My parents’ visit was just under 3 weeks, which is a reasonably long time to spend in Japan. And seeing as it was their second time visiting, I thought it best to explore outside of Tokyo as much as possible so I put together a plan to explore parts of Kyuushuu (九州) that I had yet to visit but had heard great things about. (I had previously headed down that way when El had come to visit and together we had hit up the eastern side, so this time I decided to head west).
One of the great things about Kyuushuu is that it is so much further south than Tokyo (more than 1000km actually!) and thus it is rather a lot warmer. We also lucked out with amazing weather the entire 6 days we were there.
I had booked the cheapest flight tickets at a reasonable time for us to navigate and it turned out that our flight down has been one of the best domestic flights I have ever experienced. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was traveling with my parents (which puts a big ‘we are tourists’ spotlight on us) but the service on that flight was the absolute best I have ever had – the staff were so kind and accommodating. We flew over Fuji-san (富士山), and while we were on the opposite side of the plane to get a good view, the flight attendants called us over to the emergency door window and let us look out. It was THE most amazing view of 富士山 I have seen in the nearly 2 years that I have been living in Japan as we flew directly over her. That view will be forever etched into my memory!
We arrived in Nagasaki around midday-ish and caught the bus into the city centre, which took about an hour or so. Nagasaki is a much smaller city than Tokyo, with a population of just under one and a half million people and accordingly I knew our food options would be a little sparse. So we stopped for a quick and convenient lunch at an Italian restaurant – Capricosa – in a shopping centre attached to Nagasaki station (Italian is always a safe and easy option, where at least one vege option is guaranteed!)
We then decided to check out a few tourist spots around the station before heading to our Airbnb later in the afternoon. Our first stop was the ‘Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan’.** This was were six foreign missionaries and twenty Japanese Christians were executed during the period where Christianity was banned in Japan.
**Nagasaki has a very interesting past (which we learned all about at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture). Historically, Nagasaki has been a place of trade and one of the few places in Japan with access to the outside world. In the 1500s, the Portuguese began trading with Japan in Nagasaki and thus Christianity began to spread. During this time, the Dutch and Chinese were also trading with Japan but the Japanese government at the time subsequently decided to seize all foreign trade except through Nagasaki’s port and banned Christianity and religious freedom of any sort. Therefore, Nagasaki has an eclectic mix of architecture and influences – particularly from the Dutch and Chinese and it has the largest Christian population in the country.**
I learned so much about Nagasaki (and Japan’s) history at this museum and it was so enlightening. It put in to perspective why certain things are the way they are.
Nagasaki’s public transport system mainly comprises of streetcars (or trams, as we call them) but as it is a fairly small city, many parts of the city are easily accessible on foot. After the museum, we caught the streetcar to our Airbnb with our luggage as it was at the other end of the tram line. Of the three Airbnbs I had booked this time around, this one was by far the cheapest and that being said it was the smallest. It was a tight squeeze for the three of us (but nothing compared to my Tokyo apartment!) but nonetheless it was comfortable and more than enough for us. After checking in, we commenced on our ritual of finding the nearest supermarket to pick up supplies for the upcoming three days.
The next day we started the day reasonably early and headed to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park. Museums of this nature are not everyone’s cup of tea. It is confronting and very difficult to process at times but as it recounts such as a significant part of Nagasaki’s history, it was a must visit in my books. The ultimate message (as illustrated below) is that this should never occur again came through loud and clear (and was brought home further when we were approached by a group of delightful singers who were petitioning for the end of nuclear weapons in the middle of a busy shopping arcade).
The neighbouring peace park was calm and housed the actual hypocentre of the atomic bomb. We took a round-about way into the park and happened across the Urakami Cathedral (浦上天主堂), once renowned as the largest Roman Catholic Church in Asia, was completely destroyed in the blast and then rebuilt in the late fifties. We just had a look at the outside and then continued along to the park.
The weather was beautiful and warm and the cherry blossoms were on show!
Happy Cow has been a lifeline of sorts, especially when travelling, to find vegie friendly food and of the super short list of restaurants in Nagasaki, Nobister (where we stopped for lunch) was one of the most well reviewed places. And indeed it did not disappoint as it was one of the best meals I have had in Japan thus far!
Our next stop was Spectacles Bridge (眼鏡橋) so called because the reflection of the arches in the water looks like a pair of glasses. It was originally built in 1634, and was Japan’s oldest stone bridge. Unfortunately it was washed away in 1982 but was later restored using the recovered stones.
I love this picture of my parents, so cute! (bottom left)
We then walked to Kofukuji (興福寺), the oldest Chinese Obaku Zen temple in Japan which dates back to 1600s. It was lovely quiet spot for a little rest and reflection.
One of my little rituals when traveling is to buy a magnet and piece of jewellery (preferably a necklace) from the places I visit. We passed a little shopping street on our way back from the temple and came across a store selling handmade jewellery, so naturally I spotted an unusual necklace and blew through my cash buying it!
Our last full day in Nagasaki we headed to another major attraction – Glover Garden (グラバー園). This garden had a strange atmosphere, maybe it was just me, but it felt like we were no longer in Japan (which I suppose is a reflection in Nagasaki’s interesting mix of cultures). It is actually an open air museum that houses the mansions of Nagasaki’s former foreign residents, namely Thomas Glover (who played a part in the overthrowing of the Tokugawa Shogunate). It was another beautifully warm day and the spring blossoms were on full show! The tulips especially were gorgeous!
One of the few non selfie shots (though I love how my parents constantly requested selfies throughout our travels – cute!)
Before heading to another lovely vegan lunch (we really lucked out with the food in Nagasaki!) I roped my parents into visiting the Dutch slope (オランダ坂), so named as it is a stone-paved street leading up a hillside where many foreign traders resided after the opening of the city’s port to foreign trade in 1859. The ‘Dutch’ part comes from the fact that the Dutch were the only Westerners allowed in the country for the two centuries and thus anything Western was named ‘Dutch’. And indeed what a slope it was! Much to the protest of my mum, we climbed part of it!
Another area that I was particularly intrigued about was Dejima (出島), after learning about it at the Nagasaki History Museum. It was a man-made island constructed in 1636 to segregate Portuguese residents from the Japanese population and control their missionary activities. Later when the Portuguese were expelled from Japan, the Dutch Trading Station moved in and were restricted to Dejima during Japan’s period of isolation. Now it is no longer an island and it is a museum of sorts.
We had hit the sightseeing hard in Nagasaki and felt that we had thoroughly explored the city in our three days here. The next morning we caught the train to Kumamoto (熊本) (coming soon in the next post)