Apart from January's brief spell of extreme cold, which brought Nagasaki's heaviest snowfall in over one hundred years, this winter has mercifully been a mild one. Regardless, it's still a joy to feel the temperature rising, to see the first plum blossoms burst into flower on the trees, to know that spring is just around the corner.
With this in mind, this edition we bring you two articles to help you get the most out of your spring in Nagasaki. Learn about the history of hanami (or "cherry blossom viewing"), around the hypocenter of the atomic bomb. Then, discover a great day-trip destination in the hills of Omura, Omura Yume Chou Chou Farm, where you can spend the day picking delicious strawberries and sampling fresh local produce.
The cherry blossom season is one of Japan's most important annual events. Each year, people across Japan eagerly track the sakura zensen (or "cherry blossom front") as it progresses across the country. March sees the first trees burst into bloom in mild Kyushu, while Hokkaido must wait until May.
Once the cherry blossoms have arrived, it's time for hanami, or "flower viewing". People pack a picnic (perhaps including a special department store bento, or any number of special sakura-themed products), pick up a plastic sheet and find a great spot among the flowers to enjoy food, sometimes alcohol, and the company of loved ones.
It's a marvel to see a place transformed for a brief couple of weeks so thoroughly by the natural phenomenon. In areas with a thick concentration of cherry trees, the landscape almost looks otherworldly. Yet almost as soon as cherry blossom season arrives, it's gone again, along with the lively hanami picnics. The delicate, temporary flower has traditionally encapsulated the Japanese aesthetic ideal of transient beauty, as well as being a striking symbol for transience in general.
Nagasaki's mild climate means that its cherry blossoms are among the first in Japan, and there are plenty of beautiful hanami spots to take advantage of these early blossoms. However, one of the most beautiful cherry blossom spots in the prefecture is perhaps one of the most unexpected - the area around the hypocenter of Nagasaki's atomic bombing.
Many tourists visit this well-known area to reflect in the park marking the hypocenter itself, and the neighboring Peace Park, as well as to learn more at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum.
Learn About the Atomic Bombing in Nagasaki
If you want to learn more about the events of August 9th, 1945, your first stop should be the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. There, you can see artifacts from the bombing and hear testimonies of those affected.
The nearby Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims is a place where you can pay respects to those who died in the atomic bombing and, if you wish, say a prayer for peace. There are also more materials and information about the disaster should you wish to educate yourself further.
It's not that the area around the hypocenter is usually somber, as might be expected by those who haven't visited. A beautiful fountain is located at the opening of the Peace Park, and its numerous statues all spread messages of peace. Despite this, many people understandably feel solemn reflecting on the tragedy of the atomic bomb.Yet what is perhaps much less known to tourists is that this area boasts around 500 cherry trees, meaning that come March, the landscape is transformed by a flurry of beauty. For this reason it's a popular spot for locals to enjoy cherry blossom viewing.
Nearby lies Shiroyama Elementary School. Just 500 meters away, this was the closest National School to the hypocenter. 28 school staff members perished, as well as 1,400 students who died in their homes and an estimated 100 employees of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which had recently relocated its operations to the school.
Today, the school is open, having been renovated after the disaster and come spring, it is rich with color thanks to its numerous cherry trees, many of which were donated in memory of local people.
The Arakawa Peace Cherry trees, for example, were donated by the bereaved family of Vice Principal Hideo Arakawa in 1993. Arakawa survived despite being exposed to the bomb, and worked hard throughout his life to restore the school, as well as develop the school's Peace Education curriculum. Thousands of school students from all over Japan venture to Shiroyama Elementary each year to learn about the importance of Peace and interact with the student volunteer guides.
Trees in the stands of the school commemorate Kayoko Hayashi, a student of the school who loved cherry blossoms. These trees were donated by her mother and are joined by an additional 25 cherry trees which were planted in 1985. The "Heiwa-no-kane" monument, which forms the shape of a cherry tree, can also be found nearby. The bell at the monument is rung three times daily at 8am, 12pm and 4pm.
Shiroyama and Yamazato Elementary Schools
Both Shiroyama Elementary School, and the nearby Yamazato Elementary School, hold a special significance in terms of Peace education in Nagasaki.
At Shiroyama Elementary, just inside its gates, stands part of the original school building which survived the disaster. While the school is not open to the public for security reasons, this building can be visited with a volunteer Peace Guide from 08.30 to 16:30. It now houses a small museum where visitors can learn more about the events that took place there, and is visited by students across the country on school trips.
At Yamazato Elementary, 6 of the 18 original air-raid shelters have been preserved and are open to the public.
On August 9th each year, students from Shiroyama and Yamazato Elementary schools take turns in attending the annual ceremony at Nagasaki's Peace Park. The school in attendance shares their school song in commemoration of those who perished during the disaster.
Furthermore, each month Shiroyama Elementary holds a Peace Ceremony, where students sing the song "Kora no mitama yo". The students take part in a range of peace activities on a monthly basis, including performing a play based on the history of Kayoko Hayashi's Sakura trees.
The Nagai Slope, which leads to the remains of air-raid shelters, is flanked by trees planted in honor of Dr. Takashi Nagai. A physician specializing in radiology, Dr. Nagai was working at Nagasaki Medical College at the time of the bombing. He was badly injured, but survived. His wife, however, was killed and his house destroyed. Despite this, he dedicated his life to helping victims of the bombing, and wrote numerous essays and books about the disaster.
Using prize money won from his essays, Dr. Nagai bought and planted 1,200 cherry trees around the Urakami area, including those at Shiroyama Elementary School and 50 at nearby Yamazato Elementary School. After the disaster, it was said that nothing would grow on the scorched earth for seventy years. Yet just a month afterwards, plants began to spring from the ground, showing that new life and hope is possible even where the greatest of tragedies have occurred.
Dr. Nagai planted the trees simply in order to make Nagasaki a place where cherry blossoms would bloom once more. Thanks to him, despite the unbelievable horror that Nagasaki had experienced, locals could enjoy the same scenes of beauty that people across the Japan have experienced for centuries, and continue to enjoy today.
Nyoko-do and Dr Takashi Nagai Memorial Museum
After his home was destroyed in the atomic bombing, Dr. Nagai lived in a tiny, two-tatami house until his death in 1951. He named the house "Nyokodo" (literally, As-Yourself Hall), inspired by the bible passage, "love others as you love yourself".
Today, you can visit this tiny house and the adjacent Nagai Takashi Memorial Museum. First a reading room built by Dr. Nagai, it was expanded into a library after his death. Today, it is a museum housing artifacts from Dr. Nagai's life and commemorating his achievements.
Only a few of Dr. Nagai's original trees remain today. However, the Nagasaki Nyoko-no-kai (or Association of Nagasaki Nyoko) has been working to honor his memory by using cuttings of the original trees to propagate new ones. In 2010, young cherry trees, also grown from the cuttings of original plants, were awarded to Dr. Nagai's hometown of Unnan, Shimane.
That Nagasaki, a town once stripped of its nature and beauty by the bombing, is now able to spread the beauty of cherry blossoms to other parts of Japan, is an extraordinary testament to Dr. Nagai's incredible life.
This year's blossoms will be gone all too soon. However, we can be sure that next year and for many years to come, people across Japan can enjoy picnicking under, or simply marveling at, beautiful cherry blossoms. And, thanks in part to Dr. Nagai, the people of Nagasaki will be reminded by the hypocenter area cherry trees that new life will continue to grow even when all hope seems lost.
Spring is on its way to Nagasaki, and what better way to celebrate the arrival of the warmer weather than by spending the day fruit picking? Head to Omura Yume Farm Chou Chou (おおむら夢ファームシュシュ) where you can not only enjoy fruit picking, but also cooking classes, as well as sampling Nagasaki's amazing local produce at its western bakery and beautiful buffet style restaurant. It is the perfect day out for any food lover, and especially for those interested in learning more about what amazing food Nagasaki has to offer.
Located on the mountainside fifteen minutes from central Omura, the farm offers spectacular views of Omura Bay and the surrounding area. While slightly out of the way, Chou Chou is certainly worth the effort to visit.
One of the highlights is the opportunity to pick your own strawberries, lovingly grown in the farm's greenhouses. Strawberry season starts in December and runs all the way through May, with the height of the season running from March to May.
Strawberries are grown in two tiers of raised beds off the floor, which makes hunting out the gleaming red fruit amongst the bright green plants easy for both children and those with mobility issues. Searching high and low for the absolute perfectly ripe strawberry is worth all the effort when you taste the deliciously sweet fruits of your own labour.
The fun doesn't stop when the strawberry season is over, however. Visiting at different times throughout the year gives you the opportunity to pick other seasonal fruits grown by the farm, such as pears, blueberries and grapes.
Cooking classes at the farm offer an incredible opportunity to learn how to make some authentic Japanese cuisine using locally grown ingredients. If you take the class on how to make strawberry daifuku, red bean stuffed mochi encasing a juicy strawberry, you can even use ones you picked yourself.
The farm offers a huge range of classes so there is something for everyone to enjoy including how to make pizza, soba, bread, and even wieners. Classes are held in Japanese, however the friendly staff make the process easy to understand with gestures and pictures. Visitors with limited or no Japanese are encouraged to join in and experience some authentic Japanese culture.
One of the farm's newest classes demonstrates how to make the popular local delicacy Omura Sushi (Omurazushi). This loca l specialty dates all the way back to 1480, when Lord Sumikore Omura and his warriors had a great victory over a rival clan under the reign of Arima Takasumi. They celebrated recapturing their land with a great feast. Omura Sushi gained its distinctive appearance when the warriors cut the layered sushi with their swords in order to divide it between everyone.
Not only is it historic, but the layered vinegar rice, mushrooms, sliced omelette and signature ingredient of green or pink fish paste (hanpen kamaboko) is also delicious, as well as a lot of fun to make.
You're sure to have worked up an appetite after a busy morning of picking fruit and cooking. Thankfully, Chou Chou's also houses a delicious restaurant next to the greenhouse growing the farm's strawberries. The light and airy room is beautifully decorated to emulate a vinery and the terrace outside provides breath-taking views of Omura and the surrounding bay.
The restaurant is a treat, offering a buffet style lunch using locally sourced products. While everything tastes great, the Nagasaki beef curry is a highlight and should certainly not be missed.
Be sure to save plenty of time to check out the farm's local produce shop, bakery and ice cream shop before you leave as you'll want to bring a taste of Chou Chou home with you. The juices grown and bottled nearby are incredibly popular and the strawberry ice cream is most certainly some of the best that Nagasaki has to offer. We recommend enjoying it outside while looking at the beautiful view of the bay!
The Nagazasshi is Nagasaki's No. 1 English language magazine. You can read it online at www.nagazasshi.com
The Nagazasshi is also on Facebook! Like the page to keep up to date with all the best news and views from the international community in Nagasaki
Collaboration Pages: March-April 2016 issue
Like the Visit Nagasaki Facebook page to see weekly updates on news and events in Nagasaki from the Nagazasshi and Nagasaki Prefecture Tourism association teams!