The northwestern region of Kyushu has for centuries been inseparably linked with the outside world. This is no more evident than in the city of Nagasaki, where one can appreciate the solemnity of Oura Church, the oldest standing Christian church in Japan, feast on Chinese-influenced Nagasaki Champon and stroll through the gardens of Glover House, the country’s oldest Western-style building. This is not to say that traditional delights are in short supply. The region produces some of Japan’s most prized ceramics and green tea, is steeped in Shinto history and sake culture, and boasts the country’s No. 1 night market for street food. There’s a lot to see and do across Japan, but you’ll be forgiven if you think you’ve found it all in northwestern Kyushu.
From Nagasaki Port head to the Nagasaki Peace Park, which commemorates the atomic bombing of the city in 1945. Spend some time here reflecting on the significance of the event. Not far from the Peace Park is Glover Garden, an open-air museum with sweeping views of the city, and Glover House, the country’s oldest Western-style building. Within walking distance is Oura Church. Built in 1864, the church is considered the oldest standing Christian church in Japan.
Later, stop by a nearby eatery to lunch on Nagasaki Champon, a dish of meat, vegetables and noodles that has its roots in the city’s Chinese community. After lunch head to the Hizen Hamajuku sake brewery avenue for a stroll through a district that was once a major sake-producing area. Visit an extant sake brewery to enjoy sake tasting and be sure to try some of the sweets the brewery makes.
Your next stop is Yutoku Inari Shrine, considered one of Japan's three great shrines dedicated to the Inari Shinto deity. From the shrine’s main hall a walking trail leads to the shrine’s oku-no-in (inner sanctuary) from where there are magnificent views of the Ariake Sea.
Spend the night at a ryokan at the hot spring town of Ureshino Onsen. The spring water here is recognized as one of three in Japan that is most beneficial for the skin. Relish a dinner that makes full use of the celebrated Saga beef as well as seafood from the Ariake Sea.
After breakfast leave for the morning market held daily beside Yobuko harbor. A stroll around the market is a great way to become acquainted with market traders and their wares.
Your next stop is Hamanoura, where the famed rice terraces descend the hillsides like steps leading to the Genkai Sea. The view is particularly spectacular between mid-April and early May, when the setting sun casts an orange glow across the surface of the sea and the freshly planted fields, which are deep in water.
From Hamanoura proceed to Karatsu, a coastal city known for its fine Karatsu-yaki ceramics. After lunch return to the ryokan for a leisurely afternoon.
In the morning set out for a tea plantation in Ureshino, where you can enjoy tea tasting in a beautifully crafted “tea space” erected within a tea field and with views as far as the eye can see.
Later, visit a number of Arita-yaki kilns for a closer look at the much-vaunted ceramic style before heading to the secluded pottery village of Okawachiyama, where there are around 30 kilns that still produce authentic Nabeshima ceramics.
From Okawachiyama, travel to Fukuoka. Before bedding down for the night at the Grand Hyatt Fukuoka, relish a less upscale side to the city at Japan’s street food mecca. Be sure to bring your drinking hat, as some of Kyushu’s best sakes are readily available.
After breakfast leave for Fukuoka Airport or Hakata Station to continue on your journey.