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The Other Nagasaki

Early in my exploration of the islands off the coast of Nagasaki prefecture, I encountered a Japanese woman, who was impressed by both the ambitiousness and the scope of my trip.

“They’re just all so different,” remarked the woman, who was from Yokohama but for reasons she didn’t explain, came often to this part of Japan. “I’d never have thought to combine them into a single trip.”

Indeed, if there’s one thing I hope my Nagasaki Islands itinerary conveys, it’s just how eclectic and diverse these islands (which, let’s face it, most foreign travelers never consider visiting) are. In my mind this makes them ideal to visit in one go, though we can discuss that more later.

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Why So Few People Visit Nagasaki’s Islands

As I learned first-hand during my Nagasaki Islands trip, the first barrier to traveling in this part of Japan is an infrastructural one. After taking a high-speed jetfoil ferry from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Iki and then another one from there to Tsushima, I had to fly back to Nagasaki and there connect to another propellor plane flight to Fukue, in the Goto Islands. Frankly, this is simply more complicated than the average Japan traveler is willing to deal with. 

There’s also the fact that these islands are off-the-beaten-path—truly. In addition to the fact that you will almost certainly have to rent a car to get around, there isn’t a lot of English spoken, which can make travel extremely challenging if you don’t speak Japanese. Another deterrent? While there are amazing and gorgeous places and things to see here, they just aren’t as obvious as what you find so many other places in Japan.

Where to Go in the Nagasaki Islands



Although it’s the smallest of the islands I’m about to mention, Iki is also somehow the most eclectic. You’ve got shrines (the island Kojima Shrine; the Harahoge jizo statues), beaches (I like Kuyoshihama), offshore islands and even a Yayoi-era archaeological site. Pair this with locally-farmed beef and a friendly, laid-back vibe, and you’ve got an awesome overnight trip from Fukuoka or Nagasaki.



Or, you can continue to what might be the most famous of the islands of Nagasaki: Tsushima. Well, kind of—a virtual island called Tsushima has become famous among players of the Ghost of Tsushima game, though the real island is mostly unknown to tourists. Ironically, a lot of the attractions here (Bansho-in temple and the waterfront Watatsumi Shrine) are pretty “ghostly,” so I guess the shoe fits.


When I first landed on Fukue, the main island of the Goto archipelago, I remarked that the volcanic soil (which is famous mostly for the tsubaki or camellia that grow there) looked like chocolate. Whether or not you agree with this, the island is fertile ground for exploring, whether for the views from Onidake and Minodake viewpoints, the relaxation of Takahama Beach or the dozens of “Hidden Christian” churches there.



The churches on Nakadori, itself an excursion from Fukue, are a more impressive addition to your Nagasaki Islands itinerary (and a more essential one, if the hidden Christian lore truly interests you). My personal favorites at Nakanoura Church and Takaitabi Church, whose interiors (though unimpressive by Western church standards) nonetheless feature prominent tsubaki motifs.


The impressive (but perhaps most-visited) of the islands off Nagasaki, Gunkanjima is also the closest to Nagasaki’s city center. In fact, you can take a morning or afternoon boat trip to this abandoned island (which is also known as “Battleship Island” or Hashima) from Nagasaki’s city center, which is what makes it so popular, in spite of me personally finding it very boring.

How Long Do You Need in the Nagasaki Islands?

When I told some people at my guest house in Iki that I was only stayed two nights (wish was a lie—I was only staying one!), they were shocked. They were “slow travel” types who were camped out on the island for weeks on end, and expected that others would want to travel similarly. For me, however, my first trip to the Nagasaki islands was all about getting an overview.

After taking a jetfoil ferry from Hakata on morning one, I spent night on in Iki; I took a second jetfoil from Iki to Tsushima on morning two. I spent that night (and most of the next day) on Tsushima, and flew via Nagasaki to Fukue on day three. I spent three nights and full two days there, for a total of six days, five nights. Though another Nagasaki Islands travel blog might persuade you otherwise, I think this is at least a good place to start.

Other FAQ About Visiting the Islands of Nagasaki

What islands are off Nagasaki?

The most famous of the islands off Nagasaki is actually Hashima (aka Gunkanjima or “Battleship” Islands), which is located just west of the city less than an hour away. Beyond this, Iki Island and Tsushima sit far off to the north, while the Goto Islands are about 30 minutes by plane to the west.

How do I get to the Goto Islands?

While jetfoil ferries can take you from Nagasaki port to Fukue (the hub of the Goto islands) in about two hours each way, the easiest way to get there is to fly via Oriental Air Bridge, a regional partner of ANA that exclusively flies turboprop planes.

Is Iki island a part of Tsushima?

While a virtual environment known as “Iki Island” is indeed part of the Ghost of Tsushima video game, Ikishima and Tsushima are totally separate destinations in the real world. You need to spend a minimum of one night on each to be able even to scratch the surface of either.

The Bottom Line

There are two types of travelers, broadly speaking, who will find this Nagasaki Islands itinerary useful. The first are those who are like I was a few months ago: Motivated to visit Ikishima, Tsushima and the Goto islands, but utterly clueless about how to structure their trip, let alone what to do on each island. The second type are curious, adventurous travelers who never thought to come to this part of Japan, but are now very seriously contemplating it. No matter which group you fall into, I hope you’ll leave feeling inspired. I also hope you’ll consider hiring me to plan your adventure!


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