by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
Today, I spent the day exploring Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture, especially the Kujukushima Islands (literally "99 Islands") and the winter illumination at Huis Ten Bosch before retiring for the night at the Henna Hotel, a unique hotel staffed by robots.
It took a little over an hour to drive from Nagasaki City to Sasebo. I arrived in time for lunch, and when in Sasebo, what better lunch option is there than Sasebo Burger, one of the region's local specialties. My initial thought of a Sasebo Burger was one with specific ingredients. However, I was surprised to find out that a Sasebo Burger wasn't a specific burger, but a term used to describe made-to-order burgers with local ingredients. Specific recipes vary from store to store, leading to an interesting array of burgers to try.
After the delectable lunch, I headed to the Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort. The resort is a great jumping ground for those who want to experience and learn more about the Kujukushima Islands. The Kujukushima Islands are part of the Saikai National Park, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of its appointment this year. Even though the name Kujukushima seems to imply that there are 99 islands, there are in fact over 200 islands, and only four of them are inhabited.
Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort occupies a fairly large area with a harbor for sightseeing boats, both large and small, that make their way around the islands. There is also an aquarium exhibiting local marine life, as well as restaurants and shops along the waterfront. I took the Kujukushima Pirate Boat Mirai, Japan's first boat with a hybrid motor, which was expertly navigated by skilled hands, running smoothly around the islands.
It was also heartening to see that the large sightseeing ships have incorporated universal design into the ship's construction, with facilities like a multipurpose toilet, an elevator and straps to secure wheelchairs near large viewing windows. Ship commentary was conducted in Japanese with additional Mandarin and/or English versions added depending on the tour groups on board.
The 50 minute cruise took us around many of the islands in the bay, squeezing through what looked like a tiny gap between two islands, and making a U-turn at one of the deeper points before heading back to the harbor. I saw many oyster rafts during the cruise, with most being for pearl cultivation. I enjoyed being out on open water and feeling the breeze as we cruised past numerous islands and tried to spot marine life in the water. Next time, I'd love to be able to go on the smaller boats and get closer to the islands and water.
After the cruise, I visited the Kujukushima Aquarium beside the harbor which exhibits local sealife. One of my favourite sections was the jellyfish displays with all sorts of jellyfish, including some impossibly tiny ones! I also managed to catch the last dolphin show of the day and was treated to the acrobatic prowess of the two resident dolphins. The compact aquarium also contains the Kujukushima Bay Large Aquarium, a large tank that lets visitors feel like they are walking in the sea.
After earlier seeing the islands close-up from the cruise, I next headed to two lookout points to take in a view from above. I first stopped by Tenkaibo Observatory about seven kilometers south of Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort to get a great view of the islands and a large field of cosmos flowers. Next was Ishidake Observatory, which was slightly closer to the resort and had an even more beautiful view of the islands. I arrived just before sundown and managed to see a beautiful sunset. Incidentally, the view of the Kujukushima Islands from the Ishidake Observatory was used in the opening scene of the movie, The Last Samurai.
From there, I headed off into the sunset for Huis Ten Bosch, an amusement park about 30 minutes away by car. It was my first time there, and what better introduction to the amusement park than to be able to see the winter illuminations! I walked around the park and got to see the different illuminations, including some Halloween themed ones. It was all very beautiful, and I can imagine it to be an all-day affair at Huis Ten Bosch with lots to see and do even after the sun sets. Illuminations at Huis Ten Bosch are available around the year, although the scale varies somewhat by season.
My final stop for the day was the Henna Hotel, where I spent the night. The hotel is part of the Huis Ten Bosch group of hotels and slightly cheaper compared to the rest. The main attraction at the Henna Hotel are the robots and technology that can be experienced by staying guests. The check-in counter is staffed by robots that can speak Japanese and English, a luggage storage room operated by a robot, automated luggage porters that carry your bags and lead you to your room and vending machines that sell amenities, food and drink.
I hardly saw any human staff when I was there, which definitely made for a different hotel experience. Entering the room could be done by a simple swipe of the keycard or by face recognition which I had the thrill of setting up and using. In the room, there were minimal light switches and a talking robot that could answer simple questions in Japanese and perform simple tasks. There is a restaurant a short walk from the hotel that offers buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner.