Shimabara – Let’s Explore The Beautiful “Koi Fish Town”

Shimabara Japan - Old Samurai District 5

Shimabara is located at the eastern tip of the peninsula of the same name, in Nagasaki prefecture. This peninsula was formed following the eruptions of the Unzen volcano at the center of it. Shimabara is the most important city on the peninsula and a unique place I loved visiting!

One of its main characteristics is the amazing quality of its water springs. Shimabara’s spring water is so clean that Japanese carp can live in the city’s pipes! That’s why people call it Koi fish town by the way.

Let’s first find out how to get to Shimabara and where you can stay. We’ll talk more about the city’s cuisine and must-visit attractions later.

How To Go To Shimabara

Nagasaki To Shimabara Train

To go to Shimabara from Nagasaki, the most convenient way is the train. You should first take the JR Nagasaki Line to Isahaya Station, then transfer to the Shimabara Railway and stop at Shimabara Station. The trip takes about 2 hours and costs 1940 yen.

From Fukuoka, it will be easier to take the Highway bus which goes directly to Shimabara in 3 hours, from the Hakata terminal. A one-way ticket costs 3040 yen and the round trip costs 4820 yen.

Where To Stay In Shimabara

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Hotel Nampuro 3

If you’re planning to spend a few days in Shimabara, I recommend you book at the Nampuro hotel! It’s a seaside hotel where you can enjoy beautiful views from your room and the onsen.

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Hotel Nampuro 3

The onsen of this hotel are a sight to behold! There are different types with indoor and outdoor baths (rotemburo) and a view of the sea.

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Hotel Nampuro 3

The rooms are also comfortable, mixing modern and traditional design and decor.

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Hotel Nampuro 3

Book at Nampuro Hotel here >>

What to Eat In Shimabara – Local Culinary Specialties

Guzoni Soup

Shimabara Japan - Soup Guzoni Restaurant Hime Matsuya 1

One of Shimabara’s great culinary specialties is Guzoni! It is a soup with quite a few ingredients including mochi (rice paste), vegetables, burdock roots, shiitake mushrooms, fried egg, and chicken. A treat to eat!

Shimabara Japan - Soup Guzoni Restaurant Hime Matsuya 1

You can have Guzoni everywhere in Shimabara but I recommend the Hime Matsuya restaurant (exact location here); it’s their specialty.

Castella

Shimabara Japan - Castella Matsui 1

We’re in Nagasaki so make sure to have some Castella. it’s a cake that Portuguese missionaries brought to Japan in the 16th century. You can find some at the store Matsui (exact location here) where they are freshly baked and sold.

Shimabara Japan - Castella Matsui 1

The Best Things To Do Shimabara

Visit Shimabara Castle

Shimabara Japan - Castle Shimabara 1

Shimabara Castle (exact location here) is a beautiful white castle built in the early Edo period to protect the feudal lord but the construction was very expensive so the local government increased the taxes to finance the project. This oppression of the town’s peasants was a major factor leading to the Shimabara Rebellion.

The persecution of the local Christians, and there were many of them at the time, was another important reason for this popular uprising. Inside the castle, there are ancient artifacts with Christian references (crosses for example).

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Castle Entrance

Explore The Old Samurai District

Shimabara Japan - Old Samurai District 1

The former residence of the Shimabara Samurai (exact location here) is not far from the castle. These warriors lived next to the castle to protect their lord from potential attacks.

Shimabara Japan - Old Samurai District 3

Many old Samurai houses have been preserved in this beautiful historical area and you can even visit some of them to get an idea of how these warriors lived in the Edo period.

Shimabara Japan - Old Samurai District 3

The Samurai district of Shimabara is a picturesque spot. We met a pretty young lady there who was celebrating her 20th birthday wearing a nice yellow Kimono. This ceremony is called Seijinshiki in Japanese.

Shimabara Japan - Old Samurai District 4

Learn More About The Koi Fish Culture At Seiryu-tei

Shimabara Japan - Seiryu-tei Japanese Carps Koi 1

Let’s get to those Japanese Koi fish, shall we? The best place to learn more about these fish is Seiryu-tei (exact location here) which is kind of an information center. There are also a few of them swimming peacefully in the small pond you see above.

Koi culture developed in Shimabara to draw the attention of visitors to the quality of its water sources.  Shimabara’s water is one of the 100 best in Japan and you can find natural drinking water springs all over the city.

Shimabara Japan - Seiryu-tei Japanese Carps Koi 2

In the street right behind the Seiryu-tei center, you can see the famous Japanese Koi fish swimming freely in the drains. Astonishing, right?

Shimabara Japan - Seiryu-tei Japanese Carps Koi 3

So Koi fish have become the symbol of Shimabara and they are referred to in many local products.

Shimabara Japan - Seiryu-tei Carpes Koi 1

Relax At The Spring Garden Shimeiso

Shimabara Japan - Spring Garden Shimeiso 4

Shimeiso is a wonderful traditional Japanese house surrounded by a beautiful garden where spring water flows. It is a place that has a serene and relaxing atmosphere so make sure to visit it and drink a matcha tea there. It is located here and the entrance fee is 310 yen.

Shimabara Japan - Spring Garden Shimeiso 1

You can even spot some parts of Mount Unzen from Shimeiso. Picturesque to say the least!

Shimabara Japan - Spring Garden Shimeiso 3

Meditate At Gyokuho-Ji Temple

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Temple Gyokuho 1

Let’s try a Za Zen meditation session at the Gyokuho-Ji, located south of the peninsula (exact location here) to round off this tour of Shimabara. The temple’s monk speaks very good English so he can answer all the questions you have about Buddhism and the practice of Za Zen.

Shimabara Nagasaki Japan - Temple Gyokuho 2

He also hosts breakfasts where he teaches how to eat a meal, “zen style”. A truly unique experience!

That’s all I had to tell you about Shimabara. I hope it inspires you to visit this beautiful part of Japan.

To continue exploring Nagasaki Prefecture, I also recommend you to have a look at Unzen Onsen Town.

Cheers!

MF

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