Nagasaki is not typically high on the list of places to visit in Japan, for both foreign and even Japanese tourists, but, after living in the prefecture for 8 months, I would like to try to convince you to give it a shot!
Exploring Nagasaki Prefecture
Life in Nagasaki Prefecture
I lived and worked as an English teacher in a town near Sasebo city, the 2nd largest city in the prefecture. Life was quieter and more relaxed than other cities in Japan. The people are very friendly and generally speak less English, making for a more authentic Japanese experience! In Kyushu, the temperature is generally warmer all year round, but this also means it gets very humid and hot in summer. I spent my weekends exploring Nagasaki and neighboring prefectures, going hiking, relaxing on beaches, and hitting up local izakayas. As Kyushu has so much nature, it is advisable to buy or rent a car to be able to fully explore, as some spots are very difficult to access by public transport. I didn’t have my own car, but fortunately had friends that did!
Things to Do
Nagasaki prefecture is a wonderful place to both live and visit. It is home to beautiful nature, gorgeous beaches, numerous islands, and historical cities, making it a spectacular place to explore. Here are some of the places you should visit when you come to Nagasaki prefecture.
You can’t do a trip to the prefecture without visiting the city it is named after. Nagasaki city is a beautifully quaint but incredibly vibrant city full of character and things to do. The city is built onto the mountainside, so you must be prepared for steps and uphills! Of course, Nagasaki is sadly most famous for being the site of the atomic bomb dropping during World War 2. Thus, Nagasaki has a sorrowing, but very interesting history to learn about.
Make sure you visit:
• Nagasaki peace park and the Atomic Bomb museum – The hypocentre of the atomic bombing, and museum with artifacts and photos documenting the bombing in 1945. A very important place to visit when you come to Nagasaki.
• Mount Inasa Observatory – An observation deck which gives sweeping views of Nagasaki city and surrounding islands nearby. It is claimed to have the 3rd best night view in the world!
• Shinchi Chinatown – The largest Chinatown in Japan!
• Dejima – a historical artificial island used as the Dutch trading post, built in 1636, depicting life back then.
• Meganebashi bridge – Known as the “spectacle bridge”, it is the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, dating back to 1634.
• Koshibyo Confucious shrine – a spectacularly colorful shrine with multiple statues and Sichuan mask-changing performances.
• Dejima wharf – a beautiful promenade with cafes and restaurants by the water edge; the perfect place to watch the sunset.
• Bar Iwi – a tiny, yet always crowded international bar with a very friendly owner and cheap drinks. I made a lot of friends and memories here!
Mount Unzen and Shirahama
I climbed Mount Unzen in early February of this year, and it was beautiful. As the highest mountain in Nagasaki prefecture and an active volcano, Unzen is a wonderful spot to visit for stunning views of the coast and the steam coming from within. The area around Mount Unzen is also known for its hot springs, which you can enjoy after a long day of hiking. Shirahama is a beautiful little city on the southeastern coast of Nagasaki prefecture, home to Shirahama castle and many koi ponds. You can also take the ferry to Kumamoto from Shirahama port.
Omura Bay and Omura Park
Omura bay lies between Nagasaki and Sasebo and is home to Nagasaki airport in the water. I would often go to Nagasaki from Sasebo and always enjoy the train journey which loops around the edge of the water. On your way, you stop through Omura. I recommend visiting Omura park – a beautiful place to see cherry blossoms. I held a hanami for my birthday there, which was lovely. There are many spots to enjoy views of Omura bay, but I particularly enjoyed sitting on Kawatana Osaki beach and also Ushioizaki park in Nagayo.
Hirado is at the Northwest side of Nagasaki prefecture, and is in fact its own island, which you must get to by crossing the famous Hirado bridge. Hirado castle is a must-visit, as well as Kawachi-toge pass, which gives sweeping views over the island. Senrigahama beach is a great spot to relax and feels strangely tropical with its rows of palm trees. I also recommend the onsen at the nearby Hotel Ranpu, which costs 800 yen and has multiple outdoor baths and an infinity bath with a view of the beach and sea.
If you are looking for a good day trip or weekend away, the outlying islands around Nagasaki are perfect. Depending on where you go, the ferry can take between 30 minutes to 4 hours. Gunkanjima, or Hashima island, is an abandoned offshore mining facility which has been uninhabited for 48 years, but is also famous for being the set of the James Bond movie “Skyfall”. Tsushima, whilst actually quite far from Nagasaki city itself and the closest island to South Korea, is a wonderful serene place to visit, with vast mountains and outdoor activities to enjoy. The Goto islands are consist of nearly 140 islands but have some of the best beaches in Nagasaki and delicious local seafood dishes to try.
Saikai National Park
Saikai is home to so much countryside! The Nagasaki Biopark hosts a range of animals to see. Saikaibashi bridge and park is wonderful to visit in springtime when the cherry blossoms are in season. I sadly never got the chance but had friends who often went camping on some of the many beaches Saikai has to offer. I also recommend visiting Tsugane Otoshi waterfall and Nanatsugama limestone cave.
Huis Ten Bosch
With the strong historical affiliation with the Netherlands that Nagasaki has, Huis Ten Bosch is a dutch-themed park with illuminations and performances. The buildings are very similarly designed to match those in the Netherlands. I personally went on Christmas day in 2021, which involved Christmas performances, music, and fireworks. I recommend visiting, purely for the strange feeling of being in Europe whilst in Japan.
Translated to “99 islands”, Kujukushima is probably the top attraction in Sasebo city. It is a cluster of many small islands in the coast just off the mainland. If you visit the Pearl Sea Resort, you can learn about the history of Kujukushima and ride a short cruise around the multiple islands. You can also hire kayaks and explore the islands by yourself. I did this and it is one of the highlights of my time in Sasebo! If you get seasick, instead you could visit one of the many observation decks on the mainland to view the stunning islands, including Tenhaiko observatory, Ishidake observatory, and Udogoe observatory. I visited all of these observatories and they give great views and perspectives of the beautiful scenery.
These are just the highlights of what Nagasaki prefecture has to offer. I hope I have inspired you to pay a visit to Kyushu!