I Love Nagasaki
Hello everyone, nice to meet you!
My name is Francesca Discenza. I originally came from Italy and I'm currently working as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Minamishimabara City, which is located in the southern edge of Nagasaki Prefecture.
You're probably wondering why an Italian CIR is working in such a remote place. To answer this question, let me take you on a brief trip through the history of Nagasaki.
The Christian history of Nagasaki and the relations between Minamishimabara and Italy
Starting from the second half of the 16th century, the so called nanban-jin, mostly Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch merchants and priests, arrived in the Nagasaki Region with the intent of starting trade with Japan as well as spreading Christianity through missionary work.
Among them was the Italian Jesuit Father Alessandro Valignano, who entered Kuchinotsu Port (present Minamishimabara City) in 1579. One year later he founded the "Arima Seminario" in Arima, (now Kita-Arima Town, Minamishimabara City), the first western style secondary school to raise young priests. Valignano showed particular interest and respect for the Japanese culture. Therefore, he paid particular attention in combining the precepts of traditional Japanese education and arts such as tea ceremony and calligraphy, while teaching western subjects such as Latin, music, geography and Christian religion.
In 1582, four of the best students (then 13-14 years old) attending the Seminario were selected by Valignano and dispatched to Europe with the intent of reporting to the Pope about the spread of Christianity in Asia. These four princes, called the "Tenshō Embassy", are known as the first Japanese envoys to travel to Europe. After a long and exhausting trip which took two and a half years, they finally disembarked in Europe, where they were heartily welcomed in royal courts throughout Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Once in Rome they were honored with a private audience by Pope Gregorius XIII.
Whilst retracing the flourishing period of Christianity in the Shimabara Peninsula that occurred in the late 16th century, and in order to promote the inscription of the "Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki" as a World Heritage Site, the City of Minamishimabara has been actively restoring its relationship with Italy inviting an Italian CIR since 2012. Every year the city reproduces the lessons of the seminario, during which four junior high school students are selected and later sent to Italy. While there, they attend the Papal Audience in Rome and experience a homestay in Chieti, both the birthplace of Alessandro Valignano and the city tied with Minamishimabara through sister-city relationships. This is the main reason why I am now working in Minamishimabara.
Introduction of Minamishimabara (Nagasaki)
Usually both foreigners and Japanese people believe that there is "nothing special" or "nothing to do" in rural areas of Japan. However, I'm sure I can convince you that this is not the case!
Firstly, no matter where you go in Nagasaki, its natural sceneries will never disappoint you: terraced rice-fields, blue sea, gold-sand beaches, cute islands, deep green forests, mighty volcanos…. In the Shimabara Peninsula, you can enjoy seeing all of these natural elements all at once!
Furthermore, you will never get bored since the color of the sky, the brightness of the sea, and the density of the air changes every day and in every season! I used to drive along the seacoast to get to work and every day I was stunned by the beautiful view surrounding me.
FOOD AND LOCAL SPECIALTIES
The Shimabara Peninsula is blessed with a mild climate and spring waters which flow from the foot of the volcano in Unzen, preserving a very rich and fertile soil that allows the production of high-quality agricultural products such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, reddish, cucumber, asparagus, strawberries and many more.
Minamishimabara is proud to be the second biggest producer in Japan of somen noodles. The tradition of "Shimabara Tenobe Somen" (literally "hand-streched somen") started over 350 years ago. Since then, the art and tradition of handmade somen has been refined and these noodles have now become a local specialty in Nagasaki Prefecture.
The townspeople especially enjoy somen noodles during the summer festivals, where they let these noodles flow inside meters-long bamboo sticks filled with cool water and eat them after catching them with their chopsticks (this practice is called somen nagashi).
Facing the Ariake Sea, the Shimabara Peninsula offers also a rich variety of delicious fresh fish, such as red rockfish, shrimps, lobster at cheap prices.
The people in Nagasaki are very friendly and easy-going! They're mostly curious to get to know different cultures and are very helpful with foreigners. They're more than happy to welcome you anytime, offering you delicious meals and they'll put a lot of effort in showing you around. You shouldn't be surprised to receive frequent visits from your neighbors or co-workers bringing homegrown veggies, somen noodles or freshly caught fish.
EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES
Nagasaki offers a variety of fun events throughout the year!
Besides the many local events that take place in every small town of Minamishimabara, it takes only a twenty minutes boat ride to watch 300 wild dolphins at a very close distance, so close that you could almost touch them. There are also wonderful gold-sand beaches, where it is possible to snorkel and enjoy other fun water sports or simply take a stroll watching the sun set. Many local farmer and fishermen families offer homestays to Japanese and foreigners to give them the opportunity to experience their everyday life by helping to work in the fields or by catching fresh fish. Afterwards all these products can be cooked and eaten together. It takes only about 20 minutes by car to reach the top of the volcano in Unzen, where you can enjoy nice walks admiring the color of the nature, that changes in every season. The Shimabara Peninsula is also full of a variety of hot springs you shouldn't miss in cold winter!
Most of the citizens are regularly involved in many cultural and sports activities such as yosakoi dances, taiko (Japanese drums), martial arts such as kyudo (Japanese archery), kendo (Japanese fencing), iado (sword drawing), karate, judo…and they'll never miss an opportunity to show off their abilities while performing on stage during festivals. Moreover, they will encourage you to join their clubs and circles! In this case, living in the countryside allows you to try out these kinds of activities mostly for free or only for a little money compared to high prices requested in big cities. That's one of the reasons why I can practice iaido (sword drawing), kyudo (archery), taiko (drums), yosakoi (traditional dance), and others every week!
All in all, the beautiful natural scenery, the delicious local products, the kindness of the townspeople, the rewarding job I do every day, the fun during club activities made me realize how happy and satisfied I am to be here and how grateful I feel every day!
Nagasaki is not only a fascinating region to visit but also a great place to live! That's the reason why I have spent the last 4 years of my life here and I'm sure it'll be very hard for me to leave when that time comes
I hope you won't miss the opportunity to pay a visit to Nagasaki and when you do, I hope you'll make unforgettable memories!
For further information about Minamishimabara, please take a look at the following promotional videos in English in the long version I play the main role:
If you're curious to listen to me speaking in Japanese, here is a link to the Japanese version of the same video ;)