Written and photographed by Kim Dong-hun (8ball)
I don’t describe myself as an otaku (a Japanese term meaning “a person with obsessive interests, particularly in anime and manga”), but I have always had a thing for Japan. My fascination with the country has prompted me to go visit numerous places there, such as Yokohama, Nagoya, Toyohashi, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Yufuin, and Amagase, to find out more about this geographically close but emotionally distant country. Now I am adding one more location to this list: “Saga” City. So then, where on earth is Saga?
For those who do not know anything about Saga (which I guess is most of you, and honestly, I had not heard about it until I went there), Saga is the capital city of Saga Prefecture, located on the island of Kyushu with an estimated 234,453 people residing there. Although I did not know this city at the time and this trip had not been pre-planned, I ended up visiting this small city in July because I accidentally and luckily found a cheap airline ticket that cost me 78,000 won. This unexpected opportunity led to a two-night, three-day journey to Saga.
Frankly, I clicked on and off repeatedly for a few days before confirming my flight ticket, hesitating and weighing all the pros and cons of this trip before making a final decision. In retrospect, I do not regret my decision at all. The flight time from Incheon to Saga was less than 1.5 hours. Upon arriving there, I was startled to see the size of Saga Airport, which was so tiny that only one airplane seemed to take off or land at a time. All the passengers were ushered through passport control and immigration by surprisingly polite staff communicating with us in Korean.
Once I stepped outside the airport, waiting for a bus to the downtown area, a Japanese lady speaking fluent Korean approached me and asked whether I wanted to purchase a bus ticket, which is 1,000 yen (around 10,000 won) for a round-trip fare. It only takes 30 to 35 minutes from Saga Airport to JR Saga Station (the final stop). Although I went in July, I strongly recommend that you go there between October and November, when the Saga International Balloon Fiesta is held. In addition, it gets scorching hot during summer, and I literally got drenched in sweat walking around the city. Therefore, if you are not a fan of hot weather, I advise you to go there in autumn.
Personally, I found it quite convenient to walk around the city, because almost all parts of it can be seen within a day, which helps you save money on transportation. It does not even matter if you have a poor sense of direction because most tourist attractions are in the south and located close to each other, including Saga Prefectural Honmaru History Museum, Saga Prefectural Historical Museum, Saga Prefectural Office (with an observation deck on the top floor offering the nighttime, indoor “Saga Night of Light” show), Saga Shrine, Saga Balloon Museum, and others.
I am not completely sure, but I would say it is not easy to access free Wi-Fi in Japan. However, you can find several indoor/outdoor spots with free Wi-Fi here, deeming it unnecessary to enable your mobile data. If you like hot springs (onsen in Japanese), there are several available nearby. Among those, I chose to go to Takeo Onsen, which took about an hour by train. However, if you feel shy or uncomfortable with being naked among other people in the public bath, then you can simply skip it or try a private hot spring bath.
You might not be intrigued to visit Saga, but if you want to travel to Japan on a low budget for only a couple of days, Saga seems to be a perfect choice! Unlike other crowded and bustling areas in Japan, you can enjoy a relatively tranquil ambience and peace there. Of course, you can also snack or gorge on some yummy Japanese dishes. So why don’t you book a trip to Saga and enjoy what it has to offer you? A final word of advice: If you learn some basic Japanese expressions, it will be a big plus.
Kim Dong-hun (8ball) is a free spirit working at the GIC. His major hobby is visiting different countries in the world and of all the 30-ish countries he has visited so far, his favorite country is Taiwan.