Hirado: Experience Exotic Culture and Great Nature

Head to Hirado and discover where Japanese–European trade started hundreds of years ago. Explore this clash of cultures, there’s also world-class hiking, beachfront horse riding, and coastal sunsets to soak up.
Hirado: Experience Exotic Culture and Great Nature

With fascinating historical remnants dotted throughout the stunning countryside, Hirado Island is a must-visit destination for those who love vibrant natural scenery and centuries-old tales. Alongside some of Japan’s most serene mountain hiking, horseback riding, and coastal sunsets, you won’t regret choosing this remote spot as your next island getaway.

Hirado was the first Japanese port to welcome Portuguese, Dutch and British traders in 1550, with the present-day landscape featuring a myriad of Christian churches, white-sand beaches, and historic castles. As the country's foremost international trading hub, forming an early link between Japan and the West, the storied Dutch East India Company also operated a large-scale base from Hirado.

Hirado is one of Nagasaki Prefecture’s most charming cities, tucked away within a subtropical archipelago in the South of Japan. With Hirado Island linked to the much larger hub of Kyushu Island by the impressive 600-meter-long Hirado Bridge, thousands of travelers make their way to Hirado from nearby hotspots, including Fukuoka, Sasebo, and Nagasaki.

Discover a city where Christian churches and Japanese temples coexist

Discover a city where Christian churches and Japanese temples coexist

Since the 16th-century, Hirado has been influenced by European culture. With Portuguese merchants establishing trading routes with the island of Tanegashima in 1543, it didn’t take long for others to set about exploring the rest of Japan. This included Jesuit missionaries like Francis Xavier, who soon established Christian congregations in Hirado and Yamaguchi. 

While Christianity was banned across Japan throughout the Edo Period (1603–1867), people continued to practice their newfound faith in secret for over 200 years. In fact, villages across Hirado Island became something of a Christian haven. After religious freedom returned to Japan in 1873 following the Meiji Restoration, grand churches soon sprung up across Hirado. These include the striking St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church, Himosashi Church, and Yamada Church on nearby Ikitsuki Island. Yet what makes this history particularly special is its juxtaposition with Hirado’s Buddhist temples. 

The best place to see this clash of cultures is along an old stone street winding behind the Zuiun-ji Temple and Kômyô-ji Temple. In the distance, St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church rises above the landscape, providing a glimpse into this complex history. 

Overlooking Hirado Bay only a short distance away, the Hirado Castle is equally imposing, offering tranquil grounds and outstanding coastal views.

For the Temple and Church Viewpoint, take a local bus along Kaigandori Street and get off at the Miyanocho stop. Then, walk about 200 meters through the backstreets to find the vantage point. For Hirado Castle, take the bus to Hirado Bus Terminal and walk around the bay.

Learn about Hirado’s history of international trade

Learn about Hirado’s history of international trade

Established in 1609, the Dutch Trading Post was the Dutch East India Company's headquarters in Japan. Today, you'll discover a wonderfully reconstructed warehouse on the same site, serving as a symbol of the first encounters between Japan and the West.

Inside, visitors will find a captivating museum exploring this relationship, featuring paintings, armor, and other decorative items. In the surrounding area, you’ll find other examples of this Dutch influence, such as the Saiwai Bridge from 1702, which highlights how European building techniques had arrived in Japan.

The Matsura Historical Museum also reveals Hirado’s long-standing commerce traditions. From this enchanting hillside residence, the Matsura clan ruled Hirado from the 12th-century until Japan’s feudal system was abolished in 1871. With the family heavily involved in international trade, there’s a wealth of heirlooms to admire, including samurai weapons, maps, and ship diagrams. 

In addition, the Matsura clan was one of the early Japanese families to enjoy luxuries like sugar. At the Matsura Historical Museum’s Kanuntei Teahouse, you can sip down a fresh cup of tea and snack on two types of Japanese-style confectionaries – the very same kind that the Matsura family ordered over 200 years ago.

Whether you want to visit the Dutch Trading Post or the Matsura Historical Museum, both landmarks can be quickly reached via a short walk from Hirado Bus Terminal.

Experience Ikitsuki Island’s famous sunsets
Experience Ikitsuki Island’s famous sunsets

Experience Ikitsuki Island’s famous sunsets

For the perfect day trip from Hirado, head across the Ikitsuki Bridge and wander the rugged landscape of Ikitsuki Island. There’s a lot to explore, but this remote part of the world is best known for its enduring fishing industry, beautiful sunsets, and so-called ‘Hidden Christians.’

No visit is complete without stopping by the Ikitsuki Island Museum, which delves into the region’s whaling industry that dates back to the Edo Period. There’s also a permanent exhibit dedicated to Christians who continued to practice their religion in secret, featuring a wooden chapel, stained-glass windows, and various trinkets.

After roaming the charming museums and restaurants across Ikitsuki Island, be sure to stick around until sunset for an unforgettable experience. With lookout points from Ikitsuki Bridge – the longest truss bridge in the world – presenting stunning coastal panoramas, the East China Sea has never looked so good.

Although public transport is available on Ikitsuki Island, the best way to appreciate this scenic place is via hire car. Alternatively, you can also rent electric bicycles from the local tourism office.

Find Hirado's world-class hiking adventure

Find Hirado's world-class hiking adventure

Hirado is undoubtedly steeped in history, but there are great outdoor activities to enjoy once you’ve finished exploring the iconic streets, museums, and religious monuments. One of the most adventurous is certainly the 13-kilometer Kyushu Olle Hirado Course.

Inspired by South Korea’s 400-kilometer Jeju Olle Trail, the Kyushu Olle is a series of incredible hikes stretching across the Japanese countryside. With the term ‘olle’ encouraging travelers to complete the journey at their own pace, the idea is to let your senses become overrun by the breathtaking mountain and ocean scenes on display.

As one of the most scenic sections of the Kyushu Olle, the Hirado Course navigates its way from the city center past stirring landmarks like the Saikyo-ji Temple and up to the summit of the Kawachi Pass. On a clear day, this lofty pinnacle features awe-inspiring views spanning the entire archipelago. 

Hirado also offers travelers some remarkable beachfront experiences, with one of the most unique found at Senrigahama Beach and the Sea View Ranch. About a six-kilometer drive from the city center, visitors are welcome to sit down for a traditional Japanese meal before taking part in horseback riding along the sandy shores.

For those who'd prefer something a little more low-key, head to the adjacent Hirado Kayaks to borrow a sea canoe or join an expert-led tour.

How to get to Hirado 

If you’re looking for one of the best things to do near Fukuoka or Nagasaki, Hirado Island is an easily accessible destination bound to provide endless memories.

From Nagasaki Airport

Flying from Tokyo, the flight duration to Nagasaki Airport is one hour and 45 minutes, while the journey takes one hour and 15 minutes when traveling from Osaka. Once you arrive at the airport, catch an express bus to Sasebo Bus Centre. Then, use the Saihi bus service to reach Hirado Sanbashi Bus Centre.

If you prefer to travel by train, take the airport bus to Omura Station. Then, ride the Seaside Liner train to Sasebo Station before changing to the Matsuura Railway heading to Tabira-Hiradoguchi Station. Finally, catch a local bus into the city center.

From Fukuoka Airport 

The flight from Tokyo to Fukuoka Airport takes one hour and 50 minutes, while those departing from Osaka will arrive in one hour and 15 minutes. Express buses operate from Fukuoka Airport to Sasebo Bus Centre, and then travelers must change to the Saihi bus service to reach Hirado Sanbashi Bus Centre.

Traveling by train to Hirado is also relatively simple. From the airport, ride the Fukuoka City Subway to Hakata Station. Then, take the Midori or Huis Ten Bosch train line to Sasebo Station. Here, transfer to the Matsuura Railway for Tabira-Hiradoguchi Station before catching a local bus into town.

See the Best of Hirado with Japan Airlines

Travelers who appreciate pristine scenery and ancient history will quickly find themselves at home in Hirado's peaceful surroundings. With the Japan Explorer Pass, you can plan your trip around Japan Airlines’ comprehensive domestic network, ensuring you see more of the country for less.

Getting There