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Japan Hour

Road Trip on Matsuura Railway (Part 2)

Our two-day trip on the Matsuura Railway line, which links Nagasaki and Saga prefectures, continues.

Our two-day trip on the Matsuura Railway line, which links Nagasaki and Saga prefectures, continues. At the end of Day One, we spend the night at Saigetsuan. After a relaxing hot spring bath, we enjoy an extravagant meal, which includes Hirado’s famous flounder; seafood boiled in miso paste, served in a hollowed persimmon; scallops and shrimps in a sweet and spicy miso paste; grilled Nagasaki beef; grilled prawns and steamed shiitake mushrooms.

The next morning, breakfast is a colourful feast of traditional Japanese items, such as Kawachi Kamaboko - boiled fish paste wrapped in plastic straws. It used to be wrapped in wheat straw in the past. After breakfast, we are driven to Tabira-Hiradoguchi Station. We catch the 8.50am train and go to Matsuura Station, six stops away. We plan to spend two hours in this area and take the 11.15am train later.

Matsuura City, located in northern Nagasaki Prefecture, is known for the Matsuura Naval Force that defended the land against the Mongolian invasion. It is a popular spot among history buffs. We ask a passer-by to suggest a spot and we are told to visit Furusatokan. It sells Matsuura's local products, such as fresh seafood, local vegetables and souvenirs. 

At Furusatokan, we buy Matsuura tea cider and freshly made mackerel pressed sushi, which is a Matsuura speciality. Nagasaki Prefecture is the top producer of dried sardines in Japan, so we purchase some of that too. We then walk to a nearby park, where we relish our meal of Matsuura’s local items while enjoying the sea breeze.  

We make our way back to Matsuura Station and head to Haze Station. The train crosses into Saga Prefecture after passing by Imabuku Station. We reach Haze at 11.40am and want to spend an hour here. However, we are unable to find any interesting spots so we decide to go to Imari, an area famous for its ceramics. A passenger on the train suggests we check out a restaurant called Sakaki. It serves delicious Imari beef, which is rated one rank above Saga beef.

The train ride to Imari Station takes about 20 minutes and our next train will depart at 3.05pm. The kind gentleman from the train offers to show us the way to Sakaki. We order two recommended dishes - roast beef burger and Japanese Black Cattle beef topped with onions. The same train passenger tells us of another place worth visiting, Marukoma, a well-known mercantile warehouse of Imari pottery. In the 17th century, Imari prospered as a shipping port of Imariyaki ceramics produced in Saga and Nagasaki, with Arita-cho being the centre of Japanese pottery. The pottery was shipped out to various parts of the country and overseas as well.

We first go to a ceramic shop next to Marukoma, which displays Imari wares. It was owned by Furukawa Ceramics, which procured and sold pottery. There is an Imariyaki gallery on the second floor, called “Silk Road of the Sea Museum”. Visitors can also try their hand at painting ceramics here. We then drop by the famous storehouse Marukoma. In the 18th century, pottery from Arita was brought here and packaged. The ceramic items were stored at the warehouse and later shipped to Edo and Osaka.  

We head back to Imari Station and travel by train to Matsuura Railway’s terminal, Arita. A resident tells us about an Aritayaki pottery gallery-cum-cafe. Around 2,000 Aritayaki cups are displayed along the walls of Gallery Arita and customers can choose any cup for drinking their coffee or tea. They include cups made by Japanese potter Sakaida Kakiemon and famous ceramist Manji Inoue.

The gallery’s owner recommends we visit the Sueyama Shrine, known as Tozan Shrine by the locals. It was constructed by the Nabeshima fief in the 17th century. Its sacred gateway and guardian dogs are made of Aritayaki pottery. The gateway, built in 1888, has been registered as the nation's tangible cultural property.

1) Matsuura City is popular among history buffs for being associated with the Matsuura Naval Force
2) Ceramics are an ideal souvenir to buy from Imari


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