Where to Go in Hirado



Hirado is significantly far off the usual tourist track that to write about it feels both urgent and a darn shame. That’s because Hirado—the territory of Hirado covers the island of the same name, as well as Ikitsuki-shima Island, Azuchi-Oshima Island, Taku-shima Island, and a scrap of mainland Kyushu—is a place that will be saved by the tourism industry and hardworking locals hoping to show their traditions to outsiders, but it feels as if true discoveries can still be made there and it would be a shame to spoil the adventure, wouldn’t it?

Here are five ideas to give you a headstart on your trip to Hirado.

  • 01

    Contemplate Martyrdom from the Hanmoto Beach Resort

    Three centuries ago, when Christianity was persecuted in the Japanese heartland, it didn’t take long for the heat to spread to Hirado. The island had provided sanctuary for the Catholicism of the Europeans and a base for their mercantile operations. When persecution came, some of the converted locals fled, some went underground, and many were killed. The assault on the kakure—hidden—Christians of Hirado was ruthless. Tradition has it that Nakaeno Island was the site of several rounds of executions. Hanmoto Beach is one of the best places to see the island, which has been restricted to visitors. Not much more than a trail leads down to this stretch of white sand that seems to have been cut out of the surrounding shoreline cliff. The shallow waters of the beach make it a great spot to swim, as well.

  • 02

    Make a Deal at the Hirado Dutch Trading Post

    Foreign visitors to Hirado should know that they are following in the footsteps of countless illustrious and not-so-illustrious outsiders: St. Francis Xavier, who arrived at Hirado after being expelled from Kagoshima, William Adams, the blue-eyed samurai, the Chinese pirate Koxinga, English sailors, Portuguese missionaries, and, of course, the men of the Dutch East India Company, that first transnational firm. The legacy of the Dutch presence at Hirado is preserved at the Hirado Dutch Trading Post, excavated and reconstructed in the 1970s. An impressive whitewashed building that still looks out of place on the island, the Trading Post serves now as a museum to Dutch operations on the island, which were curtailed in the anti-Christian and isolationist panic of the mid-17th century.

  • 03

    Take in the Modern Marvel that is the Hirado Bridge

    The tall towers and clean lines of the Hirado Bridge are striking. Completed in 1977, the bridge links the island of Hirado to Kyushu. The bridge is what sets Hirado apart from the islands to its south and north: you can cruise across bridge to get there, rather than taking a ferry. There are several places on the island (or the Kyushu mainland, even) to get a view of the bridge, but the patch of parkland at the foot of the bridge on the Hirado side is the best place to appreciate its incredible size and height.

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  • 04

    Make a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Hirado

    Toward the Ikitsuki-ohashi Bridge on the west side of Hirado Island sits Kasuga no Tanada and what is now known as the “Holy Land of Hirado.” The Christian communities here practiced their faith in secret, joining the ranks of the kakure sects. Their syncretic practices, blending Catholicism and local traditions, began as a way to hide their Christian beliefs but eventually became a vital practice in its own right. The terraced rice paddies of Kasuga no Tanada are a masterpiece of landscaping that have stood unchanged for centuries. The visitor center nearby explains something of their history, but it’s impossible, even completely ignorant of their history, not to be blown away.

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  • 05

    Experience the Meeting of Two Civilizations at St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church

    Approaching the St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church in Hirado’s Kagamigawacho district, there is a point described on maps with the matter-of-fact title: "A view of temples and a church.” Viewed from that point, on the steep path up from the surrounding town, the steeple of the church and the gold crucifix that caps its white spire is framed by the pagodas and tiled roofs of the temples that neighbor the chapel. Walking around the century-old church and even more ancient Komyoji and Zuiunji temples, there are plenty of impressive views, both of the architecture of devotion and the town and port below.

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