Living in Japan

Exploring Nagasaki’s Offshore Wonders on the Gotō Islands

Explore Nagasaki's enchanting Gotō Islands for serene beaches, rich history, and delicious cuisine.

The Gotō Rettō (五島列島), or “five island archipelago”, is a chain of five main islands, which are accompanied by many smaller islands as well. These islands lie about 100 kilometers west of Nagasaki prefecture, and are a popular travel destination for locals and tourists in search of beautiful beaches, delicious food, interesting history, and a tranquil atmosphere. You won’t find as many foreigners on these islands as you would on ones closer to bigger cities, but if you’re looking for a local getaway, the Gotō islands are a great option.

The Gotō islands are situated in the East China Sea, meaning that they served as a key location for both trade of goods and education between China and Japan, and later sanctuary for Christians in Japan during a ban on religion in the 17th century. Because of the latter, there are a number of Christian churches dotted around the islands that are well worth adding to your list of places to visit.

How to get there and around

Getting to the islands is fairly easy, especially if you’re already in Nagasaki. Taking a ferry is usually the easiest and cheapest option, as you can take a regular speed ferry from Nagasaki port straight to the center of Fukue (福江), Gotō’s main island. The trip will run you about 5,200 yen and takes about 3-4 hours one-way. There is also the Jet Foil option, which is a high speed ferry that only takes an hour and a half. However, it’s a more expensive trip – about 9,160 yen one-way. Tickets can be bought at Nagasaki port, or online. These amounts can change occasionally, so make sure to check current prices before purchasing!

You can also fly to Gotō! Flights to Gotō are available from Fukuoka or Nagasaki airport and take about 30 minutes. From Nagasaki Airport, the trip will set you back around 9,700 yen one-way. But, keep in mind that you’ll need to get to Nagasaki airport first, which takes an additional 30 minutes and another 1,200 yen.

Once you make it to Fukue, I recommend renting a car if possible. The Gotō islands have a transportation system that is surprisingly robust relative to its remoteness. There are buses that will take you to many places around the islands, however their routes are designed with locals in mind, so they might not prove as useful for visitors. Additionally, as you can imagine, they are scarce, and you’ll save a lot of time by renting a car instead. Car rentals are plentiful around Fukue port, so you’ll have no trouble finding one.

Where to stay

Sometimes, your accommodation itself will have a car rental option. Guesthouse Utojuku (ゲストハウス雨通宿) on Fukue island is one such place! I’ve only ever seen people rent cars using a Japanese driver’s license, so confirm beforehand whether they accept International Driver’s Permits, if that’s what you’ll be using. I’ve always gone to Gotō with a friend carrying a Japanese license, but the guesthouse owner is very kind and can answer any questions you might have.

A more upscale option is Colorit Gotō Islands (カラリト五島列島). This accommodation is located directly in front of the sea and, when the tide is low, the ocean view turns into a beach one! It’s about a 16-minute drive from Fukue port, so not too far from the center of town, but also provides an extra level of peace and quiet.

What to see/do

Once you’re on Gotō, there’s plenty to do:

Places to Go

For a moderately difficult walk with some stairs and occasional inclines, check out Oosezaki Lighthouse (大瀬埼灯台). Take a moment to admire the lighthouse from the lookout by the car park area before heading out. The trek starts with your view obscured by trees lining the path, but once you’ve walked far enough, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the sea. This is a great spot at which to end the day because the sunset from here is truly something out of a movie. 

If you haven’t gotten your fill of beautiful views after visiting Oosezaki Lighthouse, drive out to Mt. Onidake, an inactive volcano on Fukue island that’s been covered in grass over time. It’s a popular spot for picnics, a relaxing lie-down, a short hike, or even takoage (たこ揚げ) – kite flying! Speaking of kite flying, Onidake plays host to an annual kite flying tournament. Last year’s was in May, so if you’re in the area around that time, look into this year’s dates for a picturesque show.

Last but certainly not least, you can’t miss Gotō’s beaches – some of the most beautiful in Japan. In fact, Takahama Beach (高浜) on Fukue island was named one of Japan’s top 100 beaches. When you think about the fact that Japan is an island and therefore has thousands of beaches, that’s pretty impressive! 

Food to Eat

After so much hiking, you’re bound to get hungry. Luckily, you’re in the right place to satisfy that hunger! Gotō has a few famous dishes that you should try while there.

First up is Gotō udon. While the name might sound familiar, this food’s similarities to regular udon largely end there. Where standard udon is rolled out then cut into thick noodles, Gotō udon is hand stretched and twisted to create thin, chewy noodles that maintain a firmer texture due to their light camellia oil coating preventing too much water from being absorbed when boiled. 

Next up is little-known among visitors to Japan, but worth getting to know. Everyone’s heard of Kobe beef, but if you want to have an equally rich and flavorful experience on a more local level, make sure to reserve an evening for gorging on Gotō gyuu (五島牛), or Gotō beef; your wallet and taste buds will thank you. Order a little bit of everything, and maybe some vegetables to offset the richness of this beautifully marbled delicacy. 

Last, and possibly most adventurous, is uni (うに), or sea urchin. While you can find this kind of seafood in most places in Japan, Gotō’s size guarantees some of the freshest uni you can find. It’s certainly not a taste for everyone, but considering its popularity among locals, you should consider at least giving it a try. At Sushi Zen (寿し善), have a seat at the counter and watch the chef craft each piece of nigiri you order right in front of you. While uni is certainly on the menu, you’ve got plenty of other options to choose from, such as fatty tuna, salmon, shrimp, and __. 

If you’re the type of person who likes quiet getaways that are popular with locals, then Gotō should absolutely be in your travel plans. Whether you travel for the food, the bed you’ll sleep on, or the destination’s natural beauty, the Gotō islands have something for everyone to enjoy. 

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