Linked by a bridge to Hirado Island and now part of the same municipal jurisdiction, Ikitsuki Island makes a good day trip from the larger island. The island is famed for its stunning natural scenery, legacy of whaling and fishing, and sites of the hidden Christians that fled there to escape persecution. It’s about a half hour drive from the foot of the Hirado Bridge to the Ikitsuki Bridge on-ramp, so there’s plenty of time to explore what Ikitsuki has to offer.
Driving across the bridge onto the island from Hirado, the landscape is subtly different, recalling the Hebrides more than anywhere on nearby Kyushu. There are few drives in the world more impressive than the cruise up the west coast of Ikitsuki. Looking out from the view spot at Ishihara Bridge, with the green cliffs at your back, the desolation and beauty of the island is nearly overwhelming. Most of the remaining residents and fishing communities of Ikitsuki are clustered along the eastern coast of the island, facing Hirado, so the west coast is particularly lonely and unspoiled.
Headed up the east coast of the island, the Ikitsuki Kannon-do Temple’s bronze Kannon is immediately visible, rising 60 feet above the surrounding homes. The Kannon watches over the port and the men that prayed to the Bodhisattva for safety on fishing expeditions.
Also on the east coast of the island, looking out at Nakaeno Island, where Christians were martyred when the persecution of Christians spread to the islands, sits a lonely monument to the first martyr killed on Ikitsuki Island. Gaspar Nishi Genka, named after missionary Father Gaspar Vileta who baptized him as a boy, was executed by order of the Matsura daimyo in 1609. He asked to be crucified but the request was denied; he was decapitated by samurai at Kurose no Tsuji. The site is reminder of the underground Christian communities that survived on the island for centuries.
When Japan re-opened to the world in the 1800s, the missionaries came back, hoping to restore the communities that they had been forced to abandon. Many of the hidden Christians had moved away from mainline Catholicism, developing their own syncretic or fully unique beliefs in secret and isolation. Masses are still held at the Yamada Church, and it hosts a statue of the son of Gaspar Nishi Genka, beatified by the Catholic Church in the 1980s.
Out on the northern peninsula of the island, the Shiodawara Cliffs are where the symphony of natural beauty hits its crescendo. The escarpment was carved by the pounding of the waves of East China Sea, leaving the breathtaking scenery. Push further up the road known as “Sunset Way” to the very tip of the island and Obaehana Lighthouse. Climb to the deck of the lighthouse for the best views of the island and the slate-grey sea.
Take the opportunity to stop for lunch on the island before heading back to Hirado. Cafe Payala is the known for its lively atmosphere, good coffee, and rich pound cake and kuri buns. The owner is a local musician and the shop sometimes hosts performances in the afternoons and evenings. On the way out of town, not far from the bridge, there’s a cute ramen shop, Taikiken, where the broth is fortified with dashi made from flying fish, one of the harvests that has kept the island afloat even while the fishing industry has slowed down in recent years.
- カフェ パヤラ
Take in the stunning scenery and the historical sites, but make sure to take the chance to connect with the local community. The people of Ikitsuki—fishermen and farmers, traders and bureaucrats, Christians and Buddhists, west coasters and east coasters—have carved out a living against all odds, wringing a life out of this rocky island floating off the coast of Kyushu. They are the greatest treasure of this beautiful island.