Hiking across a land alive with glorious hell
Unzen Jigoku was the tragic site of Christian martyrdom in the 17th century. The smell of sulfur and the sight of rising fumes certainly conjure up the image of jigoku, or hell. At present there are some 30 fumaroles dubbed hells, each named after a martyr such as Oito and Kiyoshichi. These fumaroles are constantly shifting due to subterranean volcanic activity, and a short walk in the area gives one the sense that Unzen is bursting with infinite energy.
Amid the dynamic workings of the Earth and the treasure trove of birds and highland plants, the proper way to spend time in Unzen is to not only enjoy the hot springs and good food but also take a walk through nature. Papersky asked Takahisa Horimatsu, a ranger from the Ministry of the Environment, to be our guide on short ‘picnic hike’ along a few of the parks many hiking trail:
“The abundance of flowers and birds makes this a destination of choice for enthusiasts. A new group of flowers blooms every two weeks, so the hiking season continues year round.”
At the time of our visit, the panicle hydrangea was in season (from summer to autumn). Later in the autumn, the cluster of maples will entertain visitors with their red and yellow foliage. We walked briskly and peered between the trees to spot the majestic mountains. Mr. Horimatsu points to one of them, Heisei Shinzan:
“Three decades have passed since the eruption, but access is still not permitted. The new peak is the highest in Nagasaki Prefecture (1,483 m), and it was formed in the Heisei period (1989–2019). Let’s hope it will be opened to climbers one day. For serious hikers, the Shimabara Peninsula has a sea-to-summit trail to Fugendake (1,359 m). The route runs a total of 25 kilometers, ascending 2,000 meters and then descending 1,300 meters and arriving at the Unzen Onsen resort. It takes about 12 hours in all—an interesting challenge.”
We selected a two-hour trail including a leisurely lunch at a scenic spot. By walking, we absorbed the infinite energy of Kyushu into our bodies in a way that isn’t possible by merely soaking in the hot springs.