Minamata city in Kumamoto prefecture is a beautiful seaside town. The city is sadly known mainly because of Minamata disease, but despite this tragic past it is now a peaceful and beautiful town with natural sights. Thanks to local efforts it is has also won awards for being ecofriendly.
Minamata is located in the south western area of Kumamoto on the seaside. It is accessible by local train, on the Hisatsu Orange Line. This is a separate line from the JR line and can be accessed from Shin-Minamata station if travelling by bullet train. Another way to get there is by local train, transferring from the JR Line at Yatsushiro. From here the line travels along the seaside giving you the chance to enjoy some stunning views.
One of the main spots for visitors is the museum of Minamata disease. The museum provides information about what happened, as well as paying tribute to the victims. It is a 15 minute walk from the station and entry is free. The museum is open from 9:00-17:00 every day other than Mondays. Guides are available in English here and near the entrance there is a room projecting images and a short documentary about the disease. You can see a translation of this in English. The disease was caused by a local factory disposing of a type of mercury into the sea which ultimately resulted in thousands of deaths and disabilities. Storytellers come to the museum to talk about their family members lost to the disease and the efforts they made to get compensation. You can make a reservation to hear these stories. A comprehensive collection of books, movies and other materials is also available. Photos depicting some of the sufferers of the disease are on display, explaining their stories.
Outside the museum is a memorial spot overlooking the ocean seaside. The memorial was built in 1996 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the disease’s discovery. Part of this memorial is a prayer fountain with constantly flowing water on a glass surface. It was designed as a place for people to think about what happened as well as looking toward the future. Below this area is a small rocky beach accessible when the tide is out. The surrounding area is very green and there is plenty of natural beauty to enjoy.
Nearby is Minamata Eco Park. In the years following the Minamata disease, the city has made efforts to become ecofriendly and improve its reputation. The building of the Eco Park was a part of these efforts, some of which have won awards. Minamata is now one of Japan’s “eco towns” thanks to local organisations. Mimamata Eco Park was designed as a place to enjoy fun activities, see nature and learn about the history of the area. The park is separated in zones with different facilities and attractions. One of these zones includes a beautiful rose garden featuring 750 types of roses from around the world and a small gift shop selling rose flavoured ice cream and sweets. A variety of food made from local produce is also available here, with samples to taste. The park also has areas for sports, such as race track and a baseball field. It also features a bamboo park and some beautiful spots such as a small pond. The bamboo park has various types of bamboo, including some that are rare in Japan. Kids can enjoy play parks and a pool in summer.
Further out from the city centre is Fukuda Farm, which sells various kinds of Spanish food as well as homemade jams, fruit juice and their own delicious sangria recipe. Designed like a Spanish villa, this restaurant and patio overlooks the sea from a higher spot in Minamata. You can eat in their restaurant and buy some of their original foods made from locally sourced ingredients. Events like music performances are also held, which seem to be very popular. You can reach Fukuda Farm by bus, though they run infrequently, or take a 15 minute taxi ride. Though it is a little far from the centre of the city it’s definitely worth the short trip to experience a small taste of Spain in Southern Japan and taste some delicious cuisine. Their shop is open from 8:00-17:00 daily while the Sevilia and Valencia restaurants are open from 10:30-21:00.
Minamata is a town that has been sadly affected by tragedy yet has come through this and now is a beautiful and quiet seaside spot, perfect for a quiet break. The views of the ocean seaside are stunning and you can enjoy walking around the park taking in the nature. It’s a shame that due to its association with Minamata disease, there aren’t many visitors there nowadays. This does mean however that there are no crowds, so you can have a chance to enjoy a rarer part of Japan and really take in the sights and sounds. To learn about this dark history and how the people of Minamata have done so much since then to change their city is inspirational. They have been working to change their city’s reputation while at the same time ensuring that the past is remembered.