Hirado: a window to a world filled with light
Blessed with abundant sunlight, a warm climate, a varied coastline and good ports, Nagasaki Prefecture has been prospering as a window of Japan that opens to the world under an open and genial climate. There are plenty of sites to see, including Christian historical sites that have been placed on UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites and many natural parks. When you visit a beautiful and grand church and drive along the coast with the deep blue ocean and green islands in view, you may leave your daily worries far behind.
The road trip begins in Hirado, a city that has prospered as a gateway to Japan from the Middle Ages, where you can feel the expanse of the sea. When you cross the vermilion-colored Hirado Bridge, which clearly contrasts against the blue sky and the surrounding greenery, and head to the Hirado Port area, you will see St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church (no. 1 on the map), green and white with a beautiful spire. It is a gothic church with a sharp silhouette stretching toward the heavens. The interior of the church is awash in light that is reminiscent of the heavens, with a high ceiling and sunbeams that enters through the windows and reflects on the white walls.
After leaving the church, head west across the northern end of Hirado Island and cross Ikitsuki Bridge. When driving northward on Ikitsuki Island, you will see a white lighthouse at the northern extremity of the island called Obae Lighthouse (no. 2 on the map), its whiteness emphasized by the blue sky. The 360-degree panoramic view of the ocean from the cliff on which the lighthouse stands is breathtaking, making you feel like you are being swallowed by the blue ocean and sky.
When returning in the direction you arrived for about 10 minutes, you will arrive at “Shiodawara Cliff”, made up of rows of hexagonal basalt columns that protrude from the earth. You will be amazed by the grandeur and wonder of the natural sculpture created by the waves and wind. After traveling southward along the west coast of Ikitsuki Island, you will re-enter Hirado Island and travel south on Prefectural Road 19 and then southeast on Prefectural Route 60, where you will arrive at “Himosashi Church” (no. 3 on the map), with its Romanesque architecture and beautiful white exterior, in a little over an hour. The interior of the church, with its white pillars that have a strong presence, creates a solemn atmosphere.
“Hoki Church”, a 10 minute drive toward northeast on Route 383, is a brick church with the longest history in Hirado that is on the Tentative List for World Heritage Sites. From this church, you can return to the Hirado Port area, containing historical sites including “St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church” (no. 1 on the map), in about 25 minutes by driving north on Hirado Island.
St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church
Address:269 Kagamigawacho, Hirado-shi, Nagasaki
Access:Approx. 50 minutes by car on Route 204 from Saza IC on Nishikyūshū Expressway.
The Kujuku-shima Islands, encompassed by the sea and sky
The next day, head out from the urban Hirado area to “Nagushiyama Park” (no. 4 on the map), which commands a beautiful view of the Kujuku-shima Islands, consisting of about 200 islands. First, take Route 204 southeast and then southwest for a total of about 50 minutes. Next, continue onward to Prefectural Route 18. Five minutes after entering Sasebo City, switch at the junction to Prefectural Route 139 heading north, and drive northwest along a mountain path. In about 20 minutes, the blue sea and green islands will appear in front of you – the Kujuku-shima Islands. Turn left just before the beach and drive about 1.5 km along the sea to reach the entrance to Nagushiyama Park. You’ll arrive at the park where you can climb the observation deck. Each island of the Kita (northern) Kujuku-shima Islands is large and expressed in “masculine” terms; fittingly, the view of the islands is full of majesty.
Drive southward and then eastward on Prefectural Route 18 along the sea, and then drive further southward on Prefectural Route 139 and Prefectural Route 11 along the sea toward the urban Sasebo City area. In a little over an hour from Nagushiyama Park, you’ll arrive at the “Saikai Pearl Sea Resort”. This is the port of departure for the ships that cruise the Minami (southern) Kujuku-shima Islands. The harmony of the layout of the islands and the clearness of the water creates a perfect scene of beauty. As you stand on the deck of the ship, feeling the sea breeze and surrounded by the blue sea and sky, “wonderful” will be the only word to describe your experience.
After finishing the roughly 50-minute cruise, drive eastward for approximately 10 minutes to reach the urban Sasebo City area. The symbol of Sasebo “Miuramachi Church” (no. 5 on the map) will welcome you. After admiring the majestic view of the gothic church that once served as a landmark for ships arriving at the Port of Sasebo, head for “Tenkaiho” (no. 6 on the map), an observatory that represents the Minami Kujuku-shima Islands. The trip there consists of an approximately 25-minute drive southwest from the urban area, and then southward on Prefectural Route 149. From the observatory, you will have a graceful view of the Minami Kujuku-shima Islands, in which small islands are scattered over the sea. With autumn having arrived, it is the best time to view the Mexican aster flowers, which are said to number approximately 150,000.
Afterward, head out to Ishidake Observatory, an observatory situated at the top of Mt. Ishidake that can be seen on the way back to the urban area. You might want to visit this area after dark. This is the place where the sunset scene at the beginning of the movie “Last Samurai” was filmed. The scene set by the silhouettes of the islands against the sky and the sea at sunset resembles an ink-wash painting. As you watch the appearance of the Minami Kujuku-shima Islands and the setting sun, you will feel as if your heart is gently melting.
Seaside drive to Nagasaki, the city of prayers
The route connecting Sasebo and Nagasaki is a seaside drive that represents Kyushu. You can take an exhilarating drive while viewing the sea and feeling the wind. Start from the urban Sasebo area on Nishikyūshū Expressway and head south on Route 205, then take Route 202; you will arrive at Shin-Saikai Bridge after about 40 minutes. The area near the bridge has been developed as “Saikai Bridge Park” (no. 7 on the map), and you can see large whirlpools under the bridge that are said to be one of the three largest in Japan. After crossing the bridge, drive westward and continue on to Prefectural Route 43. After driving for about 20 minutes, turn left; soon after reaching the opposite side of the peninsula, you will see the entrance to the Limestone Cave. With scenery that reminds you of how ancient the earth is, you will feel your heart calming as you walk inside a cave surrounded by thick silence.
After exiting the cave, drive south along the coast on Route 202. In a little over 40 minutes, you will see “Shitsu Church” (no. 8 on the map), which is on the Tentative List for World Heritage Sites. The simple white external appearance gives a pure impression, and the rustic interior with its warm wood soothes the heart. If you drive further south for about 10 minutes, you will reach Kurosaki Church, with its beautiful brick exterior. The interior of the church features a beautiful contrast between a wooden arch and white walls, creating a solemn atmosphere.
Drive further south on Route 202, passing Inasayama Park, one of the three major night views of Japan, to the urban Nagasaki City area; this takes about an hour and 20 minutes. “O-ura Tenshu-do Cathedral” (no. 9 on the map), which is the oldest wooden churches in Japan and on the Tentative List for World Heritage Sites, is particularly outstanding. This gothic church, with its green colored spire and surrounding trees and its white exterior wall creating a sharp contrast, provides a tropical atmosphere. The interior, illuminated by the light coming through the stained-glass windows, is also beautiful.
After observing the church, you can drive to various sites in the city, such as the Nagasaki Peace Park, which was constructed as a prayer from Nagasaki for a world without nuclear weapons, Urakami Cathedral, a brick church rebuilt after being damaged by the atomic bomb, and “St. Kolbe museum” associated with Father Kolbe, who was martyred in a gas chamber in Auschwitz concentration camp. After sunset, drive to “Inasayama Park”, approximately 10 minutes from the downtown area. The view of the arch of Nagasaki Bay and the soft city lights of Nagasaki from the observatory that commands a panoramic view of the city impresses the meaning of peace upon the heart.
*Churches are places for prayers and faith for people. When touring churches, please be considerate and show moderation.
O-ura Tenshu-do Cathedral
Address:5-3 Minami-yamate-machi, Nagasaki-shi, Nagasaki
Access:Drive on Route 202 from the Isayama direction toward downtown Nagasaki, and turn right on “Inasa Bridge” over the Urakami-gawa River toward the river mouth, and continue for about 10 minutes.
- Saikai Bridge Park (Japanese)
- Limestone Cave (SAIKAI CITY TOURIST ASSOCIATION website) (Japanese)
- Shitsu Church (Nagasaki Prefecture Convention & Visitors Bureau website) (Japanese)
- Kurosaki Church (Nagasaki Prefecture Convention & Visitors Bureau website) (Japanese)
- Urakami Cathedral (Japanese)
- St. Kolbe museum (Nagasaki City Tourism Guide) (Japanese)
- Nagasaki Ropeway (Introducing Inasayama Park) (PDF)