Fukue Island: Exploring The Heart of Nagasaki’s Goto Islands
Fukue is a hub of historical charm, breathtaking natural scenery and delicious local food, just off the coast of Nagasaki in Southern Japan. Once a welcoming point for missionaries and traders, the island was an outpost of Christian followers and continues to tell their stories. The network of Hidden Christian Sites was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018 and draws many visitors to the island. It is also a place of contrasts, with rocky cliff hikes and manicured gardens while restored villas are a stone’s throw from Gothic churches. Combining not only international history with its own, Fukue has also adopted modern technology alongside rural life, with electric cars and charging points dotted across the island. An exploration of traditional and contemporary life combined, the island is the perfect starting point for an adventure through the network of Goto’s islands.
Dozaki Church: A Glimpse into Goto’s Hidden History
Like a scene snatched from Europe, the distinctive red-bricks of Dozaki Church are a symbol of the island’s unusual heritage. A doorway to Japan, the cluster of islands were frequented by missionaries during the Age of Exploration, bringing the Christian faith to the land. Although it was initially tolerated due to the associated trade benefits, it was soon seen as a threat to the traditional Buddhist and Shinto practices of Japan and banned in 1614. Ignoring orders to leave, remaining missionaries were martyred, churches destroyed and the communities were forced to practice in secret. When the ban was lifted in 1873, the Hidden Christians were re-leased from their persecution, having developed a unique religious system.
Dozaki was the first church built on the Goto Islands and was completed in 1908, a symbol of the suffering of the followers and the dedication of the missionaries. The Gothic structure is still used for liturgies and celebrations, but is also home to the Dozaki Kirishitan Museum.
Cool and tranquil, the interior is breath-taking, featuring ribbed vaults, replica stained-glass windows and ornate wooden carvings. Alongside the paintings, statues and texts, the museum displays a few unusual elements, such as The Bones of St John Of Goto. Born on the islands in 1579, the martyr was later captured and crucified during the persecution. Woodcut prints by Father de Rotz were commissioned and distributed in the early Meiji period, and after their discovery in a Miyahara home in 1973, three examples were placed on display at Dozaki.
With over 200 artifacts, the museum provides a unique insight into the dedicated Christians of the Goto Islands and the visitors who served them. Outside, statues dedicated to the many missionaries are shrouded by trees and greenery, looking out to the calm seas beside it. Cre-ating an oasis-like refuge to welcome visitors and worshipers alike, the museum is a fitting memorial, a place of worship and a vital resource to those wishing to learn about Goto’s Hid-den Christians.
Address: 2015 Okuuracho, Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture 853-0053
Access: Dozaki Church is a 15-minute drive from Fukue Port via route 162.
Hours: 9 am - 5 pm (closes at 4 pm from November 11th to March 20th)
Entry: 300 yen (adults) 150 yen (children aged 13-18) 100 yen (children aged 6-12)
Mt Onidake: A Locally Loved Viewpoint
A symbol of Goto, Mt Onidake is the perfect example of a cinder cone volcano, now dormant and standing tall at 315m. Carpeted in fresh green grass, the mountain is now a popular view-point and host to the annual kite-flying event held in early May. Perfect for a light stroll, the walk up Onidake’s smooth incline offers a refreshing sea breeze and views across the Goto archipelago. Weather-worn and white, the fixed sightseeing binoculars offer a closer look at the nearby islands: Hisaka, Naru and Kaba to the north-east, with Aka and Kuroshima to the south. Mist-covered and perpetually blue, the views are a refreshing reminder of what island life has to offer - places waiting to be explored, distant but not out of reach.
Heading back down the slopes, children’s laughter rings out as a family takes it in turns to ca-reer down the grass on make-shift sleds. Couples perch on benches nearby and friends race to the viewpoint. While many islands and cities have symbolic sites, they are often chosen for their beauty, but it is clear Mt. Onidake is a much-loved and often-visited heart of the island.
Address: Kamisakiyamacho, Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture 853-0023
Access: Mt Onidake is a 15-minute drive from Fukue Port.
Takahama Beach: Swimmer’s Haven
One of the island’s most picturesque beaches, Takahama is a swimmer’s paradise as well as a sunbather’s dream. A sheltered bay with turquoise blue waters lapping at white sands, the beach wouldn’t look amiss in a tropical travel guide. It’s not just opinion, however - the beach was selected as one of Japan’s top 100 by the Japan Beaches Central Committee as well as one of the top 100 swimming beaches by the Ministry of Environment. The beach has shallow waters perfect for families and faces west with views out to the Sagano Islands. Takahama is a special district of the Sakai National Park, protected and well maintained for visitors and na-ture alike.
For a full view of the transparent waters of Takahama and nearby Tontomari beach, the near-by Gyoran Kannon viewpoint is perfect and only a few minutes drive from the beach. With ‘gyoran’ meaning fish basket, and kannon being a Buddhist deity of mercy, the statue holds a special place for the islanders. Placed here in the hopes of good fishing hauls and safe pas-sage across the East China Seas, she watches over the fishermen and local boats as they head out to see. As we admired the waters, a small boat sailed into view from a distant island and we learned it was a school boat, shuttling school lunches to students each day. Watched over by the Kannon, the boat had a peaceful journey, carrying out its duty to a small but busy community.
Address: 1054-1 Kaitsu, Mitsui-Rakucho, Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture, 853-0604
Access: Takahama Beach can be accessed via National Route 384 - one of the 100 best roads in Japan. It is a 40-minute drive from Fukue Port.
Tsubaki Chaya: A Lunch with a View
A mix of contemporary design and traditional style, Tsubaki Chaya is an unexpected haven of culinary delights. Hidden along a quiet track, the simple but stylish restaurant serves incredible views along with local delicacies - all managed without pretension. Each table comes fitted with a charcoal grill and the day’s hand-selected ingredients are presented ready for cooking. From freshly-caught fish to delicate scallops, the island’s seafood is bountiful and served simply, allowing the subtle flavors to come to the surface. Along with seasonal vegetables and local-style Goto udon, there is plenty to replenish the most avid of explorers. Uncharacteristi-cally firm and thin, the udon are coated with local camellia oil, giving them an unusual elastici-ty. The ocean-views are the final touch, providing the perfect backdrop to a deliciously under-stated meal.
A range of courses are available at the restaurant depending on the season as well as the in-gredients available on the day.
Address: 1247 Hamacho, Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture 853-0026
Access: Tsubaki Chaya is a 15-minute drive from Fukue Port.
Website: https://goto-sight.com/cyaya/cyaya.html (Japanese only)
Booking: To make a reservation, please call before 3 pm on the day preceding your visit: opening times are 11 am for lunch and 5 pm for dinner. Contact number: 0959-73-5923
Osezaki Cliff Trek: Rugged Cliffs and Stunning Views
Perched on the edge of a wave-worn cliff, Osezaki lighthouse continues to warn approaching ships of Fukue’s dangerous shores. While the iconic white tower warns ships away, it draws both members of the community and visitors too. A bracing walk in the winds of the East Chi-na Sea allows you to get up close to the lighthouse, with a viewing deck surrounding the tow-er. Sheltered by trees for sections and exposed on windy hillsides for others, the hike is an hour round-trip and while it takes some effort, it is not too difficult for the casual walker.
Frequented by bird watchers, plant lovers and hill walkers, the trail winds along the slope, of-fering increasingly striking views of the lighthouse against the sea. In early autumn, a carpet of delicate purple shimashajin flowers will surround the trail to the lighthouse adding a seasonal touch to the forested trail.
Due to its location on the most south-westerly point of the island, it is known as a spot for watching the last sunset in Kyushu. So much so, in fact, that on December 31st each year, locals gather to watch the final sunset of the year along with traditional soba noodles. Whether you head down in the late afternoon or take a morning hike to blow away the cobwebs, the views of Osezaki’s rugged cliffs are a just reward for the journey down.
Address: Tamanoura, Tamanoura Town, Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture 853-0411
Access: The lighthouse is just under an hour’s drive from Fukue Port and requires a light 30-minute hike (one way).
Goto Clan Garden: An Oasis on Castle Grounds
Across a moat and surrounded by ancient stone walls, the Goto Residence and Gardens is the small town’s hidden treasure. Part of the Ishida Castle ruins, the carefully restored tradi-tional house is a pleasure to explore, with a beautiful Japanese garden attached.
The elegant residence was to be the retirement villa of Goto Moriakira, 30th head of the Goto Family. He spent two years constructing the villa and his personal touches can be seen throughout the design. A lover of turtles and plums, the most beautifully decorated rooms have small decorative pins and patterns featuring both. As well as relatively lavish interiors, the home is also filled with hidden hiding spots and view-point for the guards - ensuring the safety of the residents at all times.
Viewed from the terrace and with screen doors opening from the villa’s most important rooms, the garden is a stunning example of traditional Japanese landscaping. Based on the gardens of Kinkakuji in Kyoto, it was designed by a priest, banished from his hometown and given a final opportunity by the villa’s owner. Perched on a rock beside the pond, he supervised the garden’s every element, dying a few years later. One of the highlights is the central pond, shaped like the kanji character for heart, as well as an 800-year-old camphor tree that pro-vides shade in the summer months.
Address: 1-7 Ikedacho, Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture 853-0018
Access: The garden is a 5-10 minute walk or a few minutes drive from Fukue Port.
Hours: 9am - 5pm (closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays)
Entry: 800 yen (Adults) 400 yen (children aged 10-17)
Transport on Fukue Island
Letting you explore Fukue without relying on public transport, you can now rent electric or plug-in Hybrid cars in Goto. Given the current environmental concerns, many people prefer public transport, but since there are few buses on Fukue it can be difficult to navigate. Offering an eco-friendly alternative, electric cars are a great solution. Goto has fifteen electric ports in seven locations that are free to use - and there’s no need to charge the car before you return in. On average, a 30-minute charge allows up to 80 km of driving, plenty to see the sights of the island in a day.
Now one of the largest fleets of electric cars in the country, Goto has been pioneering their use since 2010. The electricity used comes from wind turbines and the cars are available from any of the local car rental shops for approximately 7000 yen per day. The cars reflect a step into the future for islands known for history.
Getting to Fukue Island
As the largest of the Goto Islands, Fukue is the transport hub and easily reached from Kyu-shu’s shores. There is a small domestic airport to the East of the island with flights from Naga-saki and Fukuoka throughout the day.
Alternatively, Fukue has a regular car and high-speed ferries from Nagasaki. The faster Jet Foil runs between 4-7 times a day depending on the season and takes 90 minutes. Prices are season-dependent but cost approximately 6000 yen one way. The car ferry is significantly cheaper, with prices starting at 2500 yen one way and runs 2-4 times a day. The journey takes three hours and a variety of cabins are available, ranging from shared tatami space to re-served seating.
If you are traveling from Fukuoka, you can catch the overnight Taiko ferry from Hakata Port. Departing at 11.45 pm and arriving in Fukue at 8.15 am, you can take advantage of the relax-ing lounges and comfortable cabins and enjoy the views. Sleeping options include Western-style suites, family and twin-size tatami rooms and bunks, all offering a comfortable night’s sleep as you travel. There are hot showers, vending machines and a shop, as well as helpful staff if you need anything. Tickets range from just under 5000 yen for travel with sleeping op-tions starting at 1,500 yen per person.
If you are planning on flying, it’s easiest to travel from Tokyo to Nagasaki and then onwards to Fukue Airport. 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.
If you are planning on traveling via train and ferry, then it is best to travel to Fukuoka by bullet train and catch the overnight Taiko Ferry. The journey from Tokyo to Hakata station takes five hours and from there it is a short bus or taxi ride 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. From there you can choose be-tween a second flight or a ferry, as detailed above. If you are traveling by bullet train, the jour-ney from Osaka to Fukuoka’s Hakata Station takes two and a half hours and is covered on the JR Pass.
Airport Website: http://www.fukuekuko.jp/
Ferry Website: https://kyusho.co.jp/publics/index/111/