Located on the western coast of Kyushu, Nagasaki Prefecture is comparatively small but spreads out into the sea, comprising of hundreds of islands. With its contrasting topography, combined with Nagasaki City’s long history of being a vital port connecting Japan to the west, the area is rich in contrasts culturally, architecturally, and geographically. Dive in to find ten fascinating experiences (in no particular order) that await you in this diverse prefecture.
1. Gunkanjima Landing and Cruising Tour
Officially known as Hashima, Gunkanjima (which means “Battleship Island” in Japanese, due to the densely packed buildings looking like the silhouette of a battleship) flourished as a coal mining community, starting in 1890. The coal mine closed in 1974 and the island has been deserted since then. The island is now a World Heritage site, and it is also a popular tourist attraction. Gunkanjima was used a model for the movie Attack on Titan, and for the Dead City featured in the movie Skyfall. You can take tours that bring you up close to this haunting island, or even make landfall and explore the ruins on foot.
*Note that due to damage to the pier from Typhoon Hong-Rei in 2018 is it predicted that the landing tours will not be available until March 2019.
To get here, tours depart from different ports located in Nagasaki City (depending on the tour company the one chooses), which are all easily accessible via Tram.
2. Island Lumina
Island Lumina, in the city of Nagasaki, seamlessly combines the world of fantasy and modern technology to create a fun night walk for all ages.
If you’ve always dreamed of embarking on a quest to save the world, here’s your chance! This island has been enshrouded in darkness after a dragon stole the enchanted jewel from the sky. Yura has discovered a way to restore the light, but she needs your help. Join her in an interactive experience using projection mapping and creative lighting that will send you on an adventure through the island’s forest.
Take the free shuttle bus from Nagasaki Station to Shimakaze no Yu (reservation required), then walk over to the Island Lumina bus stop and catch a free shuttle, which will take you to the entrance of the event.
More info: Island Lumina Official Webpage
3. Nagasaki Bio Park
Animal lovers take note: the Nagasaki Bio Park is not at all like a normal zoo, instead, the animals live in open enclosures resembling their natural habitats. You can walk in and out of the enclosures, as well as feed and interact with animals such as lemurs, squirrel monkeys, meerkats and capybaras. The capybaras are particularly popular in Japan, and the park has about 20 of them. As the animals are not caged, it may seem a little daunting at first, but it’s incredibly rewarding and an excellent way to see animal behaviours up close. Please note that the animals have places to retreat to if they feel stressed or would simply like to relax in peace. There is a free shuttle bus from Huis Ten Bosch, or take the bus from Nagasaki Station and transfer at Togitsu Hokubu Terminal.
More info: Nagasaki Bio Park
4. Standup Paddle Boarding
Just an hour from either Nagasaki or Sasebo City, the Yukinoura Beach Store offers standup paddle boarding (SUP) courses on crystal clear waters along the Yukinoura Beach in Saikai City. Beginners are welcome and the only thing you will need to bring is swimwear and a towel. There are different courses available depending on your experiences, and courses are generally two hours long. This activity is available throughout the year, with some exceptions such as extreme weather conditions. If SUP isn’t your thing, you can also choose a surfing course. Take a bus from Nagasaki Station and transfer at Sakura no Sato Terminal, and take a bus to Yukinoura bus stop.
5. Hirado Olle Hiking Course
Hirado has a long history of trading with Portugal and the Netherlands that dates back to the 1500s and was known as the “Capital of the West” in the 1600s. The Hirado Olle Trail Course is a 13km trail that starts at Hirado Bus and Ferry Terminal and takes you through different parts of the historical island with many breathtaking views. Highlights of this course include the Kawachi-Pass, where you’ll get a 360-degree view of the area and the surrounding islands; the view of a Christian Church with Japanese Temples; and the Saikyoji Pagoda. The trail is suitable for both experienced and inexperienced hikers, and it takes about 4-5 hours to complete. Take a bus from Sasebo Station (Bus Stop #2) bound for Hirado Sanbashi, and get off at Hiraido Sanbashi bus stop.
More info: Welcome Kyushu
6. Kujukushima Cruising and Yacht Sailing
Kujukushima is a group of stunning islands located in Saikai National Park, Sasebo. The name literally means “99 islands,” (the word kujuku is often used to describe a large quantity of things), but the number of islands is said to be approximately 208. The best way to explore the area is by joining one of the many tours offered at Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort, such as boat excursions, yacht sailing, relaxing cruises, and kayaking. The sun setting over Kujukushima is absolutely stunning, and the best way to enjoy this stunning view is to take a sunset cruise from the Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort. To get here, from Sasebo Station (Bus Stop #6), take a bound for Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort.
More info: Kujukushima Pearl Island Resort
Obama Hot Springs contain high levels of natural sodium, and purport to be the hottest hot springs in Japan at 105 degrees Celsius – hot enough to cook with. Mushigamaya is a restaurant that specializes in steamed dishes, and you can choose from a selection of seafood, meat, and produce to steam over natural hot springs. From the Nagasaki Bus Terminal, take a bus bound for Unzen, and get off at Obama Bus Terminal.
More info: Mushigamaya
8. Kanzarashi Making
Kanzarashi is a traditional sweet in the Shimabara region, made with two types of rice flour. These round mochi-like balls are boiled and then cooled in natural spring water before being served in a delicate syrup. While you can enjoy these bite-sized treats at many stores in Shimabara, at Shimabara Yuusuikan you can experience making this special dish yourself—and eating your creation! You’ll even get a certificate to prove your newfound skill. Reservations aren’t needed, just be sure to arrive with plenty of time before they close for the day. Shimabara Yuusuikan is just a short walk from Shimabara Station.
More info: Dejima Network
9. Dolphin Watching in Minami Shimabara
Boasting a 99% probability of seeing wild dolphins, this is a tour you won’t want to miss! Minami Shimabara is one of the few areas in Japan you can see wild dolphins in such proximity, so it is a great experience. The boat departs multiple times a day and tours take 60-80 minutes each. Online reservations are recommended, but payment can only be made in cash upon arrival at the venue. From Shimabara Station, take the bus to Kazusa Kaisuiyokujo-mae bus stop and walk 10 minutes.
More info: Kazusa Dolphin Watching
10. Camellia Oil Extraction
The Goto Islands located roughly 100 km west of Nagasaki City are known for their beautiful camellia flowers, as well as their hand-stretched udon noodles. While they may seem unrelated at first, the seeds from camellia flowers are crushed to extract the oil, and then it is infused into the hand-stretched noodles during the production process; thus adding flavour and texture. Join a workshop on the Goto Islands to make your own bottle of camellia oil that you can bring home to use. Note that reservations are required in advance. Take a Jetfoil from Sasebo or Nagasaki port, or fly from Nagasaki Airports.
More info: Kamigoto Tsubaki