Niigata's Murakami City: Enjoy Fun Events, Sightseeing, and Local Cuisine!

6 Reasons to Visit Unzen National Park in Nagasaki

This service includes sponsored advertisements.
article thumbnail image

Unzen Amakusa National Park is home to Unzen Onsen, a hot spring resort near Nagasaki with a rich history. Read on to learn about the unique volcanic landscape, outdoor adventures, and hot springs that can be enjoyed in this national park.

Latest update :

A Land of Volcanoes! Unzen Onsen in Unzen Amakusa National Park

Ready to explore a different side of Japan? A landscape of rugged hiking trails, steaming volcanoes, lush forests, and some fascinating history, Unzen Onsen, part of Unzen Amakusa National Park, just an hour from Nagasaki Airport in Kyushu, should be on your next Japan travel bucket list.

Japan is home to 34 national parks, dotted across the map from the beaches of Okinawa to the snowy mountains of Hokkaido. Unzen is the oldest, the original, and some may even say the best. Here are five reasons that back up that last point.

5 Reasons to Visit Unzen National Park

1. The Secretive Location
2. It’s a Land of Volcanoes
3. You Can Literally Live in a National Park
4. You’ll Discover a Unique Local History
5. Unparalleled Hiking and Outdoor Adventures
6. Excellent Places to Stay in Unzen Onsen

Book the JR Pass for Whole Japan (7, 14, or 21 Days)

1. The Secretive Location of Unzen Onsen

Nagasaki Unzen National Park coastal views

Unzen Amakusa National Park is located on the west side of the southern island of Kyushu, and it sprawls across both Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures.

Unzen Onsen is located on the Nagasaki side, on the Shimabara Peninsula. This area was a volcanic island 400,000 years ago, and today is still home to many onsens (hot springs), some with water as hot as 98° C.

Nitapass Fugendake Views Nagasaki

What's particularly special about this area is that while it's accessible from Nagasaki Airport, one of Kyushu's main airports, just a one-hour drive, it feels worlds away from major city life.

If you're looking for a peaceful town escape that's both easy to reach and remote enough, then Unzen Onsen has both features in perfect harmony. Unzen is an excellent location for visitors who want to experience a deeper side of Japan or want to explore a side of the country that their friends surely haven't been to; if you want explorer boasting rights, chances are you'll get them here.

2. It’s a Land of Volcanoes

Uzen atop of Fugendake Nagasaki

Unzen is for those who crave excitement and those ready to marvel at the power of mother nature. It's home to some active volcanoes, including Mt. Unzen (Unzendake). Technically speaking, Mt. Unzen is a volcanic range of mountain peaks, not one single mountain itself.

It was most recently active from 1990 to 1995; during this time, Mt. Unzen's peak of Heisei-shinzan, named after the Heisei era (1989–2019), was born following a 1991 eruption. This large eruption generated a pyroclastic flow that killed 43 people, including three volcanologists.

In 2022 National Geographic released the spectacular documentary film "Fire of Love", an Academy Award-nominated story of two intrepid French scientists and volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft. The couple roamed the world exploring the wonders that are the volcanic landscape of this great earth. The pair's final volcano was here at Mt. Unzen.

Uzen Hell Towns Nagasaki

The land's highly volcanic landscape also means that it is home to some pretty incredible hot springs. The Shimabara Peninsula, located east of Nagasaki, was also heavily formed by the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Unzen. Shimabara is where the Unzen Onsen Town is located.

Uzen Jingoku Nagasaki

In the center of Unzen Onsen, you'll find the Unzen Jigoku, which in English translates to "Unzen Hells." These milky, acidic, and sulfurous open water pits are fascinating and ever-evolving. In recent years, a new hell 'opening' took over a car park right by the main hot spring field.

Throughout the town, ryokan inns have their own onsen water source pumped straight from the grounds.

If you want to visit a public onsen, Kojigoku Onsen, an ultra-local and authentic public bath house nestled a 15-minute walk outside the town center, is the place to go with classic, rustic stone baths and waterfalls that massage you as you soak.

3. You Can Literally Live in a National Park

Mt Kinukasa Uzen and Village

In other countries, many national parks are just that, parks. But in Japan, exploring the country's national parks is unique because some national parks have townships and private residences within their perimeters, and Unzen is one of them.

Nitapass Fugendake Townscape Nagasaki

While it's different from what you might expect a national park experience to be, it's a fun way to see how folks in Japan live in harmony with nature. Those who live and run businesses in national parks, like Unzen Amakusa National Park, showcase a sense of deep connectedness to the landscape, one that can be overlooked by many of us who live and work in big cities.

shinyu breakfast Unzen Shinyu

It also means that you can stay in the national park as a guest. Unzen Onsen has an impressive range of accommodations, from classic minshuku (basic guest house style accommodations) to luxury ryokan inns, meaning there's something for all traveler styles.

4. You’ll Discover a Unique Local History

Unzen Onsen Tourist Association Nagasaki

Unzen's history with Western tourists has been one of the longest-running histories of its kind in Japan despite it still today feeling like a local secret.

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), Unzen first captivated the attention and admiration of many Europeans working in China who were searching for a place to escape the sweltering Chinese summer heat.

European travelers arrived on the shores of Unzen via the Shanghai sea route connecting Shanghai and Nagasaki. It wasn't long before they turned the hot-spring heave into a popular resort destination.

A good resort always needs a good golf course, and so Unzen Golf Course was opened in 1913, making it the oldest public and second-oldest golf course in Japan after the Kobe Golf Club, which opened in 1903.

While the making of Unzen Onsen meant that this area was also one of the first locations in the country to accept and embrace foreign cultures proactively, the history of the region has another side too, which is well worth learning more about to better understand the depth of Japan's history and culture.

Nitapass Fugendake Ocean View Nagasaki

Unzen is located near Nagasaki. It was here in the 1500s when the first Portuguese missionaries arrived in Japan. Their arrival divided the area's population between Christians and those who opposed Christianity.

This area was home to the 1637–38 Shimabara Rebellion. The catalyst for the rebellion was the Japanese government's opposition to Christianity under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. It was seen as a danger to the Japanese way of life.

The nation's Christians (many peasants brought into the faith by Portuguese missionaries) were forced into hiding but later revolted, making it the largest civil conflict in Japan during the Edo era. In the 2016 Martin Scorsese film "Silence," you can better understand the dynamics at play during this tumultuous time.

Unzen Hell National Park

Unzen Jigoku, located at the center of Unzen Onsen, played a key role in the events that happened during this era.

In 1627, the local lord of the Shimabara domain killed 30 Christians who refused to renounce their faith, throwing them to their deaths in the boiling springs. As you stroll along the Unzen Jigoku site, you'll find a small cross and a plaque erected in commemoration of those who died there.

5. Unparalleled Hiking and Outdoor Adventures

Nitapass Fugendake Landscape Nagasaki

One of the many reasons for staying in Unzen Onsen is to take advantage of the area's incredible hiking opportunities. There are mountain trails for both experienced and casual hikers.

The hiking trail to Fugendake (1,359 m) is one of the most challenging routes out there. Fugendake is the highest peak in the Mt. Unzen mountain range.

Unzen Fugendake View Nagasaki

From the top of Fugendake, you can see the smoldering summit of Heisei Shinzan (1486 m) and admire views from over the surrounding mountains and the Ariake Sea to Kumamoto Prefecture.

Rental Bike Nita Pass Mt Unzen

Grab a rental e-bike and cycle to Nita Pass to properly take in the sights of the Mt. Unzen region.

You can visit the Unzen Tourist Office for updated information on rental bikes in the area. From Nita Pass, you'll find the entrance to Mt. Fugen trail, and it takes around four to six hours to complete the hike from the base of Nita Pass. Alternatively, there's a ropeway that departs from this location.

Mt Kinukasa Lake Nagasaki

Another excellent hike for those after something a little more casual is a trek to the top of the town's Mt. Kinukasa (about 40 minutes) and down to Shirakumonoike (Lake Shirakumo) Camping Ground. Located right by the city center, it's easy to access via the town on foot and is an idyllic way to see the sights along the way.

6. Excellent Places to Stay in Unzen Onsen

Mt Kinukasa Town Nagasaki

Unsen Onsen is dotted with many excellent accommodation options to suit all traveling styles, from Shirakumo no Ike Camping Ground to luxe options like Shinyu Hotel and Hoshino Resorts KAI Unzen.

For a more comprehensive look at the available accommodation options, visit Unzen Onsen's official website.

Written by

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting. Some of our articles contain affiliate links. We kindly ask our readers to exercise careful judgement when making a purchase or booking a service online.

Top Articles

There are no articles in this section.