I Love Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a city where the warmth of the weather is matched only by the warmth of the welcome you will receive. The city’s history of greeting visitors, both foreign and domestic, is alive and well today. The result is a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere, where Spanish tapas bars and Irish pubs can sit side-by-side with traditional Japanese craft shops and restaurants.
From one of the oldest “Chinatown” districts in Japan to the recreation of an old trading port in Dejima, Nagasaki’s history is visible everywhere you look. The city has struck a fantastic balance between preserving the past and developing the modern cityscape that Japan is famous for.
With that in mind, I have made a list of 10 things (in no particular order) that you should see and do in Nagasaki City, and the prefecture as a whole. If you like the sound of them, then come to Nagasaki, and see them for yourself!
10 Visit Hashima
There is a reason that the villain in the James Bond movie “Skyfall” chose Hashima for his lair. The island is also known as an image of “Gunkanjima” in Japanese, which translates to “Battleship Island”, since the silhouette of the island against the horizon looks like an enormous battleship. The island presents an abandoned townscape, and a glimpse into what a city looks like when all the residents suddenly pull up stakes and move on. The silence is so complete that it is easy to forget that you are just a short distance from a very busy harbor and city. There are several charter companies running tours over to the islands all throughout the year. The distance you have to travel is very short, and the local seas are usually calm.
9 Learn from the past at the Atomic Bombing Museum and Peace Park
If there is one event that stands out in Nagasaki’s history like an exclamation point, it would be the atomic bombing. The bombing took place at the close of WWII, and heralded Japan’s surrender from the war. When you come to Nagasaki, be sure that you visit the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Park. The locations are quite close to one another, but offer vastly different experiences. The museum offers an insight into the horror of nuclear devastation, and the pain that it can cause, but the Peace Park shows how the city rebuilt, and is full of statues from different countries, which stand as beacons of hope for world peace. If you want to know about one of the most influential events in Japan’s history, or just to show your respects to the fallen, pay a visit to these sites.
8 Relax at an Onsen
If you need to relax after a long day of travelling, there is little that can be more soothing than a soak in one of Japan’s natural hot springs, or onsens. The onsens on the prefecture of Shimabara are especially famous in Japan, as they are one of the hottest and most active hot springs in Japan. The hot springs release over 15,000 tons of water every day. This means is that you are sure to find a nice spot to rest your tired bones.
There are 3 major areas on the Shimabara peninsula to enjoy an onsen, but perhaps the most popular area is in the town of Obama. The Obama onsen has the largest foot bath in Japan and there are many steam vents, which are free to use for cooking fish or vegetables. Obama’s oysters and shrimp are well regarded, and delicious when freshly steamed. If you find yourself tired at the end of your visit to Nagasaki, take a short train ride to Shimabara peninsula and recharge your batteries.
7 Try on kimonos in Dejima Wharf and Glover Garden
The historical sites of Dejima Wharf and Glover garden are, by themselves, an enjoyable place, but the real pleasure comes from visiting Dejima and renting a traditional Japanese Kimono. You can then stroll around the recreation of the Dejima trade port in your kimono and feel a real connection to the past.
I would also recommend visiting Glover Garden while in a kimono. The garden overlooks Nagasaki Bay, and offers some of the best views and photo opportunities available. For couples, Glover Garden has a special treat: hidden in the garden are two heart-shaped stones, and legend says that if a couple finds and touches both stones, their love will last forever.
For my fellow coffee lovers, Glover garden also offers a unique experience in the iced Dutch coffee. Made with traditional machines, this smooth, cool coffee is the perfect treat on a warm summer’s afternoon.
6 Go snorkeling and visit the 99 islands
Nagasaki is full of natural beauty; the way that the blues of the sea contrast with the lush greens of the forests and mountains is simply astonishing. During the long, warm summer, the ocean water turns crystal clear and offers fantastic opportunities for snorkeling and swimming. Hailing from Ireland, I was never presented with many opportunities for snorkeling. However, soon after arriving, I made sure to buy a full snorkeling kit to better appreciate the chance I had been given. When you get here, you’ll take one look at the crystal clear waters and understand what I mean.
There are great snorkeling opportunities on Iki Island and Takashima Island. Iki Island has the highest latitude coral reef anywhere in the world, and some amazing landscapes to boot. Takashima Island, located just outside of Nagasaki bay, has a beach entry snorkeling program, where you can see some beautiful reefs and tropical fish.
In the town of Sasebo has a bay area called Kujukushima or “the 99 islands”. There are actually more than 99 islands, but you shouldn’t let that prevent you from enjoying yourself. There is a tour boat which offers a guided tour around the islands, and for those who are more independent, rental boats are available. If you like the sea, why not rent a boat and snorkel around a few of the islands, before setting up camp, catching a few fish, and enjoying an evening campfire.
5 Embrace the fusion of Western and Eastern foods
It is no secret that the Japanese people love to eat, and here in Nagasaki, they really love to eat. You can, of course, get all the traditional Japanese dishes, like sushi, mochi and so on, but the real attraction is the fusion of Western and Japanese foods. Because of Nagasaki’s history of interacting with outsiders, the prefecture has developed some interesting original dishes. For example, Torokoro Toruko Rice (Turkish Rice), is a dish combining a breaded pork cutlet, spaghetti, and flavored rice. If you are a burger coinesseour, make sure to try Sasebo’s famous “Sasebo Burger”, which was invented by an American sailor here.
If you are interested in more traditional fare, make sure to try Nagasaki’s “champon”, a kind of fish stew, served with noodles. Nagasaki also has it’s own take on Sushi, in the form of “Omura Zushi”, which is layers of rice, fish, and other ingredients, which are then sliced into squares instead of more traditional sushi shapes.
4 Enjoy the peaceful surroundings of a castle and park
Omura park has some of the finest natural beauty in Nagasaki. Built around an old castle, the park comprises the castle grounds, a stream, and several gardens. Omura also has some really unique kinds of sakura (cherry blossom) trees, including the rare green sakura. Omura is just a short train ride from the centre of Nagasaki city, so it’s easy to make an enjoyable afternoon trip up to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Omura also has a lot of history, so be sure to take a guided tour around the castle grounds, listening and learning about Nagasaki’s history. There is a shop in the area around the park where you can rent a traditional Japanese kimono. The staff will assist you in putting the various layers of beautiful cloth on in a few minutes, and help you get to the castle park. Walking along the same paths which were used by samurai centuries ago, dressed in period attire, you really feel an appreciation for this oasis of natural beauty.
3 Explore Chinatown and see the dragon dance
Nagasaki’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in Japan. The city’s history of dealing with traders from China meant that the visitors inevitably opened up some shops and restaurants of their own. Eventually, this grew into a fully fledged “Chinatown”, and has had an influence on the development of Nagasaki’s culture, food and festivals.
Probably the most spectacular performance event is the Jya Odori (dragon dance). The dragon dance is performed at a variety of festivals and events throughout the year, most notably at the Nagasaki Kunchi festival in early October.
Performed to traditional Chinese music, by skilled dancers, the dragon dance is one of Nagasaki city’s highlights. If you can visit Nagasaki during Kunchi, or the Chinese new year, be sure to stretch your legs, explore the Chinatown and catch a performance of the legendary Ddragon Ddance.
2 Take a view of the spectacles bridge & hunt for the heart stone
One of the most frequently photographed sites in Nagasaki is meganebashi or “The Spectacles Bridge”. The bridge is composed of two arches, and when the weather is fine, as it usually is in Nagasaki, the reflection of the bridge in the water makes it look like there is a pair of giant stone spectacles resting on the water.
Carved into the side of the bridge, are a few old steps. It’s a common sight to see people dropping coins off the side of the bridge, and trying to land them on the steps, in the hope of increasing their luck. It is said that the higher the step that your coin lands on, the higher your chances of getting good luck.
The people of NagaskaiNagasaki are a romantic sort, and so, there is also a heartstone in the bridge area. If two lovers should find this heart-shaped stone and touch it together, then their love is true.
1 Watch the sun set and the city light up
As I come to the end of the list, I will tell you how to end at least one of your days here in Nagasaki. Mt. Inasa overlooks the entire city of Nagasaki, so, the clever residents of Nagasaki have installed a fantastic viewing platform at the top, with a cable-car to match.
Watching the city come to life as the sun sets and the lights come on is a real treat. The words “Naga Saki” mean “Long Cape”, and the city really does look like a cloak, as it spreads across the ground and almost seems to flow out of the mountains like a river. There is little wonder why Nagasaki is regarded as having one of the best night views in the world.
So please, come to Nagasaki, and while you’re here, take the time to enjoy some of our fantastic attractions. Nagasaki may not be as large or well known as Tokyo, but remember what they say: “good things come in small packages”.
I am originally from Ireland, but I swiftly fell in love with Nagasaki as soon as I arrived. I moved here in 2012, and, during my time here, I’ve attended more festivals, and cultural events than I can remember. I have walked around the streets snapping pictures, eaten traditional mochi (sweet, sticky rice cakes) at temples, I have even seen the Chinese New Year and the Japanese celebration of for the recently deceased (Obon).
Nagasaki presents a wonderful contrast between the old and the new, and fusion of foreign and domestic styles. While I don’t think I’ll ever fully get used to the heat of the summer in July/August, I am happy to call Nagasaki my home, and give you all, as we say in Irish, a céad mile fáilte, or one hundred thousand welcomes.