Unzen volcano from North
Fugen-dake (普賢岳) is the second highest peak of the Unzen (雲仙) volcano massif which dominates the Shimabara peninsula east of Nagasaki on Kyushu island. Unzen is well known for its volcanic activity that last peaked in a period from 1990 to 1995. Still today, TV documentations on volcanos nearly invariably mention Unzen when it comes to massive pyroclastic flows. The most severe occurred on June 13, 1991 when 34 people were killed in an area that was rated as safe.
The two highest peaks of Unzen - Fugen-dake (1359m) and Heisei Shinzan (1483m)
Until the last period of volcanic activity, Fugen-dake was the highest point of the Unzen complex. It lost this title with the growth of a new lava dome 500 meter eastwards that has been named as Heisei Shinzan. With 1483 meters, the new peak outperforms Fugen-dake by more than 100 meters. Due to the geological instability of Heisei Shinzan, Fugen-dake remains the highest accessible point of the massif.
Heisei Shinzan lava dome
Not least to its autumn colors, one of the first Japanese National Parks is protecting the Unzen area. The best visiting time for the red leaves is from mid October to early November.
Fugen-dake makes for a nice day or half day hike and can be well combined with a visit of the town of Shimabara at its eastern base. The outlook from the tower of Shimabara castle provides a nice view of the bay and Unzen. There is also a new museum just 4 km south of the town center, dedicated to the volcanic disaster of 1991 and volcanic activity in general.
Fugen-dake and Heisei Shinzan from the toll road outlook
Shimabara is accessible by train from Fukuoka or Nagasaki. Take Japan Rail (JR) and change to the local private line in Isahaya. It's about 1.5 hrs from Nagasaki and 2.5 hrs from Fukuoka.
From Shimabara there is a connection with several buses a day towards Unzen town up on the mountain. There is also a direct bus connection from Nagasaki to Shimabara via Unzen (1h 40min).
Approach to the new lava dome is prohibited
Currently, there is no restriction for climbing Fugen-dake. Climbing and approaching the neighbor lava dome of Heisei Shinzan is strictly prohibited. There are clear markings.
Tori at Nita pass trailhead
For a mountain close to the coast, a nice tour would be a climb from sea level to the top. Unfortunatelly there are no trails and the only option from Shimabara is the walk along the road to Unzen town (5 hrs).
Therefore, a more convenient and pleasant hike starts in Unzen town. From the bus stop in the town center walk the street downhill towards the pond Oshidori-ike. Before the lake turn right and follow the paved road that will soon change into a trail that enters the forest. The trail climbs up parallel to the road Route 57. At a crossroad the trail leaves the forest (25 min).
A well prepared path climbs slowly along the Unzen Golf Course up to a small parking lot that seems to be used as a (not very legal) campsite occasionally. Restrooms there provide drinking water. (20 min)
Above the parking lot the trail enters the forest again and becomes steeper while winding up towards the Nita Pass (30 min).
Fugen-dake from the trail above Nita pass
At Nita pass (1080 m) there is a large parking lot as it is the highest point a toll road and the basis of the rope way to Myokensan (1333 m). The hiking trail continues just right of the rope way station by passing trough a tori. From here the path descends even for a while. After 20 min the point Azamidani is passed and the trail climbs up to Momijichaya (25 min). From there, the narrow trail leads steep in the bushes towards the summit of Fugen-dake (25 min).
Altogether, it is about 2.5 hrs from Unzen town and little more than 1 h from Nida pass to the summit.
The hells - Unzen Jigoku
Unzen's current volcanic activity is not only limited to the lava dome of Heisei Shinzan. Unzen town is well known for its onsens (thermal hot springs) and spas as well as for the number of fumaroles known as Jigoku (hell). Directly located in the town center, they are the source of the prominent smell. A number of paths is guiding along the slopes passing all the steams and mud pools.
Officially, camping is prohibited in the National Park. But it seems that wild camping is tolerated at the parking lots beside the Golf Course.
In the Google map, there is a camp ground South of Unzen town. No information about the conditions there.
External LinksExcellent topographic online maps covering whole Japan
and the corresponding map of Fugen-dake
Japanese mountain database
The website of the Unzen Tourist Association
Website about the Unzen decade volcano
Collection of videos
of the 1991 eruptions and pyroclastic flows
for trains on hypedia
or the JR Kyushu website
The local trains and buses are operated by Shimatetsu
(in Japanese only)
Weather forecast of Japan Meteorological Agency