Amakusa and Nagashima, The Secret Islands of Kyushu. A Less Known Japan

Amakusa island kyushu
The fisherman God of Amakusa

Amakusa and Nagashima islands
A bicycle trip through the islands of Kyushu

the best beaches in Japan and a great off-the-beaten-path-itinerary.

The Amakusa Islands (Amakusa Shoto in Japanese) are a stunning off-the-beaten-path destination in Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese main islands, in Kumamoto prefecture.

It’s an Archipelago of about one hundred islands, nestled in the gulf of Kyushu, the largest of which are Ueshima and Shimoshima. These are connected by bridges, so it’s possible to ride them from Kumamoto to Akune (Kagoshima prefecture), or the other way around, with only one ferry ride, from Nagashima to Shimoshima (around 750Yen, 30 minutes).

The whole Island ride, on the route we did, is around 140km, mostly flat with just a few small hills.

For more adventures in Japan

We came to the Amakusa archipelago as part of our Japanese three-month leg of our two years Asian bicycle trip.

Bicycle Touting Map – Amakusa Archipelago

Here’s the map of our ride from Fukuoka to Kagoshima, click on the track to see the elevation profile

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Amakusa and Nagashima, The Secret Islands of Kyushu. A Less Known Japan 2

Bicycle touring Kyushu islands

Coming from Kumamoto we finally hit the coast around Uto, the vegetation is tropical, the sea not much yet. It’s a peninsular area with shallow muddy water and many fishing boats.
As we pass the first bridge to the island of Amakusa suddenly we’re in paradise. Like switching from Riccione to Pantelleria in a few kilometers. We immediately dive into the crystal clear water! The first real great beach in this one-year-so-far bicycle trip!

The first Amakusa Islands – Nagaura and Ueshima

The second bridge brings us to the small island of Nagaura and then to Ueshima. Here there are two options, the short north shore route or the longer southern one. We opt for the last one, since the first seems to be more of a highway style thing.

On the islands there is a signed bike route, making Amakusa archipelago a great alternative to the more famous and touristic Shimanami Kaido (read our article), sometimes the path is along the secondary road, sometimes on very quiet coastal grounds. Many islands shaped like mushrooms dot the horizon in the distance.

The landscape is constantly changing, hills covered in lush green forests, cliff and then, white sea stacks, beaches of all kinds, sleepy villages small fishing ports and Shinto shrines.

Many birds of prey, buzzards, eagles, and falcons, circle above our heads.  We take another swim, naked on a pebble beach. Then there is a climb in the forest, full of streams and rivers. Going down again towards the sea we are greeted by rice paddies and fields.

An unexpected invitation

kyushu people
A Japanese family adopted us in Amakusa Archipelago

We end up at a beach with a nice lawn and assemble the tent. There’s the effigy of the island’s God, that’s almost everywhere. It’s a fat, smiling bearded man holding a fish.

Just after the camp is set a man and a woman in their sixties approach us. they don’t speak a word of English but invite us to eat and sleep at their home. We dismantle the tent.

When we get home we understand they do not live together, we’re guests in the man’s house, who lives there with his disabled daughter, Miyuki. They fill the bathtub like in a cartoon.

They make us laundry and prepare dinner, the table is full of dishes: tender beef in mushroom sauce, cabbage rolls with meat, steamed eggplant, various algae, onigiri, red bean salad with onion and peppers, dried shrimps, garlic dips, pickles, pickled ginger, seaweed soup, umeboshi and more stuff I don’t remember…

best beaches kyushu
just one of the many beaches in Amakusa area, this one is in Nagashima

Bellies full, they set up the futon in the living room, we feel so pampered. Here where we sleep there’s an altar (not sure if it is the proper way to call it), I think is for Miyuki’s mother, she often goes to light incenses.

We wake up early, at 6:30. They are all awake, they prepare breakfast, omelet, a soup with boiled eggs, pork, and various leftovers from last night’s dinner.

The man (whom we call Otosan, dad in Japanese) also prepares us a bento, Onigiri with umeboshi for me onigiri and with Salmon for Daniel, plus all the leftovers. Super-pampered. We try to write a thank you note in Japanese. We do not know how to thank for all this pampering!

The mushroom God and his shrine, notice the snail and the frog on his shoulder

Leaving the house of this beautiful and somewhat unfortunate family, we want to see the big statue of the “fish’s god”, there should be a 15 or so meter tall one. But we can’t find it. The signs are often only in Japanese.

The road along the sea becomes more and more beautiful. We eat the lunch they prepared for us in the courtyard of an old temple under a big tree.

Take a bath in a verdant freshwater lagoon, the beaches are deserted. Towards the southern end of the island, there are some more stacks. Superb.

From the port we take the ferry at 17:20, it costs 750 yen per 30 minutes. The view from the ship is very impressive, there are many islands and one looks like a volcano.

Nagashima island

bicycle touring kyushu
One of the many Kami of Nagashima island, the phallus God

And we’re on another island, Nagashima, it’s connected to the mainland by a bridge so we won’t take any more ferries. It’s almost dark, we see a shirne between rice fields and go check. One of the most beautiful places we ever slept in.

We arrive at dusk, through the Tori gate we see the sun falling into the sea. The perfect Japan postcard.

There is a huge tree, certainly very old, and then there is the statue of a god with a mushroom cap on whose shoulder is sleeping a little frog (the frog is real, and maybe even the mushroom god).

Near the tent there is a huge mushroom, in the night Daniele dreams of a giant triceratops and wakes up startled, the mushroom is exploded and nearby many more small mushrooms have born.

free wild camping in japan
camping spot in Amakusa

After the explosion of the fungus we just have to give some offering to the god of the shrine, we think a little bit of Sochu (like the Korean soju, a strong withe alcoholic drink) and some wasabi sauce could please him.

Seems that this island is populated by the weirdest Gods (Kami in Japanese), along the way we encounter: a giant penis, a family with a gorilla made of mussels shells, a lady with a beak and a baby with his beak too.

Let’s take another wonderful bath in the deserted beach nearby a village just as desert, water is transparent, sand is gold.
Rolling up and down we cross this beautiful little island that seems to be famous for mandarins. Views are stunning.

A bridge takes us back to the mainland, and we take another bath in a huge beach where sea turtles spawn, a sign says so.

We’re heading south, along the coast to Satsumasendai and than inland to Kagoshima, again they appear, cliffs, stacks, golden beaches, and public showers. Left the sea behind we sleep on the shore of a huge river where a guy does wheelies with his boat.

adventure travel in Kyushu
This big mushroom exploded in the night and made some babies
Amakusa Nagashma Islands Kyushu

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