Usuki, Oita

   William Adams became the first English person to arrive in Japan when his ship, De Leifde, was washed ashore on Kuroshima, a small island off the coast of Usuki, in April 1600. Adams and his shipmates quickly found themselves in the custody of the locals and were held in Usuki before being despatched to Osaka Castle and into the hands of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Although Adams only spent about a week or so in Usuki, the historic arrival of De Leifde is celebrated in April each year on Kuroshima. A small memorial park has been created where busts of Adams and his second mate Jan Joostens are displayed together with an artwork inspired by an astrolabe presented by the Dutch government. Nearby, a room houses artefacts related to our hero’s journey including a model of his ship.

Kuroshima, Usuki in Oita Prefecture


  Kuroshima is reached in five minutes on a vintage and atmospheric ferry boat that plies the waters on request. The island, which was once a popular destination for family trips to the beach, has a care-worn charm. A local gentleman, who retired back to his roots after a career in business, takes care of the facilities, sells snacks and drinks, and rents out SUP boards and kayaks to visitors. He has brightened the place up with colourful licks of paint. His affection for Kuroshima is apparent and he happily engages in conversation with visitors and relates how, as a child, he used to swim across the limpid blue waters to the island with his friends as they could not afford the fare for the ferry. There are no longer any permanent residents on the island, but mainlanders sail over from time-to-time to tend mikan orange groves.

Ferry to Kuroshima.

Ferry to Kuroshima

Kuroshima is about a ten minute drive from central Usuki, an old castle town. Although only the ramparts of the castle remain on a low hill overlooking the town centre it is reasonable to imagine Adams and his colleagues being held here, guarded by samurai warriors, while they awaited their fate. Usuki retains a charm from an older era with its period streets and grand temples and is well-worth exploring. It is famed for its fugu blow fish, shoyu soy sauce and magaibutsu stone Buddhas. The latter have been designated as Japanese National Treasures.

Usuki also celebrates its connection with the Portuguese, who began trading here from the mid-16th Century well before De Liefde’s arrival. They held great sway with the powerful local warlord, Otomo Sorin, who became a Christian under their influence in 1578. An old storehouse in the centre of town has been refashioned with friezes made of Portuguese tiles. In stark contrast, nearby is the Inaba samurai house and its delightful Japanese garden. Usuki’s festivals include the Gion Festival in mid-July, and Takeyoi, when 20,000 bamboo lanterns adorn the town’s historic centre on the first weekend in November.

For more information see:

Usuki streetscape
Usuki streetscape