Impressions of Nagasaki
In a fortuitous foresight on my part, I vacated Oita for the weekend and went to Nagasaki. Fortuitous because the first typhoon of the year (see previous post) chose this three day weekend to appear and I was able to circumvent any major stormy weather. Being on the opposite side of the island, Nagasaki was shielded and I enjoyed sunny skies for the vast majority of the trip. I couldn’t let a three day weekend pass and not take the chance to do a bit of traveling…
So here is the rundown. Overall, the city is quite tame for half a million people. It is nestled in a scenic valley that opens around it’s famous harbor. Buildings and temples line the mountain sides lending the feeling the city is looming over you. Cobblestone streets and a public tram add likable character to the otherwise cookie cutter gray concrete buildings Japanese cities are known for. Between the hills and tram, it is a bit like an Asian San Francisco.
Historically it’s a rich city. Nagasaki’s port was for many years the main contact to the outside world including Holland, Portugal, China, and Korea. During Japan’s closed century Nagasaki was the only city where foreigners were allowed, and their numbers were kept low. That changed, though, by 1853 when Matthew Perry came knocking with a few war ships. An ultimatum was set and Perry returned several years later of an answer. Nagasaksi and Japan as a whole decided to open up to the rest of the world and by the 1860’s the Meji Restoration was well under way. Today Christian churches, Dutch houses, and a Chinatown are reminiscent to these connections.
But, all of this is drastically overshadowed by the events of August 9, 1945 when Nagasaki suffered the world’s second atomic bomb attack. Today, a peace park and museum commemorate the nearly 74,000 people who died. The above picture is of the statue in the Peace Park. The right hand points up to warn of the threat of nuclear weapons and the left outstretched to convey peace.
Of the main attractions, several struck my interest. The site of the 26 Martyrs of Japan marks the hill where 26 foreign and local Christians (including two children) were crucified in an effort to ban Christianity. The immense metal statue of Kannon riding a turtle was a pleasant surprise overlooking the city at Fukusai-ji. (I’m a sucker for giant Buddha statues, they are so photogenic.) The ropeway up Mt. Inasa yielded an amazing view of the city. Finally, the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park were well done. Sobering images, melted bottles, bloodied military uniforms, and archival footage all lent an understanding of the tragedy.
Now for some of the interesting people met. Special thanks to my friend Joe for making the 2 hour ferry ride and a 2 hour bus ride from the Goto Islands, where he lives, into the city to show me around. At my hostel I met a middle aged Venezuelan man traveling for 6 months through China, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Perhaps I can visit in the future. At a local pub, called Crazy Horse, I met a English family preparing for a move to South Korea after 2 years in Nagasaki. The mother of the family picked up some drum sticks and joined the illustrious bar owner and workers on a few rock numbers, including some Eagles. The family who owned a nearby Hokka Hokka Tei restaurant was full of smiles and well intentioned Engrish. Also, across from Glover Gardens there is a magic shop. Beware the owners trick Diet Coke can; instead of Coke it contains about 10,000 volts of electricity.
I think I can mark Nagasaki off my list of places to see now. Its an enjoyable scenic city with much to offer in the way of history. I would like to go back, but go hiking and camping at the mountain resort of Unzen in Nagasaki-ken!