A unique archipelago of five isles off the coast of Nagasaki, the Goto Islands have a complex history and boast incredible natural wonders
Usually off the radar for visitors to Japan, the Gotos have been slowly building in popularity thanks to the 2017 release of Martin Scorsese’s film Silence, and the addition of Japan’s hidden Christian sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The islands also feature stunning coastlines and landscapes not usually associated with Japan, making it a location well worth visiting on your next trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Upon my arrival at Fukue Port, I make my way to Dozaki Church in the island’s northeast. Fukue Island is the largest and southernmost of Nagasaki’s Goto Islands, and it’s where most travellers head first. It can be a bit difficult to get around if you’re not a local, so renting a car is your best option.
Constructed in 1907, Dozaki Church is not only the very first church built on the Gotos, but it’s also the oldest Western-style building. It was erected as a symbol of the suffering of Christians, who for 260 years had to hide their faith after the religion was outlawed by the Japanese government. Inside the church are information displays and historical documents – very useful for gaining an insight into the plight of the hidden Christians of the Goto Islands.
If you feel like a coffee after your visit to Dozaki Church, stop in at Baby Qoo just down the road. The lovely mother–daughter owners of the shop have become Instagram legends and serve a delicious selection of drinks and snacks.
My next stop is the top of Mount Onidake, for the best views of Fukue and the surrounding islands. A 315-metre-tall dormant volcano, Onidake is a popular spot for hiking, picnics and the island’s annual kite-flying event. If you’ve got kids in tow, bring a sheet of cardboard or large plastic bag so they can slide down the steeper sections of the hill.
Pop in for lunch at Tsubaki Chaya, where each table has a built-in irori (Japanese barbecue). The menu is loaded with fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients, and the friendly staff grill the food over charcoal for you to enjoy simply with either salt or soy sauce, as you enjoy the views across the water.
A short walk from Tsubaki Chaya is the Pearl Goto Produce Centre. Alongside seasonal soft-serve ice-cream and handmade goodies like camellia oil, it also sells sea salt that is made next door. The salt, which is highly prized by exclusive restaurants, is expertly processed using traditional methods that allow the water from the Goto-Nada Sea to retain most of its minerals. The result is a sweeter-tasting salt that is shipped to exclusive restaurants as far away as Fukuoka.
Just a 30-minute drive across the island is the Gyoran Kannon statue, overlooking Takahama Beach. The statue was built to bring good luck for a plentiful fishing bounty, and to ensure the safety of the local fishermen in the East China Sea. Takahama Beach has been officially rated as one of the 100 best beaches in Japan – even during the quiet season, it is still warm enough to jump in and have a splash around.
If you thought the view from Takahama Beach was good, just wait until you check out Osezaki Lighthouse. Perched on the tip of windswept Osezaki Cliff, which stretches for 20 kilometres and has sheer drops of up to 150 metres, the white lighthouse is currently unmanned, having been decommissioned in 1989 after more than 50 years in service.
The hike to the lighthouse, roughly a one-hour round-trip, begins by winding through thick forest. The trail descends ever so slightly, making the route down much easier than on the way back up. You don’t actually realise how steep the incline is until the trees clear and you’re facing the last leg of the trail along the sea cliffs. The views out across the East China Sea are spectacular, and it’s no surprise to learn the Osezaki Lighthouse was heavily used during the Meiji Era to alert Japanese authorities of any passing international ships.
My final stop on Fukue Island is the Goto Clan Garden. There is something incredibly calming about simply wandering around the tranquil parklands that pay homage to the gardens and lake surrounding Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as the Golden Temple) in Kyoto. Highlights include an enormous camphor tree that is believed to be more than 800 years old, and the Lord Goto Residence, an opulent and wonderfully restored mansion that is now open to the public.
This feature was sponsored by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization).
All Nippon Airways operates flights from Nagasaki and Fukuoka to Fukue in the Goto Islands, while Kyushu Shosen high-speed boats and car ferries depart from Nagasaki and Sasebo daily.