The Yanagawa Canals

Yanagawa is a small town located in Fukuoka Prefecture in the Kyushu region of Japan. It’s about an hour away from Hakata City and is known to be the “Venice” of Japan. Yanagawa or “the City of Water” is popular for its 470 kilometer wide canals and riverboats called “donkobune”, that take people around the city, much like the city in Italy.

Donkobune in Yanagawa, Japan. | Zooka Yung

Yanagawa was constructed by the Kamachi clan in the mid-16th century. Prior to using canals as roadways, the city had been a traditional fishing village and the canals were mainly used for irrigation. Tanaka Yoshimasa (1548 – 1609), commanded that the canals be maintained. He also built a castle, but it burned down in 1872. The entire town is surrounded by the small river that was used as water filled moats to protect the castle from invaders. The streetscape which is nostalgic of the bygone era still remains today in Yanagawa.

A notable figure that hails from Yanagawa is Kitahara Hakushu, a Meiji era poet and writer of children’s songs. Each year in November, a three-day festival is held in the town. Poetry readings, fireworks, music and boat rides are the highlights of the festival.

House in Yanagawa, Japan. | Tzuhsun Hsu

The festivities start from Shimohyaku Town and center at the Hiyoshi Shinto Shrine. The home where Hakushu’s was born in is opened to the public and the Yanagawa Municipal Folk Museum is dedicated to preserve the works and other memorabilia of the celebrated artist.

The modern city was founded on April 1, 1952. The towns of Yamato and Mitsuhashi, both from Yamato District were merged into Yanagawa.  March and April are months that are also celebrated in Yanagawa. There’s the  Hinamatsuri, or “Girl’s Festival”, which is celebrated on the 3rd of March.

Kanagawa, Japan. | Ayane Sakidsuki

Beautifully made Heian era styled dolls are placed on display in homes and shops all around the city. Many locals open their homes to visitors to showcase their elaborate decorations that are placed on display.