“Aaa-eeh,” the punter sang, “tsukino dokoromo hatsukano yamimoe.” His throat danced around a different note for each of the syllables of the old Japanese poem. The sun was beating down, making me wish we had forked out the 100円for a kasa hat. Still, listening to his voice and water lapping up gently against the side of the donkobune was like a massage for the soul.
It’s easy to see why 1.3 million visitors descend on Yanagawa, Fukuoka every year to ride one of these traditional boats around the city’s canals. In total, 930 km (578 mi) of ancient waterways reticulate the affectionately nicknamed “Little Venice of Kyushu”. The architecture, atmosphere and cuisine is worlds away from its Italian counterpart, but Yanagawa is a city of water in its own right.
To the southwest of it lies the Ariake Sea, known for its high tidal range which reaches 6 meters in some areas. The strong ebb and flow of the tides grinds down earth and sand brought into the sea by rivers into a fine silt, creating vast mud flats at low tide.