At the heart of the peninsula of the same name, Shimabara is known for its castle, its Christian history and its overbearing neighbor: Mount Unzen.
Just as Kagoshima has Sakurajima, Shimabara lives with a rather cumbersome neighbor: Mount Unzen, which looms over the region, seen even from Kumamoto, located on the other side of the Ariake Inland Sea. Always active, this is one of the deadliest volcanoes in the country, and although it is recognised as one of the most beautiful sites of the archipelago, the steam that escapes from every crevice is a reminder that danger is never very far away.
This hasn't prevented the peninsula from becoming one of the largest national parks in Japan (1934). Today, enthusiasts come here to hike, visit the "hell" of Unzen, and enjoy the local hot springs (Unzen onsen) of exceptional quality.
Yet at one time, Mount Unzen served a different purpose. This was at a time when Christianity was banned, and its followers persecuted.
The region of Nagasaki has been a bastion of Christianity since the Christianization of the region by Jesuit missionaries in the early sixteenth century. After the religion was banned, some continued to worship in secret, earning the nickname kakure kirishitan, or "Hidden Christians".
In 1637, crushed by increasingly heavy taxes, local farmers (often still loyal to the foreign religion) revolted, an event known as the Shimabara Rebellion. They were beaten, and the supporters holed up in Hara Castle were decimated by Dutch ships cannons, allies of the shogun. Ironically, their taxes were raised to build another castle.
Castle and museums
Shimabara Castle - a main tourist attraction of the city - has also cost a small fortune: its large size was much higher than the usual average, and cost an unusually large sum to build.
Fully renovated, the fortress boasts an impressive moat with a height of over 15m, which is nowadays is filled. In the castle you'll find a museu, offering interesting exhibits on the Christian history of the region (crucifixes, statues of Mary), the famous 1637 rebellion (a large canvas depicting the siege of Hara) and the medieval ruling clan (samurai armor).
A day in Shimabara can often be finished off by taking a visit to the Disaster Museum, a tribute to the many victims of the volcanic eruptions of the 90s, which was the deadliest for hundreds of years. Two famous French volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft, were killed there in 1991.