Shimonoseki (下関) has been at the center of Japanese history for centuries, but it's best known to culinary daredevils as the home of fugu, a pufferfish as cute looking as it is potentially lethal.

Fugu: so life-threatening, but so delicious


Guarding the entrance to the Kanmon Straits that separate Honshu from Kyushu, the strategically located "Lower Barrier" played a role in three battles that triggered major changes in Japanese history. In 1185, the Battle of Dan-no-ura took place in the Straits, ending in a decisive victory for the Minamoto clan; the victory brought the Genpei War to a close, and with it the classical Heian period of Japanese culture. Shortly afterward, a new shogunate was established in Kamakura.

In 1863, another battle thrust Shimonoseki onto the world stage. Fueled by disgust with the terms of the treaty that opened Japanese ports to Western nations, warriors of the Choshu domain rebelled, expelling foreigners and blocking the passage of trade ships through the Kanmon Straits. The Bombardment of Shimonoseki continued for more than a year, until a fleet of warships from England, the Netherlands, France, and the United States (in the midst of its own civil war) forced the Choshu-han to surrender. Their open defiance served to undermine the Tokugawa shogunate, however, which fell only three years later.

Although the fighting took place elsewhere, the treaty that ended the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 was signed in Shimonoseki, marking a stage in the ascent of the newly-modernized Japanese Navy and the nation as a major regional military power.

Today, Shimonoseki has a busy international port, with frequent traffic from China and South Korea, among others. It faces Kitakyushu across the Kanmon Straits, forming one of the world's busiest lanes of maritime shipping.

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 8.5 9.0 12.3 17.4 21.5 24.7 28.8 30.3 26.8 21.8 16.6 11.4
Nightly lows (°C) 3.4 3.5 5.9 10.6 14.8 18.7 23.3 24.6 20.8 15.4 10.5 5.9
Precipitation (mm) 73.5 76.8 108.5 158.4 161.3 278.5 264.2 126.8 179.7 95.1 78.7 58.2


Tourist information

Get in

View along the coast of Shimonoseki

By train

JR Shimonoseki Station is the next-to-last stop on the San'yo Main Line and the last stop on the San'in Main Line. Shin-Shimonoseki, the Shinkansen station, is about seven minutes away by local trains and buses. However, only the all-stops Kodama trains stop at Shin-Shimonoseki, along with three daily Hikari trains in each direction (toward Hakata in the morning, from Hakata in the evening).

If you're coming from a long distance, the best option is to take a Nozomi or Hikari train to Kokura on Kyushu, and then backtrack on the San'yo Main Line via Moji Station in Kitakyushu. By this route, Shimonoseki can be reached by Nozomi in about 5 1/2 hours from Tokyo and 2 1/2 hours from Osaka.

By bus

The Dream Fukufuku bus runs overnight from Tokyo and Yokohama (15 1/2 hours, ¥13000). Another Fukufuku departs nightly from Osaka Umeda (10 hours, ¥9150).

By ferry

Shimonoseki Port (1-1 Nabe-cho) is a short walk from JR Shimonoseki Station. There are high-speed ferries throughout the day from Moji Port in Kitakyushu.

Daily ferries run by Kampu Ferry (tel. +81 83-224-3000) connect to Busan in South Korea. Ferries leave Busan at 8PM and arrive in Shimonoseki at 8AM the next morning, and leave Shimonoseki at 7PM for an 8:30AM arrival in Busan (8AM on Monday). 2nd class one-way tickets cost ¥9000, making this the cheapest way to get from Japan to another country. Arrive a few hours early for visa inspection, though!

There are also twice-weekly ferries to and from Qingdao, China on Orient Ferries (leaves Qingdao M,Th; arrives W,Sa) and one from Suzhou, China on Shanghai Shimonoseki Ferry (leaves Suzho Tu, arrives Th). A 2nd class one-way ticket costs ¥15,000.

By car

For those travelling the expressways and only wanting a bit of fugu, even the Nexco Parking Areas either side of the Kanmon Bridge offer it in a variety of pre-prepared forms including frozen sashimi omiyage platters. The views are rather nice too making it a worthwhile break regardless.

For those travelling by way of thumb, note the aforementioned parking areas are easily accessible on foot and frequented almost as much as the standard Service Area. The Kyushu side stop services northbound traffic and the Honshu southbound.

Get around

Map of central Shimonoseki

By bus

City buses are run by Sanden Kotsu, with stops that include both major train stations and the tourist attractions in the port and Chofu areas. When you board, take a ticket from the dispenser; when the bus reaches your destination, compare the number on your ticket to the numbers at the front of the bus, and that will tell you how much to pay. Short trips will be ¥170.

Shimonoseki was given one of London's distinctive red double-decker buses as that city phased them out. It now runs along the coast on weekends.

On foot

Almost all of the attractions are reachable on foot along Route 9, which runs parallel to the coastline. The Chofu area is a much longer walk, though.


Port area

Akama Jingu
Kaikyo Yume Tower (153m)
Launch your own bombardment

Karato area

Meiji-era foreign buildings mix with with modern ferroconcrete in the Karato area, which is illuminated at night.

Chofu area

The Mori clan lived in this well-preserved castle town and samurai quarter in the northeastern part of the city, which makes a nice, atmospheric walk at any hour. Buses run to stops for Matsubara and Joka-machi (25 minutes, ¥340). There is a Chōfu station on the San'yo Main Line, but it's a bit of a walk from there to the attractions.




If you'd like a plush, adorable poisonous fish to bring home, visit the Fukufuku World on the fourth floor of the Kaikyo Yume Tower (see above) for the full line of fugu character goods.


Two fugu fans

The Japanese poet Yosa Buson (1716-1783) wrote a famous senryū about forbidden love and the forbidden fish:

I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.

Over two centuries later, the American poet Homer Simpson also imparted a profound truth about fugu: it is wiser to wait until the master chef is done making out with Mrs. Krabappel in the parking lot, rather than pressuring the chef's untrained assistant to prepare your fugu, which will cause you to spend the next 24 hours waiting for your heart to explode.

Even if you don't usually eat seafood, you may want to make an exception for Shimonoseki's most famous dish: fugu (ふぐ) (pronounced "fuku" locally). While the flesh and skin are often completely harmless, the internal organs of some species of pufferfish pack enough lethal toxins to paralyze every muscle in the human body. "Fugu" is a generic term that covers many types of pufferfish; Torafugu (Tiger puffer), arguably the most popular type, has extraordinarily poisonous livers, ovaries, and intestines that must be carefully removed before preparation.

In order to serve fugu, chefs must be specially licensed, which entails several years of apprenticeship and a rigorous exam that sees a 70% failure rate. These steps ensure that fugu fatalities at restaurants are virtually unheard of. The city maintains a list of restaurants licensed to serve it .

The most popular form is fugu sashimi, thinly sliced. But it can also be served as part of a salad (yubiki), a stew (fugu-chiri), fried with hot sake (fugu hire-zake), or deep fried (fugu-kara-age). Most restaurants serving the dish will be pricey, but set meals with a bit of fugu can be had near the Kanmon Wharf or Karato Pier for ¥1100 or so.

Some people are underwhelmed by the taste of fugu the flavor is more subtle than that of more oily fish like maguro (tuna), but it has a distinctive taste that keeps aficionados coming back for more than just thrills. A few diners report their lips, tongues, or even fingertips tingling while eating fugu (a condition referred to as shibireru), supposedly the result of chefs leaving trace amounts of the toxin on the fish. But given the legal ramifications of an even accidental poisoning, many dismiss the sensation as urban legend, all in the diners' imagination.

The other infamous local specialty is whale (鯨 kujira), which tastes like fishy steak and is served both raw and cooked. Shimonoseki has been the base for some of Japan's controversial whaling expeditions.


There are cheap food courts with the likes of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mr Donut on the fourth floor of Sea Mall (10AM-10PM) and the seventh floor of Daimaru (11AM-9PM). For Korean BBQ, check the Green Mall area.




Buzenda-cho (豊前田町) is the local red-light district, packed with karaoke boxes, hostess bars, and restaurants, a short walk east of JR Shimonoseki Station. Bars are also clustered on Hisashi-guchi, near Green Mall.


There are more plentiful accommodations over the water in Fukuoka.




Go next

Routes through Shimonoseki

Hakata Kokura  W  E  Asa → Yamaguchi Hiroshima
 W  E  Hagi Matsue
Moji  W  E  Ube Hiroshima
Moji  W  E  Mine Hiroshima
END  W  E  Onoda Hiroshima

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