WHAT MAKES NAGASAKI SPECIAL?
Everyone knows about the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945, but before that the city was actually a vibrant international meeting place. In Nagasaki you can still experience both the long history of international trade as well as the consequences of the bombing. Of course, you have to visit the Peace Park and the associated museum. But don’t miss a visit to Chinatown and the city’s shopping streets, where you can taste delicious food with international flair and delve deeper into the city’s history. Nagasaki is one of Japan’s most international cities, and its relations with the outside world go much further back than the nuclear bomb dropped in 1945. Before World War II, Nagasaki had a long and rich tradition as Japan’s most friendly city towards overseas visitors – in fact the city itself was founded by Portuguese traders!
Since its foundation in the 16th century, the port city, located on the east coast of the southern island of Kyushu, has been an important trading post. For centuries, Nagasaki has been the centre of trade and communication with both China and Korea, as well as with Europeans from Portugal and the Netherlands. The Portuguese were banished in 1638 when the Tokugawa shogunate closed the country and the Dutch were confined to the small island of Dejima in the bay outside Nagasaki, where they could conduct limited import business. In the period when Japan was closed, the Dutch and Dejima were the only connections with the rest of the world. When Japan again opened its borders in 1854, Nagasaki could flourish once again as the centre of international trade and culture. The atomic bomb destroyed the city and many lives, but since then Nagasaki has built itself up again.
FOOD WITH AN INTERNATIONAL FLAVOUR
It was at Nagasaki that the Japanese had their first contact with Western culture. The Portuguese and the Dutch brought bread and cakes as well as Christianity and churches, and much of this is still well preserved here, where the most famous dessert is the “Castella” cake (which actually tastes like ordinary plain sponge cake). Likewise, Nagasaki’s most famous dish is also internationally inspired. Called “sara-udon”, it consists of noodles (either deep-fried or cooked) with a delicious sauce containing meat and vegetables. It is unique to Nagasaki but Chinese in its style – sample it in the city’s cozy Chinatown.
SIGHTSEEING IN NAGASAKI
Near Chinatown is a narrow arcade with shops. The mood here is a bit like Japan in the 60s and 70s, and the quaint trams that run through the city increase this impression. Although Nagasaki is a city of about 450,000 inhabitants, the pace is a little quieter here than in other Japanese cities. Nagasaki’s story is fascinating. A visit to the Peace Park and the associated museum gives an indelible impression of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. But you can also choose to visit the small but interesting Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture, which shows objects from the city’s overseas trade as well as from darker chapters in the city history, including the persecution of the Christian minority.
BATTLESHIP ISLAND FROM THE JAMES BOND FILM “SKYFALL”
If you really want to experience something unusual (and a little scary) you can take an excursion to the ghost island of Hashima. Popularly called the island “Gunkanjima”, which means “battleship island”, and the island can be seen in the James Bond movie Skyfall. In shape, this dark mass rising from the sea resembles a warship, and the whole island was a large apartment complex, densely populated until the 1960s. Here were schools, supermarkets and parks, all established to support the workers mining for undersea coal. It was well-paid work. However, the island was abandoned when the coal mines closed in 1974 and it has stood completely empty and uninhabited since. Now you can visit small parts of the island as part of an organized tour, and the abandoned buildings of a near and far distant past are a fascinating visit. When abandoned, the apartments were left as they were – often with shoes in the hallway and chopsticks on the table. A real ghost town!
Glover Garden is a park built for Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish entrepreneur who contributed to the modernization of Japan in shipbuilding, coal mining, and many other fields. In it stands the Glover Residence, the oldest Western style house surviving in Japan and the city’s foremost tourist attraction. Located on a hillside overlooking Nagasaki harbour, it was completed in 1863 and is designated as an Important Cultural Asset. As the house and its surroundings are reminiscent of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly (set in Nagasaki in 1904), it is also known as the “Madame Butterfly House”.
Statues of Puccini and the singer Miura Tamaki, famous for her role as Cio-Cio-san in the opera, stand in the park near the house.
ONSEN IN NAGASAKI PREFECTURE
The whole prefecture is rich in hot springs (onsen), some of which are renowned through the country. Hot springs can be found at 30 locations.
Among these resorts is a theme park known as “Huis Ten Bosch”, where the streets of the Netherlands have been recreated. The theme park is popular among many Japanese visitors as well as Chinese and Korean tourists.
- From Tokyo Haneda Airport to Nagasaki Airport (1h50) or from Tokyo Station via Hakata to Nagasaki Station by train (7h)
- From Osaka Kansai International Airport to Nagasaki Airport (1h10) or from Shin-Osaka via Hakata to Nagasaki Station by train (4h30)
Nagasaki on our Google map