In Japan, the number of islands is 6,852, but I have only visited a few of them. I usually travel to Kyoto and the northern part of Japan from Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train.
I imagined the transportation to visit the islands was complicated and time consuming. I didn’t want to spend half of the day sitting on a train or a ferry. However, after visiting Yakushima and Tanegashima Islands in the south of Japan, my opinion was totally transformed and I had a strong wish to visit other beautiful islands in Japan.For our winter season trip, I picked Goto Islands in Nagasaki Prefecture. I wanted to go to the south to avoid the cold winter in Tokyo. The best way to see around is undoubtedly to rent a car making sure to allow plenty of time to stop by beautiful beaches and old churches along the way. Here’s your quick guide to road tripping on Goto Islands.
Fishing at Goto Islands
Goto Islands are famous for tasty fish and great fishing spots. On the first day, we visited Morita fishing shop. Even over the New Year season, it was open. The owner of Morita fishing shop was so kind in choosing the best fishing tackles for beginners like us. We got about 30 fish. The owner of Morita fishing shop helped to pack the fish with their ice so we could send them to our house.
Literally, it’s possible to go fishing anywhere in Goto Islands, but he recommended some safe fishing areas for kids. We rented a fishing tackle there, and we went to 大泊, Ootomari Harbor. We met nobody while fishing at Ootomari Harbor. If we had gone to Kanagawa or Chiba Prefectures for fishing on weekends or national holidays, we would have been competing with so many other anglers on both sides, as well as having to ride on a packed train for the morning commute.
Hiking on Goto Islands
After we had done enough fishing, we visited several parks and hills for hiking in Goto Islands. There were perfect hills to hike for 1 to 2 hours. When we were landing at Fukue airport, we saw a small bowl-shaped mountain called Oni-dake. Oni-dake appeared after an eruption of a volcano 300 years ago. It was covered with grass and shrubs.I circled the crater and waved hands to my family when I reached the opposite side of the circle. The diameter of the crater was approximately 1 km and this was appropriate distance to say hello from the opposite side.
Sunset and Sunrise from Hotel Margherita
Hotel Margherita is located on higher ground had a panoramic view to enjoy sunset and sunrise on Nakadori Island. Every room offers beautiful views of the sea, including wonderful sunrises and sunsets.
The restaurant at Hotel Margherita served a mixed fusion style of Japanese and European foods with local rich vegetables and fresh fish. The capacity of this accommodation is not large, so the restaurant was not crowded. We could receive nice service from the staff. Cooked fish and Sashimi (raw fish) were great, but I preferred Goto beef much more. Goto cows were exported to Kobe to become Japanese famous Kobe beef, so the quality of beef is very high. It tasted juicy and tender.
Yagatame Park Hiking
The most interesting part of traveling to small islands in Japan was participating in various activities on the same day. I could enjoy hiking to see a 360 degree panoramic view from the top of hills and then swimming in the river or seashore on the same day.
We hiked Yagatame Park in the north of Nakadori Island to walk and to spend time by the water. This area also had a nice hiking path along the seashore which took us to a small inlet. We found long sticks, orange, green and blue floats, bottles with foreign languages and a styrofoam box and my kids started to create a boat with them.The water was clear and clean, and we could enjoy the salty scent. The winter season at Goto Islands was so calm and quiet. We hardly encountered any other tourists during our hiking. From the top of the hills, we could appreciate the wide view of the peaceful sea due to the influence of the Tsushima Warm Current.
We visited the Whaling Museum at Arikawa Harbor. It was such a small exhibition, but it was a good reminder of the history of Whale Catching. Kaido Shrine at Arikawa Harbor, featuring a Torii gateway with whale jawbones, was a peaceful place too. It was full of grace for safe sailing and bountiful fishing and was well maintained by local people.
The area around Arikawa Harbor was a good place to walk. There has been a long history of whaling in Japan and if you have interest in this, you can learn more at the Whaling Museum at Arikawa Harbor on Nakadori Island.
Hunting Shells at Hamaguri (clam) Beach
After all, we chose Hamaguri (clam) Beach for our final destination in Goto Islands. We wanted to play on the beach before leaving here. My kids were so excited to know Hamaguri Beach was the name of a shell and they started to dig until they became sweaty. Finally, they found a small clam. We brought it to our hotel room and put it in boiling water for eating.
A little bit of history
Nagasaki is known as a Dejima, a special trading district established in the Edo Era. From the 17th Century, Japan opened its doors to enable a few European countries to come and exchange goods. As a result, Christian missionaries came to Japan and Nagasaki became one of the influential areas of Christianity in Japan.
Goto Islands are also famous for their beautiful and old churches, because missionaries had spread from Nagasaki. We visited some of them, but I didn’t take a picture so as not to disturb the local people. The atmosphere was so calm and strong with the deep beliefs of islanders.
Each church was so small compared to big city ones. Decoration was simple and sophisticated and had been created very carefully with extreme attention. My kids were overwhelmed with the solemness of each church. In Goto Islands, every small village had their own church. It was amazing to see various kinds of architecture.
How to get there
From Tokyo, book a flight to Fukue Airport on Goto Islands via Fukuoka or Nagasaki airports from Haneda airpot. The flight time is approximately two and a half hours. My personal preference to via Nagasaki airport to eat Nagasaki Champon Noodle at Kyowa Hanten near the airpot. Fukuoka is one of the biggest cities in the southern part of Japan, so it is also very convenient to visit several areas in Kyushu, the southern Japan.
By Ferry or Jetfoil Express Boat
From Nagasaki Port, it takes one and a half hour to Fukue Port by jetfoil express boat and approximately three hours by ferry.
From Hakata Port in Fukuoka, it takes approximately seven and a half hours, but it departures at 23:45 and stops by at four islands and arrives at Fukue Port around 8:15 next morning. This might be one of reasonable and efficient ways to visit Goto Islands.
How to explore
Goto Islands are made of about 140 islands and Fukue Island is the largest and Nakadori the second largest islands. We stayed for 4 days in Goto Islands and took a ferry from Fukue Port to Narao Port on Nakadori Island on the third day.
Renting a car is convenient. Ferry or high-speed boat is available for the transportation between each island. Service operates twice or three times per day. Reference of the schedule is on Goto City Tourism Association website. If you visit Goto Islands during summer, please make reservations for the ferry beforehand, but during winter season there is no need to book ahead of time.