Karatsu, like many other municipalities in Japan, is actually the result of a merger of smaller towns and villages from the surrounding area, which occurred in 2005. Genkai was the lone holdout of this merger, owing to its nuclear power plant. Karatsu, formed from the Japanese word roots 唐 kara (China, or continental East Asia in general), and 津 tsu (port), signifies its historical importance as an ancient trading port between Japan with China and Korea.
In addition to Standard Japanese, the local dialect (Karatsu-ben) is also understood by most. It is actually a bit closer to the Hakata dialect than that of the rest of Saga prefecture, but Saga-ben is also understood.
Korean language signage exists, but sparsely.
Saga prefecture's own airport is located south of Saga City, and as a result is much less convenient to Karatsu than the international airport in Fukuoka.
From Fukuoka International Airport, take the Fukuoka City Subway Airport Line to its terminus, Meinohama, and transfer to the JR Chikuhi Line. Travel time from Hataka is ~84 minutes (~68 minutes if you catch a Rapid Chikuhi Line train (not labelled as such; departs Meinohama at 09:47, 10:47, 17:51, and 18:50)). Some trains will run all the way from the airport to Nishi-Karatsu station without requiring transfers.
The Oteguchi Bus Terminal is the main bus hub in Karatsu. It's less than a ten minute walk from Karatsu Station (take the north exit and walk straight, turn right at the T-intersection in front of city hall.
Karatsu is also serviced by a ferry, which links it to Iki island in Nagasaki prefecture. From there, it's possible to catch another ferry onward to Busan, Korea by way of Tsushima, also part of Nagasaki. The ferry terminal is in Oshima, roughly a 20-minute walk from Nishi Karatsu Station . Busses also run to the ferry terminal.
For the most part, trains aren't a viable way to see most of Karatsu, busses are a better bet. The best way, however, is under your own power: basic bicycles are available for hire at Arupino (white building with a blue dolphin on it next to Karatsu Station), and cars can also be rented from several locations.
For car rentals, the tourist information center at Karatsu station seems to have better rates than the Toyota place down the street; a yellow-plate car (seats 4) rents for about ¥6800/day, with an additional ¥1050 for insurance. At least one of the employees speaks pretty good English.
- 1 Karatsu Castle (唐津城). A 1966 reconstruction of the former castle.
- 2 Niji no Matsubara (虹の松原). This pine forest was planted by the feudal lord Terasawa as a counter-measure against the strong winds and tides in Karatsu Bay. It stretches for 4 km along the coast and is one of Karatsu's most well-known tourist attractions. It's possible to access by bicycle from central Karatsu, but take care when riding on the road, especially at night.
- 3 Nanatsu-Gama (七ツ釜). Also in Minato is this group of seven caves, formed by the tumultuous Genkai Sea. Accessible by bus, with a bit of a walk from the main road.
- 4 Tategami-Iwa (立神岩). Located in the town of Minato, a scenic group of standing rocks along the coast. Can be accessed by bus.
- 5 Nagoya Castle Ruins (名護屋城). Not to be confused with Nagoya Castle in Nagoya, this castle was the launching point for invasions of Korea during the Sengoku Period. Today the castle walls are all that remain. It's still pretty nice, and there's a modern museum on-site.
- 6 Takashima (高島). Not to be confused with the nearby Takashima (鷹島) in Nagasaki prefecture, this island in Karatsu Bay is dominated by a large hill, and is accessible by a ferry that leaves from the jetty near Karatsu Castle. There's a small village on the island with some picturesque little garden plots, as well as a shrine thought to bring luck in winning the lottery. It's possible to climb the hill to its summit via a well-marked and not terribly strenuous path, which offers nice views of Karatsu and its surroundings on a clear day. It's no longer possible to walk or bike all the way around the island, as a significant section of the road was blocked off due to a landslide. Interestingly, most villagers on the island have the surname of "Nozaki". Bicycles can be brought along on the ferry for an additional charge, but the island is walkable without one.
- 7 Udono Sekibutsu Statues (鵜殿石仏群). A cave of stone Buddha carvings. It is said that the famous priest Kukai stopped here after returning from China.
- 8 Hikiyama Exhibition Hall (曳山展示場). The floats of the famous Karatsu Kunchi Festival are all on display here everday except during the festival. They have informative English descriptions about each float, what it is, when it was made, and sometimes why it was chosen to be a float. ¥300.
- Karatsu Kunchi Held during November 2-4 each year, this three-day festival is Karatsu's most famous. 14 floats (known as hikiyama in Japanese) are drawn through the city by people from the various neighborhoods.
- Hamasaki Gion Festival In mid-July the city lights up with many floats to celebrate what citizens hope to be a good harvest.
- Karatsu Pottery - Karatsu-yaki is one of the most prized among collectors of Japanese ceramics. The most convenient store selling them is Arupino (building with a dolphin on it), located adjacent to Karatsu Station. The pottery is on the second floor.
- Squid buns (ika manjū), which come in white and black varieties, or the unusual-looking squid dumplings (ika shūmai)
- 1 Riki House (リキハウス), 佐賀県唐津市二タ子２－１－１５, ☏ . Next to JR Nishi Karatsu Station, this neighborhood establishment offers pasta and pizza, as well as Japanese fare. In the evenings, it's a bar that frequently hosts local music acts or open mic nights, ranging from electronic to jazz to rock 'n roll. The friendly owner can speak a bit of English. Mains ¥500-850, Draft beer ¥500.
- 2 Karatsu Burger (唐津バーガー), ☏ . 10:00-20:00. A food truck found along Route 202 in Niji no Matsubara, this local favorite serves up burgers, drinks, and nothing else. There's another one along Route 23 in Iwano on the way to Genkai. Special Burger ¥460; regular hamburger ¥280.
- 3 MaHaLo Burger Kitchen, 佐賀県唐津市高砂町1696-6 千歳ビル, ☏ . 11:00-19:00, last order 18:30. Less than a five-minute walk from JR Karatsu Station (go out the north entrance, head right, and cross the street and go left down the street with the two sea urchin statues), this burger shop offers Imari beef hamburgers, sides, and drinks. Only seats 4 people; if it's full, the benches in front of Karatsu station are a good bet. Special Burger w/ Imari Beef, ¥680.
- 4 Funny (ファニー七山), 佐賀県東松浦郡七山村大字滝川540-2, ☏ . 12:00-00:00, closed Thursdays. Located in Nanayama, this gem offers Bass ale on tap, and a number of delicious, pita-based dishes (among other things). The friendly owner speaks a bit of English, and has an impressive record and CD collection on display. Highly recommended (if you can make it up to Nanayama, that is). From ¥500.
- 5 Satobu Cafe (さとのぶカフェ). A Peruvian restaurant with good food and very friendly owners.
- 6 Masala Master (マサラマスター). A quality Indian restaurant just 2 minutes from Watada Station.
The town of Yobuko is famous for live squid (活イカ katsu-ika or 生イカ nama-ika), which can be eaten as sashimi, or pulled right off the not-entirely-dead body.
- 7 Yobuko Manbō (呼子萬坊, also called Kaichū Restaurant (海中レストラン, "Restaurant in the Sea")), 1944-1 Tono-no-ura Yobuko-cho (From Karatsu Station or Nishi-Karatsu Station, take a bus to Yobuko Ōhashi; from there it's 1 minute walk.), ☏ . M-F 11:00-19:00, Sa Su 10:30-20:00, open until 21:00 from Jul 21-Aug 31; last order 1 hour before closing. Japan's first restaurant that floats in the sea. A standard course of squid runs ¥2625, or splurge and get the three flavor course (squid, tai, and hamachi) for ¥3900 (but with half as much squid). Standard course ¥2625; three-flavor course ¥3900.
- Look on Asaichi-dōri (朝市通り) for any number of restaurants, including a Manbō branch. (From Karatsu Station or Nishi-Karatsu Station, take a bus to Yobuko Asaichi-dōri.)
- Lagoon, 〒847-0052 佐賀県唐津市呉服町1819−1, ☏ . A good place to begin a night out in Karatsu, Lagoon offers billiards, darts, bottles of Corona and Guinness (ice cold...) in a pretty spacious area, including kotatsu (low tables with a quilt and heater built in) that are nice in the winter. The ¥1500 pizzas from Costco can feed 3-4 hungry people, and are a bargain by Japanese standards. If you want to get the all you can drink (飲み放題, nomihoudai), everyone at the table has to get it. Drinks from ¥500, 2 hour all-you-can-drink ¥2000.
- Montana (モンタナ), 1838-1 Nakamachi, Karatsu, Saga Prefecture 847-0051, Japan, ☏ . Not far from Karatsu Station, this small place can sometimes get too crowded to admit additional patrons. Generally pretty empty before 10PM. Drinks from ¥600.
- 1 Castle Mountain (キャッスル・マウンテン), 〒847-0047 佐賀県唐津市本町1740-3-1F, ☏ . If you've run out of regular bar options, you can always try a hostess/"snack" bar. This one tends to be the most interesting; the employees don't seem to bat an eye when the drunk salarymen start whipping their shirts off and dancing on tables. One hour all-you-can-drink ¥3000.
- 1 [dead link] Karatsu Daiichi Hotel (唐津第一ホテル), 〒847-0815 佐賀県唐津市西寺町488-1 (From Karatsu Station take the north exit, walk straight until you get to the T-intersection in front of city hall, turn left and walk a block and a half), ☏ . Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. A centrally-located business hotel, gets fairly positive reviews. Single ¥5500, Double ¥6900, Twin ¥8200