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
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
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.
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.
The rooms are also comfortable, mixing modern and traditional design and decor.
What to Eat In Shimabara – Local Culinary Specialties
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!
You can have Guzoni everywhere in Shimabara but I recommend the Hime Matsuya restaurant (exact location here); it’s their specialty.
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.
The Best Things To Do Shimabara
Visit Shimabara Castle
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).
Explore The Old Samurai District
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.
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.
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.
Learn More About The Koi Fish Culture At Seiryu-tei
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.
In the street right behind the Seiryu-tei center, you can see the famous Japanese Koi fish swimming freely in the drains. Astonishing, right?
So Koi fish have become the symbol of Shimabara and they are referred to in many local products.
Relax At The Spring Garden Shimeiso
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.
You can even spot some parts of Mount Unzen from Shimeiso. Picturesque to say the least!
Meditate At Gyokuho-Ji Temple
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.
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.