Nagasaki Prefecture is one of my favorite prefectures in all of Japan and having been to all prefectures, I think I can allow myself a judgement like this. Thus it was a pleasure to not only visit Nagasaki City again, but also other great places such as Gunkanjima, Omura and Hirado. My final stop in Nagasaki Prefecture was Shimabara City (島原市).
Shimabara is actually a peninsula east of Nagasaki City and can be reached easily by train from there in about 1.5 h and could also be done as a day trip. It takes much longer if you access it from Hirado like I did, but it’s possible.
I got up very early in the morning and my first stop was Shimabara Castle, of course! *g*
I could already see the castle from my hotel room. It’s also close to the train station and can be reached in about 10 minutes if you walk from there.
The castle was built during the early Edo Period (江戸時代) as the seat of the local feudal lord.
It was also a major factor that led to the “Shimabara Rebellion” (1637-1638) as it was much larger than other feudal domains of similar status. Its construction cost a lot of money, too.
Shimabara Castle was eventually destroyed during the Meiji Period (明治時代, 1868-1912). The buildings you see on the photos are concrete reconstructions from 1964.
Quite unique is also that the city obviously has chosen functionality to be a priority when reconstructing the castle as there’s a parking lot RIGHT in front of the castle building!
Castle walls everywhere and in the background Mt. Unzen.
Close-up right before entering.
In the entrance area there was a little corner for kids to dress up as samurai and warrior to take photos.
Unfortunately, beyond that point photos weren’t allowed.
The castle museum displayed a collection of Christian artefacts that were excavated from the castle ruins as well as the typical armors and weapons.
I spent a long time in there. A lot of information was provided in English(!) about the Christian history in Shimabara – and I found that extremely interesting.
On the 5th floor you had the typical observation deck that offered an awesome view.
On clear days you can see over the ocean all the way to Kumamoto Prefecture.
It surely is a great view from up there!
Back outside I strolled around on the castle grounds. There were some freaky looking statues everywhere!
Here’s another one.
I really liked the statue that was looking up to the castle!
The ticket you purchase when entering the castle also allows you to enter the “yagura” (castle turrets) that also had interesting things to offer.
In the photo above you see the Seibo Memorial Hall. Displayed is the work of the famous sculptor Kitamura Seibo, the artist who made the Nagasaki Peace Park statue.
There was also a folk museum displaying items of daily life from the 20th century.
Shimabara’s lovely shopping arcade and Sleeping Nirvana Statue
After leaving the castle I entered a small shopping arcade on my way to the “Nirvana Statue”.
What I really liked were the colorful and cute “doors” of the shops that were closed.
Shimabara is also famous for onsen (natural hot springs) because of the nearby active volcano Mt. Unzen (more about that later).
After walking through the shopping arcade for about 10 minutes I finally reached the sleeping Nirvana Statue.
Truly a breathtaking sight. There aren’t that many in Japan, especially not outside!
It was about 11 a.m. and I wanted to go to Mt. Unzen next. The area around the volcano is really unique and beautiful and there were also a few onsen resorts. Without a car your only choice is a bus that departs near the very small tourist information center. However, there are only a few buses per day, so plan accordingly.
I was EXTREMELY lucky that day.
As always when traveling I went to the tourist info center and asked for some pamphlets and if it was possible to visit Mt. Unzen with only half a day left.
The older lady was a volunteer and she was so excited to meet me (apparently they don’t get foreign visitors very often … on top of that Japanese speaking ones).
We talked for quite a while and she said she’d love to take me there, but she can’t leave the tourist info booth.
So, she called her husband (I felt sorry for him) and didn’t give up until he agreed to take me. *LOL*
I ended up with my private, local tour guide … and all of that for FREE!!!!
I felt so ashamed and told her many times, that it’s not necessary.
I never win arguing about kind offers of Japanese people…
As we went by car, my guide stopped at all the interesting spots and also provided a lot of information that only locals know! It was really great!
Mt. Unzen is an active volcano. The last huge eruptions were from 1990-1995, destroying parts of Shimabara and killing several people. They didn’t rebuilt the destroyed houses. Nothing will be built there anymore as it’s too close to the volcano!
That’s all gone now! :(
We were slowly getting closer to the volcano.
The landscape was also changing. Plants grow here that grow nowhere else!
These strawberries are just one example. They can ONLY be found there in Shimabara and it’s NOT allowed to pick them, but my guide did it nevertheless and had me try one.
There’s also a water spring providing clear, healthy water that you can drink!
You can even buy it in supermarkets! Just have a closer look at the water you buy next time! Maybe it’s this one from Shimabara!
As we were going higher, the view became more and more breathtaking!
Unfortunately the sun was working against me, so taking nice photos was difficult.
We finally arrived near the crater.
From up there you could see the onsen resort “Obama”. Yes, that’s right! The area got a lot of publicity when Obama became president of the USA!
There’s actually one more Obama in Japan. It’s in Fukui Prefecture.
From the parking lot you could take a ropeway, but we didn’t. My guide had other plans and after the kind offer I just followed along! ^-^;
The Hells of Unzen
Just like in Beppu (Oita Prefecture) Obama also has its own “hells”: Unzen Jigoku, the Hells of Unzen.
In the Meiji Period, the town became one of Japan’s first tourist resorts popular among foreigners. Actually you can find a golf course that was the first in Japan, created by foreigners to enjoy their leisure time there!
The hells of Unzen are quite spacious and so I took my time to explore and enjoy the volcanic landscape.
Now you might think: “Wow, great! Even there you could find Christian influence?”
Actually the story behind that cross is really sad.
In the 17th century priests and Japanese Christians who didn’t want to abandon their faith were killed by being thrown into the boiling water of “the hells” after the failed Shimabara Rebellion.
And this doesn’t look very pleasant anymore. That’s not a hot spring temperature any of us would want to bathe in, right?
Mt. Unzen Visitor Center
At last we went to the Mt. Unzen Visitor Center. You’ll find information about the last eruption and its destructive power and effects on daily life as well as the unique flora and fauna that can be found.
Although I visited in winter, it wasn’t cold enough to observe this beautiful phenomenon.
Different seasons bring different colors. My guide told me that it’s especially beautiful in autumn with all the colorful leaves, so I guess that would be the best time to visit!
I even spotted Dr. Siebold again! I won’t go into details, but he was German and there’s a nice little museum in Nagasaki City if you want to know more about this great person! :) I’ll write more about him some other time.
And then it was time to leave Obama. We both were hungry, so we went to eat dinner.
This is famous for Shimabara and the name is written on the menu above, but I forgot how to read it! ^-^;;
It was delicious and as it was winter, something warm was just right!
Of course I invited my guide, but he didn’t accept that I wanted to pay. He said if his wife gets to know about this, she’d be angry.
Instead we exchanged addresses and once I was back home I sent them a omiyage (typical food from my area) as a thank you gift!
And then I was already sitting in the train back home. My mind filled with great memories and my camera’s memory cards filled with tons of photos.
This was my awesome winter vacation in Kyushu.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!