Developing as a modern Navy city from the Meiji Period onward, Sasebo City has become a colorful bustling port thanks to the mixing of the American culture following the war. In 1889 (Meiji 22) with the establishment of the Sasebo Naval District Headquarters, a simultaneous increase of new buildings where constructed using the most advance technology in Japan at the time. Ship yards and related facilities as well as a base for commerce were started. The railroad, streets, city planning, water processing facilities and many aspects of the city’s infrastructure that are still present and used today, after 100 years were developed at this time. Through this we can follow the footsteps of those Japanese engineers who modernized Sasebo.
Following the war, a unique culture grew in Sasebo, inspired by American culture. With the Sasebo Burger, Lemon Steak, Foreigner bars and Jazz festivals, the mixing of foreign cultures itself has become an attraction for the city. Among these, the air raid shelters used as shops at the Tono Market, the red brick warehouses contained in the American Navy Base, and the nightlife of the foreigner bars and jazz-bars in the Minatomachi/ Sakaemachi neighborhoods is especially rare. This is an area of Sasebo where you can enjoy that live music taste.
If you stretch your legs a little outside of the bustle of the port town, you will discover the many islands and nature of Kujukushima. Watching the cranes as they return north in early spring, the fresh greens of the season herald the new life springing forth on the islands and in the sea.
Taking a pleasure cruise, you may feel the healing power of nature, as you look out over the blue sea, and hear the birds flying among the islands blossoming with seasonal plants. The sun-set cruise or sea-kayaking around Kujukushima are also highly recommended. In winter, please try the delicious and nutritious Kujukushima Oysters.
With the establishment of the Sasebo Naval District Headquarters, some of the best technicians in Japan were gathered in Sasebo. The monuments of modern architecture that they built one after another stand even now, after 100 years, and have blended into everyday life in Sasebo.
When heading toward the Saikai Bridge, the three spires of the “Hario Radio Towers” instantly catch your eyes. You will be amazed and may find it hard to believe the strength and beauty of these Taisho period (1912-1926) structures, designed by Japanese and representing some of the earliest high-rise concrete structures. Also, on the Tawaragaura peninsula, a group of cannon turrets remain after 100 years, creating the feeling that time is standing still. The existence of buildings such as the “Hario Sending Station” or the “Munitions Depot” bear living witness to the Sasebo of the old Japanese Navy Era.
The complex coastline and Tsushima ocean current flowing into the a rich fishing ground set the stage for life in the Kosaza and Shikamachi towns, the fisherman’s towns located on the western most part of mainland Japan.
The town of Kosaza is know as the top producer of small “Iriko” (Sardine) fish in Japan, with the Kujukushima islands being famous for “Torafugu” blowfish aquaculture. Of the 208 islands in Kujukushima, only four are inhabited, with the town of Kuroshima being on one of them. The town of Ainoura has a fish market that is of the largest scale in Western Japan, and with 100 thousand azaleas, the town of Shikamachi has a beautiful landscape in the northern part of Kujukushima. With offshore fishing boats going in and out, the many coastal inlets are alive with scenery, sounds and smells unique to the fisherman’s towns.
The “Kuroshima Settlement” was registered in 2018 as a World Cultural Heritage site, as one of the “Hidden Christian sites in the Nagasaki and Amakusa region”. Many of the Catholics on Kuroshima moved and settled on the island in order to escape the severe repression and monitoring under the Shogunate’s ban on religion. While the history of the Hidden Christians contains many sad stories, the almost miraculous “Resurrection of the faith” on Kuroshima exists as a recorded historical fact, and to this day, the descendants of those believers continue to live in faith, protecting the nature and culture of the island.
With 80 percent of the islanders being Catholic, “Kuroshima Church”, the symbol of Kuroshima, has been, and remains their spiritual home. On this island of prayer, with faith at the center of peoples lives, visitors are greeted by seasonal flowers, and are shown hospitality with rustic and traditional island foods, full of the bounties of the land and the sea. The flavor and texture of the Kuroshima Tofu, made with mineral rich Kuroshima sea water is the pride of the island.
The town of Emukae has a history as a station town along the Hirado road. The “Honren Yashiki” was the primary residence for the Lord of the Hirado Clan on his travels to and from the capital. The house, and all its furnishings can be seen in their original state, now open to the public viewing. The estates original owners, the Yamashita family ran the “Senryu Sake Brewery” and were purveyors of sake to the Hirado Clan. Their original storehouse, which is immersed in history is still used for sake brewing to this day.
The traditions and customs from the era when it prospered as a station town along the Hirado road are still carefully maintained today. Said to bring in the joy of spring, colorful fabric balls know as “Mayutama” can be seen swaying under the eaves in the breeze. In summer, the town bustles with people for the over 500 year old “Mizukake Jizo” festival, and is lit up by the 25 meter tall tower of lanterns during the “Sentorou” festival. A famed place since the Edo period is the old temple “Jyufukuji”. This temple is home to the legendary “Mizukake Jizo” and the spectacular landscape in it’s courtyard garden is reminiscent of the Kyoto.
“Mikawachi Pottery” maintains the skills passed down for 400 year from the Hirado Clan Kiln. With their snow like white porcelain surface, delicately painted in blue, demonstrating precise workmanship, and an almost transparent thickness of around 1 millimeter, or with lace-like pierced carving, these pieces show the spirit of the potters as they challenge human limits, and are sure to stir the heart. The “Mikawachi-Yaki Art Museum” exhibits many masterpieces from the Edo to Showa periods, and is a must-see. We highly recommend stopping by before exploring the town.
With family kilns lining the small valley, transferring beauty and skill from one generation to the next, you can observe modern potters up close as they continue to evolve. Visit a climbing kiln or a shrine dedicated to Mikawachi-yaki’s two founding potters as you discover the 400 year historic origins of this pottery area.
Facing the sea, and prospering as an important transportation hub, a market has been held here since olden days. Currently stalls selling tea, fishery products, farm produce, pottery and bamboo products line the Seto from May to June. The sound of people buying and selling, and the smell of the tide has become a hallmark of early summer. Having developed in a natural fashion over 400 years ago, as people brought the bounties of the land to trade for the bounties of the sea, the “Haiki Cha Ichi”(Haiki Tea Market) is held over a period of 4 times for 3 days each, surrounding days with the number 8.
In the villages of “Yunoki”, “Sechibaru”, “Yoshii” and “Shiratake” spread out at the foot of the mountains, terraced rice fields, tea, strawberries, melons, black soybeans and a great variety of agricultural produce are grown.
In these bountiful mountain villages, hot springs, restaurants, and farm run gelato shops provide plenty of fun places to stop along the way. The lightning bugs flying over the mountains streams in early summer, and a phantom like giant pond the “Gozouike” that appears during the rainy season are a must-see. In autumn, we recommend “power spot walking” along the ancient paths. A mysterious and purifying air seems drifts among the fall colors of the “Ohashi Kannon”.
A colorful statue of Ebisu smiling and looking out over the sea is the symbol of Uku Island. With a history set around the sea, the island has interesting legends regarding the “Ama” divers who were active in abalone fishing. Located three and a half hours from Sasebo by ferry, at the northernmost tip of the Goto Islands, the island has a mild climate thanks to the warm Tsushima current and features subtropical plants such as giant Cycas and Banyan trees.
While the emerald green sea and bright white beach may seem like a summer paradise, the mysterious beauty of the sea on a summer night is well worth seeing. The rich scenery of the sea surrounding the island, the fisherman’s town and the horizon curving over the cape lighthouse are sure to set your heart at ease. Once you have visited, you will never forget this treasure island of the heart.
This island which retains a nostalgic Japanese scenery and was voted “most beautiful village in Japan” and is composed of 17 large and small islands, of which 6 islands still have settlements. For those attracted to experiencing slow, leisurely sightseeing, staying in an over 100 year old renovated farm house, a “Kominka stay”, or experiencing the life of fisherman and farmers, or spending a night on Nozaki island, among the wild Japanese deer (Cervus nippon), will allow you to experience the comfortable pace of island time, different from the main land. For those who wish to enjoying the island, there are plenty of professionally staffed tours visiting scenic spots, walking through the history of the island or nature-canoeing. Please enjoy the your island trip with a freedom no package tour can offer.