Christmas Tree and Shimabara Castle Alight!
A 40-minute jaunt across the Ariake Sea on a speedy, 50-passenger ship from the port at Omuta brings you to Shimabara in Nagasaki Prefecture, where visitors are welcomed with a stunning view of the Unzen and Fugen-dake volcanoes that tower over the city. Unzen and Fugen-dake had major eruptions in 1990, resulting in huge rock and earth avalanches and pyroclastic flows. After the volcanic activity was officially declared finished in 1996, tourists again began to flock to Shimabara in numbers rivaling pre-eruption totals.
Shimabara is blessed with many historical structures and attractions that offer visitors a glimpse of bygone days in Japan. Foremost among these is the famous Shimabara Castle, boasting a white five-story tower that is a superb example of the noted Azuchi-Momoyama style of castle architecture. Other sites well worth visiting include the old residences of samurai families, the former Shimabara-han medicinal herb garden and Zuiunzan Honko-ji, a Buddhist temple established in 1689.
The city is also well known for its hot spring resorts, making it a popular tourist destination in the winter. Visitors during the colder months have a lot to enjoy besides the hot springs, howeverﾐlike the Shimabara Fantasia, which starts on December 1 and runs through January 13. During the Fantasia, Shimabara Castle and the stand of cherry trees along the castle moat are illuminated by 17,000 decorative light bulbs, making it the perfect attraction for the Christmas season. The Shimabara Castle tower itself is decorated to create a stunning illusion of a huge Christmas tree shimmering in the night darkness.
In addition to Shimabara Castle, the Christmas motif is also used for light displays in the spa district of Unzen and in Obama-cho. Last year, the featured attraction was a light display in Unzen arranged to resemble the animal characters from a storybook created by a Dutch artist, delighting visitors and residents alike. The lighting scheme this year promises to be equally impressive.
Several events are held to coincide with the Shimabara Fantasia. Obama-cho plans a fireworks display for mid-December, with the fireworks launched over the sea to create a panorama of brilliant hues on the canvas of the clear winter night sky and the surface of the sea. Also, a stage will be set up inside Shimabara Castle on New Year’s Eve for the concerts and other events staged to ring in the new year during the Countdown in Shimabara Castle. After a long, comfortable soak in a local spa, there’s nothing finer than a stroll through the evocative streets of Shimabara at night.