Although the anime concluded a while ago, fans can’t stop talking about Yuri!!! On ICE. I heard that Karatsu city in Saga prefecture was the model for the castle town Hasetsu, the home town of the main character, Yuri Katsuki. My mission: go on an anime pilgrimage to the city for two days and eat Yuri’s famously favourite dish, katsudon. I’m sure many fans of Yuri!!! On ICE would love to taste it, so it’s my duty as the otaku traveller of MANGA.TOKYO to go there.
Karatsu City, here I come!
From Fukuoka International Airport to Karatsu City in Saga Prefecture
My starting point is Fukuoka International Airport, which Yuri also used when he travelled. Do you remember the scene in which Yuri and Victor hugged each other when they reunited? I’m a bit disappointed that, unlike in the anime scene, you can’t see inside the gate.
After I got off the plane, I had to travel to Karatsu City. The easiest way to do so is to use the Fukuoka city underground line, it costs 1170 yen one way (as of January 2017). Do you remember the picture on Instagram in which Yuri and Victor sat facing each other in a carriage? If you are lucky, you can get on the same type of train, which you can see on the left side of the platform in the picture below.
It takes about an hour and a half from Fukuoka Airport to Karatsu station by train. You can take a direct train, or you might need to change once. It’s not difficult and you won’t get lost.
After getting on the train, you can just relax and wait until the train reaches Karatsu station while fantasizing about what the katsudon will be like…
‘I saw this station in the first episode!’
I’m here, at Karatsu station! It reminds me of the scene in the first episode when Minako was welcoming Yuri back to Hasetsu town. I think I just heard her voice saying ‘welcome back!’.
I could see Yuri!!! On ICE posters everywhere in the station! It appears everyone in Karatsu city knows that the city is the model town for the anime.
The picture above is the exterior of Karatsu station that you could see in the scenes when Yuri and Minako are walking together, and when Yurio considered but eventually thought against uploading his picture on Instagram when he arrived at Hasetsu town. The statue is actually a lion, not a squid like in the anime.
If you have any problems, visit Karatsu Tourist Information in Karatsu station, since they have staff who can speak English and Korean.
It’s reassuring to have such a place when you visit somewhere you’ve never been to before, isn’t it? Obviously, the people there knew about Yuri!!! On ICE already.
Karatsu Tourist Information
Address: JR Karatsu Station 2935-1 Shinkou-machi, Karatsu-city, Saga Prefecture
Access: on the 1st floor of Karatsu station on Japan Railways.
Hasetsu Castle, or rather… Karatsu Castle!
After exploring around the station, my next destination was Karatsu Castle. It’s the model for the Hasetsu Castle which made Victor yelp with delight, calling it ‘a Ninja castle’. It’s at walking distance from Karatsu station, so I’m going to go there on foot and enjoy the scenery.
Find Victor! Follow Yurio’s footsteps
Just as in the anime, Karatsu Castle is overlooking the sea. There are several shopping malls before the castle. Each one has its own ceiling design and type of lanterns, so they look different from each other. Remember the mall where Yurio was walking down when he came to Hasetsu first? There might be a model mall for that around here.
I’ve found it! This is the one from the anime!! It has the same ceiling and lanterns, though I couldn’t find the T-shirt with the tiger face which Yurio loved so much. Incidentally, these lanterns are put up during the Karatsu festival every year, but they’re still there for visiting fans of Yuri!!! On ICE.
Each shopping mall has its own name and the picture above is from the one of Yurio was strolling. It’s called ‘Kyomachi’ arcade. The soundtrack of Yuri!!! On ICE is playing inside. I felt like I was in the anime.
I shouted on THE bridge: ‘Where’s Victor?!’
I reached Karatsu shrine after walking through the mall. Although the shrine doesn’t appear in the anime, it has become one of the places that fans visit for their pilgrimage, because the staff of Yuri!!! On ICE visited the shrine and offered their prayers for the anime.
There are many ema plaques; wooden tablets that you find at Shinto shrines on which people write their wishes. Some of them are wishing for the second season of Yuri!!! On ICE. I hope their wishes come true. I prayed that the fans would enjoy my article!
I reached the sea and the scenery that I knew very well from the anime spread right in front of me.
It’s THE bridge! It’s called Maizuru bridge and it’s the place Yurio was shouting Victor’s name!
The bridge appears in the anime so many times, therefore I got a little emotional… I could see Hasetsu castle, or rather Karatsu castle from here. The skating rink ‘Ice Castle Hasetsu’ is right under the castle in the anime, but there is actually a high school building instead.
I Failed to Enter Karatsu Castle…
I wasn’t able to enter the castle because the road in front of it was blocked due to roadworks. The picture above is the closest view of the castle I could take. I made a promise to myself that I would take photos on top of the castle like Victor did in the anime next time I visit (I later found that I could have entered the castle via an elevator at the back. Too bad!).
The road in front of Karatsu castle and Maizuru bridge is quite busy with cars. Don’t take your chances and cross over, but use the underpass instead!
The snack bar of Minako!
The locals told me there are more places I could recognize from Yuri!!! On ICE!
First, there is a snack bar called ‘Snack Argent’ which is the model for the snack bar ‘Kachu’ where Minako works during the night after her daytime job at the ballet school. Victor came here and asked about Yuri, didn’t he? It opens in the evening as a snack bar.
The waterfall under which Yuri and Yurio did spiritual practices is modelled after Mikaeri no Taki, literally meaning ‘a waterfall for looking back.’ It’s actually too powerful to practice under, so you shouldn’t approach it too closely. Don’t go off-track when visiting here.
Yes, it exists! This is THE shower at which Yuri and Victor play around during the ending credits. One of them is out of order, but the other one works! I can confirm it because I tried it and ended up getting soaked…
If you are a devoted fan of Yuri!!! On ICE like me, you must have wondered whether the restaurants which appeared in the ‘Face-Off Hot Springs on Ice’ episode exist. Yes, they do! ‘Drive-in Tori’ is the model for the Yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant, and ‘Udon Maki’ (a noodle restaurant) appears on the banner at the skate rink. They are both loved by locals and their food is said to taste good. Visit them if you like popular Japanese dishes.
The waterfall, ‘Drive-in Tori’, and ‘Udon Maki’ are all situated far away from the station, so getting a taxi or renting a car is recommended.
The social arena for the local fans of Yuri!!! On ICE
Since you are here, you might want to meet the local fans. Go to ‘Caravan’, a restaurant specializing in Wagyu (Japanese beef) steaks whose owner is a massive fan of Yuri!!! On ICE and the president of ‘The Society to Connect Hasetsu to Karatsu’, which assists in pilgrimage tours.
The restaurant is well known by Yuri!!! On ICE fans in Japan and has become an oasis for the tourists who come on an anime pilgrimage in Karatsu. They said that they often have visitors from overseas as well.
Special bespoke bottles with Yuri!!! On ICE characters are exhibited, and the anime is shown on TV in the restaurant. The fans will definitely love this place.
You might hear interesting stories regarding Yuri!!! On ICE from the fans who gather here. Saga beef, a speciality of Saga prefecture, is so delicious and it is definitely worth visiting the restaurant just for that. You can also try the drink that appeared in the anime called ‘Shochu, Makai e no Izanai’, a strong alcoholic drink whose name means ‘an invitation from Hell’.
Ground floor Maruhiro building, 1845 Nakamachi, Karatsu, Saga Prefecture
Apart from katsudon, you should also try ikasashi!
I walked all day and it was night before I knew it. I know I came here to eat THE katsudon, but there is one other dish that I wanted to try. It’s ikasashi, raw squid sashimi. You can find it everywhere in Karatsu as it’s one of the local delicacies. Since I’m here, I should have one, shouldn’t I?
It’s a whole squid and it’s moving its tentacles!! Its body part is thinly sliced, so I ate a slice slowly and tentatively… it was so sweet and delicious! It quickly disappeared in my stomach. They cooked me tempura with the rest of the squid. The tentacle tempura is crispy and tasty! It screams for some sake. I drank some with the tempura squid. Heaven!
You might be hesitant to eat ikasashi as it’s quite an unusual dish. However, I recommend you try one if you are brave enough to do so, because it is actually delicious despite its appearance.
Kagamiyama onsen: where Yuri was born and bred! How about THE katsudon?
After enjoying Karatsu city, the next destination was my final goal: katsudon! According to my research, I could eat THE katsudon at ‘Kagamiyama Onsen Chaya (teahouse)’ which is the model for ‘Yu-topia Katsuki’, Yuri’s family home. I went to ‘Niji no Matsubara station’ which is 3 stops from Karatsu station. After a 15-minute walk, I caught sight of Kagamiyama Onsen Chaya!
The entrance looks grand. My feet moved faster unintentionally as I thought about THE katsudon.
There is a vending machine for entrance tickets. If you want to go to the restaurant only to eat THE katsudon, you don’t need to buy the ticket. Just tell the reception that you came here just to visit their restaurant. Incidentally, although Yu-topia in the anime is an onsen (hot spring) hotel, Kagamiyama Onsen Chaya only has an onsen and a restaurant. I was disappointed because I wanted to stay here for the night.
I’m not allowed to walk with my shoes on in Kagamiyama Onsen Chaya, so I have to leave them in a locker. Have a ten-yen coin handy, as you need it to use a locker. I couldn’t wait to visit here that morning, so I came here first. However, it was too early to eat katsudon as the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. I bought an entrance ticket and headed to the onsen.
Quite understandably, taking pictures in the onsen is prohibited, therefore I can only describe it to you: There is an outdoor bath with a wooden tub where Yurio soaked. The temperature of the onsen is not too hot, so it’s quite relaxing. This onsen is meant be good for recovering from exhaustion and for muscle pain. I recover from the tiredness of walking all day long yesterday. Unfortunately, I‘m not allowed to have a peek at the gent’s area [laugh].
I had a relaxing time in the onsen, and now it’s time to visit the restaurant.
You need pay for this using a vending machine, too. I bought a ticket for THE katsudon. I was going to eat THE katsudon, finally! I couldn’t wait.
THE katsudon costs 650 yen as of January 2017. After buying the ticket, I entered the restaurant, handed in the ticket, and then took a seat. The seating area in the restaurant is just the same as that in Yu-topia Katsuki in the anime. I’m impressed.
The locals I chatted with in the onsen tub told me they served about two katsudon a day before the anime, but now they are serving seven times more. It sounds like the people who go on the pilgrimage to Karatsu come here as well. 30 minutes after I entered the restaurant, the seats were fully occupied by young ladies.
The time has come. Finally, THE katsudon is served! The eros for Yuri!! Remember how Yuri skates to express his love towards katsudon with his full body? THE katsudon comes with a bowl of miso soup that has a full flavour from seasonal fish and pickled vegetables. Yuri’s katsudon, I found you finally!
The taste of fresh eggs goes well with the crispness of the deep-fried coatings. The pork is thick but tender. It’s so delicious! I now understand that if I were able to eat this katsudon every day, I’d be as fat as Yuri used to be. No wonder Victor and Yurio raved about it. This katsudon is the best! I was really happy!
Kagamiyama Onsen Chaya
4733 Kagami, Karatsu city, Saga Prefecture
Tel: 0955 70 6333
Opening hours: 10.00 – 22.00 (Last entry 21.30)
Closed on the 3rd Thursday of the Month (unless it is a national holiday.) Open all month in January, February and August. Closed at New Year’s Eve.
Adult 600 yen, Child 300 yen (10.00 – 17.00)
Adult 500 yen, Child 250 yen (17.00 – 22.00)
*The data shown above is as of January 2017 and subject to change.
Karatsu in Saga prefecture is such a nice place!
The locals are very nice and kind. They chatted with me and offered assistance! At first I thought that I would have had to find a lot of places on my own, but I actually felt comforted by them at the end of the trip.
I feel it might be hard to visit every pilgrimage spot in just two days. I recommend to use taxis if you can speak a tiny bit of Japanese, even though it is more expensive. The taxi drivers in Karatsu city are learning about Yuri!!! On ICE, so they will take you wherever you want to visit!
Karatsu Sightseeing Taxi
Tel: 0955 72 4141
Karatsu City will have a lot of collaboration events in the future. It’s already one of the hottest anime pilgrimage destinations. Don’t miss the city festival called ‘Karatsu-kunchi’ every year on the 2nd – 4th November. During the festival you can learn more about the history and culture of Karatsu. Visit this lovely city and feel as if you are in Yuri!!! On ICE!