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.
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 9:47, 10:47, 5:51pm, and 6:50pm)). 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 located 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.
Karatsu Castle A 1966 reconstruction of the former castle.
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.
Niji no Matsubara Originally planted by the feudal lord Terasawa as a counter-measure against the strong winds and tides in Karatsu Bay, this pine forest stretches for four kilometers 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.
Tategami-Iwa Located in the town of Minato, a scenic group of standing rocks along the coast. Can be accessed by bus.
Nanatsu-Gama 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.
Nagoya Castle Ruins 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.
Kagami-yama, . Overlooking Karatsu, it offers pleasant views of the city, pine forest, and bay. There's a small observation platform at the top, as well as a shop selling drinks, etc. Best reached by car. edit
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)
Seajack (しーじゃっく唐津駅前店), 佐賀県唐津市町田3-1-25 (From Karatsu Station, take the south exit and go straight.), ☎ 0955-72-3925. 11:00-21:00. Located a few minutes walk from JR Karatsu Station, this conveyor belt sushi restaurant can get busy during dinner hours. Not as good as the identically-priced Sushiro in Saga City, but still relatively cheap and filling.Sushi from ¥105 per plate. edit
Riki House (リキハウス), 佐賀県唐津市二タ子２－１－１５, ☎ 0955-73-7142. Located adjacent 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. edit
Karatsu Burger (唐津バーガー), ☎ (0955) 70-6446. 10AM-8PM. 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. edit
MaHaLo Burger Kitchen, 佐賀県唐津市高砂町1696-6 千歳ビル, ☎ 0955-72-1496. 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.edit
Funny, 佐賀県東松浦郡七山村大字滝川540-2, ☎ 0955-58-2747. Noon to midnight, 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).edit
The town of Yobuko is famous for live squid ( nama-ika), which can be eaten as sashimi, or pulled right of the not-entirely-dead body.
Yobuko Manbō (呼子萬坊, also called Kaichū Restaurant (海中レストラン, 'Restaurant in the Sea')), 1946-1 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.), ☎ +81 955-82-5333. M-F 11AM-8PM, Sa-Su 10:30AM-8PM, open until 9PM from Jul 21-Aug 31 (Orders accepted until 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. edit
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, ☎ 0955-75-3983. 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. Note that 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. edit
Montana (モンタナ), 1838-1 Nakamachi, Karatsu, Saga Prefecture 847-0051, Japan, ☎ +81 955-75-0157 . 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. edit
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, ☎ 0955-73-6074. 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. edit
Karatsu Daichi 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), ☎ 0955-74-1000, . checkin: 15:00PM; checkout: 10:00AM. A centrally-located business hotel, gets fairly positive reviews. Single ¥5500, Double ¥6900, Twin ¥8200edit