• 2022/02/07
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Ⅴ. Ocean and Islands

Ⅴ. Ocean and Islands

by:  Vicki L. Beyer


Kyushu encompasses not only the southernmost of Japan's four main islands but also the myriad of small islands that surround it. There is no part of Kyushu that is not impacted by its proximity to the sea, but for the smaller islands, it is the ocean that dictates the rhythms and pace of daily life and provides many wonderful experiences for visitors.


Nagasaki Prefecture, in the northwest of Kyushu, includes more islands than any other prefecture in Japan: 971. Several of these islands are quite large and have developed their own fascinating customs and cultures.


The Border Islands of Iki and Tsushima


Iki and Tsushima have long histories as the stepping stones across which humans migrated between Japan and the Korean Peninsula (see "Gateway"). They form part of a Japan Heritage site known as "The Border Islands of Iki, Tsushima, and Goto - The Ancient Bridge to the Continent."


Tsushima sits in the Tsushima Strait between Kyushu and Korea, actually closer to Korea than Japan. On a clear day, one can even see Korea from the observation deck at Waniura on the northern tip of the island, less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) away. One of the most popular ways to reach Tsushima is by ferry from Busan on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. There are also ferries from Hakata Port and flights from both Nagasaki and Fukuoka.


The majority of Tsushima people are involved in fishing and farming.. Their island is 90% steep mountains and deep forests. Historically the inhabitants key to survival was trade, with both Korea and Kyushu. This has left them with a culture and a history that is more ethnically diverse than other parts of Kyushu, with Korean and other Asian influences more visible. A good place to learn more about this history and see some incredible artifacts is the Tsushima History & Folk Customs Museum in the old castle town of Izuhara, one of two ports for ferries from the Kyushu mainland. Izuhara boasts several sites preserving its medieval history.


Perhaps related to the island's historical role as cultural receptor, people in Tsushima now share their unique lifestyles by offering "nohaku" (farm stays), accommodation in a family environment and the chance to help out around the farm, particularly planting or harvesting vegetables and learning how the vegetables are prepared. There is also an island-wide experience program that allows visitors to try their hand at various aspects of traditional island life, including forest care, fishing, farming and food preparation.


A popular way to enjoy Tsushima's beautiful coastline is by sea kayak at Aso Bay, an island-dotted bay at the narrowest point on the island. The clarity of the water is enough to cause a kayaker to lose concentration, but there are also boat cruises of the bay for those who just want to enjoy the ride. You can take in a bird's eye view by hiking (or driving) to the top of nearby Eboshi-dake. From the observation deck at the top, visitors can enjoy 360 degree views of the lush green folds of Tsushima's mountains and the beautiful blue seas that surround the island.


Some visitors prefer snorkeling or just relaxing on the white sandy beaches of Mitsushima or Miuda. Hiking and bird watching are also popular activities with tourists. Tsushima boasts some unique flora and fauna, including the endangered Tsushima Leopard Cat. This bobcat-like creature is a bit hard to spot in the wild but visitors are guaranteed to see them at the Wildlife Conservation Center at Saozaki Park in northern Tsushima.


The island of Iki, the second "stepping stone" for those earlier travellers from the Asian mainland, is quite different from Tsushima, being flatter and broader. Like Tsushima, though, much of the rhythm of its daily life is centered on the sea. Fishing is a major industry on Iki, and visitors will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy its fresh seafood. Take a walk along any fishing harbor and call out a cheery greeting to make instant friends with the local fishermen.


Expansive white, sandy beaches are a particular feature of Iki, to the delight of sunbathers and surfers alike. In some places, visitors can try stand-up paddleboarding or snorkeling. The Iki Dolphin Park and Resort has captive dolphins in the relatively natural environment of a small inlet, providing tourists with a chance to meet and even feed the dolphins. Nearby, you can take a boat cruise around Tatsunoshima, one of the small islands just off Iki's north shore, for spectacular views of rocky cliffs pockmarked with caves carved by wave action over thousands of years.


Iki was not only a historical transit point, people moving between the Asian mainland and Kyushu began settling on this island in prehistoric times. It is the site of one of the kingdoms of “Wa" referred to by Chinese historians more than two thousand years ago. There are several places on Iki where this rich history can be explored. The Haranotsuji Ikikoku Park is an archaeological site on the island where some ancient structures have been rebuilt to allow visitors to better visualize life in those bygone times. Nearby is the Haranotsuji Guidance Center, where visitors can  enjoy a hands on experience making magatama beads (a popular decoration with pre-historical people) or even planting rice. On the other side of the river to the northeast, don't miss the expansive Ikikoku Museum, with its numerous artifacts of Iki's long and varied history.


Iki is also dotted with ancient kofun burial mounds (see "Gateway" for more on kofun). Many of these tumuli were made by first constructing dolmen out of boulders carved into massive rectangular blocks and placed on top of each other. The dolmen were then covered with earth. Unusually, a number of these kofun were left open after being excavated, so that visitors can actually go inside. About a dozen kofun, individually and in clusters, sit just north of the island's center, in the Ashibe district. You can learn more at the nearby Iki Fudoki-no-Oka Tumuli Museum.


Goto Islands and the Hidden Christians


The third set of islands considered as "Border Islands" is the Goto archipelago that sits due west of Nagasaki Prefecture. The islands are home to lush vegetation, white sand beaches and scenic rocky coastlines. Like the Kyushu mainland, the Goto Islands also have their origins with volcanoes. The islands were formed around 900,000 years ago. The highest volcanic peak, Onidake cinder cone on Fukue Island at the south end of the archipelago, is only 315 meters above sea level. Although it is still considered active, it is thought to have last erupted in 400BC. 


The Goto Islands became significant to Japan's contact with China in the seventh and eighth centuries when sailing techniques developed so that it became possible to sail across the East China Sea. However, most ships still preferred to island hop where possible, and the Goto Islands were an obvious place to stop, particularly in preparation for the long crossing westward to the east coast of China. In addition,  storms and high seas frequently made it necessary for both inbound and outbound vessels to lay up in the inlets of the Islands. The Buddhist monks who made this crossing for the opportunity to learn more about Buddhist philosophy (known as "Kentoshi") are said to have regularly offered prayers for a safe journey.


The Kentoshi Furusatokan on Fukue, the southernmost of the Goto Islands, is an interesting local museum-cum-souvenir shopping and restaurant complex. Visitors can take a close look at a scale model of those early sailing ships for a sense of just how frightening a crossing in high seas must have been. Additionally, the museum's theatre plays an animated adventure story about the crossings made by the Kentoshi.  Narrated by a mannequin version of the great Kobo Daishi himself (see "Gateway") the film really brings those ancient times to life.


The Goto Islands and other islands off Kyushu's west coast (including the Amakusa Islands in modern-day Kumamoto Prefecture) also played a significant role in another stage of Japan's history, the persecution and eventual re-emergence of Christianity in the region. Sites associated with these historical events have recently received a UNESCO World Heritage listing as the "Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region." Understanding the story behind these special places helps us to appreciate how unique they truly are.


Christianity was first introduced to Kyushu by Portuguese Jesuits in the 16th century (see "Gateway"). Within just a few decades, the religion had attracted converts from all classes of Kyushu society. Several local lords in Kyushu were baptized and the common folk followed suit. This happened during Japan's Warring States period, when several warlords were vying for control. After Ieyasu Tokugawa emerged the victor and consolidated all of Japan under Tokugawa control in 1603, he became concerned that the influence of outsiders such as Western traders and Christian missionaries could interfere with his ability to govern. In 1612, the Tokugawa government issued an anti-Christian proclamation that forbade proselytization and ordered churches destroyed. When this proved to be insufficient, Christianity was outlawed in the 1630s.


In spite of the ban, Christians continued to practice their faith. They also banded together to take political action, including a protest of unjust taxation in 1637-38 known as the Shimabara Rebellion. In what has become the largest civil conflict ever to occur in Japan, tens of thousands of Christian peasants took over Hara Castle on Nagasaki's Shimabara Peninsula but were ultimately defeated by over 100,000 troops of the shogunate. One place to learn more about this event is the Amakusa Shiro Memorial Hall in Kami-Amakusa. Many of the defeated Christians were tortured in the nearby hot springs and ultimately executed (See "Onsen").


Following the Shimabara Rebellion, the shogunate strictly enforced its ban on Christianity, adopting various policies that required known Christians to apostatize or be killed. That was the end of Christianity in Japan...or so it seemed.


Nearly 250 years later, Christian missionaries were again permitted into Japan as it modernized and Westernized. French missionaries built the Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, purportedly to serve the growing foreign community in the city. One day in 1865, Father Bernard Petitjean, the priest at Oura, heard a little knock at the back door and opened it to find some 15 Japanese men and women who confessed to him their Catholic faith, a faith held in secret and passed down through generations for nearly 250 years.


Before long thousands of people, later referred to as Hidden Christians ("kakure kirishitan"), all across Kyushu's west coast and particularly on its off-shore islands, were coming out of hiding. In fact, the ban on Christianity wasn't lifted until 1873 and many of those who came out of hiding prematurely were arrested, exiled to other parts of Japan, tortured, and otherwise punished for their faith.


How had these people managed to conceal their Christian beliefs, and yet preserve them, for more than two centuries? It is a story aided by faith, perseverance and geography.


There is only oral history to go on, but it is known that the people unwilling to give up their Christian beliefs developed a number of ways to conceal their true faith and instead appear to be practitioners of Shintoism and Buddhism just like their friends and neighbors.


One very strict practice employed by the shogunate was to have inspectors travel from village to village forcing everyone to place their foot (the lowest and most disrespectful part of the body) on a metal Christian image called "fumi-e".  The thinking was that Christians would be unable to take such a disrespectful action, and so anyone who refused would be tortured or killed. This practice was portrayed in Martin Scorsese's 2016 movie "Silence" (based on the 1966 novel by Japanese writer Endo Shusaku).


In many instances, however, this turned out not to be the case. Instead, some Christians decided to go ahead and "trample" the fumi-e rather than perish. They would atone for that sin by subsequently washing the offending foot and drinking the used water. It sounds a bit unsanitary, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Fortunately, thanks to the remoteness of many island villages, especially those in the Goto Islands, the inspectors did not visit very often.


Forced to register at local temples and otherwise adopt Shinto and Buddhist practices, many Christians took to using Buddhist statues as effigies of objects of their Christian faith. In particular, Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, was worshiped as a surrogate for Mary, mother of Christ. A number of these statues are displayed in museums relating to Hidden Christians across western Kyushu, including the 26 Martyrs Museum in Nagasaki and the Amakusa Christian Museum in Hondo on Amakusa Shimoshima.


Small groups of Christians found ways to worship in secret using lay priests or community leaders and gathering in small numbers in private homes when they were confident they would not attract attention to themselves. No written records could be kept of their activities, for fear of discovery, so the liturgy was passed orally from generation to generation. Like a game of Chinese whispers, over time, some words and beliefs were mistaken or altered.


From the close associations with Shinto and Buddhist practices as well as the variations of the oral tradition, over time the religion practiced by the Hidden Christians became a syncretic one, blending Christian, Shinto and Buddhist beliefs.


Consequently, when the Hidden Christians were examined by Catholic missionaries, their beliefs were judged to no longer be consistent with the practices of the Catholic church. Some Hidden Christians, anxious to be reunited with the church, chose to follow the accepted Catholic teachings, while others were uncomfortable doing so. While they fervently believe themselves to be Christians, these people wanted to continue to worship in the syncretic way they had done for generations. Still referred to as Hidden Christians, or sometimes as "Separated Christians", they are an ever-dwindling community predominantly located on the Goto Islands who continue to worship with lay leaders and using a liturgy that is an unusual combination of Japanese, Latin and Portuguese words, although at least now it's written down.

According to 31-year-old Shingo Fukaura, 8th generation lay leader of the Hidden Christian Kiri Furusato Church on Nakadori, one of the northern Goto Islands, a century ago there were 400 households participating in his church. Today there are only 32, a parish of less than 100 people. They still worship in private homes, rather than having a separate church building. 


Fukaura-san also explained that during the period when Christianity was banned, the community had close associations with a local shrine dedicated to mountain gods. While this shrine had all the appearances of being a Shinto shrine, in fact, everyone who used it, including even the miko (shrine maidens), were Christians. The only Shinto among them was a Shinto priest who occasionally visited from outside the community. In other words, from the community's perspective, the shrine was just a cover for their Christian activity.  It came as a blow to them to be told by the Catholic church that their practices were not sufficiently Christian, as they firmly believe themselves to be Christian, even today. According to Fukaura-san, there is some prejudice against Hidden Christians by Catholic Christians, and this,combined with the decreasing population, makes it difficult to continue. Yet, his congregation continues to hope they can one day be reunited with the Catholic church.. 

The Hidden Christians who chose to reunite with the Catholics in the late 19th century were embraced by the church and encouraged to build church buildings where they could openly worship, and so they did! The islands and west coast of Kyushu are dotted with beautiful Catholic churches, mostly built at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century.


A number of these church buildings have been included in the World Heritage Listing, as symbols of the Hidden Christians and the strength of their faith. One of them is Kashiragashima Catholic Church on tiny Kashiragashima Island, one of the Goto Islands near Nakadori. The solid stone successor to an earlier wooden church was built between 1910 and 1919, based on designs by Yosuke Tetsukawa (1879-1976), a native of the Goto Islands and self-taught architect. Although Tetsukawa was Buddhist, he had an innate curiosity about the techniques for building structures with a single large central hall and worked with Western missionaries to learn the essentials and begin his career as a church architect.


Tetsukawa is responsible for designing and overseeing the construction of 30 churches across western Kyushu and participating in the construction of 20 others. A large number of his churches are located across his native Goto Islands and are open to visitors (respectfully, of course). It can be interesting to spend a day exploring the various well known churches, and the islands also have an abundance of natural beauty to be enjoyed. There is decent bus service around the islands, but another option, especially for those focusing on the churches, is to hire a local taxi for half a day. The taxi drivers are friendly and knowledgeable about the churches and the Christian history and eager for their guests to enjoy their visit to Goto. 


Geihinkan Museum in the ferry terminal at Arikawa, is ostensibly a museum centered on the whaling industry that once supported this area, and has a number of interesting exhibits relating to whaling. However, it also has a substantial exhibit on Tetsukawa's architectural work, including a very informative film that analyzes how his skill developed over successive projects.


The Diversity of the Amakusa Islands


Another Tetsukawa-designed church included in the World Heritage Listing is located in Sakitsu on Shimoshima in the Amakusa Islands of Kumamoto Prefecture. While the Hidden Christians who chose to live on the Goto Islands did so because its remoteness would shield them from detection, the people of Sakitsu did not have that luxury. 


The Amakusa Islands are nestled below the Shimabara Peninsula, much closer to the Kyushu mainland. Sakitsu, on the west coast of the island chain, has a fine, deep port that made it a major shipping hub for the islands. During the ban on Christianity, about 70% of the people of Sakitsu were Hidden Christians. Generally, with the cooperation of the rest of the community, these Hidden Christians managed to appear to be Buddhists and often participated in the community activities at the local Shinto shrines in the same way as everyone else. Occasionally they were still found out, but overall the majority of Sakitsu's residents managed to hang on to their hidden faith.


Once the ban on Christianity was lifted, the people of Sakitsu confirmed their Catholicism and set about building a church right next door to Suwa Shrine, Sakitsu's main shrine. This site was later converted to a convent when Tetsukawa built a new brick church in Sakitsu in 1934. Interestingly, the new church was built on the exact spot where the ritual of trampling on a fumi-e was once held to establish that people were not Christian. A particularly notable feature of this church is that it was designed with tatami mat flooring, rather than pews.


The Sakitsu of today is a pretty little fishing village with vistas dominated by the spire of Sakitsu Church overlooking the placid harbor. There are a number of sites across the village commemorating the history of the Hidden Christian period. A visitor center near the bridge at the top of the harbor can provide information and maps. There is also an audio guide in five languages, available as a smartphone app, empowering visitors to wander at will and enjoy the sites, learning about various historic activities associated with them. 


Sakitsu is also a great place to explore the everyday life of a fishing village. Don't miss the statue of the Virgin Mary standing at the mouth of the harbor. It's a popular spot for sunset photos, but picturesque any time of day.


Other Christian-related sites to explore near Sakitsu include the Oe Catholic Church, a stunning white church atop a hill with amazing views down the valley to the sea, and the Amakusa Collegio Museum, with its exhibits relating to aspects of Western culture that came into Kyushu from the 16th century. It even has some of the first books in Japan to be printed on a Gutenburg printing press, and a replica of the press that was imported to Japan in 1591.


The Amakusa Island chain has many other features to recommend, it is a place to enjoy unique and varied island lifestyles and spectacular scenery. There are a number of white, sandy beaches that are especially popular in summer. In the far south, there are sites popular with scuba divers and even a sea turtle nesting ground.


All along the west coast of the islands one can enjoy spectacular sunset views, although there are a few recommended spots to particularly look out for. A couple to consider are Kikaigaura, near Shimoda Onsen, and Jusanbutsu Park, with its offshore sea stack formations. Sea kayaking and stand up paddle boards are two water activities that are available in various locations around the islands.


One of the most popular activities with visitors to the Amakusa Islands is dolphin watching. There are a few large pods of bottlenose dolphins living in the waters between Kamishima and Shimoshima. It is said that they like this area because the local fisherman use rods rather than nets, so the dolphins are able to swim more freely. Various companies take small boats of visitors out to the dolphins regular playgrounds several times a day for an hour or more to watch the dolphins jump and swim. Sometimes it seems the dolphins are even expecting the boats and deliberately play around them.


Quaint fishing villages along the north coast of Kamishima are particularly known for their octopus fishing. Visitors can inspect the catch, stretched onto racks to dry in the sun. Kamishima also has a number of popular hiking courses. Hikers are rewarded for their efforts with amazing panoramic island-ocean views. One favorite challenge among experienced hikers are the twin peaks of Taromaru-dake and Jiromaru-dake. Neither are particularly high (under 400 meters/1,300 feet) but reaching the summit of Jiromaru-dake involves using a chain to scale a massive sandstone boulder.


The island chain includes several small islands accessible only by ferry.  One of the most popular with families is Goshoura, where dinosaur footprints and ammonite fossils have been found. The "Dinosaur Island" Cretaceous Period Museum is the place to go to learn more.


The Amakusa Islands are renowned for the five bridges built in the 1960s to connect the islands with each other and the mainland. Today the bridges form a scenic part of the landscape. Amakusa is also famous as one of the earliest places where pearls were cultivated in Japan. Buoys arranged in a special formation just offshore are a dead give-away as to where pearl farms may be located. There aren’t many pearl farms that are open to visitors, but ask at the Kami-Amakusa Visitor Center and a visit may be possible.


Kujukushima – A Bay Dotted with Pretty Little Islands


Another place known for pearl farming and oyster production is Kujukushima Bay, near the naval port city of Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture. Kujuku means "99" and is a common way of saying "innumerable" in Japanese. In fact, there are 208 islands in the bay, as well as a number of rocky outcrops that don't quite meet the definition of island.


There are plenty of nooks and crannies around the bay that visitors can explore by meandering on foot. Perhaps a better way to see the bay is aboard a sightseeing cruise from the Kujukushima Pearl Resort. Large boats sail four or five times a day (more in the summer months) and smaller "eco" tours are also available, as are dinner cruises in the winter months. The cruises allow visitors to get a close-up view of the island-dotted scenery and the bay’s clear blue water, you can even see a few pearl and oyster farms.In addition, the resort also has an excellent yacht harbor and can provide sailing lessons and sea kayaking lessons.


Kujukushima Pearl Resort operates a large aquarium featuring the magnificent creatures of Kujukushima Bay. Its educational focus is on sustainability and eco-friendly enjoyment of the bay's natural attractions with the aim of helping visitors appreciate the value of the bay's very special ecosystem. Apparently some unwelcome visitors also seem to appreciate the resort. .  According to the resort's Tsuyoshi Tominaga, "We have one tank filled with bay water and open to the air. The Pacific Reef Herons that are native to this area keep diving in and stealing our fish."


The aquarium also has a specific exhibit of the bay's jellyfish, including indicators of how poisonous each species is.


One of the most popular features of the aquarium is the dolphin tank and the daily dolphin shows. One of the aquarium's dolphins gave birth in 2018, and the adolescent dolphin, which still nurses from time to time, is also slowly learning to join the performances.


Another popular activity is cutting open a pearl oyster to retrieve a pearl.The resort hosts an Oyster Eating Festival twice yearly in November and February. Kujukushima's oysters are small but packed with flavor.


There are eight different observation platforms dotting the hills around Kujukushima Bay that are particularly popular places to watch the sunset. Many even boast sign boards indicating where to expect the sun to set on the horizon at different times of the year. It is indeed a peaceful feeling to watch the sky and the water change colors as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon.


Coal Mining Islands


Some of the islands off the west coast of Kyushu are better known for industrial history than for natural beauty. Hashima is one such spot. Located about 4.5 kilometers (2.7 miles) outside the mouth of Nagasaki Bay, tiny Hashima, more popularly known as “Gunkanjima” (Battleship Island), was the site of an undersea coal mine from 1890 until 1974 when Japan's energy policy shifted away from coal. It is part of the 2015 UNESCO World Heritage listing for “Sites of Meiji’s Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel Shipbuilding and Coal Mining”. 


Gunkanjima was just far enough from the Nagasaki mainland that it was necessary for the miners to live on the island. Of course, this meant that there also needed to be accommodation for the families of the miners. Consequently, what was originally a tiny shoal was gradually extended to a 6.5-hectare (16 acres) island, three times its original size. Even this is quite a small area so in order to provide living space for all the people who needed to be on the island, Japan’s first ever ferro-concrete high rise apartment buildings were constructed here. Most of the apartment buildings were nine stories tall and had no elevators. 


The island eventually became a bustling city of just over 5,000 people with a school (grades 1 through 9), a hospital, a day care center, a theatre, a department store, and even a swimming pool. It was, at the time, the most densely populated place on the planet.


The shape of the island topped by so many tall buildings when viewed from out at sea looked like a battleship, hence its popular name.


There are regular boat tours out to the island which are a very popular attraction. It is not always possible to go ashore on the island and even when conditions permit landing, the areas that visitors can access are severely limited. After all, buildings that have been unused and buffeted by sea storms for nearly five decades aren't very stable. Still, the island holds a particular fascination for many, perhaps because of the historic population density and the ghostly look of the abandoned buildings.


One way to find out more about life on Gunkanjima is by visiting the Gunkanjima Digital Museum in Nagasaki, not far from the boat landing for trips to Gunkanjima. There visitors can watch films of life on the island, learn more about the work of the island's coal miners, see a 3-D model of the island and a reconstruction of the interior of an apartment. There are also virtual reality tours that simulate a walk through the empty city. Minoru Kinoshita, who was born on Gunkanjima, is a guide at the museum and loves to tell visitors his recollections of growing up and going to school on the island. His first-hand account adds even more meaning.


Gunkanjima Concierge, one of the companies that offers boat tours to Gunkanjima, also offers a day trip that includes both Gunkanjima and another island where visitors can explore the history of offshore coal mining: Ikeshima. Ikeshima is located about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) northwest of Gunkanjima. Ikeshima is a much larger island, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in circumference. Its coal mine operated from 1959 until 2001. It was one of only two coal mines remaining in Japan when it closed. 


When the mine closed, the island's population dropped from its peak of 8,000 to around 100. Those who remain are rapidly aging, but they have made this little island their home and they welcome all visitors. Gunkanjima Concierge offers a tour that includes lunch on Ikeshima and a walking tour of the old mine facilities, possibly even inside the abandoned coal mine. 


It's also possible to reach Ikeshima independently by ferry from Sasebo and stay overnight on the island, taking the time to get to know the locals and hear stories about the good old days. Ikeshima is not as densely packed with abandoned buildings as Gunkanjima, but it's possible to examine the structures more closely and really get a feel for this all-but-ghost town.


Pretty Coastal Scenery


The small coastal islands off Kyushu's shores are not the only places to enjoy the sea.  Nearly all of Kyushu features beautiful and varied coastal scenery ranging from sandy beaches to sheer stone cliffs. There are lots of places to enjoy seaside fun. Each prefecture has one or two sparkling white sand beaches, often fringed with palm trees, that are particularly attractive in the summer months. 


Surfing is popular in Miyazaki year-round, especially around Hyuga and Aoshima. Aoshima itself is an interesting island phenomenon. It is an island just offshore a long stretch of sandy beach that is very popular in summer. The little island was formed by an accumulation of sand and broken shells on an uplifted rock shelf. In fact, most of the "sand" comprising the island is actually sea shells that have been pulverized by washing over the rocks in this area. Aoshima is covered with dense, lush vegetation and has a charming little shrine on its southern shore. The shrine is associated with romance and has become a popular wedding spot.


The rock shelf Aoshima sits on consists of layers of sandstone and mudstone that have been pushed up from the seabed and eroded by wave action into rumble strips that are commonly referred to as "Oni no sentaku-ita" (the devil's washboard). Indeed, the formations do resemble an old-fashioned washboard. They extend south from Aoshima along the Nanban coast for about 30 kilometers. Especially at low tide, the view is so spectacular that local trains running along the coast actually slow down to allow passengers to enjoy it.


There is also a train on Kyushu's west coast that deliberately runs slow so that passengers can enjoy the view. The Hisatsu Orange Railway runs 117 kilometers between Yatsushiro in Kumamoto Prefecture and Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture. About two thirds of the line runs next to the sea or near the shore. The line is called the Orange Railway because it also meanders through the local orange groves. Visitors can purchase one or two day hop-on, hop-off passes and can even rent folding bikes at the major stations that can be taken onto the train. This allows you to cycle part of the way and enjoy even closer contact with the coastal scenery, but easily hop back on the train when you get tired. Another treat on this line is special lunch and dinner trains offering gourmet meals featuring local seasonal delicacies.


Whatever part of Kyushu's coasts or offshore islands visitors choose to explore, they are assured of encounters with distinctive history, amazing scenery and unforgettable experiences.