Exploring the Amakusa Islands Near Kumamoto

ByJustin Hanus
Apr 20, 2023

Exploring the Amakusa Islands Near Kumamoto

Around 60 kilometers from Kumamoto City is a group of unique islands called Amakusa. There are two main islands (Shimoshima and Ueshima) and hundreds of smaller ones. Isolated from the rest of Kyushu, a sizeable Christian population lives here, whose ancestors were converted by missionaries shortly before the religion was banned in the Edo period. This has led to some interesting landmarks on the islands that make Amakusa a fascinating place to visit, along with the natural formations and wild dolphins that swim around the islands.

Oe Catholic Church

A characteristic feature of Amakusa is Oe Catholic Church on Shimoshima island. Built in 1933 in the Romanesque style, it sits atop a hill and offers fantastic views of the lush green landscape below.

Amakusa Christian Museum

Another top place to visit on Shimoshima island is Amakusa Christian Museum. Its focus is on how Christians were forced to hide their faith, which included disguising their religious artifacts as Buddhist, changing their prayers to sound like Buddhist chants, and meeting to worship in the middle of the night. Be aware that most of the information in the museum is only in Japanese.

Amakusa Shiro Museum

Oyano island is home to Amakusa Shiro Museum. The exhibits take you through the chronological history of the Shimabara Rebellion of the 17th century, which occurred when the peasants organized an uprising to protest high taxation and persecution of Christians amid a famine. The exhibition ends with a diorama of the final battle where the leader of the rebel army, Amakusa Shiro, and all his soldiers were killed at Hara Castle.

Kuratake Shrine

Of course, the islands are not entirely Christian. One of the most impressive Shinto landmarks is Kuratake Shrine, located at the top of Mount Kuratake — the tallest mountain in Amakusa on the island of Ueshima. The shrine is intended for praying for the safety of fishermen while worshippers look out over the sea.

Mogushi Beach

There are some beautiful beaches in Amakusa, but nothing beats Mogushi on the southern tip of Shimoshima. Since it’s a little challenging to reach, you can expect to find few other visitors. It’s an ideal spot for snorkeling — you’ll see a wide variety of fish — or, if you prefer, walking along the coast and searching for shells.

Nishibira Camellia Park

Even outside camellia season, Nishibira Camellia Park on Shimoshima is worth visiting — although the best time is when flowers bloom. There’s also an observatory where you can look out on the sea, which is stunning at sunset. The park is also famous for the ako tree, with its impressive network of roots that extend right out of the ground.

Reaching the Islands

The two largest islands and Oyano are connected by bridges that reach the mainland. To access any other islands, it’s necessary to take a ferry — which is worthwhile, as you may spot dolphins. Although a bus does run on the main road from Kumamoto to Amakusa City, there is little public transport elsewhere, meaning you may need a car to explore properly.

Yuji Sakamoto, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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