would like to go to (to of course take pictures, not to ride in a hot air balloon... As much as I would like to go in one, the landings are unpredictable). The event was held this year during the first week of November. Also, there are some caves on the east coast of Saga called Nanatsugama (or "seven pots") that you can take a boat into and explore. It has been awhile since I have been on a boat, and Japan has so many unique boating experiences that I am just dying to try something new!
Hopefully I will be able to visit Saga again in the future. But until then, it was time for me to head over to the last prefecture on my summer trip: Oita!