Historic Hirado City: Discover Samurai Culture, Museums, and More

Discover Hirado City in Nagasaki, where you’ll encounter the former residences of samurai, museums that are home to ancient artifacts, and a looming hilltop castle.
Historic Hirado City: Discover Samurai Culture, Museums, and More

The history books will tell you that Hirado, Japan is where Japanese and Western culture first met. It’s on these shores where the first trading sites between Japan and the Western World were born.   

While the literature can certainly paint a picture of what this groundbreaking, collaborative period may have looked like, there’s no better way to learn about Hirado than to see it for yourself. 

Discover Hirado, where history comes off the page, ancient structures are preserved, and museums are awash with ancient artifacts that tell a story about life in a time before us. 

The explorable Hirado streets are brimming with dozens of significant sights ranging from the former townhomes of infamous samurais and classic confectionaries dealing in all things sweet to temples and churches that sit side-by-side, a clear visual representation of east-meets-west.

What will you discover in Hirado? 

Explore castle town and historic Hirado attractions

 Journey to another time, where samurais and tradespeople walked the stone pathways while exploring Hirado Castle, Matsura Historical Museum, and Kanuntei Tea House.  

Hirado Castle

Hirado Castle

Often called The Gateway to the West, Hirado Castle stands proudly, overlooking the Hirado Strait and Hirado Port. Its position high on a hilltop was no mistake, either. The original fortress was the brainchild of Matsura Shigenobu and was constructed in 1599 to guard the important trade routes in the area. Over the years, the historic castle has been the subject of numerous restorations to preserve its integrity and architectural appeal, the most recent of which was a rebuild in the 1960s. 

Travelers keen on history can journey up stone steps and past stone walls to the hilltop marvel where a collection of artifacts ranging from armor and swords to Matsura clan family heirlooms are on display across the main tower's five floors. There’s also an interactive calligraphy experience and educational exhibits throughout the castle where you can learn about Japanese samurai culture. 

Its prime position on the hilltop once served as a means to monitor the waterways below. The area delights travelers with sweeping views of Hirado Bay and Kuroshima Island in the distance. And for the best views, be sure to visit the keep inside Hirado Castle. The space is decorated with Sumi-style images and provides 360-degree views of Hirado Straight and the area below.  

Today, the impressive castle grounds are now Kameoka Park. The park is home to Kameoka Shine and a statue of the grandmother of the Meiji Emperor, Nakayama Aiko. 

Matsura Historical Museum

Matsura Historical Museum

The Matsura Historical Museum is the oldest in Nagasaki prefecture. Here, you can encounter displays brimming with precious artifacts and historical documents.

The Matsura family lived and reigned over the northern area of Nagasaki, dating back to the 11th century. The museum is housed in the former estate of the Matursa’s, the grandiose Tsurugamine Mansion, which was built in 1893.

Its hilltop placement and stately size make it easily noticeable from the heart of Hirado’s city center, and it truly dominates the Sakigata neighborhood where it resides. 

An impressive assortment of family heirlooms and historical artifacts were donated to the prefecture by the family in 1955. The collection at the Matsura Historical Museum includes 30,000 unique items, all of which were passed on from the Matsura family, from generation to generation.

Kanuntei Tea House

Kanuntei Tea House 

Kanuntei Tea House is tucked away inside the Matsura Historical Museum between manicured outdoor gardens and the ornate displays on view within the estate. 

The sōan-style tea house features wide, sweeping open-air passages and is made almost entirely of natural materials. Its architecture and style are based on the ideas from tea master Sen no Rikyu, and its cozy, rural-like atmosphere set the scene for visitors who wish to experience a traditional tea ceremony when in Hirado. 

Guests can savor a bowl of matcha tea prepared in the Chinshin style. Chinshin is considered a warrior-style tea ceremony, and this method was ushered in nearly 300 years ago by Lord Shigenobu Matsura.

The tea is served with a traditional sweet called ubatama made with Japanese yams or casdous, a treat that dates back to the 1550s. After all, Hirado was the first place where refined sugar was introduced in Japan, making it a wonderful place to indulge. In addition to Kanuntei Tea House, there are several sweet shops around Hirado that can satiate your sweet tooth. 

See how the samurai lived and explore a traditional Japanese Village

See how the samurai lived and explore a traditional Japanese Village

Nestled around the harbor, the Hirado city center is compact and highly walkable. This historic area is lined with shops, confectionaries, noodle restaurants, ancient Japanese buildings, and charming townhomes reminiscent of years past. 

Here, you can get acquainted with Japanese samurai culture. And, be sure to make time for a tea break, too. 

Umegayatsu Mansion

Umegayatsu Mansion

Umegayatsu Mansion, also called the Plum Tree Residence for its many plum trees, was originally built as a country home in 1816 by the Matsura family. 

The lush, tree-lined property was once decorated with ball fields and a stream for floating poems. Today, much of the old charm from the Edo Period remains. There’s even a collection of everyday objects from the period on display at Umegayatsu. 

Hirado Tsutaya

Hirado Tsutaya

William Adams, or as he was later referred to as Anjin Miura at the behest of the Shogun, was the first Western samurai. A seasoned navigator, Anjin Miura was the first Englishman to reach the shores of Japan. And later, Anjin Miura would rise in the ranks, ultimately becoming a key advisor. 

Anjin Miura lived and served Japan for many years. He adopted a Japanese lifestyle, and his former residence still stands today in Hirado. The traditional Japanese townhouse is now a sweet shop called Tsutaya and is often referred to as Anjin’s House. 

Konoura Village

Konoura Village

Historic Konoura Village looks like a picture taken from a storybook. Ancient Japanese buildings reach high into the sky, alleyways wind through rows of windows and doors reminiscent of Old Japan, and sunlight shyly peeks in from above.  

The picturesque village is located on Oshima Island, which is accessible by ferry from Hirado Island. And although the village is a nationally designated area, Konoura is one of the least visited places in Japan. 

The streets are quite sleepy. And local experts recommend bringing your lunch. But seeing an original traditional streetscape, an occurrence that is becoming rarer each day is something you should add to your travel bucket list. 

Getting to Hirado: plane, train, and automobile 

Until 1977, Hirado was only accessible by boat. Today, Hirado is connected to the main island of Kyushu by Hirado Ohashi Bridge, a contemporary unmissable red steel suspension bridge that is easily accessible from the core city of Sasebo, Fukuoka, and Nagasaki. 

The easiest way to reach Hirado Island from the mainland of Kyushu is via public transport. 

From Fukuoka: Express busses run throughout the day from Fukuoka. You can catch a bus from either Hakata Station, Tenjin Station, or from the Fukuoka Airport. Trip times vary but are typically under two hours. 

Visitors can also reach Hirado by way of Sasebo by taking the express train from Fukuoka. A journey from Fukuoka’s Hakata Station takes just under two hours. However, once you arrive in Sasebo, you will need to take a connecting bus to reach Hirado. 

From Nagasaki: Like its northern counterpart Fukuoka, Nagasaki offers a quick connection to Hirado by express bus, with busses conveniently departing directly from Nagasaki Airport. 

Nagasaki Station also offers daily express train trips throughout the day. Overall, your time on the train from Nagasaki to Sasebo is about two hours. From Sasebo, you can hop aboard a connecting bus or train and travel along the Matsura Railway to reach your final destination, Hirado, Japan.

And while Japan’s public transportation is efficient and highly utilized, you can’t go wrong with your own car rental. There are rental options available in both Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Sasebo. 

Plan your trip to Hirado today

Hirado Island is located just off of the northwest coast of Nagasaki Prefecture. And while the island does not have a commercial airport, visitors can make their way to Hirado by way of either Nagasaki Airport or Fukuoka Airport. 

With Japan Explorer Pass, your trip from Tokyo to Nagasaki Airport or Fukuoka takes just under two hours. Flying from Osaka? Your trip is just over an hour when flying with JAL to Fukuoka Airport or Nagasaki Airport. 

Plus, with Japan Explorer Pass, you’ll have access to over 30 cities across the JAL domestic network. And perks like in-flight Wi-Fi keep you connected, so you can share your travel memories with your friends and family back home, wherever your adventure takes you. 

Getting There