Islands and Heritage of Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture

In this series of articles several aspects of heritage, conservation, design, cultural tourism and sustainable development on the tranquil and rural islands of the Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan are being explored. These are places steeped in history but less known amongst visitors to Japan. The character of these islands is less urbanized than some of the popular visitor destinations in Japan. The pace of life also is more tranquil, more connected to nature, in contrast to life in the main and larger city environments of the country.

The Gotō Islands archipelago (with Ojika and Nozaki), Hirado Island, and Oshima Island (Olive Bay Hotel), all feature in these articles. These islands are located within the Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県, Nagasaki-ken), in the Kyushu region.

Hirado (平戸市, Hirado-shi), on Hirado Island (上島, Hiradoshima). Check out the article on ‘In the Footsteps of the Great Navigators: Tranquility and History in Hirado’.

Olive Bay Hotel (オリーブベイホテル), on Oshima Island. Check out the article on ‘Lines on the Shore’.

Ojika Island (小値賀町, Ojika-chō), in the Goto Islands archipelago. Article coming Soon.

Nozaki Island (野崎島), in the Goto Islands archipelago. Including a look at the current World Heritage nomination dossier for the Hidden Christianity in the Nagasaki Prefecture. Article coming Soon.

Introduction & Getting There

These island communities retain a close connection to their traditions, to the land and to the narratives and meanings of their lingering stories. While they are islands, they are relative easy to access, and they are worthwhile options for visitors that wish to get a glimpse of life on the smaller islands of Japan. They provide an insight into significant natural, as well as cultural heritage, but without the crowds of Japan’s most-visited attractions. These islands tell stories ranging from ancient times to modern industrial periods, and of their volcanic geology. Given Nagasaki Prefecture’s historical role as a gateway to Japan, these places tell stories of West meets East, past meets present. The articles will reflect on some of the 21st century challenges in moving towards sustainable development, which so many small islands and their communities face.

Japan is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations with world-famous places such as Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Tokyo, Kamakura, Mount Fuji, Nikko, Hokkaido, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When thinking of Japan, the wider public mostly knows about the country’s modern urban centres, historic shrines and temples, castles, distinctive gardens, ikebana, its unique food and tea ceremonies, the art, manga, movies, and other cultural traditions, together with its mountainous island locations. Japan is a densely populated country and as a result visitors often spend much of their time in the highly urbanised areas and traveling at a fast pace. Many of the famous sites are located in, or close to, main urban centres, and visitors often keep their stay in Japan relative short.

Visitor facilities and tour itineraries in Japan are also streamlined to offer quick visits and “highlights” packages. The high-speed rail network, the Shinkansen trains, make it also feasible to speed through the country. Travel by the Shinkansen bullet trains, and even going through the orchestrated theatre of the Japanese railways, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Such high-paced visits will certainly leave major impressions on visitors, including an already overwhelming cultural experience. However, many visitors might leave with a feeling that they missed something, or rushed past the more rural places, or wondered what challenges more remote and smaller communities in Japan face.

There are many places in Japan that still offer a more traditional, rural and less urban character of Japan, but the question for foreign visitors is often where to go, and how to reach such places relative easily. This while keeping in mind that there are linguistic challenges, and visitors mostly have limited time on their hands. Also, visitors that look for such places do not always making use of tour packages, and often travel more independently.

With that in mind, the small west coast islands in the Nagasaki Prefecture may be precisely the place to go and explore.

To get to these island the city of Nagasaki is a good starting point, together with the city of Fukuoka, and Sasebo. Both Nagasaki and Fukuoka have international airports and connect to the main railway and bus network, while Sasebo can be reached by rail or bus.

From Nagasaki, Fukuoka and Sasebo there are easy and affordable ferry links to these island destinations. The island and city of Hirado can also be reached directly by train. Sasebo is already closer to northern Gotō Islands. Fukuoka also connects by ferry to Busan in South Korea, and from Fukuoka there also is an excellent and scenic direct ferry service to the island of Ojika, one of the northern Gotō Islands. More information on getting there will be provided in the individual articles.


Text and photography by Jan Haenraets

 Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada, and a Professor in the Preservation Studies Program, at Boston University

With kind thanks to Nagasaki Prefecture Tourism Association and Ms. Yukiko Taniguchi.

Selected sources and information:

Japan National Tourism Association: Goto Islands

Visit Nagasaki, The Official Guide to Nagasaki Prefecture

Nagasaki Travel Guide, Nagasaki City Official Tourism Information

Japan Visitor, Nagasaki

Japan Visitor, Hirado

Hirado Net – Access & Sightseeing, Hirado Tourism Association

Visit Nagasaki, Silence: Exploring the Christian history of the Goto Islands

Visit Nagasaki, Silence, a film by Martin Scorsese (2016)

Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki (Pdf Guide), UNESCO World Heritage nomination information

Nagasaki Pilgrimage: A Guide to the Churches and Christian Sites of Nagasaki (Pdf Guidebook)

The Industrial Heritage of Nagasaki (Pdf Guide), UNESCO World Heritage, since 2015


The individual articles in this series, on Hirado, Ojika, Nozaki and Oshima (Olive Bay Hotel) also list additional sources of information and getting there guidance.

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