With its stunningly beautiful islands and famous Umu Kirara Aquarium, Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort offers a fantastic way to enjoy the winter sunshine this February! Just two hours from central Fukuoka by bus or car and easily accessible by train, a trip to the westernmost tip of Japan is well worth the journey, as our youngest reporters discovered on their latest excursion. Not only is Pearl Sea Resort imminently launching its newest cruise boat, the seasonal (and extremely tasty) Kujukushima Oyster Festival will continue to offer a wide array of barbecued shellfish, fresh from the local waters, until March.
The journey to Kujukushima from Fukuoka offers great views of the mountainous countryside and, during the winter months, hot chestnuts sold at the roadside rest stations offer a delicious, warming treat to set you up for the trip ahead. On arrival in Sasebo, it is also worth keeping an eye out for the vast shipyards as you approach. Staggering in their enormity, they offer an insight into the incredible process through which many of the ships you’ll see moored on the shoreline are created.
On arrival, we were lucky enough to be treated to a tour of the Mirai, Pearl Resort’s colourful new vessel. Its exterior mimics an inverted pirate’s hat while the interior is rather kitch, its patterned ceilings mirroring the waves on which it sails. Its design combines the grandeur of a modern ship with the fun of its pirate theme, inspired by the treasure of Kagoshima Island. Though the image of the Mirai is nostalgic, it’s name in fact means ‘future’ encapsulating its extremely modern design. While, the ship currently runs using a combination of oil and renewable electricity, it is intended to become Japan’s first tour boat powered completely by renewable energy. Meanwhile, its figurehead, an eagle holding a pearl, was made using a 3D printer. The boat, which cost ¥500 million to build, is already docked at Pearl Sea Resort for visitors to admire and will be taking its first cruise around the Kujuku Islands on April 1st.
The Kujukushima Oyster Festival
There are many different restaurants at the Pearl Sea resort. However, if you visit on a Saturday, Sunday or national holiday before March, then joining in the Kujukushima Oyster Festival is a must! For only ¥1,150 you will receive a barbecue, charcoal, an oyster knife and gloves, and 1kg of oysters to chow down on. Extra food items can be bought at the surrounding stalls, including chicken, sausages, scallops, vegetables and sweet potatoes. However, the 1kg of oysters is certainly filling enough on its own! These oysters are grown in the oyster beds just off Kujukushima’s deeply indented coastline, which affords the oysters a wealth of nutrients and gives them their famously meaty flavour.
Oysters lunch with BBQ: ¥1,150. Extras: ¥250 per item
Runs until March
An Aquarium for All
The Umu Kiar Aquarium, meanwhile, displays a great many of the fish that can be found in the local waters. Their array of sea creatures is vast, from giant seaturtles to tiny jellyfish. Entrance is ¥1,440 for adults (¥720 children), and well worth the price. Audio guides are free and available in multiple languages including English, but their content is geared towards children. Multilingual leaflets are also available. The most stunning exhibit is the ‘Jellyfish Symphony Dome’. After being directed down a long set of steps, visitors find themselves in a large, dimly-lit room, in which the translucent jellyfish move majestically to the sounds of beautiful orchestral music. The slow movements of these strangely elegant creatures are captivating, creating an exhibit that is very popular with adults and children alike.
Three times a day, the Aquarium treats its visitors to a free dolphin show, lasting 20min. Having misheard the Japanese instruction not to stand too close, we (and a large proportion of the audience who heard but did not heed) were soaked within the first 30 seconds of the show beginning – but that was part of the fun! These dolphins and their trainers are incredibly skilled and executed perfect triple flips and synchronised jumps with an ease that was almost arrogant. These graceful and highly entertaining dolphins are the absolute stars of the aquarium.
Umi Kiar Aquarium: ¥1,440 Adults, ¥720 Children
Dolphin Shows: 10:20, 13:20, 15:20 (free upon entry)
Kujukushima Island Cruise
For us, the Pearl Queen cruise proved the highlight of our day. Admission costs ¥1,240 for adults (¥620 children) and the tour lasts 50 minutes, though that time really does fly by! Pamphlets are available in various languages and the informative audio announcements on board are in both English and Japanese. There are also drinks and snacks available on the second floor. The cruise takes visitors on a route through the Kujukushima Islands. While ‘Kujukushima’ translates to ‘99 Islands’, in reality 99 stands for ‘a lot’. Kujukushima is in fact a collection of 208 beautiful islands and the cruise takes visitors through 21 of these. The boat itself has an elegant pine exterior and a tall lookout post for passengers to climb – offering great photo opportunities! Passengers are free to sit inside at the chairs and tables with a window view or to roam freely on the decks to get the best view of the islands, which become utterly breathtaking with the sun reflecting off the still water. The boat also passes the woven bamboo oyster beds where almost all the oysters on offer in the local area are farmed, as well as the pearl farms, which generate approximately 2 million pearls each year. From the 1st of April, the new ship Mirai will join the Pearl Queen, increasing capacity for the summer months and letting all ride in comfort and style.
Kujukushima Island Cruise: ¥1,220 Adults, ¥620 Children
(Times change with season)
A wander around the souvenir shops and a stop off at one of the many restaurants and cafes around the harbour makes a great end to the day. Your choices vary from the tempting ‘Lucky’s’ burger shop, to ramen cafes and various outlets specialising in the local seafood. We stopped at Pinocchio, an Italian restaurant, for some drinks and dessert on the waterfront. The staff are very friendly, and their profiteroles deserve the best of recommendations! In the summer months you can also try your hand at both Kayaking and Scuba Diving, with the local dive shop ‘99 Island Diving’ offering Scuba PADI courses that take you out through the beautiful island chain.
The Pearl Sea Resort is a very convenient, relaxed day trip from Fukuoka and Nagasaki, with a fun variety of things to join in with, all within metres of each other. The resort’s very informative, multilingual website, can be found at: http://www.pearlsea.jp/english/
Report by Laura Pugh
Laura Pugh is a student from London, UK. She is studying Japanese in Fukuoka for a year and loves oysters more than anything.
Photos by Oscar Boyd
Oscar is a student from London, UK. He is a keen hiker and aims to summit every mountain in Fukuoka visible from his bedroom window. If you have any suggestions contact him on Twitter @omhboyd