Road Trip on Matsuura Railway Line in Nagasaki and Saga (Part 1)

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Road Trip on Matsuura Railway Line in Nagasaki and Saga


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Road Trip on Matsuura Railway Line in Nagasaki and Saga (Part 1)

We continue our adventures to visit recommended tourist sites along local railway lines. This week, we will take a two-day trip along the Matsuura Railway line, which connects Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture and Arita in Saga Prefecture. Matsuura Railway opened after taking over the JR Matsuura line in 1988 and it is called "MR" by the locals. There is a train that has a mascot character "Max Kun" printed on it, while another train, "Retoron", features a nostalgic design. The railway line has 57 stations covering a total distance of 93.8km. The train runs along the shoreline, offering beautiful views of the rias coastline.

Our journey begins at Sasebo city, which is located in north Nagasaki. We buy a one-day pass for Matsuura Railway for 2,000 yen and take a single-car train from Sasebo Station. The train goes through a tunnel and reaches Sasebo Chuo Station, at the centre of Sasebo city, in two minutes. We have slightly more than an hour till our next train at 10.20am.

We walk around speaking to the locals and one of them recommends we try a popular rolled cake called Nonoji. It is sold at a 210-year-old department store called Sasebo Tamaya. It originally began as a kimono store in the late Edo era and later became the first department store in Kyushu. Butter, heavy cream and cane sugar are used to make a rich sponge cake, which is then rolled up with chocolate cream. Shredded chocolate is then sprinkled on top of the cake.

We head back to Sasebo Chuo Station and go to Masaru Station, 14 stations away. We are amused when we notice the very next station after Sasebo Chuo, Naka-Sasebo, is less than 40 seconds away. In fact, the distance between the two stations is the shortest among all the local railways in Japan. We then find out Sasebo Chuo was added to the railway line much later at the request of the locals, who wanted a station in the middle of the shopping avenue.

After 40 minutes, we arrive at Masaru, which we mistakenly assume is a port town. Nevertheless, as we have two hours to spare till the 1pm train, we still ask the people here about places worth visiting. We are told that there is a mango greenhouse which is owned by a construction company. The company set up an agricultural section to help revitalise the town. It now grows fruits such as mangoes and blueberries and ships them out within the prefecture. Another place suggested is a sushi restaurant called Aoba. It sells about 100 types of sushi but stonefish sashimi is one of the popular items here.

After this, we take the train to the Senryugataki Station in the mountains. It is six stations away and we arrive at 1.20pm. Our next train will only leave two hours later. A store owner tells us the most famous spot in this area is the huge Senryugataki waterfall, which is a 20-minute walk from the station. Senryugataki was registered as a tourist site by the Hirado domain in the Edo era. It was named after a legend about a dragon hiding in this waterfall.

We want to visit one more tourist spot here so we walk back to the store to get more tips. This time, the owner offers to drive us to a famous bridge which is made of bamboo. A registered tangible cultural property, it was built in the early Showa era when the national railway was constructed. Bamboo was used instead of concrete due to the lack of materials such as iron during the war.

The next station we head to by train is Tabira Hiradoguchi, the westernmost train station in Japan. The train ride takes about 25 minutes and we arrive at the station at 4pm. We now have to look for a hotel. A resident mentions Kaijyo Hotel, which is next to the sea on Hirado Island. It’ll take us about two hours to walk there so the hotel sends a car to pick us up from the station. The car crosses the Hirado Bridge and heads towards the hotel. Along the way, we get to see Hirado Castle, built on top of a hill overlooking Hirado Seto.


1) If you do happen to visit the department store Sasebo Tamaya, do try its popular Nonoji cake
2) A famous tourist spot in Nagasaki Prefecture is the Senryugataki waterfall