[From June Issue 2011]
Nagasaki City is located in the south-western end of Japan’s main island. During the Edo Period and through the port of “Dejima,” it was the gateway to Japan and greatly influenced by both European and Chinese cultures. Its numerous remaining historical buildings help create its unique city landscape, and as one of only two cities to have ever suffered from a thermonuclear attack, Nagasaki became a city of peace – one that strongly communicates its anti-war message to the international community.
With a moderate climate, Japanese medlar fruit and potatoes are some of the area’s major agricultural harvests, while fishing is also a staple in this city surrounded by the sea. Nagasaki is also where Portugese Castella (sponge cake) and Chinese Champon (noodles) were nationally introduced. Both are popular across Japan and many tourists to the area enjoy eating these authentic delicacies while traveling or purchasing them as souvenirs.
“Saruku” means “to wander about” in the Nagasaki dialect, and in recent years, “Nagasaki Saruku” has become a popular activity among both tourists and the locals. A special booklet helps guide sightseers around Nagasaki’s landmarks, of which one of the most popular is the city tram sightseeing tour. With a flat rate of 120 yen for adults and 60 yen for children it is a fun and easy way to get around.
To take the train, first go to Oura Tenshudo Shita station located in Nagasaki City’s southern end. The Oura Tenshudo Catholic Church is Japan’s oldest wooden cathedral, built by Japanese in 1864 to commemorate the martyrdom of 26 saints. Its beautiful Medieval European gothic architecture and stained glass is breathtaking. Oura Tenshudo was designated a National Treasure in 1933, and was additionally included, along with the “Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints” on the UNESCO World Heritage Provisional List under the category of “Christian Heritage and the Christian Churches of Nagasaki.”
The “Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints” is located near Nishizaka-machi, close to JR Nagasaki Station. In 1597, six foreign missionaries and 20 Japanese Christians who all practiced their faith despite its strict ban throughout Japan, were captured and executed on Nishizaka Hill where currently, bronze, life-sized memorial statues of the saints now stand.
Adjacent to Oura Tenshudo stretches the Glover Gardens where beautiful flowers bloom throughout the year. Thomas GLOVER was a Scottish merchant who played an integral role in Japan just after the nation’s isolation from the rest of the world ended. Six foreign residencies are located in the area, including the Glover Mansion, of which the first gated entry can be reached from Oura Tenshudo Shita station. Alternately, visitors can take the long, outdoor Glover Sky Road escalator to reach the gardens by taking the second gate just beside Ishibashi station.
Dejima Island (or Exit Island) is manmade in the shape of a fan. During the Edo Period, Japan’s national isolationist policy enforced a ban on Christianity everywhere except for this area, which at the time, was the country’s only international port where trade with the Dutch and several other countries took place. Furthermore, the Dutch were permitted to live and take part in daily life on Dejima. Today, after much restoration, an island resource center has finally been established.
Taking a 7-minute tram ride from Dejima you’ll arrive at Shokakuji-shita, where Sofukuji Temple, Japan’s oldest Chinese-style temple, is located. Built in 1629 by Chinese nationals living in Nagasaki, of the 21 cultural assets located within, the Daiyuu-houden (main hall) and Daiippou-mon (first gate) have both been designated as National Treasures.
Just a 10-minute walk from Sofukuji Temple is Megane-bashi (the Spectacles Bridge), which crosses the Nakashima River. It received the nickname “Spectacles Bridge” because its two stone arches and their reflection in the water below create the image of a pair of reading glasses. Seventeen bridges of many shapes and sized cross the Nakashima River, were all built by Buddhist monks and merchants who flourished during Japan’s isolation. Appreciating the views of these stone bridges along the riverbank can help conjure up what Nagasaki must have been like back then.
On August 9, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Now, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum by the Hamaguchi-machi is just a tram ride away from Kokaido-mae, near Megane Bashi. There, many photos and exhibits show the timeline of events that lead up to the atomic bombing and the resulting devastation. Here, visitors can get better understanding of the real threat of nuclear weapons while deeply contemplating peace on earth.
Just an 8-minute walk from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is Peace Park. On its north side stands Peace Statue which symbolizes Nagasaki as a peaceful city. The statue further represents the strong hopes for global peace, as well as to remember the victims. Annually, on August 9th, the day of the bombing, a memorial ceremony is held during which a declaration for peace is read just in front of this statue.
In Nagasaki, the best spot to enjoy a night view of the city is atop Inasayama, a 333-meter high mountain located in the city’s west end. Its panoramic view from the mountain-top observatory is said to be one of Japan’s three most beautiful “night views worth 10 million dollars.” A free, 30-minute shuttle bus runs to Inasayama from both JR Nagasaki Station and central Nagasaki. Transfer to the Nagasaki Ropeway and enjoy the sky view while ascending to the mountain top.
Hashima (a.k.a. Gunkan-jima or Battleship Island), is nationally acclaimed and located just off the coast of Nagasaki City. While uninhabited today, it was once a bustling coal mining facility and was nicknamed “Gunkan-jima” because its unique buildings resembled battleships. It has also drawn attention for its historical value. In 2009 it was added to the World Heritage Provisional List, which further increased its popularity, resulting in various tours around or directly on to its shores.
Access by air from Tokyo to Nagasaki takes approximately 2 hours from Haneda to Nagasaki Airport. By train, take the JR Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakata (Kyushu), then transfer to the Kamome Express. Total travel time will be approximately 8 hours.
Text: KOMIYAMA Ranko