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Raina's Japan Travel Journal
by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands

Islands, the blue sea and the tiny city below from the top of Onidake in Goto City

The Goto Islands are a group of over 100 islands about 100 kilometers west of Nagasaki in the East China Sea. Due to their location and remoteness, the islands have an interesting history of being among the first landing ports for ships arriving from China, as well as a place of refuge for Christians escaping persecution (hidden Christians) during the ban of Christianity in the Edo Period. Currently, only 24 islands are inhabited, and a majority of people live on the two main islands of Fukue and Nakadori, which are about two hours from Nagasaki by boat.

For my maiden trip to the Goto Islands, I toured both Fukue Island in Goto City and Nakadori Island in Shinkamigoto Town, taking in the highlights of the islands and whetting my appetite for more island visiting in the future. Fishing, agriculture and construction are some of the main industries on the islands, rounding up the island scenery.

A main attraction on the island chain are numerous villages and their accompanying Catholic churches built in the years after the prohibition on Christianity was lifted. Four of the villages and their churches: Kashiragashima Village, Egami Village, Hisakajima Village and Nozakijima Village, are UNESCO World Heritage candidates among the "Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region" to be decided next year.

Fishing nets in Goto City and a tiny Dozaki Church in the left background
Salt refining process: this is the first part where most of the water is boiled away
This salt wasn't salty and had a slightly sweet aftertaste
Saw local fishermen hauling in their catch in Shinkamigoto Town
A massive Ako tree which is supposed to be at least 650 years old
Landscape from Shinkamigoto Town

As the Goto Islands are a fair distance from the main island of Kyushu, technology plays an important role when it comes to tourism. I was surprised, to say the least, that Goto City has its own travel app known as Marutto Goto Guide which is available for free download (available in English), while Shinkamigoto Town has a localised WiFi network at all the churches which brings up more information about each church in English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Many of the description boards at the churches and temples I visited on the islands had information in the above four languages, as well, which is better than many of the other places I've seen on the main islands of Japan.

There are 51 Catholic churches spread across Goto City and Shinkamigoto Town, but it was impossible to visit all of them in the three days I spent there. However, I managed to visit a fair number of them, including Kashiragashima village where Kashiragashima Church is located, one of the candidates awaiting World Heritage status. Shoes and hats have to be removed before entering the churches, and photography is not allowed inside at all. Stained glass windows as well as flower motifs in the interior can be seen, making me quietly awed each time I stepped inside one. Many, if not all of the churches were built by the parishioners by hand, making the architecture of the churches even more amazing.

Dozaki Church in Goto City is one of the oldest churches on the Goto Islands
Kusuhara Church has white walls at the top as the parish didn't have enough funds to complete the church with bricks
Mizunoura Church started with a small parish of hidden Christians pretending to be Buddhists
Imochiura Church has one of the oldest Lourdes Grottos in Japan
Miiraku Church has quite a modern architecture compared to the rest.
Looking at the village on Kashiragashima Island. The hidden Christians used to hike through the woods to get to church
An upclose look of Kashiragashima Church
The former Tainoura Church (back) is made using bricks from the bombed Urakami Church while the current one is in front
Church roof details can be pretty similar to temple roof details, just using different symbols
Aosagaura Church was built with bricks handcarried from the coast up to the church by its parish
Oso Church was originally made of wood, but was rebuilt with bricks in 1916
Nakanoura Church is reputed to reflect in the water when the sky's blue and the water's still

Before you think there's nothing else to see asides from the churches, you would be relieved to know that there are other attractions and sights. I managed to squeeze in a trip to a couple of beautiful beaches with azure waters on my short trip, caught fishermen hauling and sorting their catch, ate and drank delicious cuisine, and visited other historic sights like the remains of a former castle and the stonewall-lined streets in a couple of small villages. Many attractions can be visited all year, but going during the warmer months offer more options for outdoor marine activities like swimming, scuba diving and sea kayaking.

Cutest barista ever who obliged me with a smile (and delicious coffee)
There's a high school behind these castle walls
The Osezaki Lighthouse is one of the last places in Japan to see the sun set
Takahama Beach in Goto City where I want to live all summer
Not many hot springs in the area, but this one gets its waters from the nearby dormant volcano, Onidake
Quaint grocery trucks like these aren't too unusual considering how remote places can be on the islands

One of the biggest charms of living in the Goto Islands are that major chain retailers are noticeably missing, and many of the islands' inhabitants make do with local shops and restaurants. It was refreshing to see the small towns and their shopping streets, connecting neighbours and travellers. If you want a slow and restful holiday, the Goto Islands should be on your radar. I could see myself spending a week or so on the island chain, visiting different islands and enjoying a slower pace of life.

Sotonoma, a popular cafe-restaurant in Goto City
Inside the homely Sotonoma
Sangosan, a community house and library in Goto City. Accomodation facilities are planned for later in the year
Visitors can donate their top three books that had an impact on their lives and write the reason why
Tsubaki-trim tatami mats, a nod to the local flower
Futon shop downstairs, hostel upstairs. Utojuku Hostel, one of the more quirky and affordable places to stay at in Goto City
The guys that run the hostel also run the futon shop below. Look out for the Futon Bar which comes alive in the evenings
Wandered through a couple of former stone masons villages, Tomosumi and Akao, in Shinkamigoto Town
Remnants of their masonry
Found my future island house

The Goto Islands are best accessed from Nagasaki Port in central Nagasaki. There are two fast boats (jetfoils) in addition to one slower car ferry a day providing connections to both Goto City and Shinkamigoto Town. The jetfoil tends to get cancelled when there are high waves, while the weather would have to be pretty bad for the car ferry to be cancelled. Other fast passenger boats provide access between Nagasaki and Shinkamigoto Town and tend to be less prone to cancellations compared to the jetfoil in case of inclement weather.

ANA offers three flights per day from Nagasaki Airport to Fukue Airport on Fukue Island. The rest of the islands are connected by smaller ferries. On the major islands of Fukue and Nakadori, rental car is the best way to move around as public transport to the attractions outside of the main town areas tends to be infrequent. Locals tend to leave their car at home and rent when visiting the other major islands.

There aren't many long bridges like this connecting the islands

Not only are the Goto Islands important for Christianity, they are also important for Japanese Buddhism. Daihoji Temple is supposedly the place where Kobo Daishi, one of the most important figures in Japanese Buddhist history, first brought the teachings of Shingon Buddhism from China into Japan. The temple has a history of over 1300 years and is known as the Koyasan of the west. Daihoji Temple has a statue of the Bodhisattva Shokanzeon who is said to hear the prayers of people at night and helps them. There is also a less commonly seen statue of Kobo Daishi carrying an infant. As a result, the temple is poular among pregnant women praying for safe delivery.

Kobo Daishi was also believed to have stayed at Myojoin Temple while waiting out a storm and praying for safe passage to China. During his stay at Myojoin Temple, he carved a statue of Fudomyoo (a Buddhist deity) which he reportedly saw and that calmed the bad weather and brought him back unharmed before. Like Daihoji, Myojoin is said to have a history of at least 1300 years. In addition to the statue of Fudomyoo, the temple treasures include a statue of Buddha that was supposedly carved in the Heian Period, as well as two other bodhisattvas from the Kamakura Period. It is also interesting to note that both temples have the crysanthemum crest in the temple design, alluding that they either had a priest of royal descent or welcomed royalty during the Edo Period.

Inside the main hall at Daihoji Temple. Check out the elaborately carved details
Roof details. You can see the crysanthemum crest on the roof and on other details
The headboard at the main gate says Koyasan of the West, and there are faint drawings above it
Inside the main hall at Myojoin Temple, there's the crysanthemum crest on the huge lanterns too
The blue statue is of Fudomyoo which Kobo Daishi supposedly carved
Stone statues line the back of the temple

Food on the Goto Islands was nothing short of amazing. I had the opportunity to dine at some of the best places, sampling local delicacies, some more than once! One of the local dishes to try is Goto Udon, cooked in a variety of ways. I had it in a chicken broth, as well as jigokudaki-style (in a bubbling hot pot of water) with ago (small flying fish) broth and raw egg. One of the things that makes the local udon so delicious is the addition of tsubaki oil that is brushed onto the noodles to ensure that they remain smooth and pilable during the manufacturing process. Goto udon are typically sold dried and can be eaten all year round.

Went to a noodle-making factory in Shinkamigoto Town
Jigokudaki-style udon in the making

If noodles are not your kind of thing, local meat include pork and beef. It seems that origins for some of the famous wagyu (Japanese beef) breeds are from Goto, which makes Goto beef highly prized as well. I managed to sample both and couldn't decide which one I preferred, or perhaps I just need to try more of both.

Local biton, Goto pork, cooked over the grill and was oh-so-tender
Local beef, Goto beef, cooked to perfection in Shinkamigoto Town
Lunch in the gorgeous 140-150 year old Tsubaki Chaya overlooking a beach in Goto City
Grilled mackerel (aji) that was so fresh, all that was left after was literally just a few bones
Mizu-ika, a locally caught squid, slightly thinner and more tender compared to regular squid
Kankoro mochi, a local specialty of sweet potatoes and mochi. Best eaten lightly grilled

Being this far west and on a relatively remote island, the last thing I would expect would be a local winery. But there it was, the Goto Winery, located not too far from Fukue Airport in the Conkana resort grounds. The winery makes wine using a mix of local and imported grapes from the Koshu region in Yamanashi, as well as limited bottles of wine with only local Goto island grapes. Aaron Hayes is one of the few winemakers at Goto Winery and thanks to him, I got to learn more about the wine making process and their products.

Goto Winery and its products. I tried their sparkling white wine at dinner and loved it
Aaron pipetting some of their premium wine to taste (spoiler alert: it was delicious)
My haul of all things Goto: Ago broth, kankoro mochi, salt, udon and tsubaki oil products

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List of Posts:
2017/05/02 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2017/04/14 - Sneak Peek from Ginza Six
2017/03/21 - A bit of everything in Fukui
2017/03/13 - Nikko Toshogu Uncovered
2017/02/15 - Subculture in Ikebukuro
2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands
2017/02/06 - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/12/19 - Winter Illuminations in Tokyo
2016/10/24 - The way of old on the Kunisaki Peninsula
2016/10/11 - Following the Tadami Line in Oku Aizu
2016/08/27 - Fool's Dance at Koenji Awa Odori
2016/08/16 - The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan
2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region
2016/04/03 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2016/03/08 - The hunt for Namahage on the Oga Peninsula
2016/03/02 - Sake Sangria
2016/02/20 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2016/01/26 - Tour de Reinan: Obama, Oi and Takahama
2016/01/25 - Tour de Reinan: Tsuruga, Mihama and Wakasa

2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/10 - 48 hours in Tokushima
2015/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kankakei
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2015/11/08 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Dazaifu
2015/10/28 - The 44th Tokyo Motor Show
2015/10/21 - Hirado, where East meets West
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
2015/10/19 - Navigating the Christian sites in Nagasaki
2015/10/18 - Cosplay at Haco Stadium Tokyo
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2015/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2015/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/09/16 - Nakanojo Biennale 2015
2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region
2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen
2015/08/04 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 2015
2015/04/30 - Sapporo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/29 - Hakodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/22 - Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/21 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/16 - Sendai Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/09 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/08 - Fukushima Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/06 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/02 - Nara Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/01 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/31 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/27 - Fukuoka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/26 - Kumamoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/25 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Sendai
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Tokyo
2014/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2014/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2014/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2014/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Karuizawa
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2014/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2014/10/01 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2014/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/06/19 - Toranomon Hills opens in Tokyo
2014/04/24 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/23 - Morioka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/22 - Aizu-Wakamatsu Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/16 - Matsumoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/15 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/14 - Yoshino Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/13 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/12 - Kanazawa Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/10 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/06 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/05 - Hiroshima Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/04 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/02 - Nagoya Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/31 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/26 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report