History
Number 1 Sightseeing Spot: Sasebo Port
The View from Sasebo Port
Navy-Related Sites in Sasebo
Sasebo as a Hub of Christinanity
Miura Catholic Church
Kuroshima Church
Asago Church
Other Sights to see
Maritime Self-Defense Force Sasebo Museum
Kujukushima Aquarium Umi Kirara
Kujukushima Zoological and Botanical Gardens Mori Kirara
Tenkaiho Observatory
Things to Eat in Sasebo
Event
Access
Nearby

The town of Sasebo in Northern Nagasaki, is the second most populous city of the prefecture. For centuries since the Edo Period, Sasebo has functioned as a point of cultural contact between Japan and the west. Sasebo is also a town with a significant history in Japan's development, with its deep connection with the naval bases of both Japan and the United States. This article will take you through Sasebo's history, rich nature, and local foods to show you all that Sasebo has to offer!

History of Sasebo

Sasebo has continued to flourish as a port-town for many years.

Sasebo as a Naval Base


Sasebo today as a Maritime Self Defense Force Base

In 1889, a naval base for the Imperial navy was constructed on Sasebo’s coast. Sasebo was chosen as its coast had ideal geographical features as a navy base – the waters were deep and its narrow bay entrance made it hard for enemy ships to identify inside activity.
Sasebo originally was a small town of around 4000 people, but after the implementation of the naval base, the town experienced a surge in population. The more Japan was involved in war, the more Sasebo grew.
By 1944, Sasebo had become a full-fledged city with a population of over 280,000 people.

Sasebo and the Second World War

Unfortunately, Sasebo was a victim of the Second World War and its air raids.
The once booming population of Sasebo was reduced by half, and the entire city was ravaged. After the war, the United States set up a naval base in Sasebo’s port area, and was heavily used during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
After these wars, much of the land used by the US Navy was returned to Japan, and Sasebo was finally able to fixate on revamping the city for tourism.

Sasebo Port

Sasebo Port's International Terminal has become this area's number one tourist spot.

Sasebo Port International Terminal


Sasebo Port

In 2015, Sasebo Port’s International Terminal was completed. Sasebo Port has partnered up with major cruise companies to make Sasebo and Japan more accessible to tourists.

The View from Sasebo Port

From Sasebo Port, you can see Kujukushima Islands. Kujukushima is a set of 208 islands off the Northern coast of Nagasaki. Some of the islands are accessible by ferry, which you can take from Sasebo Port.

Kujukushima Islands


Kujukushima Islands

The Kujukushima Islands are a set of 208 islands off the northern coast of Sasebo Port. Most of the islands are designated as a part of Saikai National Park. Over 80% of the islands’ nature is strictly protected, and only 4 of the islands are inhabited. The largest and one of the four inhabited islands is Kuroshima, and is a 50-minute ferry ride from Ainoura Port. Feel the ocean breeze as you cruise around the 208 islands!

Navy-Related Sites in Sasebo

Sasebo has a long history with the Japanese navy and the American navy. The strong naval background of the city greatly influenced its identity. Throughout the city, you can find sites that were (and still are) heavily shaped by Japanese and American naval activity.

Former Sasebo Naval Base Memorial Hall


Former Sasebo Naval Base Memorial Hall

The Naval Base Hall was constructed in 1923 with the donation from the Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku regions. The hall was originally used for hosting foreign diplomats. During World War II, the Japanese imperial navy and military would hold joint funerals here for lives lost in battles. Though the hall was taken by the US military after the war, it was returned to Japan in 1977 and currently serves as a community hall.

Other Navy-Related Sites


The Red Brick Warehouse

Other navy related sites include the Red Brick Warehouses in the American Navy Base. Unfortunately, the American Navy Base is open to the public only a few days of the year, so check online for those dates.

Sasebo as a Hub of Christinanity

From the 1500s, Sasebo Port has been a significant site of cultural exchange. Through Sasebo, western religion was imported into Japan. In fact, the Nagasaki area served as one of Japan’s most prominent Christian hubs.
From the early 1600s to the late 1800s, Christianity was banned in Japan, and followers had to either worship in hiding, go pagan or receive severe punishment from the government. As soon as the Christianity ban was lifted, worshippers came out into the light and started building churches. Nagasaki prefecture is now home to a populous Christian community.
You can find many churches throughout the prefecture and of course in Sasebo. Here are some Sasebo churches to check out:

Miura Catholic Church


Miura Catholic Church

The church itself was established in 1899, and was moved to its current location in Miura-cho in 1931. Miura Catholic Church boasts a stunning white, Gothic style exterior.
During the Second World War, the church was painted black in order to avoid getting bombed, and miraculously survived. Miura Catholic Church stands strong today as a landmark of the city of Sasebo.

Kuroshima Church


Kuroshima Church

Kuroshima Church locates on Kuroshima Island, which is a 50-minute ferry ride from Sasebo’s Ainoura Port. The church was made in 1902, and served as a haven for undercover Christians during the time.
In fact, the entire island of Kuroshima provided refuge for the Christian population, and to this day, 80% of the island’s residents are Christian. Making a call prior to your visit is recommended, as the church has a limited number of visitors per day.

Asago Church


Asago Church

Asago Church sits on the northwestern coast of Sasebo, providing a beautiful panoramic view of the Kujukushima Islands. The small wooden church was built in the 1940s, and is well known for its illumination during the Christmas season.

Other Sights to See

There are still many more sights to see at Sasebo!

Maritime Self-Defense Force Sasebo Museum


Maritime Self-Defense Force Sasebo Museum

The building of the Maritime Self-Defense Force Sasebo Museum was originally used by the Japanese Naval Force, then seized by the US, then finally returned to Japan in 1982. Since then, the building serves as a museum, exhibiting documents from when the Japanese Imperial Navy was born until its renewal as the Maritime Self-Defense Force today.

Kujukushima Aquarium Umi Kirara


Kujukushima Aquarium Umi Kirara

Kujukushima Aquarium Umi Kirara is like a small, compressed version of Kujukushima Islands. Out of the 3,000 species of fish in the Japanese ocean area, the Kujukushima Islands area carries about 1,000. Umi Kirara displays many types of jellyfish, crabs, shellfish, fishes and more that are found in the area. Aside from smaller animals, you can find bigger creatures like dolphins and turtles.

Kujukushima Zoological and Botanical Gardens Mori Kirara


Penguins swimming in the ceiling tank

Kujukushima Zoological and Botanical Gardens Mori Kirara, opened in 1961, sits in the western area of the city. The zoological and botanical garden is home to large animals like giraffes and lions, and also to around 1,200 species of plants. The facility boasts the largest ceiling tank in Japan, where you can observe penguins swimming above you.

Tenkaiho Observatory


The view from Tenkaiho

For the best view of the Kujukushima Islands, visit Tenkaiho Observatory. In the spring, the canola flower field below the observatory is in full bloom, and in the autumn you can witness the meadow covered in cosmos. Tenkaiho Observatory is a must for anyone visiting Sasebo, and especially for those who don’t have the time to cruise around the Kujukushima Islands.

Things to Eat in Sasebo

Eating local food is part of the fun on a trip. Here are some of the the best Sasebo foods you can get!

Sasebo Burger


Sasebo Burger

The hamburger is said to have entered Japan through Sasebo, and the Sasebo Burger inarguably one of the city’s most famous foods. The Sasebo Burger was born in 1950, when the citizens of the city learned how to make a burger from residents of the US naval base. Originally, hamburgers were only sold in and near the US base, but throughout the years, the Sasebo Burger transformed into the city’s soul food. The Sasebo Burger is characterized by its voluptuous size, fresh ingredients and each of the restaurant’s original sauce.

Lemon Steak


Lemon Steak

The Lemon Steak is also a product of cultural exchange. The Japanese saw Americans eating steak, and revamped it to better match their taste buds. Thinly cut up chunk of steak, drizzle some lemon-flavored soy sauce on it and serve it on a teppan (iron plate), and there you have your Lemon Steak. To really enjoy every bite of it, wrap the slice of beef around some white rice and dowse it with the sauce.

Events

Here are some of the events at Sasebo.

Saikai Bridge Whirlpool Festival – 西海橋うず潮まつり (Mar. – Apr.)


Cherry blossoms in Saikai Bridge Park

During the spring season, over 1000 cherry blossoms in Saikai Bridge Park are blooming to its fullest. Alongside the cherry blossoms, you can witness the whirlpools forming in the strait right by the park. Sit beneath the flowers and enjoy some food from the vendors in the park.

Kira Kira Festival in SASEBO – きらきらフェスティバル in SASEBO (Nov. – Jan.)


Christmas lights at Shimanose Park

In Shimanose Park in Sasebo’s city center, you can experience a bright, dreamy Christmas. The Kira Kira Festival is held from November to January, and during those months, Shimanose Park is illuminated with over 300,000 lights. At the Kira Kira Party, you can join the locals for a holiday toast.

Access to Sasebo

Nearest station: JR Sasebo Station 佐世保駅

Access from Nagasaki Station 長崎駅

【Nagasaki Sta.】(Bus) Nagasaki ~ Sasebo Line / for Sasebo Bus Center
→【Sasebo Sta.】

Access from Nagasaki Airport 長崎空港

【Nagasaki Airport Sta.】(Bus) Nagasaki Airport Line [Sasebo] / for Sasa Bus Center
→【Sasebo Sta.】

Nearby Destinations