Goto Islands, Nagasaki, Japan: unforgettable landscapes and unexpected history
A historic destination for pilgrims with wild, untouched countryside, Nagasaki's remote Goto Islands make for a memorable getaway
Remote Japanese islands might be one of the last places you'd expect to find a collection of Christian churches, but make a pilgrimage to Gotō – an archipelago 100km to the west of Nagasaki, in the East China Sea – and you'll discover more than 50 Christian religious site that stand as testament to the area's unique, but often tragic, history.
The islands were the landing ports for boats coming from China at time when Japan had very little foreign contact, and as a result were among the first places in the country to be introduced to Christianity – although the religion remained outlawed until the late 1800s, with followers being persecuted for their beliefs. Even now Gotō remains devoutly Christian, and these beautiful churches commemorate those who lost their lives in the name of their faith, and are an unmissable sight for anyone who visits. It's hoped that the churches soon be added to Unesco's World Heritage list, with Dozaki Church first in line. The striking red-brick building was built in 1908 and has become more than just a church – it's also a museum about the islands' Christian heritage.
Today, Gotō is best reached by plane or car, with the main airport and port found on Fukue, the largest island. Once you're there, you should think about hiring an electric car to get around. Gotō is home to one of Japan's largest fleets of electric vehicles, with plenty of charging points dotted around the area – making it the best way to see the islands' churches and explore the stunning natural landscapes.
Aside from history, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Gotō archipelago, too, with the incredible wildnerness coming in at the top of the list – all of the islands lie within the Saikai National Park. If you're a beach bum, you'll want to visit Gotō just for its perfect sand. The beaches are at their most popular during high summer, with visitors from all over Japan coming to swim in the crystal-clear water, and divers who come to explore the abundant sealife.
While there are plenty of stretches of sand to choose from, Takahama beach is said to be one of the best, found on the western side of Fukue island. But if you're more about moutains, Fukue is also home to Mt Onidake, a 315m-high dormant volcano that's now a popular area for flying kites. And after all that activity, head to the hot springs at the volcano's base for a relaxing trip to an onsen spa. There are castle ruins on Fukue, too, with a beautiful Japanese garden and a building that used to be a samurai residence.
Elsewhere, if you're a keen angler, the Gotō Islands are a hotspot for fishing. As you'd expect, fish and seafood are high on the menu here, so the Gotō Islands are the place to eat delicacies like kibinago – a type of herring – fresh sea urchin and other expertly prepared sashimi. Not sold on seafood? Get your teeth into a Gotō-raised steak, or sample hand-pulled udon noodles.
History, beaches and incredible local food, delivered in some of the most beautiful landscapes we've ever had the chance to lay eyes on? We'll see you there.
Wondertrunk & Co's goal is to bring lesser-known parts of Japan into the global spotlight. They combine local voices with those of foreign travelers to transform these regions into destinations the whole world can enjoy. Head to wondertrunk.co for more info.