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Autumn Leaves and Pottery

Immerse yourself in History and Nature in Nagasaki’s Shimabara and Unzen Regions

What better time of year is there to enjoy the richness of nature’s offerings than autumn? Breathing in crisply fresh air while strolling through fiery autumnal treescapes is a pleasure anywhere—but particularly when combined with the fascinating history and dramatic natural offerings that you’ll find in Nagasaki prefecture’s Shimabara peninsula. Beginning in the city of Shimabara along the peninsula’s eastern shores, you will visit a district that tells the history of samurai warriors in 1600s Japan. You’ll next venture further inland to the city of Unzen, where you will experience a gorgeous mountain pass via a ropeway-operated gondola, before ending your day at an onsen village to experience a hot springs bath and a traditional meal at a ryokan inn.
Nagasaki’s Shimabara and Unzen Regions | Arita, Kanzaki and Asakura

Time-travel back to the Edo era at Shimabara Bukeyashiki (samurai residence district)

Start your autumn adventure in this tranquil neighborhood, home to lower-ranking samurai warriors, while Shimabara Castle was built during the 1620s. As this particular class of fighter mostly used firearms, the area is also known as teppo machi (gun town). Stroll through the local streets and admire the waterways running down the middle, used as water for drinking and daily necessities. Also, note the beautiful vegetation alongside the road, including clusters of banana and persimmon trees, as well as kinmokusei (fragrant olive), which are particularly aromatic during autumn. Stop by any of the three restored homes open to visitors, which belong to the Shinozuka, Torita, and Yamamoto families, to feel what life was like back in the town’s heyday.

Travel into the clouds on the Unzen Ropeway

Next, head inland toward the Unzen Amakusa National Park, around 45 minutes’ drive, to experience autumn’s blazing colors to the fullest via a ride skyward on the Unzen Ropeway. Running between the Nita Pass and Myokendake stations, the ropeway gondola is operated manually and features sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, along with foliage of azaleas and several species of maples. Once you’ve reached Myokendake, you’ll want to bundle up warm since the wind can be brisk—although this, of course, adds to the thrill of being amidst such vast surroundings. Enjoy spectacular scenes of nature at play, including masses of fluffy clouds that collide as they seem to encircle you from all directions—pure magnificence.

Unwind with a hot springs soak at Unzen Onsen

A short drive away is the hot spring village of Unzen Onsen, where you will be able to warm yourself down to your bones with a soak in a local hot spring bath at your ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn). The local waters are sulfuric, meaning that it has properties that are said to be immensely healing for the skin, and to help improve blood circulation. After you emerge fresh from your bath, consider having a walk around the village to take in more autumnal foliage, along with the magical sight of steam billowing all around you from the jigoku (hells), which is also used to make steamed eggs. Pay your respects at the monument for Christians, who were martyred here during the country’s ban on the faith during the Edo era.

Enjoy the best of Japanese-style accommodation

If this is the first time you have experienced a stay at a Japanese ryokan, or traditional inn, you are in for a most sumptuous treat. This is also the case for repeat visitors since the experience never fails to thrill. Be sure to come to your evening meal with an empty stomach since the concept of omotenashi (hospitality) is taken very seriously here. This means meals will leave most first-time visitors incredulous at the size of the spread lying before them, as well as its gorgeous artistry. At our local inn, creativity takes on ryokan fare included a yomogi (mugwort) minced-meat dumpling in clear broth garnished with goji berries and chrysanthemum petals; garlic-accented strips of grilled beef; and a tiny ayu (sweetfish) with an accompaniment of marron glacée. Look out for touches of autumn since attention to seasonal styling is another signature feature of ryokan cuisine. One final word of counsel: remember that breakfast is only a few hours away, which means a repeat of the bountiful food to be placed before you. Since onsen bathing also promotes good digestion, consider taking another bath before bed or early in the morning. Or, while you’re on vacation: why not both?


10:00 - 12:00
Visit the Shimabara Bukeyashiki (samurai residence district)
12:00 – 13:00
Lunch at Green Terrace Unzen (or other local eateries)
13:00 – 14:30
Unzen Ropeway (Nita Pass to Myokendake stations)
Check in to your ryokan at Unzen Onsen
Bathe in an onsite onsen
Enjoy a walk around Unzen Onsen village
Relax before dinner
Feast on your evening ryokan meal *or time specified by your inn
Have one more bath before bedtime

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