Non-Japanese speakers often stick to the main cities such as Tokyo and Fukuoka but miss out on gems such as the tiny Hizen-Hama.
A quaint town nestled near the foot of a mountain, Hizen-Hama, located in Saga prefecture, greets incoming tourists with a rustic train station which opens to a beautiful view of a rising mountain. Before the exit, you will find a rack with very helpful information pamphlets in Japanese and English which include maps, tourism guides, and popular Saga attractions booklets.
A short walk from the station lies the Hizen Hamashuku (Sakaguradoori) road where the modern city fades into a delightful little step back into the past. Hizen-Hama is a historical town from the Edo Period which was carefully preserved. Walking through its antique streets feels like stepping back into a simpler time. Non-Japanese speakers, don’t despair – breaking from the historic setting, it has modern-friendly facilities such as Kashima’s free WiFi for all your translating (and posting) needs.
Sakaguradoori is most famous for having the best of Saga’s sake, one place in particular is the Kankousakagura Hizennya (観光酒蔵 肥前屋). The beautiful shop’s exterior has a large sake drum. You also see a red bench for visitors to rest after buying their souvenirs or in Japanese, omiyage (お土産). Next to the bench, a helpful sign informs visitors of the history of the place in both English and Japanese.
The entrance has a quirky little treat for fans of Gacha, capsule toy vending machines. At 300 yen each turn, you can win a big bottle of some of their bestselling sake if you’re particularly lucky, but don’t worry, you can at least get some original goods at Hizenya.
The interior has been carefully preserved in the historic style but also plays Showa Period western music and has a delightful little secret in its back room. Its homey vibe matches its energetic and very helpful owner who is always ready to lend a helping hand may it be asking for recommendations or chatting about the area’s history. The shop starts with beautiful displays of the various products that are being sold along with some elegant shochu cups. It then opens up to an open tasting room where one can try the shop’s various sakes and shochus as well as their non-alcoholic “vinegars” which are just as delicious as their alcoholic counterparts. Don’t know how the proper sake drinking etiquette? By the cashier, they offer free informational pamphlets in Japanese and in English on the proper ways of drinking sake.
Behind the tasting room is a photo opportunity area with the giant old sake pots used for mixing and brewing as well as helpful links to the shops’ various social media. Guests are then taken further into the shop to a secret little display which features Showa Period relics such as bottles, wash tubs, books, amongst other things available in Japan at the time. The room next to it is a bar also keeping with the Showa Period theme complete with a small jukebox in the corner.
While the shop’s main lure is its alcohol, families are quite welcome as they also have an assortment of non-alcoholic products such as the non-alcoholic vinegars, cakes, and in their sister location, various snacks both for hot and ready consumption and in nice boxes ready to be brought back as souvenirs.
Be sure to try the Hamaten (はまてん), fried breaded balls of fish served with different sauces to suit your taste. They’re a delicious little snack especially when the weather starts turning cold and made fresh in store. During the hot summer days (or adventurous winter ones), there’s the Amazake Sofuto (甘酒ソフトクリーム), a sake-flavoured but non-alcoholic soft serve ice cream which has a delightfully sweet and refreshing flavour served in a cone.
Hizen-Hama may be a small town but it’s definitely a place to stop by and enjoy the historical sites and food. It doesn’t exclude anyone in its offerings making it a family friendly place with a little something for everyone.
From JR Hakata Station (Fukuoka prefecture), take Limited Express to Hizen-kashima Station
From JR Hizen-Kashima Station, take a local train for one stop or take a taxi (about ¥1200)