The City of Old
Nagasaki is a city with a lot of historical significance, from its European influence and its war-torn memories, it has many stories to tell. From the 16th to 19th centuries it served as a port city to the outside world and was home to many Portuguese and Dutch merchants. As trade expanded, the small village was transformed into one of the main conduits between the West and Japan, the Europeans were also responsible for a lot of the churches and architecture you can find today. Its remnants of war can also be found in its popular sites of Nagasaki’s Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Museum and memorials. These places serve as a clear reminder of the desolation and misery caused by war and nuclear weapons.
During the Tokugawa era, it is argued by Historians the Nagasaki was the main port cities conducting most of the trade with the West and rest of the globe. Harbouring unique and mysterious wonders from Europe and the outside world, it was the true cosmopolitan area during the 1600-1700s. It also continued to be home to Portuguese and Dutch settlers and continues to maintain a European community even today.
Back to the present
These days the city itself is quite small by Japanese city standards, home to a population approaching 500,000. It is famous for a unique range of cuisine, especially dishes such as Chanpon, Sara Udon, Kasutera and more. It is also home to a picturesque night cityscape from neighbouring Mt. Inasa and the old coal mine and abandoned world heritage site Hanshima Island (Gunkanjima or Battleship Island – due to its battleship resemblance), which can be accessed by boat, a short distance from the city. European influence on art, culture, architecture and more can also be seen throughout the city.
This time was my second visit to the infamous port city, during my last travel I had experienced more of the famous sites from World War II, plus its memorials, museums and architecture. However, this time I would have more time to appreciate the city’s historical buildings and the importance of its contribution to Japan’s past. So, there was definitely a greater sense of understanding and appreciation for this mysterious city.
How to get there
Getting to Nagasaki, especially from Tokyo can be a little expensive as most of the budget carriers do not fly there directly. The reason being that demand is probably not nearly high enough, so most of the budget airlines or LCCs will fly to Fukuoka airport instead. Of course, this can be handy if Fukuoka is part of your itinerary, as you can make it part of your Kyushu tour. However, it can also be painful if you’re on a tight budget. Alternatively, booking tickets well in advance should be able to ‘land’ you a discounted airfare, around 20,000 yen or less on one of Japan’s major airlines.
For our journey, we secured tickets via Jetstar to Fukuoka, this cost around 10,000 yen return. On the way there, we were lucky enough to capture some stunning shots of Mt Fuji. After landing at Fukuoka airport, we then took an express limousine bus to Sasebo costing around 2,700 yen one way, as that was the first part of our journey. However, if you wish to go directly to Nagasaki, you will need to go to the main city first via the subway (which is only a few stops away), and swap for an express train or bus from the main train terminal. If you take a bus you will pay a similar price as Sasebo, around 2,800 yen, however taking train costs around 5,000 yen for similar travel times. If time was not limited, Fukuoka would have been included in my itinerary too, but I digress.
As another option, the ole’ trusty google maps suggests from Tokyo it will take a combined 7.5 hours by bullet and express trains, 15 hours by car or an 8 day+ trek (8 hours and 15 hours to be exact – are you up for the challenge?).
As mentioned, Nagasaki is especially famous for Chanpon, Sara Udon and many other kinds of dishes. Chanpon and Sara Udon are especially easy to find, as one of the city’s popular cuisine, it can be found in many restaurants scattered throughout the area. To experience these dishes in their full glory, one of the places I would recommend is Kouranrou in central Nagasaki. On Google, it has a 3.9-star rating and on Tablelog rates it at 3.6 stars making it above average on the general scale. You can choose both Champon or Sara Udon, and from my perspective, while there was a little wait because it was busy, the taste is well worth the time. For more info on Kouzanrou, use the following link to the restaurant website or google maps location.
Have you got $10m?
Located next to the city’s central district is Mount Inasa which peaks at a modest 333m, but is the photo-op place to be for spectacular scenery. Furthermore, I would definitely suggest staying till after dusk as this provides the best night scenery, and is widely known as Nagasaki’s 10,000,000 million dollar night view (1000万ドルの夜景-Issenmandoru no yakei). Close to Nagasaki’s Urakami Station is Mt. Inasa’s ropeway, and going up to the mountain costs either 720 yen for one way or 1230 yen for the round trip. You can also take a taxi to the peak of the mountain, and private tours are also available from select hotels.
The bomb to end all wars
Towards the conclusion of World War 2, Nagasaki was also known as the second and only city to ever experience the devastation of an atomic bomb. August 9, 1945, is well known as the day of destruction and death from the Nuclear strike, leaving an estimated 150,000 dead or wounded and the Northern part of the city in tatters. Although the damage left by the bomb is less severe than Hiroshima due to its mountainous terrain, it still annihilated anything in its path.
Similar to Hiroshima, Nagasaki’s Peace Park serves as a painful reminder of the cruelty and suffering of war. The biggest statue clearly visible in the centre of the park is the Peace Statue, acting as the central figure of the area and a symbol of eternal peace throughout the world. Like Hiroshima too, the vibe and feeling of the surrounding vicinity is eerie and almost surreal, especially when you think just how much Nagasaki had suffered. The Peace Memorial and Atomic Bomb museums are also in walking proximity, located directly next to the park.
The Atomic Bomb Museum pictures are so blatantly clear, demonstrating the obliteration and destructive power of how the atomic bomb levelled the city. When you compare the before and after pictures (above), you will see the difference between a populated metropolis and the aftermath of what seems like an abandoned and desolate area. The pictures themselves while shocking, are there as a painful yet fitting reminder of why we cannot subject our world to another attack of such absolute devastation.
The museum touches on the events building up to the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, it also looks at the history of development and how nuclear weapons are made. You can see find many artifacts and items relating to the bombing, including photographs and documents. Entry to the museum is 200 yen and remains open during daily from 8:30-17:30.
Another fascinating tour that is available is Gunkanjima (also known as Hanshima Island), a famous historical landmark and abandoned island hailing back to Japan’s rapid industrialization. Located about 15km away from the city and dating back to the late 1800s, the man-made mine remained active all the way through to the late 1900s, it was a key source of coal for Japan, particularly throughout the war and rebuilding of the country.
Additional things to do and see while in Nagasaki include visiting the Meganebashi bridge, one of the city’s more attractive stone bridges dating back to the 1600s. There are also a number of shrines, temples and beautiful historical churches like Oura Church or Urakami Cathedral from the times of European influence. Furthermore, there is also a large variety of museums which show off the unique art and culture that has helped shape the city throughout the last 4-500 years. Either way, there are many things to do when visiting Nagasaki, and it provides a good escape for a day trip or overnight stay.