The South Island of Kyushu has an endless supply of seaside nooks and crannies to explore, from bustling towns to tiny little fishing villages where foreigners rarely go. An example of something halfway in between is Misumi, a town in the Uto District of Kumamoto Prefecture. By train you can get to Misumi from Kumamoto in under an hour, or in 1.5 / 2 hours from Fukuoka, making it a great day-trip destination.
If you arrive by train, you’ll find yourself in a quaint, single-room station which looks a lot like a small church. The terminal station was opened by Kyushu Railways in 1899, just a stone’s throw away from the Misumi East Port. With a small population of about 10,000 people, the trains only run about once an hour.
If you are a rail enthusiast who wants to travel in style, you can take the A-Train. Named after a famous jazz tune (‘Take the “A” Train’ – arranged by Minoru Mukaiya, which you can hear being piped out into the bar area of the train) the train is stylishly designed with an old-time feel. With stained-glass windows inspired by the Catholic churches of Amakusa and a plush interior design, taking the A-Train is as much of a tourist attraction as the destination. The round-trip between Kumamoto and Misumi runs three times a day.
There is not much to see or do around the East Port of Misumi, so once you arrive by train the best thing is to take a few minutes taxi ride, or a short hop on the local bus, over the hill and around the corner to the Misumi West Port.
In 1880, a survey of Kumamoto’s Ports found that it was not worth refurbishing the present port facilities of Misumi, and instead it was recommended to build a new port on the Western side. Four years later, construction started and took three years to complete. By 1889, Misumi West Port was operating as a special export centre (exporting mostly flour, wheat, rice, sulphur and coal) and shipped much of its coal to Shanghai.
However, by 1990 the train line had arrived in the Eastern Port and the Western Port ceased operations. The port is famous for its fine stonework and is the only example of Meiji Era Port facilities which have survived to this day. As such, the charming view out to sea is made all the more picturesque by the inclusion of the worn stones where, these days, families sit in the summer and do a spot of fishing.
Because the engineer who designed Misumi West Port was Dutch, there is a pleasant mix of colonial style and typical Japanese Meiji era buildings, which can still be seen in the present day. One of the crowning tourist attractions in the area is Urashimaya – an old colonial style hotel which is now a museum/tea room/period clothing rental place (you can rent traditional British colonial costumes to wear and have photographs taken with the seafront as a background)
The hotel was made famous by the writer Lafcadio Hearn (Japanese name – Koizumi Yakumo) who visited in the 1890’s. He adored the coastal area and after having had a ‘nightmarish’ holiday in Nagasaki, he was filled with praise for the little port and hotel. There are several other small museums in the area, and a tearoom which overlooks the little fishing boats that are moored there.
In the surrounding area there appear to be some small shrines and hillside walks which will no doubt give fantastic views of the port and across to Amakusa and Shimabara (both of which can be reached by boat at the East Port.) Wakamiya beach is popular during the middle of summer but is deserted at all other times of year, even if the weather is fine. As for other tourist attractions in the area, they are few and far between – Misumi is an area for people who like peace and quiet, being surrounded with the sea on one side and an abundance of nature on the other. It would be a perfect destination for a reclusive writer (like Lafcadio Hearn) to squirrel away and work on their writing… if only the Urashimaya Hotel was still in business!
Misumi West Port*Automatic translation