What do you look for in a tourist attraction? Maybe for your holiday destinations you consider what will be fun for all the family, particularly if you’re travelling with kids. Perhaps you look for somewhere of historical and cultural value – somewhere you can learn something new or discover something about the past. Perhaps you try to check out tourist attractions and have fun and exciting things to do – maybe something sporty, something crafty and hands-on, or something unusual?
Well, you can find all these things and more at the Yoshinogari Historical Park in Saga, Kyushu. Yoshinogari Koen (Yoshinogari Park) station is just a 10-minute train journey from the central Saga station, and from there a ten minute walk will lead you right to the park, so if you find yourself in Saga with a couple of hours to spare (at least!) then head on over to the Historical Park.
The location of the park is no accident – within the grounds of the park is an archaeological site where many excavations have taken place. The site dates back to the Yayoi Period of Japanese history, a period which lasted around 600 years and so offers a greatly diverse range of insights to the way Japanese people lived in the past.
The Early Yayoi Period was in the 3rd to the 2nd century BC. During this time, there was a village built on the hill at Yoshinogari, surrounded by a moat. In the Middle Yayoi Period, which stretched from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD, the settlement expanded and a larger outer moat was constructed. There is evidence that defences were reinforced at this time, indicating that the villagers were having more and more battles with outsiders. The Late Yayoi Period spans from the 1st to the 3rd century AD and is known as the Golden Age of the Yoshinogari Settlement. During this time, the village expanded even more, with bigger moats and impressive features such as watchtowers and shrines. Careful excavations have unearthed these steps through history, and experts have ensured the preservation of these sites and artefacts for generations to come.
The park is huge – while a couple of hours may allow you to tick off a couple of things on the hit list, you could really do with a whole day to make the most of it. Grab a map on your way in and check out the suggested walking routes. The main attractions on the map are divided into three sections. In the red labelled section, there are lots of old things to see. The Ancient Forest has been recreated to look like a Yayoi Period forest, with several paths winding through. Next to the forest is the Ancient Plant Museum. In here, you can discover various things about the forest and its plant life. The museum is small so even young kids will manage to hold their attention as they look around.
Also in the red section is Kamekanboretsu, a long field where they have recreated the burial jars typical of the Yayoi Period. Looking a little like space pods scattered and half submerged in the ground, the burial row is 300 meters long and has about 500 graves on display.
If you want to know more about burial mounds, pay a visit to Kita-Funkyubo in the blue section on your map (the North Burial Mound). Rather than a recreated mound, this is an original Yayoi Period mound dating from the mid-Yayoi period, more than 2000 years ago. When created, the mound measured 40 by 27 meters, and while the mound now has a height of 2.5 meters, it is estimated that it could have been as tall as 4.5 meters high.
While burial jars were not the only method of burying people at the time (deceased persons were also buried in the earth, wooden coffins or stone coffins) the jars have been found to be a frequently used method of burial in Ancient Japan, particularly in the cities of Northern Kyushu such as in Saga and Fukuoka. The burial jar would be placed in a large hole in the ground, and then the body put inside the jar. A second jar would be placed on the open end like a lid, the two sealed together with clay before being covered in earth.
In the burial mound at Kita-Funkyubo, there are 14 jars on display, six of which have had small amounts of teeth and bones removed from the jars for display purposes. The construction of a burial mound usually took place with individual mounds being placed in a large rectangle shape. As more people passed away, the inside of the rectangle would be filled in with other graves. Once the rectangle had been completed and the earth had hardened, another layer would be built on top.
The burial jars were usually used for adults, and it is thought that the example at Kita-funkyubo was made for high ranking members of the community. The inside and outside of the jars were painted black, and items such as bronze swords and glass jewellery were buried with them.
As well as the North Burial Mound, the blue section on the map has plenty of other historical things for you to see. Aside from more burial jars, there is Naka-no-mura (the middle village), Kita-Naikaku (the north inner palace), Minami-Naikaku (the south inner palace), Kura-to-Ichi (the storehouses and market area of the settlement) and Minami-no-mura (the south village). These recreated villages have thatched roofed houses you can go into, watchtowers you can climb up (some with the use of overly safety-conscious climbing equipment!) and displays for you to look at. Staff members wearing traditional Yayoi period dress can be seen milling around the villages and demonstrating old craft techniques.
Finally, there is the green section on your map, which is the recreational area of the park, and mainly consists of things to do rather than things just to see…
A large children’s play area serves as entertainment for any little ones that are tired from looking around at all the historical artefacts, and you can rent golfing equipment to make use of the small golf course on the grand field (Yayoi-bo-oono). An outdoor cooking area allows BBQ pros to have a go at cooking their luncheon (pre-booking required), and there are some tranquil rice paddies and ponds to traipse around and listen to the quacking of the ducks. Other entertainment options in the green area include a large trampoline, an inflatable bouncing dome (which looks like a puffy trampoline), a long roller slide and ‘Disc Golf’. The festival grounds and rice paddies are a great place to see seasonal flowers such as Buckwheat flowers (Oct-Nov), Red Spider Lillies (Late Sep), Red Rice (Early Sep) and the Safflower (Mid June).
One of the best things about the Yoshinogari Historical Park is all the amazing experiences you can have there. As a historical site, they offer all kinds of short courses on things that you can make yourself in the park. The courses all last about one hour and costs range from 100 yen per person to 1,500 per person, depending on the craft. The opportunity to make ‘Magatama’ beads, try fire-making or make an earthen flute are available daily in the Yayoi Pavilion. Also in the Pavilion on the weekends and holidays you can try making ancient style coins, bells, seals and mirrors. All of these experience workshops can be attended on the day, depending on the weather and availability.
Several workshops are also available in the Ancient Plant Museum. Braiding is available on demand, but you’ll have to pre-book (at least two weeks in advance) if you want to try your hand at the specialist courses such as traditional dance, instrument making (and performance!) and cloth making.
The only downside of the park is that, for a park of this size, there are very few options for dining. Of course, there is the outside cooking area, but if that isn’t your thing then there is basically no other option for somewhere to eat within the park though of course there are several places marked on the map where you can purchase drinks from vending machines.
There is a restaurant just outside the park (east entrance) in the Historical Park Center where you can get a variety of snacks, sets and meals (including the traditional ‘red rice’ dish) but you’d have to leave the park in order to access it. So if you’re planning on coming for a day trip, I recommend bringing a packed lunch with you to eat in the park or timing your visit so that you have something to eat before you come in. The Historical Park Center also houses the gift shop and is right next to the car park, so it’s good to do this on your way out.
Unlike many museums and tourist attractions, the Yoshinogari Historical Park isn’t closed on Mondays – it’s open all year round barring a few days around the New Year. Opening times are 9:00 – 17:00/18:00 depending on the time of year.
Entry fee is an absolute bargain – 420 yen for an adult ticket, 200 yen for those 65 and above, and a mere 80 yen for elementary and junior high school students – kids under 6 go free, making this an ideal attraction for those travelling with children. Group discounts are available, as is an annual pass. Parking is available for vehicles, motorcycles and bikes.
Basically, the only thing left to do is ask… when are you going? Yoshinogari is one of the best things I have done so far in Japan – it was excellent value for money, a refreshing blend of history and culture and excitement and nature, it was interesting and enjoyable, and the size of the park meant that even on a busy holiday weekend, it didn’t feel in the slightest bit crowded.
If you don’t fancy the restaurant on sight, a 5-minute walk back up towards the train station goes past a McDonald’s as well as about 10 various Japanese restaurants. If you plan to take a packed lunch, you can pick up your necessary bits and bobs from the convenience store just opposite the train station. While most of the park is outdoors, even a spot of rain wouldn’t ruin the trip as you could still try your hand at making the traditional crafts and looking around in the museums.
Yoshinogari is a number one choice for travellers with young children, but there is so much to see and do, the park is sure to entertain people of all ages.
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