Contemplating the history of the island and their spectacular scenery: A trip to Fukue Island of the Goto Islands in Nagasaki Prefecture, Part 1
Nagasaki Prefecture in Kyushu has the most islands in Japan. There are as many as 971 islands! Among numerous islands with a richly diverse features such as Iki Island, Tsushima Island, and the Goto Islands, the Goto Islands are especially famous for their being the composite site of the “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region,” inscribed as World Heritage sites in 2018. (The Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region comprise 12 locations connected to the distinctive cultural tradition of Hidden Christians.)
This article introduces you to the highlights of my visit to Fukue Island, the southernmost island of the Goto Islands.
I was born in Kagoshima Prefecture and have lived in different parts of Kyushu. A lover of food, sake, and hot springs in Kyushu, my goal is to become a “Sen-nin” (hot spring master), the highest rank for those who accomplish the “Tour of the Eighty-eight Hot Springs in Kyushu.” I hope to convey the fascinating aspects of Japan while featuring my beloved homeland Kyushu!
I took the jetfoil of Kyushu Shosen from Nagasaki Port to Fukue Port this time. Nagasaki Port is located in Nagasaki City; you can get there from Nagasaki Airport by taking an airport limousine, and from Nagasaki Station, by taking a tram or a taxi. It takes about one hour and a half by jetfoil from Nagasaki Port to Fukue Port. The trip to Fukue Island was fairly fast.
Kyushu Shosen offers return trips between Nagasaki and Fukue, local tourist guides, and a collection of tour packages with accommodation. I recommend Kyushu Shosen’s services, especially for you who visit the Goto Islands for the first time or wish to take a guided tour at the World Heritage sites.
“Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” are a composite group of sites that bears testimony to the “Kaukure Kirishitan” (hidden Christians) who secretly continued their religious practice while coexisting with Japanese traditional religions and the general public in the Nagasaki and Amakusa regions, when Christianity, introduced to Japan in the mid-16th century, was prohibited and its followers were persecuted by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The sites were inscribed as World Heritage sites in July 2018.
The Goto Islands have two of the components of the World Heritage sites: “Villages on Hisaka Island” and “Egami Village on Naru Island.” Though there are no component sites on Fukue Island, the island is still home to numerous churches, the places of worship for the local Christians, including Dozaki Catholic Church which was the base of missionary activities in the Goto Islands. At these churches, you may find how the hidden Christians, who were harshly persecuted, survived and continued their faith during their long, hard journey. Several Western-style churches with clay-tiled roofs embody a fusion of the Western church building and traditional Japanese architecture. I will introduce you to the churches of Fukue Island.
In 1877, four years after the official lifting of the prohibition, two French missionaries, fathers Fraineau and Marmand, were sent to the Goto Islands for missionary work. Father Marmand built Dozaki Church in 1897, the first church in this area. The original church building was made of wood and it was rebuilt in bricks in 1908, which is what it is today. Designated as a Prefectural Tangible Cultural Property, Dozaki Church is an iconic church in the Goto Islands. The church building is open to the public as a museum that houses various artifacts and documents about the hidden Christians under oppression.
Mizunoura Church was built in 1880 on the hill with a panoramic view of Mizunoura Bay. Rebuilt in 1938, it is one of the largest wooden churches in Japan. The inside of the church with a white color scheme will strike you with its splendid rib vault ceiling and the soft light coming through the brightly colored stained-glass windows.
Kusuhara Church is a brick building constructed in 1912. The inside is wooden with a white color scheme but it is the Goto Island’s third oldest Western-style church with a rib vault ceiling and stained-glass windows.
The churches I visited were all constructed after the official lifting of prohibition of Christianity in 1873. The villages finally returned to Catholicism, and the believers, who had gone through hardship but never given up the faith, built these churches. I could realize their strong willpower which enabled them to bear up under long-lasting persecution including cruel tortures.
Please check the companion article about other spots I recommend besides the churches of Fukue Island!
*The information herein is as of October 2021.