Wednesday, September 6, 2023

[SAGA] Takeo Onsen and Shrine


It is my first time to use a JR rail pass and I thought that establishing a base in Fukuoka and just going on daily day trips was the best way to maximize it. In the end, I wasn’t wrong and ended up saving almost PHP10,000 on train tickets. Not a bad deal! The prefecture right below Fukuoka is Saga, but choices of attractions seem scarce. While I mostly just visit the namesake of the prefecture in the form of its capital, in this case the city of Saga, I decided to skip it this time around and just go to Takeo. Takeo what?


A stop on the train line heading south to Nagasaki, Takeo Onsen serves as the gateway to the city. It can be reached by the Relay Kamome train from Fukuoka in under an hour, after which you hop on the Kamome bullet train for the 25-minute connecting trip to Nagasaki. If Takeo is your final destination, though, then just go down the stairs. Getting to know the city’s bus system is unnecessary since most of the attractions you’ll want to visit are just around 15 minutes walking distance from the station.


One of the images that popped up on Google as I searched TAKEO was a wooden library, quite impressive in pictures. Okay, we went all the way here to visit a library. Why not? It did not disappoint. From the train station, locate the city hall a block or two away and then follow the road heading south. You will reach an intersection bisected by a river, a statue of an old man with a globe visible from across the street. Chill there for a while and take a picture of the cultural hall along the riverbanks.


Set your gaze back towards the south and you will see a giant pink YOU ME sign. That is a mall or a grocery, perhaps? The Takeo City Library is right across the street. It’s hard to miss thanks to its unique façade. From this part of the street, you will see the library with verdant green mountains in the background. You haven’t entered the premises yet and you already have an Insta-ready photo. How cool is that? Go inside, but hide your camera since photography is prohibited.


Well, not really. There are only two spots inside where you can take photos. Luckily, the spot on the second floor offers a sweeping view of the wooden interior, and it’s plain glorious. Take your selfies there but be quiet. People actually come here to read and study. Camwhores are a rarity here, so you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. After the obligatory camwhoring, it’s time to check out the books, if you can understand Japanese that is.


In case you don’t, you can just lounge at Starbucks which also happens to be inside the same library. Free WiFi! There are also books that are for sale but, again, mostly in Japanese. The library’s toilet is also clean and modern as to be expected in Japan, so do your necessary toilet break there before heading out. Your next destination is Takeo Shrine, which is less than five minutes of walking from the library. Just follow the narrow street next to the parking lot heading towards the mountains.


The entrance to the shrine requires a really short uphill trek on concrete steps. As always, the shrine itself is for those who find spiritual satisfaction there. You, as a tourist, will be more interested in the 3,000 year old Camphor tree in the backyard. Backyard? More like a mini forest, really! The entrance is marked by a concrete tori leading down to a cemented pathway lined up with bamboo shoots to the right. It is an amazing stroll with a tranquility-themed vibe. The tree is at the end of the pathway.


That tree is 3,000 years old and it shows. It is huge and it makes you wonder what it hides within. There are steps leading into the tree itself but inaccessible to visitors, although I don’t think the rather low wooden fence will be able to keep trespassers at bay. Hey, they say that a deity lives in that tree. Trespass at your own risk! Anyway, the shrine itself and the vicinity is not that busy so if you are looking for some peace and short term nirvana, by all means, stay.


Otherwise, walk a kilometer north to the onsen, which is marked by an unmistakable pagoda at the entrance. Remember the name of the train station? Takeo ONSEN. Yes, the onsen is their main attraction. I believe the 3,000 year old tree is more of an oddity. For those who come here to relax, the hot baths are the primary motive. It was sweltering hot when I went but since I wasn’t in the mood for a dip, I just cut the trip short and headed back to Fukuoka. Saga, check!

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