Beaches, breweries and bottle-nosed dolphins.
Originally, Minami-shimabara consisted of eight individual towns, but they were consolidated into one city beginning in March 2006. Although combined, each town has maintained its own individual personalities and mascots. From west to east, there’s Kazusa, Kuchinotsu, Minamiarima, Kitaarima, Nishiarie, Arie, Futsu, and Fukae.
While considered a sleepy, coastal city when compared to nearby Isahaya or Shimabara, the region was anything but tranquil during the Edo period. It was the primary battleground of the Shimabara Rebellion, a peasant-led uprising that lasted from 1637 to 1638.
The largely Christian group of rebels took shelter in the unused Hara Castle, presently in Minami-arima, before being decimated by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Today, all that remains of the castle are a few ruins. You can find out more about the rebellion and Minami-shimabara’s Christian history by heading to the Arima Christian Heritage Museum in Minami-arima. It’s open everyday except Thursdays and New Year’s holidays from 9:00 to 18:00.
The city offers a number of different activities and sites. For those planning on just sitting back and relaxing on a beach towel, you’ll want to grab your sunblock and head to one of its four primary beaches: Maehama (Kazusa), Nodahama (Kazusa), Shirahama (Kuchinotsu), and Marine Park (Arie). Just be careful when taking a dip as jellyfish are known to gather in early fall.
Off the coast of Kazusa and Kuchinotsu, a large pod of dolphins can often be spotted.
Both towns offer dolphin-watching tours that cost about ¥2,500 for an hour tour. You’ll not only get to see these inquisitive sea mammals up close, but the tours also provide ample opportunity to take in the Minami-shimabara coast.
The overlapping towns of Nishi-arie and Arie are ideal for grabbing a bite and a drink. Nishi-arie is famous for its somen – thin, white noodles that are typically served cold. Arie, meanwhile, is known for its sake, with several breweries coming together and holding sake festivals in early spring and mid-fall.
Nishi-arie and Arie are also noted for their waterfalls. If you have a car and some time, head up the hills to check out the Tonosumi waterfall above Nishi-arie and the Ayugaeri waterfall in Arie.
An interesting sight to watch out for is Minami-shimabara’s number of abandoned train stations that are often found between the coast and Highway 251. Due to the costs of running and maintenance outweighing profits, Shimatetsu called it quits and pulled up its railway several years ago. Now its former stations and platforms are slowly being taken over my nature.