The Top 13 Things to Do in Sasebo

The Top 13 Things to Do in Sasebo

Sasebo’s unique mix of local and foreign elements is something to visit it for, so here’s the top 10 things to do and places to visit at Sasebo to get you started!

Image credit: Rekishi-JAPAN

With its strategic location near the sea, Sasebo has a deep history as a humble fishing village, a site for naval operations both during and after World War 2, and finally as a site for a US Military Base in the present day. This seaside town has gone beyond its quiet roots and now is no stranger to foreign influences, allowing for it to become among many things Japan’s home of the true American burger. Sasebo’s unique mix of local and foreign elements is something to visit it for, so here’s the top 10 things to do and places to visit at Sasebo to get you started!

1. Huis Ten Bosch

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Probably the best place to take in the uniqueness of Sasebo, Huis Ten Bosch is a theme park that replicates the ambience of an old Dutch town. Huis Ten Bosch is named after one of the residences of the royal Dutch family, and transports visitors to another country with its Dutch-inspired architecture, colourful gardens and plentiful waterways. 

things to do in sasebo

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Regular events such as tulip festivals, firework competitions and illuminations are held throughout the year, while the seasonal blooms make for changing vistas in this attraction. This is not including the various other attractions and facilities that Huis Ten Bosch houses, such as various theme park rides, museums and outdoor activities. Shopaholics will be glad to know the theme park also offers various shopping options, while the restaurants located throughout the park will satiate any foodie.

2. Saikai Pearl Sea Resort

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If the sea is more of your thing, the Saikai Pearl Sea Resort is a great place to head to. An amusement park with everything to do with the sea it’s located beside, the Resort offers various cruise rides around the surrounding Kujukushima islands, as well as other water activities such as kayaking and yacht sailing. 

Indoors, the Umikirara Aquarium is famed for its tranquil Jellyfish Symphony Dome, while the Kujushima Bay Large Aquarium features around 120 species of marine life. Other activities include hands-on pearl harvesting, a dolphin show and feeding areas. The Resort also offers various eating and shopping options, the latter of which are predominantly sea-themed, of course.

3. Kujukushima 

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Literally meaning ‘99 Islands’, Kujukushima is actually made up of a dense cluster of approximately 208 islands, of which only 4 are inhabited. Kujukushima is part of the Saikai National Park and has been dubbed as one of the most beautiful bays in the world, with various look-out points and observatories allow for great vintage views of the islands and the sea, and a stunning sunset that should not be missed.

You can view the islands from various observatories such as the Yumiharidake Observatory and the Tenkaiho Observatory Tower, the latter of which offers a great view of the sunset. You can also get up close with the islands through a cruise ride from the Saikai Pearl Sea Resort.

4. Sasebo Zoological Park and Botanical Garden / Morikirara

Constructed by the same group that made the Saikai Pearl Sea Resort, Morikirara is one part zoo and one part botanical garden. The zoo houses over 250 animals across 64 species, while the garden features around 1,200 varieties of flowers. The park’s highlight is its Penguin Tank, Japan’s largest overhead aquarium which allows you to view ‘flying’ penguins from below.

5. Savour a Sasebo Burger

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The epitome of Sasebo’s cultural uniqueness is probably the Sasebo Burger, a dish born out of the local’s adaptiveness to their circumstances. When the US Navy made base at the seaside city after World War 2, the locals saw this as a potential business opportunity and adapted their fare to suit the foreign palates of the soldiers. The soldiers then brought the recipe for hamburgers to the locals, leading the first burger joints to open in the early 1950s, almost two decades before Japan’s first Macdonald’s opened up in 1971 at Ginza, Tokyo.

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Sasebo burgers are thick and layered with several ingredients such as eggs, bacon, cheese, lettuce, onions, a patty and mayonnaise. Needless to say, the Sasebo burger is probably one of the few in Japan that come close to an authentic American burger. Of course, how the burger is made varies from shop to shop, with some even venturing beyond the standard ingredients, so head down to International Avenue to try them all!

6. Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces Museum (‘Sail Tower’)

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A great place for naval buffs, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces Museum showcases exhibits about Japan’s naval history and the present activities of the Japan Self Defense Forces. Various models of naval vessels and historical exhibits are on display here in this 7-storey museum, most of which have labels in English. While exhibits and videos are in Japanese, English handouts are provided. Admission to this museum is also free, making it hard to say no to visiting this place.

7.  Shopping areas

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There’s no shortage of venues in Sasebo for the avid shopper – here’s a brief look at some of them!

Also known as “the kitchen of Sasebo”, Tonoo Market was built out of an old wartime shelter and today sells fresh produce, daily goods and clothing. Walking through it will not only allow one to experience the food culture of Sasebo, but will also take one back decades ago with its old-style façade that has withstood the test of time.

Saruku City 4〇3 Arcade is a kilometre-long shopping arcade of more than 160 stores, the longest of its kind in Japan. A variety of shops can be found here, ranging from souvenir stores, restaurants and daily goods stores, with some even accepting US dollars. Annual events are held here throughout the year, most notably performances from the Yasakoi Sasebo Festival, the largest autumn Yasakoi festival in Kyushu.

A shopping establishment that opened in 2013 near Sasebo Port and Sasebo Station, SASEBO 5bangai (Sasebo Gobangai) is home to 83 retail stores and eateries. This space is gaining popularity as the latest place to shop at, making it a place to check out.

8. Mikawachi-Yaki pottery town

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Located just a half-hour drive away from Sasebo city center, the small mountainous village of Mikawachi is known for its distinct high-quality porcelain, which is also known as Hirado ware. Besides being able to buy some of these beautiful pieces, several kilns such as the Hirado Kohsho Danemon kiln are open for visiting. In May each year, the Mikawachi Hamazen Festival allows for visitors to experience porcelain painting and the potter’s wheel, and bargain for wares at auctions throughout the festival. If you’re interested to learn more about this pottery town’s history, the Mikawachiyaki Musuem is the place to visit.

9. Enjoy exclusive Sasebo dishes and flavours of the sea

If the Sasebo burger isn’t enough for you, why not try out other Western-Japanese fusion dishes unique to Sasebo? The lemon steak is a unique dish consisting of thin beef slices marinated with a unique lemon shoyu-based sauce, having been born out of post-war times with a need to satisfy the tastes of the Japanese people. Another dish to try out is the Sailor’s Beef Stew, which was created by a commander in the Imperial Japanese Navy who missed the taste of beef stew from his time in England. The recipe was then published in a navy cook book, “Kaigun Kappojutsu Sanko-Sho”, allowing for several cooks to pick it up and spin their own take on it. 

Being a seaside city guarantees fresh seafood, and there’s no lack of it in Sasebo. Kujukushima oysters are a local delicacy, and at the annual Kujukushima Oyster Festival, you can try your hand at barbequing your own oysters and other seasonal seafood. Other seafood to try include mackerel, prawn, squid and Kujushima torafugu, or tiger pufferfish, if you’re adventurous.

10. Nagushiyama Park

things to do in sasebo

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If you’re driving around in Sasebo, this park should be in your itinerary. The park has a peak of 234 metres, offering a great view of the surrounding sea, Kujukushima and the Saikai National Park. Around 100,000 Kurume and Hirado azaleas would be in full bloom from the middle off April to the beginning of May, colouring the slopes in shades of pink, red, purple and white, and a festival is held every year to commemorate their blooming. Getting there by public transport would however be a little difficult, as it entails a 40-minute journey by bus from Sasebo Bus Centre.

While there is much more that you can explore in and around Sasebo, it’s just the starting point to various other neighbouring places such as Hirado City and Saikai City. So, chow down on some Sasebo Burgers and have your fill of the views of Kujukushima before setting off for your next destination!

About Author

Gabriel Oh
Gabriel Oh

A lover of words and their intrinsic value, Gabriel enjoys a good book as much as he does writing a good story. While he dabbles in illustration and photography, he just wishes that they would love him back as much. Gabriel has a deep-rooted interest in Japanese culture and language, eventually venturing to the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time in 2016. Having made many wonderful memories there, he now hopes to share what he has so that others can learn from his stories and eventually make their own.

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