Nagasaki – 長崎 (1/2)
During the Japanese isolation in the Edo period, the only place in Japan which retained contact with the West was in the Kyushu region. We are talking, of course, about Nagasaki!
This port-oriented city saw a great development during the isolation period, called “sakoku”. At the time, Dejima Island, which sole purpose was to welcome foreign merchants, was inhabited by Dutch explorers and the cultural exchange between the two countries saw an all-time high.
In Nagasaki there are lots of places to go to and sights to see, and that’s why for this time, we will talk about it in a two-part article!
What’s the deal with Nagasaki?
Nagasaki, situated in the western part of Kyushu Island, is a port city flourishing with sights: bays, firths and mountains cover this region, and it’s not unlikely that your breath will be taken away by the landscapes.
During the isolation period, Nagasaki was, in fact, the only Japanese city to be in active relations with foreigners. Much of the Western influence that slipped into Japan during that period was coming from here and, thanks to Nagasaki, Japan could make contact for the first time with the modern culture coming from overseas.
In this period, after an initial expansion of the Christian cult brought in by western, and especially Portuguese, explorers, a ban on Christianity was instated, with subsequest persecutions.
The Dutch, unlike the Portuguese, had no spiritual interests but merely commercial ones. This is the reason they were then granted stay in Dejima island.
How to reach Nagasaki
If you aren’t coming from Kyushu island, then the best way to get in is by plane. Nagasaki Airport (NGS) is well served by main Japanese airports such as Chubu Int’l, Haneda Int’l in Tokyo, Naha Airport and Itami Airport in Osaka. The duration of the flight is approximately 2 hours coming from Haneda and 70 minutes from Osaka.
From Nagasaki Airport the city center is easily reachable by bus (bus details: HERE (from the official website of Nagasaki Airport) )
If you wish to reach Nagasaki by train, the station to be considered is Hakata Station, in Fukuoka. (be careful when looking on timetables: Fukuoka’s main station is “Hakata” and not “Fukuoka” which is totally elsewhere)
From Hakata Station to Nagasaki there are two Limited Express services every hour and the trip is just shy of two hours. By using local lines only (i.e. if you are taking advantage of the Seishun 18 kippu), Nagasaki is reachable from Hakata in approximately 4 to 5 hours with a stopover (usually in Tosu station).
If you own a Japan Rail Pass, all of the aforementioned lines are covered by it (for the exception of the express trains Nozomi or Mizuho from Osaka), and I highly recommend the Japan Rail Pass Kyushu (or the Ryugakusei pass Kyushu if you are students) if you wish to focus your attention on this island.
As many sights and attractions in Nagasaki are situated just south of the station, it is an extremely easy town to visit even just on foot. To reach the park and the atomic bomb memorial zone, however, it is necessary to burn a couple of miles. I recommend doing so by using the landmark Nagasaki tramways!
Dejima is an artificial island situated in Nagasaki port: it was built to welcome Portuguese merchants in 1636. Following their departure back to Portugal, it has since welcomed Dutch traders.
Currently Dejima is no longer surrounded by sea so the term “island” is not techically correct anymore, there are however plans being considered to make it an Island again by restoring the canals around it. Thanks to the many Dutch shops and art galleries, you will be able to breathe a bit of that old-timey smell we all love.
Entry: 500 yen
Open: all year long
Closest tram stop: Dejima Station, Line 1 (blue line)
There’s a Chinatown in Yokohama, one in Kobe and one here, too, in Nagasaki, due to its commercial trading past. Nagasaki’s Chinatown was built during the 17° century, not far from Dejima and it is, in fact, the oldest Chinatown in the whole of Japan. At the time Japan was still isolated from the rest of the world and Nagasaki was the only port to communicate and trade with China.
Nagasaki Chinatown’s specialty is the Nagasaki Chanpon, pictured here. Udon are quite popular as well. Almost all restaurants are open for lunch from 11 AM to 3 PM and for dinner from 5 PM to 9 PM.
Confucius’ Temple and Olanda-zaka
Confucius’ Temple (Kōshibyō) is a Chinese temple in which Confucius was adored and venerated. The exterior is enriched with fine decorations and chisellings, as well as orange shingles just like Chinese temples, very different places comparing to the rigid and sober Japanese buddhist temples.
Not far from the temple you can find a road called Olanda-zaka (Olanda-steep). Its main characteristic is the presence of nostalgic-looking shops and warehouses.
Ōura Catholic Church
Oura Church (Ōura Tenshudō) is Nagasaki’s undisputed landmark. This gorgeous church dates back to the Edo period. Looking from the staircase’s bottom, the palms do sort of recreate an exotic atmosphere. Oura Church is the oldest church in Japan and it is the only church to have been recognized as a National Heritage.
In the closeby Oura Tenshudo-shita tramway station there are loads of souvenir shops, many of those dutch- and portuguese-themed.
→ Nagasaki (2nd part)
Credits: thanks to Lorenzo for the Italian > English translation!