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Sakura Cherry Blossom Kyushu Japan

Insider Guide to Nagasaki, Kyushu, Japan

My invitation to Japan came from the tourism office of Kyushu. They offered three itineraries, but as soon as I caught sight of the name ‘Nagasaki’, I knew that was to be the destination for me.

Nagasaki, the birthplace of Japan’s industrialisation; setting for the opera Madam Butterfly; and inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s 2017 movie ‘Silence’ is also the international gateway to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands.

I had only been in the country for a few hours and I hadn’t even left Tokyo’s Haneda airport and yet there it was, that unfamiliar feeling of disorientation and surprise; in short, culture shock. In an increasingly globalised world, it’s not so often that we can feel so bemused or surprised by new destinations. But there I was, sitting in a window seat of a huge Japan Airlines Boeing 777 waiting to take-off for Nagasaki and I was aware I was in a very foreign place. Yet not in a bad way, no anxiety or stress, more an amazement at how life seems to work in Japan.

Earlier I had arrived on an intercontinental flight from Europe, and headed to the domestic terminal to pick up a domestic service to Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan.

I was getting slightly impatient; I had got the gate a little early, but it was now almost twenty minutes before departure and there was little sign that we were boarding. Then suddenly an immaculately presented crew member walked forward, gently bowed and announced the flight, whilst above her head the digital sign called forward row numbers. Swiftly the passengers politely began to board, the air filling with the cacophony of chimes from the electronic gates, as passengers self-scanned their boarding passes. No scuffles, no pushing, instead an almost graceful movement of people. In less than 15 minutes (that’s at least half the time I’m familiar with in Europe) hundreds of passengers were in their seats, belts buckled, tend the aircraft doors closed, ready to leave. From my seat, I could see rows punctuated with people wearing white surgical-style face masks. There was an ambiance of peace and order. Welcome to Japan.

Here are a few of my suggestions to make the most out of your trip to Nagasaki, and Kyushu island;


Garden Terrace Hotel & Resort – NAGASAKI

The night view of the Nagasaki bay and city skyline is said to be amongst the most striking panoramas in Japan – and one that can be enjoyed at this Kengo Kuma designed hotel (the architect now chosen to build the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games stadium).


Before heading out for dinner, enjoy the hotel’s club lounge for complimentary aperitifs and canapés.

Then in the morning, order the traditional Japanese breakfast; exceptional presentation and flavours.

Taisho-ya Ryokan – URESHINO

Holiday like a local in a ‘Ryokan’ Japanese inn, which celebrate traditional hospitality, cuisine and accommodation.

Upon arriving at the ryokan, I took off my shoes before walking into myguest  minimalist room. The floor was covered in traditional tatami reed matting the colour of golden ripe wheat. In the centre was a low, highly polished table, and two chairs by the full height windows which were beautifully dressed with ‘shōji’ lattice screens of wood and translucent paper. When opened the tranquil view of the courtyard Japanese garden was revealed; a magical scene of a babbling brook that passed by the terrace windows and meandered through the maple and pine trees, amongst which stood ornamental stone lanterns.

There was no bed and not much else in the way of furniture. Here one sleeps on a futon mattress, laid on the floor – it is prepared for guests while they are at dinner.


Good morning from Ureshino, close to the Unzen-Amakusa (Hot Springs) National Park in the south of Japan. We’re in a traditional Ryokan Japanese Inn. Slept on a futon on the mat floor and now starting the morning with green tea overlooking the garden. When one checks-in, guests are given a Yukata, which is like a kimono, but more informal and made of cotton. One wears it through most the stay; at meals, to the hot spring baths, and relaxing in the room. Shoes are left in the vestibule of the guest room and one wears slippers in the Inn and barefoot or socks when in the rooms. . . . #japanesestyle #japanesegarden #unzen #visitkyushu #kyushu #ryokan #japaneseinn #hotels #japanese #japan #asia #morning #goodmorning #travel #instatravel #wunderlust #yakuta #globetrotter #globewanderer #beautifulhotels #passionpassport #jetsetter #designhotels #tastemaker #tasteintravel #luxurylifestyle

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Afterwards dress in a ‘Yukata’ cotton gown, and then enjoy a dinner of ‘kaiseki ryori’ gourmet cuisine.

Start your meal toasting with plum wine and then expect multiple courses of exquisitely presented local and seasonal Kyushu dishes, such as noodles, sashimi; cooked salmon; Nagasaki wagyu beef; and miso soup with tofu.

Breakfast is equally special, and included tofu prepared individually at the table, boiled in an earthenware dish of local thermal spring water.

Shinsen Ryokan – TAKACHIHO

Takachiho Gorge is one of Kyushu’s natural wonders.  Nearby is this stylish traditional ryokan, with a beautiful Japanese garden, and a myriad of outdoor traditional hot tubs in which to relax.

Unzen Kanko Hotel – UNZEN

The Unzen Kanko Hotel, within the popular Unzen hot springs area dates  to  1935 and still retains a wonderful nostalgic ambiance, a fusion of Japanese service with European vintage style.


Seven Stars Cruising Train – FUKUOKA

The Seven Stars is a ‘one-of-a-kind’. Japan’s first luxury cruising sleeper train has a timeless elegance akin to the word’s classic luxury trains. However, this is Kyushu, so expect quintessential Japanese style, from exquisite ‘kumiko’ wooden latticework in the carriages; delicate paper shoji window screens; to elaborate meals prepared with typical Japanese attention to detail.

The 1 or 3 night itineraries, starting in Fukuoka, showcase the culture, scenery and cuisine of Kyushu in elite luxury. It’s an exceptional way to cover some of the islands more than 3000 kms of track, and enjoy private excursions – including the Hanami (to enjoy the famous Sakura cherry blossoms); and a unique behind the scenes look at the world-famous historic Kakiemon porcelain kiln in Arita.

Dining is exceptional, including a gala dinner.

Dejima Island – NAGASAKI

A visit to Dejima is a compelling way to learn just how significant Nagasaki is within Japan’s history. For centuries, the country was isolated from the world due to its ‘Sakoku’ policy, where Shoguns forbid citizens to leave Japan or foreigners to visit. From the 17th century, Nagasaki was the only city with international cultural and commercial exchange, thanks to permitted commerce with Dutch traders housed on the Dejima artificial island, built away from the city’s citizens.

Atomic Bomb Museum – NAGASAKI

One could dedicate an entire guide to this peace museum and still not do it justice. For many, Nagasaki is synonymous with the atomic bomb; the US exploded ‘Fatman’ above the city on 9 August, 1945. Since then, Nagasaki has become a focal point of the peace movement.

The museum’s mantra is that Nagasaki must be the last place on earth where a nuclear bomb was used in conflict. In addition to the moving exhibits, the museum is also a place for remaining survivors to share their testimonies. Whilst I was the museum I met Ms. Sakue Shimohira, one of the survivors of the atomic bomb attack on the city of Nagasaki by the United States on 9 August 1945.

Meet Ms. Sakue Shimohira, one of the survivors of the #atomic bomb attack on #Nagasaki, #Japan by the United States on 9 August 1945. By chance we met her in the corridor of the museum. She had just been giving her testimony of that day to a group of school children. As the years pass, fewer survivors remain alive, but those that do are passionate about sharing a message of peace with the next generation. Hiroshima may be the focus of political statements and citizen protest, but but Nagasaki, as a focal point for nuclear disarmament, offers a clear message: ‘Nagasaki MUST be the last place exposed to an atomic bomb’. A simple yet powerful message. Ms. Sakue Shimohira, despite her age, frailty, and ongoing health issues due to the effects of radiation exposure, continues to do all she can to share that message. Over 150,000 people were killed by The ‘Fat Boy’ bomb – many more would have died if the topology of this mountainous region had not contained the heat, blast and radiation. She is holding on to chains of origami storks, the national bird of Japan, made from folded paper, the enduring icon and symbol of peace for modern Japan. . (Of course there is so much more to Nagasaki than it’s part in modern history. It was the trading centre of the empire and was the only place in Japan for centuries where contact with the outside world, other religions and cultures was tolerated in the name of trade. From here Japan developed not only its industry but its zen culture and so much more. The Dutch of course were here for centuries, and the Brits too for a while. ). #VisitNagasaki #Nagasaki #Japan #Peace #nagasakiatomicbombmuseum #survivor #humanstories #origami #travel #instatravel #instapassport #Asia #instatraveling #visitkyushu #kyushu

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Nearby is the peace park where one can see hundreds of origami papaer cranes, the symbol of peace.

And beyond that is the  hypocentre of the blast. (Nagasaki is no longer radioactive as the bomb exploded in the air and the radiation was dispersed and now, 70 years later background radiation is normal).

Unzen-Amakusa National Park – UNZEN

The island of Kyushu is home to the protected Unzen-Amakusa hot springs reserves. The Unzen part of the park was opened in the early 1930s, making it Japan’s first National Park. Here, in the shadow of the immense Mt Unzen, you can discover the hot springs known as ‘Unzen Jigoku’ or hell springs, as they spit, scream and boil. There are plenty of self-guided walks to take you through the steamy landscapes.

Towards the end of March, in nearby Chijiwa and Unzen City is celebrated the spectacular ‘Kanoukaen’ fire festival  which sees over 200 participants dressed as samurai warriors parading through streets lined with blossoming cherry trees.

Hashima Island

As extraordinary, deserted island. Built towards the end of the 19th century to house miners who exploited the underwater mines, the island declined from 1959, and was abandoned in the 1970s. You will recignise it from scenes in movies, including James Bond movie Skyfall.

Zen Meditation, Shugakuin Temple – YOSHINOGARI

Zen mediation came to Japan, via China, through Nagasaki. Try it here in an authentic temple, guided by a priest.

But be warned, like most things in Japan, it is taken very seriously and whilst you sit, expect to bow as the priest passes, so he can strike your back (compassionately he says) with a wooden stick to prevent lapses in concentration!  But no hard feelings; afterwards the priest Taijun Noguchi, and his wife welcome you into their home next door for green tea and sweet cakes!

Fukuchiyo Sake Brewery – KASHIMA

Sake, Japan’s national drink remains a novelty to most westerners. Fukuchiyo brewery, with its striking contemporary architect-designed interiors and  historic architecture, is a memorable place to not only find out how sake is made (from fermented rice using a special mould, called ‘koji-kin’) but one where you can try their premium sake including Nabeshima.

This historic Hizen Hamashuku area of Kashima holds an annual sake festival at the end of March.

Hiking – Kyushu Olle

Kyushu has an established network of hiking trails, many incorporating historic pilgrimage routes to shrines and temples, that take in wonderful scenery from graceful bamboo forests to active springs.


Sakamotoya Japanese Restaurant – NAGASAKI

This charming Japanese restaurant, where you are greeted and served by the traditional ‘Okattsama’ owner and hostess, offers gourmet ‘Shippoku’ cuisine. Through centuries of trade with China, Europe and beyond, the local cuisine reflects Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish influences. Sharing plates include sweet tender pork belly; lobster; as well as Japanese staples including sea snails, miso, and sashimi.

Remember, you must leave you shoes at the door, and wear the slippers provided by the restaurant!

Kairakuen – NAGASAKI

Nagasaki has one of the largest Chinatowns in Japan. It may sound odd to come all the way to Japan to eat Chinese food, but here it’s truly unique – a style of fusion cuisine that dates to the Japanese Edo period. Try the Saraudon with small, crispy noodles; or the Champon with vegetables.

Mohikan Ramen – KURUME

If you want to eat noodles with finesse in Japan, then you need to learn to slurp! Deftly using chop sticks to fold the noodles into your mouth whilst making a loud slurping noise is the only way to enjoy ramen noodles, a speciality in Kyushu. Head to this noodle diner, run by charismatic chef owner Kawazu Yuta. Order your meal from the vending machine (just press the button with the picture you like, pay, and then take your ticket to the bar). Within moments you’ll have piping hot noodles in tasty broth with vegetables, pork or even crispy chicken.

If you would like to follow my travels, you can find me on Twitter, Instagam, Google+ . I am Andrew Forbes, a Marketing Commmunications expert, who writes frequently on travel & lifestyle.

Andrew Forbes

Andrew Forbes, Travel and Lifestyle Marketing Communications Consultant and Travel Editor

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Andrew ForbesTravel and Lifestyle Marketing Communications Consultant | Travel Editor and Content Writer Web: Twitter: @andrewaforbes Instagram: @andrewaforbes and @luxurynavigatorView all posts by Andrew Forbes »