Nakadori and Beyond: A Culture of Crafts and Christianity Close to Nagasaki
As the second largest of the Goto Islands, Nakadori is a peaceful but thriving community with a culture of crafts, Christianity and plenty of opportunities for day-trips. Home to Goto’s long tradition of udon-making and camellia oil pressing, the islanders are a self-sufficient and welcome visitors who want to try their hand at the unusual crafts. You can fish for your supper, island-hop and stretch your own noodles, all while relaxing into the island pace of life that Nakadori has perfected over generations.
Ota Udon: Fourth Generation Udon makers
Catching your eye as you approach, Ota Udon’s unusual exterior is a subtle hint of the unique craft practiced here. Narrow wooden slats hang vertically, warm light sliding out through the gaps in the early evening, representing the udon hung each day for almost one hundred years. Earning them the 2018 Japan Wood Design award, the facade is a sign of the high standards the family-run business hold - even their symbolic gestures earn them accolades.
Making the Island’s signature udon noodles for a hundred years, the family-run business is the oldest, despite its modern first impression. Now run by Mitsuaki Ota, the fourth-generation of his family, it continues to sell udon locally and across Japan, all made by hand using traditional techniques and ingredients. Starting with local flour, Nakadori spring water, salt from the surrounding seas and oil from the mountain camellias, the udon dough is kneaded by hand. Offering an unusual elasticity, the oil, also known as tsubaki oil, is Goto Udon’s magic ingredient.
Offering visitors a chance to get involved, you can join in from the start or later on when the noodles are ready to stretch. When prepared, the noodles are wrapped in a figure-of-eight around sticks and pulled gently apart, stretching smoothly as they go. Encouraging you to pull further than you thought possible for such delicate noodles, Mitsuaki explains the secret to Goto’s Udon. “There are two things: firstly, the camellia oil, which gives it elasticity, and then there’s the twist” he says, demonstrating a subtle turn of the noodles as he pulls. Giving them added strength and a rounder shape, this technique is known as te-yori. Once they reach their final form, the meters-long noodles are hung in the sunlight to dry. Later, they will be brushed in a process known as migaki which means polishing, to perfect their sleek finish.
When dried, you can snap the noodles from their twisted ends. There’s no waste here though, these small snakes of udon are known as ‘tsu’ and sold as scraps. The unusual nature of Goto’s Udon doesn’t end with their preparation, however. Thanks to the camellia oil and polishing technique, the noodles can spend longer boiling without losing their special koshi texture - a word conveying a balance between elasticity and firm. Hence, the noodles are boiled in what’s known as a ‘hell pot’: water boiling furiously as it is presented at the table.
Rather than being served in individual bowls, here the pot is placed in the center of the table, much like nabe, the Japanese hot-pot dish. Fostering a shared, family-style meal, Goto Udon are about more than food as mere fuel. Depicted on Ota Udon’s colorful packaging, the sentiment is a reminder of the importance of bonding across meals and connections between generations, something Mitsuaki thinks is very important.
Surrounded by his three daughters and his wife, he hopes the business will continue for another hundred years at least, he says. While his daughters are still in elementary school or younger, he has high hopes at least one will be keen to take on his role.
When asked for his favorite udon dish - he immediately points out the dried fish hanging by the window. Known as ‘ago’ the flying fish appear from September to October around the islands. Said to reach speeds of up to 70 km an hour as they soar through the air, they develop strong muscles and have very little fat. This makes them perfect for stock, he explains - they are grilled over charcoal and left to dry in the sunlight before being used to make ago-dashi. Standing above a bubbling pot, he serves us each a bowl of our noodles, served with their homemade dashi. Firm but smooth, the noodles are unusually springy - and the stock is the perfect light but flavorful partner.
Waving goodbye with some extra noodles tucked under our arms for friends, the family gathered to bid us farewell. While Goto’s Udon may be delicious in restaurants or ryokan, enjoying a bowl with the Ota family was a rare and lovely insight into the communities that keep Goto thriving.
Address: 1144-10 Aokatago, Shinkamigoto, Minamimatsuura District, Nagasaki Prefecture 857-4404
Access: Ota Udon is a 15-minute drive from Arikawa Port.
Hours: 9am - 5pm
Price: Experience TBC
Booking: Experience TBC
Website: http://www.umaiudon.com/ (Japanese only)
Nama Fishing: Catching Dinner with Locals
Surrounded by lapping waves and bobbing fisherman’s boats, island life may have inspired you to try your hand at the leisurely pastime yourself. Down at Naru Bay on Nakadori, you can spend an easy few hours fishing with the local fishermen’s association. Ideal for beginners as well as those who know their way around a fishing rod, the locals will help you identify the fish you catch as well as helping you release them back into the water. You can take one fish home at the end of the session for free, and any above that come at an additional charge.
Address: 149-9 Namago, Shinkamigoto, Minamimatsuura District, Nagasaki Prefecture 857-4402
Access: Nama Port is a 15-minute drive from Arikawa Port
Hours: 9am - 4pm
Booking: Reservations are necessary two days in advance - please call Shinkamigoto Tourism Association at 0952-42-0964 or email email@example.com
Website: http://jf-kamigotou.or.jp/publics/index/40/ (Japanese only)
The Christian Cave: An Unusual Boat Trip
An easy day trip from Nakadori Island, a visit to the Christian Cave of Goto provides an insight into the struggles of the area’s Hidden Christians. Forced to practice their faith in secret following the ban on Christianity in 1614, persecution was rife, and those dedicated to continuing their faith were forced to take cover. While many continued their daily lives, practicing in secret, some were forced to flee entirely, with one family taking refuge in a cave on the rocky shores of Wakamatsu Island. Only visible from the water, the cave was a sanctuary until the family were discovered - given away by the smoke from their fire. In 1967 a simple cross and statue were placed here to commemorate their sacrifices and it is now one of the primary pilgrimage spots for visitors to the islands.
Access: The cave can be reached via boat with reservations required a day in advance. The boat leaves from Wakamatsu Port which is a 45-minute drive from Arikawa Port.
Cost: The trip costs 8,000 yen for 1-2 people or 3,000 yen each for three or more people. Booking: Please contact the following numbers or ask a concierge or support staff to do so on your behalf: せと志お: 0959-46-2020 明日香: 0959-46-3631 祥福丸: 0959-44-1762
Egami Catholic Church: An Island-Hopping Adventure
If you fancy island-hopping for a little more Christian history, then Egami Catholic Church is a beautiful spot to add to your list. The town has been registered as a World Heritage Site and is home to one of the most picturesque wooden churches in the region. Built in 1918, the white and pale blue building is still in use, with a congregation of two. The island’s population has fluctuated and was empty until 140 years ago, when four families moved here, soon growing to create a strong Christian Community. In 1880 a French priest visited to baptize them, and a church was built in 1902, however, it was replaced in 1918 to accommodate the growing community.
One of the most fascinating elements of the church is the intricate designs within, imitating the luxurious Catholic styles but using creative means. Over 50 people were involved in the building of the church, with cheap pine pillars painstakingly decorated to resemble darker, more expensive wood. Painted glass windows were used instead of stained ones, with surprisingly convincing effect. The architect Yosuke Tetsukawa was the son of local shrine builders and went on to build 38 more churches across the Goto Islands.
Address: 11-31-2 Ogushi, Narucho, Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture 853-2202
Access: Egami Church is a 20-minute drive from Narushima Port, which can be accessed via ferry from Wakamatsu Port, which is a 40-minute drive from Arikawa Port on Nakadori Island.
Hours: 9 am - 12 pm and 1 pm - 4 pm. Closed on Mondays and not open to visitors during Mass which is held on the third Sunday from 2.30 pm - 4 pm, except for September.
Camellia Oil Experience: A Geisha’s Secret
One of the Goto Island’s most famous exports, camellia oil may be more familiar under its Japanese name: tsubaki. Rejuvenating for both skin and hair, the oil is used in countless beauty products in Japan and has long been considered the secret of a geisha’s beauty. Favoring the island climate, the flowers are easily spotted throughout the island and are surprisingly related to the tea family, with some leaves used for this as well.
While buying beauty products with local oil is one way to experience the powers of tsubaki, you can also try your hand at producing it yourself. On the northern-peninsula in Shin-kamigoto, a quiet workshop accepts visitors for a production experience using locally collected seeds. While they also own a larger factory, this experience takes you from seeds to oil with simple tools, all powered using your own strength.
Beginning with a bowl of seeds collected by locals, you take turns to mash them with a wood-en mallet, before they are wrapped in muslin and steamed in traditional wooden tubs. Sof-tened and ready for pressing, handfuls of the granular mix can be packed into cloth and placed in the bright green oil-presses. Taking a surprising amount of strength, the presses ex-tract every drop of oil, leaving solid bricks of seed and a bright yellow container of oil. Perfect for hair or even adding to cooking oil, your hard work’s gains are yours to take home - along with a deeper understanding of the effort involved in the oil’s production.
Address: 2-10-71, Ogushigo, Shinjo Gotomachi, Minamimatsuura-gun, Nagasaki Prefecture 857-4601
Access: The workshop is a 20-minute drive from Arikawa Port.
Hours: 9am - 4pm
Price: A 60-90 minute experience costs 1,570 yen for adults and 830 yen for JHS students and younger. The seeds cost an additional 800 yen (roughly) per kilogram.
Booking: Reservations are required at least two days in advance, please include your name, a contact number and the number of people participating.
Website: https://www.kamigoto-tsubaki.com/ (Japanese only)
Transport on Nakadori Island
Nakadori Island is served by a fleet of local buses, however, they are designed around the is-lander’s daily life, rather than visiting sightseeing spots. The island can be explored using pub-lic transport but will require more time and planning - there are schedules available the tourist information offices by the main ports. Alternatively, renting a car is a good option as it allows freedom to see the island on your own schedule. There are some electric charging points available but on connected islands only.
Bus Company Website: http://www.bus.saihigroup.co.jp/english
Access to Nakadori Island
Nakadori Island has three ferry ports: Narao in the south and Arikawa and Tainoura in the North.
From Nagasaki there are high-speed boats and car ferries to Narao Port, which each run from 2-4 times a day depending on the season. The faster option takes just 90 minutes and costs around 4,500 yen one way, while the car ferry takes just over two and a half hours and costs 3,600 yen. Be aware that not all ferries on this route stop at Narao first, they may only stop there after visiting Fukue and Narushima, which takes a little over five hours, and some do not stop at all.
From Sasebo, there are high-speed boats and car ferries that visit Arikawa port. The high-speed boat takes an hour and a half to reach Arikawa and costs around 5,000 yen per person, one way. These boats are less frequent - operating once or twice a day, depending on the season (and occasionally not at all). The car ferry takes two and a half hours to reach Arikawa and costs between 3000 and 5000 per person, depending on the cabin class chosen. These services operate 2-3 times a day depending on the season, but only once a day for a short period in November.
Nakadori is best reached via a flight or bullet train to Nagasaki (and optionally onward to Sa-sebo) followed by a ferry to one of the island’s main ports. Flights from Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita airports to Nagasaki take two and a half hours and are available from a host of budget and national airlines including Jetstar, Skymark, JAL and ANA. Sasebo is a two-hour train ride from Nagasaki.
By train, the journey to Nagasaki city takes approximately eight hours and would be covered on the Japan Rail Pass. There is a transfer at Hakata required as well as a bus from Nagasaki to the port.
Regular direct flights to Nagasaki are available from Kansai International Airport through Peach, JAL and ANA, taking just under an hour and a half. By train, the journey takes approx-imately five hours including a bullet train to Hakata, an express train to Nagasaki and a bus to the port. Sasebo is a two-hour train ride from Nagasaki.
Ferry Website: https://kyusho.co.jp/