Goto stone as a way of life

Nagasaki is an area with a strong culture of quarrying as a means of livelihood. The high-quality Goto stone that was used to build Kashiragashima church is used elsewhere for paving slabs and walls.

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Candidates for a world heritage

Kashiragashima Church Kashiragashima Church
Kashiragashima Church

The unique landscapes created by Goto stone

In the eastern part of the cross-shaped island of Nakadorishima in Kamigoto lie seams of Goto stone, perfect for making stone slabs for paving. These seams mostly produce sandstone which is easy to carve, and from the end of the Edo era through into the Meiji era (roughly from 1830-80) the quarrying of exposed Goto sandstone from the seashore thrived. Known as “Goto ishi” (Goto stone) the material was used for paving and walls, and the lower foundations, or wainscots, of houses. In the villages of the Sakiura area, the unique townscapes, formed by Goto stone as it has blended with local ways of life, are still visible today: maze-like narrow winding roads, high stone walls, and houses with foundations of 5-6 cm thick slabs of rock. Without a single airway, these foundations appear to have been built for keeping out animals. The harvests of Satsuma-imo (sweet potatoes) were stored under the floorboards in “imogama” (potato cellars) so protection would be needed from damage by animals. Also, it’s possible that in order to control temperature and humidity, wainscots such as these were employed. On top of these uses, Goto stone was also used to make millstones, paving for gardens, and water tanks for fire prevention. These village scenes that reflect Goto stone’s wide-ranging employment have received much acclaim, and in 2012 were designated an important cultural landscape of Japan.

A church constructed from strong Goto stone

Goto stone, amongst all sandstones, is shot through with grey-blue streaks, and was used to build many buildings in Nagasaki’s foreign settlement, including the “Oranda-zaka” (Dutchman’s slope) and the Glover residence. Because it is a form of sandstone, it is easy to use, and it has the ability to absorb moisture. Also, because it is not easily damaged by fire, it is perfect for the construction of kilns and so forth. As a result of this, the sandstone from this region is known for its high quality in standing the test of time without alteration or developing moss. In a different location, the Akao region, the stone is used to make sarcophagi.
In the coastal village of Tomosumi on Kashiragashima, slabs of Goto rock are used even in the narrow alleyways, and old ones broken in half and reused in stone walls. Naturally, Kashiragashima Church is also constructed out of this local stone. Only through the use of this high quality material, combined with local culture, could such an incredible stone church be created.