Visit The Old Town Akizuki, The “Little Kyoto” of Japan

Akizuki, a place that is still very modest on the tourist map of Japan, but bears a beauty that is considered by the Japanese as "Little Kyoto".
December 14, 2021 | 12:01
Photo: VnExpress
Photo: VnExpress

The beautifully scenic Akizuki is a historic town that has retained its castle town appearance from 800 years ago where you can feel at ease from merely taking a stroll and taking in the sights.

Akizuki had been the home for Taneo Akizuki(Harada) after he was assigned to Fukuoka in 1203 (Kennin 3) until he was forced to move to Hidakatakanabe by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. In 1624, (Kan-ei 1) Nagaoki Kuroda, the third child of Nagamasa Kuroda, became the lord of the Kuroda-han. A historical townscape still remains as the way it was.

Much of the town is structured around its castle ruins and the street leading to it, Suginobaba (杉の馬場). Suginobaba features not only authentic tea houses, samurai residences, and the town’s museum, but it’s also impressively lined with a 500 metre stretch of sakura trees. In the springtime, this historical street becomes one of Fukuoka’s best spots for viewing cherry blossoms.

The notable Akazuki castle was first built in 1203 by Harada Tanekatsu. Today, the stone walls and gatehouses are all that remains of the impressive castle. The kuromon (黒門 black gate) has been restored and serves as the main gate to the ruins.

Photo: Visit Asakura
Photo: Visit Asakura

A beautiful townscape that has been called the Little Kyoto of Chikuzen

Keeping the scenery and atmosphere of an old castle town that flourished from its beginnings in the Kamakura Era about 800 years ago to the Edo Era, Akizuki Old Town with its samurai residences, earthen walls, stone walls, and latticework has also been dubbed the Little Kyoto of Chikuzen. Famously known as a site for cherry blossoms in the spring and the colorful leaves in the fall, you can enjoy the lovely nature and historic sites here. Nationally designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings, it’s of a size that you can sightsee through the town within half a day. The area can be reached by car from downtown Fukuoka in 70 minutes or you can make the recommended tour by rental bicycle at the tourist office in front of Amagi Station on the Amagi Railway Line.

Photo: Japan Travel
Photo: Japan Travel

The Akizuki Town Hall Museum is a local museum featuring Akizuki’s historical documents and art exhibits which was built on the site of an old samurai residence belonging to the Tonami clan in 1965. There is a folk art museum and the old Tonami manor in which you can get a glimpse of the lifestyle of a senior vassal. In the museum, there are swords and armor belonging to the feudal lord among other artifacts, and including famous works by Taikan Yokoyama and Renoir were donated by people who were born in Akizuki, a collection of 250 Japanese and Western artworks are on display, according to Planetyze.

A charming town with a deep history

The town of Akizuki and its castle are overflowing with history. The earliest iteration of the castle was built in 1203 and inhabited until the beginning of the Meiji era in 1873. All that remains of the castle are the stone walls and reconstructed sections of the original gatehouses, including the impressive Kuromon, or Black Gate.

The town has several important shrines and temples. Akizuki Hachimangu, up the hill to the south of the castle in the middle of a forest, was used by samurai for pre-battle preparations and religious ceremonies. To the north of the castle is Dairyoji Temple, site of the graves of many samurai and noble families who lived in the area.

Photo: Japan Travel
Photo: Japan Travel

Much of the city is centered around the castle and the main boulevard leading to it, Sugi-no-Baba. On this street, you'll find the Akizuki Museum, several teahouses including the excellent Kuromonchaya, and the ruins of Akizuki Castle.

Sugi-no-Baba also has one of the most marvelous displays of cherry blossoms in Fukuoka Prefecture. The entire street is lined with cherry trees that grace the street with pale pink and white blossoms in spring. Replacing the cedars that once grew there, the cherry trees were planted to honor Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War.

A three-hour hike takes you from central Akizuki to the top of Mt. Kosho and the ruins of Akizuki Fortress, the inspiration for the 1958 Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress. The Hidden Fortress also plays an important role in modern pop culture as one of George Lucas' main inspirations when writing the script of the first Star Wars film.

Photo: Yokanavi
Photo: Yokanavi

At the entrance to the town is Megane-bashi, or "spectacle bridge," which was designed and built by the same stonemasons who crafted the bridge of the same name in Nagasaki. This is the starting point for the town's annual samurai procession, which takes place in late October each year, according to Japan Travel.

Akizuki cuisine

Photo:  Japan Travel
Photo: Japan Travel

The town offers some excellent cuisine and wine. Set back in the forest is Seiryuan Ryokan, an inn with a charming outdoor onsen and excellent traditional Japanese multi-course dinner. Le Vandemiare is a wine shop with an excellent selection of French wines. And the soba shop at the base of Mt. Kosho is so popular locally that it has become difficult to get a seat, and quickly sells out of noodles.

How to get to Akizuki

Akizuki can be reached by train, bus, car, or bicycle.

From Fukuoka city, Akizuki is just a 45-minute drive. If you’re coming by train, take the JR Kagoshima Line from Hakata Station to Kiyama Station and change to the Amagi Railway to reach Amagi Station. Take the bus from Amagi Station to reach Akizuki town.

Alternatively, bicycles are available to rent from the Amagi Tourism Office right outside the station. From Amagi Station to Akizuki Town by bicycle takes approximately 35 minutes.

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