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UpdateFebruary 21, 2018
ReleaseFebruary 21, 2018

When Nagasaki was permitted to trade with foreign nations earlier than other coastal cities around Japan, this led to a fusion of the cultures of Japan, China and many Western lands. Essentially having a monopoly on foreign trade during the period of national isolation between the mid 17th and mid 19th centuries, Nagasaki’s second claim to historical fame is based on a far more devastating event – the use of the atomic bomb on its people, businesses and infrastructure – making it one of only two cities to suffer this fate in the history of humanity. That said, Nagasaki’s points of interest notwithstanding, there is more to see in the area so why not add on a side visit to Unzen and Shimabara?
History of Nagasaki
Nagasaki’s international history dates back to 1571 when Portugal requested the then shogun open a Japanese port to trade. Around the time it truly flourished as both a port and a window via which the Christian faith could enter Japan. However, just 16 short years later, in 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned Christianity and ruins related to Christianity’s existence in the city at this time and its subsequent demise can still be found around town. In 1635, points for use in foreign trade were restricted to Nagasaki. After the official reopening of Japan, foreign settlements were built in Minami Yamate and Higashi Yamate and later, on August 9th, 1945, an estimated 75,000 people died the instant the atomic bomb exploded in Nagasaki. Peace Park, built beneath the focal point of the blast, was erected in part to vow to future generations to never start war again but also to act as a wish for world peace for the children of today, the adults of the future.
Nagasaki Saruku Haku
Nagasaki Saruku Haku (the formal name being: “The Saruku Urban Walking Tour Expo 2006”) is scheduled to be held in Nagasaki from April 1st to October 29th. The word “Saruku” is a local Nagasaki word for strolling leisurely around town. “Saruku Haku” is the first such festival in Japan and provides visitors with the opportunity to wander around the town enjoying the town’s unique atmosphere and learning about its fascinating history while sampling the culinary delights on offer.
Must see sightseeing spots in the city include Glover Garden, Peace Park, the night view from Mount Inasa (the so called $10 million night view), Dejima (an historical place recently reconstructed) and the Nakashima River and Spectacles Bridge (Megane Bashi) where famous warriors strolled at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867), and as many as 42 courses have been prepared for the Expo to take in these sites. Some courses remind us of early trade with Western nations and Japan’s neighbor, China. Other tour sites relate to the opening of Japan to the world in the late 19th century and others still visit the site of the atomic bomb catastrophe in the summer of 1945. With maps produced by those who know the area better than anyone, the local residents, it is fun to tour with one of the more than 400 guides prepared to help out tourists for the period of the Expo. The guides themselves, being locals, do talk in Japanese but some tours will be conducted in English, Chinese and Korean. Learn about the traditions and performing arts from literal experts on some of the tours.
The Search for Peace
When the bomb exploded 500 m above the Urakami area of the city, all within a 2 km radius of the center was destroyed either by the blast itself or by the subsequent shockwaves. Constructed beneath the epicenter of the air blast, Peace Park’s Peace Statue is a symbol of the park. Its vertical right arm pointing to the sky represents the threat of the atomic bomb and its left arm stretched horizontally represents world peace. The statue, with its closed eyelids is believed to be praying for the war dead. Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum continually exhibits photographs and other materials showing the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. The well known and local Dr. Takashi Nagai was a bomb victim himself but continued to support other victims and appeal for world peace while personally suffering the aftereffects of being in the vicinity of the bomb when it detonated. The doctor spent his last days in Nyokodo and adjacent today is the Nagasaki Nagai Takashi Memorial. Urakami Cathedral was constructed by Christians in the 19th century after they were released from 250 years of religious oppression in 1873 and could practice their faith openly. Completed in 1925, the cathedral was destroyed by the bomb but was reconstructed in 1959.
A Window on the West
Nagasaki was the only port permitted to trade with foreign countries during the isolation period. The center of this trade was Dejima island – a man made island constructed in Nagasaki port. Surrounding Dejima, land was, over time, reclaimed and modernized in line with the times but today, the island is being restored to its original condition. The Dejima Dutch Trading Post was moved to Dejima in 1641 and for the next 218 years Dejima was the sole point of access for the rest of the world. White sugar, velvet, calico, leather goods, wool, glass, tin, ham, chocolate, coffee, beer, wine and butter were all imported via Dejima and games such as billiards and badminton also found their way in to become popular pastimes. Doctors, among their ranks the famous Siebold, came to Japan to teach Western medicine and in return took a knowledge of Japanese culture and customs back to Europe following their departure.
Nine western style houses remain standing in the Glover Garden, situated atop a hill near the port. Whole simmered duck, lobster soup, broiled sea bream, simmered apple in red wine and a vegetable pie are displayed in the dining room of Glover House and this property, along with Ringer and Alt House are designated as nationally important cultural properties. Glover House is linked with the Opera ‘Madame Butterfly,’ and a Statue of Tamaki Miura, an Opera singer who played the heroine can be seen in the garden.
After the official reopening of Japan, foreign settlements were built in Minami Yamate and Higashi Yamate. Minami Yamte was a residence area and Western-style houses and banks were the main forms of construction in the area whereas in Higashi Yamate the Portuguese and Prussian Consulates were founded as were several chapels. Stone-paved sloping roads, stone roadside gutters and brick walls remind all of the atmosphere of the times and Holland Slope is perhaps the single most famous slope in Nagasaki. The area around Holland Slope was a foreign settlement between the mid 19th and early 20th centuries and Western style buildings built during the Meiji era (1868-1912) can still be seen.
Spectacles Bridge (Megane Bashi) is a stone arched bridge with a name originating in the fact that the two arches and their reflection in the river look like eyeglasses. The bridge when illuminated is also rather beautiful.
Chinese Culture
Shinchi Chinatown, one of three major Chinatown areas in Japan (along with those in Yokohama and Kobe), is well worth a visit especially at the time of the Lantern Festival in which the Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated. During the period of national isolation, trade with China became a major source of income and scores of Chinese moved to Nagasaki. A Chinese settlement was later established to prevent smuggling and the settlement today is called ‘A Ruin of Chinese Houses’ (Tojin Yashiki-ato). 5000 Chinese people lived in the settlement at its peak and a Confucian Shrine, located at the southern end of the site was erected by those Chinese living in Japan in 1893 while Soufukuji Temple was constructed earlier – in 1629. The main hall and the first gate are designated as National Treasures and the style is typically Chinese.
Christianity in Nagasaki
The site of the martyrdom of twenty six individuals later to be declared saints is an place of deep interest for the Christians who secretly held onto their religion despite the one-time national oppression of the faith. The twenty six were crucified in 1597 after a forced march and the museum next to the site displays goods related to Christianity from the period. Oura Catholic Church, constructed in 1864, is the oldest wooden gothic cathedral in Japan and the 130-year-old stained glass windows produced in France serve to lend it a rather celestial atmosphere.
Culinary Delights
Nagasaki’s unique culture created its own unique culinary offerings. ‘Champon’ (noodles in a Chinese-style hotchpotch) and ‘saraudon’ (fried noodles dressed with a thick starchy sauce) are well known dishes in Nagasaki and are full of fish and vegetables. ‘Toruko-raisu,’ a dish combining dried curry, pork cutlets and Napolitano spaghetti is another famous local offering as is ‘Shippoku,’ a dish served on a series of platters atop a vermillion lacquered table from which anyone can help themselves.
Local Souvenirs
‘Kasutera’ (sponge cake), ‘karasumi’ (dried mullet roe) and Japanese medlar jelly are popular with visitors to the city. Turtle shells and glass products (bidoro) also sell well. ‘Bidoro’ is a clear and bright colored glass product and is famous for being extremely delicate and smooth to the touch.
Nagasaki Festivals
The Nagasaki Lantern Festival is known as ‘Shunsetsusai,’ and is held during the Chinese New Year Festival. While dragon dances and Chinese lanterns of various shapes are attractions to be found in downtown Nagasaki at the time (around early February), this seasonal celebration balances the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival; an annual autumnal festival at Suwa Shrine.
Side trips
Huis Ten Bosch
Located in Sasebo City, Nagasaki, this theme park features the look of a 17th century Dutch town. Buildings in the park are modeled on real buildings in Holland. Flowers, canals and large windmills appear as they would in a country landscape in the Netherlands and millions of flowers are ready to welcome visitors year round. In spring, tulips are at their best but come early summer begonias, marigolds, poppies, roses and hydrangeas can be seen in abundance.
A flower festival titled “GARAFLORA2006” will be held between April and June, 2006 and during the festivities, some unique gardens professional women such as a fashion designer, an author and a singer would themselves like to own, and designed on their behalf, are displayed in the “Seven Beautiful Rose Gardens” event.
For those opting to stay overnight, there are 4 hotels inside the park itself and 2 outside along with a number of museums and amusement facilities. Most attractions use English, Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese to aid visitors and for those interested in taking home a unique souvenir, it is possible to paint pictures on wooden clogs and / or to make a music box. Of particular note is Hotel Europe, which looks like an old European museum and is famous for its luxurious interior and very high grade of service. For entertainment during the twilight hours, at certain times during the festival, a fireworks display will be held with the ocean and illuminated town providing the backdrop.
Unzen has been a well known resort since the Meiji era and has long been registered as a national park and is located at the center of the Shimabara Peninsula, an area famous for its 8 mountains; the dominant peak of which is Mount Fugen which last erupted in 1990 after lying dormant for 198 years. The eruption caused the appearance of ‘Heisei Shinzan,’ a new 1468 m mountain and after the volcanic activity subsided, a good many visitors and climbers took to the slopes. In addition to its scenery, Unzen has some good onsen to enjoy. Unzen Jigoku is one such place and is usually covered in a cloud of steam and the smell of sulfur. For those out to stretch their legs, there are some 30-minute walking courses around the area.
Shimabara, located on the east coast of the Shimabara Peninsula, has long been a cultural and economic focal point of the peninsula after once being developed as a castle town. Shimabara Castle and some old samurai houses remain standing to this day.
Shimabara Castle took seven years to complete after the commencement of construction in 1618 but today’s castle tower is a five-story 1964 reconstruction of the original, used as a museum for displaying items related to local history. The Christian museum therein exhibits materials centered on the ‘Shimabara Rebellion’ alongside materials from the mid-16th century when trade with Portugal and Spain flourished and many missionaries were coming to Japan to preach. Also covered is the early 17th century when the crackdown on Christians started. People in the area once, in 1637, rose in rebellion against heavy taxation and cruel persecution in the aforementioned Shimabara Rebellion and most of the rebels were Christians. Relics related to the Christian martyrdom can be seen all over the peninsula.
Shimabara is also famous for its fine clear water. Mount Unzen erupted in 1792 and after the eruption, clear water started to appear at many places in Shimabara. A spring water canal runs through the main street of the old samurai sector where the lower class warriors lived – about 5 mins walk from the castle.
The Sightseeing Trocco Railway runs around the foot of Mount Unzen between April and November and all seats need a reservation to enjoy the explanation of the eruption of Mount Fugen in 1990 and post eruption reconstruction in addition to coverage of some of the history of Shimabara. Visitors can even experience a simulated eruption at ‘Unzendake Saigai-kinenkan’ (Mount Unzen Disaster Museum).
Getting there and around:
By Air
From Tokyo Haneda to Nagasaki: 1h 50mins. (4 return JAL flights daily)
By Rail
From JR Tokyo Station to JR Hakata Station: 5h using the Nozomi Super Express bullet train.
From JR Hakata Station to JR Nagasaki Station: 1h 51mins on the Kamome Limited Express.
Around town
Streetcars are the most convenient form of transport in Nagasaki. For a flat fee of 100 yen, any amount of stops or distance can be covered and a one-day ticket offering unlimited rides and sold at the tourist information centers in Nagasaki Station and major hotels, can be purchased for just 500 yen.