A cluster of 140 islands off the western coast of Kyushu make up the Goto Islands. Blessed with beautiful scenery, the entire chain of islands constitutes the Saikai National Park and is home to several Catholic churches. In 2018, UNESCO inscribed the Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region to the World Heritage List, so the hidden gem that is Goto is not so hidden anymore!
In fact, Goto City now boasts the highest rate of transplants within all of Nagasaki Prefecture. In 2017, 129 people moved to the islands, followed by 202 in 2018, and more than 70% of these new residents are younger than 40. Thanks to all this new blood, the charms of the islands are being rediscovered and publicized far and wide. Why not take this chance to visit Goto, where the old and new are blending into a unique new culture?
Goto is only 45 minutes from Fukuoka on a direct flight. The airport is located on Fukue, the largest island, and this island along with the smaller islands to the southwest is commonly known as Shimogoto (Lower Goto). Meanwhile, the second largest island of Nakadori and the smaller islands to the northeast are commonly known as Kamigoto (Upper Goto). The best way to get around Goto is by rental cars or rentacycles, so be sure to book yours in advance.
Official Guide: http://bit.ly/gotoisland
Onidake: A Symbol of the Goto Islands
After you land at the airport, pick up your rental car and make Onidake (315 m) your first stop. From the top of the grass-covered mountain, you can enjoy a 360° panorama of the townscapes on Fukue and the ocean beyond. The wide-open spaces and breathtaking scenery might just make you want to run around like a little kid.
Now that you’ve taken in the scenic views and breathed in the crisp, clean island air, it’s time for a coffee. Coral Coffee is located next to Sangosan, a small library in a refurbished old house that was vacant for many years. Sango means coral in Japanese, and both the library and the coffee stand take inspiration from the town’s long history of coral harvesting. Stop by to enjoy a cup of coffee and get some useful information.
At Tetoba, you can catch a glimpse of the new kind of culture that transplants have brought with them to the islands. Stop by for takeout, or stick around to relax and read. If you get hungry, you can enjoy homemade meals crafted from local ingredients. The cafe is located in a 140-year old former katsuobushi (bonito flake) shop, and the owners teamed up with the locals on the renovation work. Crafts made by artisans from Goto and Nagasaki are on display in the cafe, and you can also buy local produce and processed foods.
If a scenic drive is what you’re after, then head out to Takahama Beach. The shallow transparent water is beautiful, and there are many scenic overlooks to visit in the area.
1054-1 Miirakumachi Kaitsu, Goto City
Stay closer to nature – Glamping
While guest houses and hotels have their appeal, the best way to enjoy Goto’s glorious natural beauty is to glamp! Glamping experience purveyor Nordisk Village opened in Sept. 2018 in a former elementary school nestled in the mountains. You can enjoy the latest tents and camping gear from long-standing Danish outdoor brand Nordisk. But you will not be roughing it by any stretch. Each tent comes equipped with a heater and a bed, and a separate building houses showers and toilets.
After watching the sun set over the bucolic fields and hills, you can relax around a fire and enjoy a serene silence that you can’t get in the city.
For dinner, there’s BBQ, or you can go to Tao Flat, the restaurant next door which serves up hot pots full of locally grown ingredients. If you’d like to imbibe, why not try some Goto wine or shochu? Goto is a veritable cornucopia, so you can enjoy the seasonal flavors of locally sourced fish, meat and veggies.
Wondertrunk Travel Bakery
Wondertrunk, which opens bright and early at 8 a.m., serves up fresh baked hard breads as well as coffee or espresso drinks, making it the perfect stop for breakfast. What’s more, it’s within walking distance from Nordisk Village. They also have a rentacycle service (¥1,000~ / hr.), so you can cruise around after you’ve had breakfast.
Hidden Christian Sites Of Nagasaki And Amakusa
When Christianity was banned from the 17th to the 19th centuries, believers practiced their faith in secret on the islands off Kyushu. UNESCO recognized the historical significance of these practices and related sites by inscribing the Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region to the World Heritage List in June 2018. The site consists of 12 component properties in Nagasaki and Kumamoto Prefectures.
Miraku Catholic Church
This Gothic style wooden church was first completed in 1880. It was rebuilt in 1971 due to aging. The modern mosaic wall mural made from colorful seashells and pottery shards is especially impressive.
Mizunoura Catholic Church
First built in 1880, the current church building dates back to 1938. This beautiful bright white church is one of the largest wooden churches in Japan, and it combines elements of Romanesque, Gothic and Japanese architecture.
26TH CAMELLIA FESTIVAL
Feb. 22 (Sat.)~ Mar. 1 (Sun.), 2020
The Goto Islands are home to many varieties of camellia, and a long history of camellia oil production has made the flower an integral part of the islanders lives. The Camellia Festival is held every year when the flowers are in bloom.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn254, Feb 2020)