Nobody will wonder that Unzen has been included in the list of Japan's National Parks. It was a national park, in fact, if not in name, long before the official status was given it in 1933. In 1911 the Nagasaki Prefecture designated it "Nagasaki Prefectural Park," since popularly known as Unzen Park.
A secluded and hallowed sort of tableland of about 200 acres, 2500 feet above sea level, it once formed the crater of a volcano, amid the several towering peaks of Unzen-ga-take (Unzen mountain range). On this plateau are found the three major hot-spring villages known as Furu-yu (old baths), Shin-yu (new baths), and Kojigoku (small solfatara), the vicinity of which abounds in fumaroles, emitting sulphurous smoke, and geysers bubbling with subterranean hot waters. The three hamlets are full of hotels and inns. In the center of the park there is a Public Social Hall providing various indoor games and entertainments for the visitors. Within 20 minutes' walk of the park is a 9-hole golf course, one of the major sporting attractions of Unzen.
Upon this gem of a park the Nagasaki Prefectural Government has spared no effort to keep its numerous charms intact and in 1928 it was numbered, according to the Natural Monuments Preservation Act (passed in 1919), among the scenic treasures of Japan to be taken care of by the State. Now the Unzen National Park, declared by Act of Diet in 1933, includes the entire range of the Unzen mountains with the Unzen Park as its grand center.
Like Karuizawa, Unzen was "discovered" by foreigners, and remains one of the most favored "foreign" resorts in the Far East. It draws every summer tens of thousands of visitors--holidaymakers, health-seekers, summer-avoiders, sports-fans and lovers of travel, mountain air and hot spring-not only from other parts of Japan proper but from various Far Eastern points, i.e. Korea, China, Hongkong, even as far south as the South Seas and India. In recent years the Japanese in the interior have been awakening to the lure of Unzen, as shown by the growing number of native visitors. The very word, Nagasaki, which was mentioned by Dean Swift in his Gulliver's Travels, and was known to the Dutch, English, Portuguese long before Edo or Kyoto, has still a sort of out-of-the-world sound to the average stay-at-home in the interior of Japan. But such an illusion is being fast dispelled, thanks to the steady advance in transportation conveniences and the growing love of roaming which they aid and abet. The consequence is that the Prefecture of Nagasaki is fast regaining in tourist industry, what it lost in the foreign trade which it possessed in the pre-Shimonoseki days.
The term Unzen, which etymologically means the "Paradise in the Clouds," was originally written in two characters meaning hot springs. It is verily a paradise of hot springs clad in mountain clouds. Unzen in a wider sense covers the whole range of Unzen mountains, consisting of the peaks, Yadake, Kinugasa, My+014Dkendake, Fugendake, etc., of which the last-named (4,461 feet) is the highest. The summit of this peak commands "a very extensive view, stretching from the provinces of Higo and Satsuma on the one hand, to the distant group of the Gotō islands on the other, and including in addition to the volcanoes of Asosan and Kirishima-yama, innumerable bays and islands which together form a panorama of indescribable beauty."
The charms of Unzen, better known to the foreigners than to the Japanese, include beauty, variety and a dreamy delicate scenery, the therapeutic property of its hot springs, the salubrity of its climate with its bracing mountain air, infinite sport possibilities from hardy mountain climbing to tennis, golf and dancing. One is at a loss to know which of these to put first, though many agree that, while other mountain resorts may boast of hot springs just as good or even better, Unzen stands pre-eminent in the exquisiteness of its surrounding scenery.
Unzen's best season is of course its summer (June to August) when, while the world below may be sweltering in heat and perspiration, it is almost as cool as if it were in mid-October, the thermometer seldom going beyond 80 degrees F. In recent years the Unzen season has been extending into spring and autumn, and now it is considered as an "alltime" resort. In spring the green mountain sides around Unzen Park are decorated with cherry blossoms, in May with an amazing profusion of azaleas of more than 30 varieties for which Unzen is very famous, and in June with the virgin white of Unohana flowers. The color and perfume of these blossoms elicit exquisite tributes from numerous bird minstrels who often sing and carol in an almost deafening symphony reverberating through hill and dale. Autumn brings the pleasing embroidery of maple and other trees, and a translucent clearness of air which chastens and embellishes the scenery. In winter, nature invests Unzen with a strange, miraculous phenomenon -- Silver Thaw -- a sort of artificial flower made of downy ice, with which every bare tree and rock is bedecked. It is caused by the cold wind blowing particles of mist and cloud into snowy powder and perching them upon twigs and rocks.
For all that, the winter in Unzen is not so cold as it may seem, hardly more so than Hakone. Little wonder therefore that the mid-winter visitors are increasing every year.
Unzen offers an endless series of lovely walks roundabout, and forms a great center for widespread excursions and explorations. Within an hour's motor ride of Unzen are such wonderful shore resorts as Chijiwa, Obama, Kazusa and Shimabara, the chief town of Shimabara Peninsula. The road between Chijiwa and Obama is as beautiful as the famous road between Nice and Monaco. Obama combines the virtues of chalybeate hot spring with lovely seabathing plus the beautiful scenery of mountain and sea. The romantic island of Amakusa to the south of the peninsula is also worth a day's visit.
To the historically-minded, Shimabara constitutes an inexhaustible mine of romance, pathetic, heroic and terrible. It is full of memories of the Christian martyrs of the 17th century, of the Shimabara rebellion of 1638, following their unspeakable persecutions at the hands of the Tokugawa government, and the dreadful battle in which nearly 40,000 Christian rebels were slaughtered. Scattered over the peninsula one sometimes comes across reminders of the gory past--remains of Buddhist temples, ruins of fortresses, disguised Christian tombs, etc.
Unzen is only 20 miles to the east of Nagasaki, that most famous foreign-trade port-city of old Japan, which, since the opening of Yokohama, Kobe and Moji, has sadly declined as a center of international commerce, but has become for that very reason all the more interesting to every visitor in search of piquant and old-world charms.