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
Click here to see how to get there!
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.
Since the Meiji restoration, foreign traders settled in Nagasaki and built a western-themed park named Glover Garden. This park was built specifically by the English, so by walking in it you can feel an English sort of vibe. Furthermore, given its position over the city, it’s a great landscape spot!
Entrance: 600 yen
Closest tram stop: Line 5 (green line), stop “Ōura Tenshudō-shita”
In Nagasaki, too, there’s a neighborhood with mostly religious buddhist buildings, and this area is called Teramachi (which means “the town of the temples”). Amongst the buildings, the most notable are Kōfuku-ji and Sōfuku-ji temples.
Kōfuku-ji temple, situated just beside a small steep mountain, was built in 1620. It is close by the tram stop “Kōkaidōmae”. Not so far from here there is a stunning wooden bridge named Megane-bashi (literally “Glasses Bridge”)
Sofuku temple belongs to the Obaku-shu zen school, and the decorations and building style, with red as the predominant color, reminds a Chinese sort of religious building. And it’s stunning. It is close to the tramway stop “Shōgakujishita”
Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park
August the 9th, 1945 is a date well known by everyone in Japan and not only: it’s when an atomic bomb erased from existence more than 10’000 people in this city. As a reminder of that day and to raise awareness, the Peace Memorial Park was built. Here you will see a variety of sculptures and symbols linked to the theme of peace. When entering the park you will be greeted by an enormous bronze statue symbolizing peace.
In the exact spot where the bomb landed, there is a black stone bearing the names of all those who perished in the attack.
How to get in: Since it is a bit far from the city centre, you will need to take a tram. The closest stop is “Matsuyama-cho“, reachable with either line 1 or 3 (red and blue line respectively).
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
You can find the Atomic Bomb Museum either in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As the access is way more convenient, also thanks to the link with the Shinkansen, the one in Hiroshima is surely the most well known among foreign travelers, but also the Nagasaki one contains very deep and touching contents.
Most of the objects shown in the museum are pictures taken right after the falling of the nuclear weapon, showing the instants immediately following it. Among them, there will be surely something that will shock some people, given the deep significance of this happening. There is also the possibility of listening to or reading some of the witness of people that experienced in first person this event.
If you are interested in deepening your knowledge about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, you can have access to a wide choice of material, pictures and object related to this sad piece of history.
Entrance: 200 yen
Access: get off the tram at “Matsuyama-cho“. The place is right next to the Peace Memorial Park.
Nagasaki’s best night view spots
Nagasaki, along with Kobe and Hakodate, is famous in Japan for its breathtaking night views. This city sits among different low mountains, so there are many places from which you can stare the city. Here we are going to introduce you two of them.
Mount Inasa (Inasayama) is for sure the most well known night view spot in Nagasaki, and therefore quite crowded. From a height of 333 m, you can look over on the city, or have a pleasant dinner at a panoramic restaurant.
To reach Mount Inasa, you can use bus, tram or taxi. The bus departs from Nagasaki Station, while in the case you use the tram, you have to get ogg at
“Takara-cho“, and then take a ropeway to reach the summit of the mountain.
This other mountain in Nagasaki, is not well known among tourists, in fact it is not crowded, and known maybe only by local people and cats (you will be able to see many of them resting on the top of the roofs here). We are talking about
Mount Nabekanmuri (that means something like “crown pan mountain”), and is located a little ahead of the Glover Garden and the Oura Tenshudo Church.
To reach this place, refer to the instruction to reach Glover Garden, and then keep walking beyond it.
We stayed in Nagasaki for two days and one night, but we weren’t very lucky with the weather, as it rained almost all the time. Anyway, we could enjoy the different atmosphere of this city and we had an overall great impression of Nagasaki.
Usually, when we travel, I pay much attention to the first impression that a new place leaves on us: we had our first encounter with Nagasaki at its railway station. The building was quite different from the other stations, with a wide open space with a plastic roof, with many shops and restaurant. Actually, we didn’t expect all this grandeur in a city like Nagasaki.
Outside the train station there was the streetcar stop, one of the widest of Japan, and one of the three tram systems in Kyushu, with Kagoshima and Kumamoto.
The first place we visited was the Atomic Bomb Museum.
Conceptually quite similar to the Hiroshima’s one, here the architecture has some unique features.
At the entrance of the museum, you will find a spiral leading you to the exhibition hall.
After seeing the sad description and reconstruction of the bombing, we went outside, and it started raining again.
This made us feel sadder, but sunrays cutting the clouds at a certain point could somehow relief our feelings.
While it was still uncontinuously raining , we went on visiting Nagasaki. We walked towards the Oura Tenshudo Church. This place has a different atmosphere than the Atomic Bomb Memorial area, and you can really breath history here.
Nagasaki was in fact one of the first cities in Japan that entered in contact with the European culture (especially with Portugal and Netherlands), you can find this connection in churches, food and building atmosphere. In particular, the Oura Tenshudo Church is very beautiful, with its symmetry and the stairway leading from the shopping street to its entrance. Inside has also many fine decorations and portraits, and for a while you can even forget that you are in Japan.
Around the church there are many restaurants and sweet shops, and most of them sell the famous castela, a kind of soft sweet bread coming from Portugal.
From the Glover Garden we walked, almost casually, to the entrance of mount Nabekanmuri. This place wasn’t even mentioned on ourtravel guide. We came here during the day, but we could imagine how beautiful could be a night view from here. The night view of Nagasaki, one of the three best ones of Japan, usually is enjoyed from Mount Inasa, so we guess we can think of Mount Nabekanmuri as a less known place to enjoy a panoramic view.
As Nabekanmuri is located just 10 minutes by foot from the Glover Garden, the access is easier and cheaper than Mount Inasa. From here, in addition, you can see the enlightened Megami-Ohashi, a huge cable-stayed bridge located on the entrance of Nagasaki Port.
To see the nigth view, we went on a lower place than the Mount Nabekanmuri, but the clouds placed on the mountains were reflecting the lights of the city, creating a magic and spectacular view!
Getting back to talk about Nabekanmuri, during the day many cats were resting on the rooftops of the houses here, and their tranquility somehow made me enjoy more my visit.
Nagasaki is a city that surely suffered a lot of the nuclear bombing, but at the same time is a very authentic city, with a strong personality and a deep history.
There are still more places to see in Nagasaki, the food is excellent, so we suggest you to stay here a few days and enjoy this city carefully. Around Nagasaki there are many other interesting spots, such as the Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch themed park, and the port city of Sasebo, in the north.