In April 2015 I planned to meet a friend in Sendai to do some traveling. However, at the last minute she blew me off and I was left with an already payed-for plane ticket to Japan. At time time I was completely taken aback by this, what should I do? Should I still go?
Today I am so thankful to her, because this moment marked a decisive moment in my life, the moment I started to travel alone.
I organized my trip and planned to visit a couple of places that had been on my list but I had not had the time to visit. The first of these was Nagasaki in the southern part of the island of Kyuushu.
For me as a Portuguese it was really significant to see Nagasaki. If there is a part of Japan that I felt could be a bridge between me and Japan this would be it. I was not wrong, the hostel owner immediately commented with me the fact that I was Portuguese and that Portugal and the Netherlands played a really big part in the city’s history.
This is true and you do feel this around the city. There is no doubt that Nagasaki is clearly a Japanese city, however it became this mix with small touches. I really loved it.
In Nagasaki I stayed at Hostel Casa Noda just 5 minutes walking from the train station, I chose it because the word “casa” is Portuguese and means home. After freshening up, the first thing I did was walk around the city.
I walked through the Nagasaki Seaside Park heading towards the Glover Garden and the Omura Church.
On the top of a small hill in the city, where foreign merchants were allowed to reside, you can find the European style residence of Thomas Glover. Thomas was a Scottish merchant and his house is kept as a small museum of an European style residence fully furnished.
While heading towards Glover Garden I passed Oura Church. Said to be the oldest Christian church in Japan this church was built in 1864 at the end of Edo period.
If anything this is a beautiful area and garden with a great view over the city, the port and the beautiful mount Inasayama.
Another attraction of the city is the Dutch slope. This is a paved street that would lead up to the residencies of the Dutch merchants. You can still find some of these houses around the area.
On my way to Dejima island, I passed Nagasaki’s Chinatown. Same as the Dutch, Chinese merchants were also allowed to stay in the city, after the Japan closed it’s ports to foreign traders and priests. In this area they settled and built their community.
When foreigners first got to Japan, before being allowed in the slopes, because they were impacting too much the lives of locals, they were isolated into a artificial island, Dejima.
Closed within gates and separated by moats from the rest of the city only connected with 4 guarded bridges, this place still remains as an open air museum to those times.
Details about the strange animals they traveled with and the strange lives they led is detailed in signs around this area.
Definitely very interesting to experience as a Portuguese, there was so much done to the world at that time, I can not blame the Japanese for being careful. These are still delicate subjects nowadays.
Time for lunch and I went for a personal favourite of mine. Grilled oysters with nama beer by the river side.
After lunch I embarked on a failed journey to find Kazagashira Park on the top of Mt Kazagashira. On my way there I passed the Meganebashi Bridge that stands in a very beautiful walkable area of the river. This is only a reconstructed version of the original build in 1634 but it’s still beautiful.
From the bridge I kept walking up, expecting to reach the park and see the statue of Sakamoto Ryoma. Ryoma is famous Bakumatsu for promoting good relations between Chōshū and Satsuma clans to overthrow the last military shogunate and restore power to the Emperor.
Nagasaki city decided to honour him not only because of his accomplishments as a diplomat but because it was in this city that he founded a private navy and trading company.
Unfortunately, I was never able to find it and after a while I decided to return back and visit Mt. Inasayama on the other side of the city.
I bought some nice Japanese bread, took the cable car up the mountain and spent the whole rest of the afternoon eating my bread, at the top of this incredible mountain and I felt at the top of the world.
The perfect way to end my one day in Nagasaki.
Nagasaki is definitely worth at least 3 days of your trip. I recommend one for the center, another for the park and the mountain and a third one to visit Gunkanjima.
I’ve decided not to mention here the peace park and the atomic bomb museum because they are one train station away in Urakami, and the area has it’s own history, deserving of it’s own post.
There is so much to see here and so much of a rich mix of cultures that is very interesting to see.
I recommend starting with Dejima island and only after checking out the Glover garden and the Oura Cathedral just to be historically accurate.
Dejima can be visited between 8 and 18 and entrance ticket costs around 5 dollars. I think it’s totally worth the price and with the houses, exhibitions and walking around it can take comfortably 1 to 2 hours to visit everything.
From there walk the Dutch slope, which is just a regular old preserved street, to go towards the Glover Garden and the Oura Cathedral.
From 8 to 18:00 you can enter both the Glover garden and the Oura Cathedral. The garden will cost you 6 and the cathedral 10 dollars.
Nearby you will find the Confucious Shrine built in the 19th century by the Chinese comunity in Nagasaki. This is one of the few in Japan. Entrance will cost you 6 dollars
To eat the best chinese food in the city or some local dishes influenced by Chinese culture you can visit Chinatown in the heart of the city.
To get to Inasa yama I walked to the ropeway base approximately 30 minutes, however, there is a bus from the main train station and the ticket will cost 3 dollars to go and return.
From the base to the top it says it’s a 15 minute climb, let’s add an extra 5 minutes so you don’t say I lied. I took the cable car up, but I am not sure if I walked back down. The ropeway works until 22:00 and costs 7 dollars one way 12 dollars to go and return.
I have no idea how to get to the park with Ryoma Statue but I am sure that if you try and go with proper gps and preparation you will get there. From the center, to go and come back should take about an hour, maybe one hour and a half. On your way, don’t miss the Meganebashi bridge.
On the way to Inasa don’t forget to pass by the museum honouring 26 japanese Christian maryrs who were executed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi at a time when missionary activities were prohibited.
Further along the coast you will find Gunkanjima an island used for mining back in the late 19th century. Since the mines closed down in 1970’s people left and the island has became abandoned and heavily damaged by typhoons. Nowadays it is just a touristic destination for that apocalyptic feeling which drives some of our crazy travels.
Boat tours to Gunkanjima leave from Nagasaki port and the whole tour takes around 3 hours and costs between 34 to 45 dollars.
What would I do differently
I definitely have to go back to Nagasaki, I just stayed for two days (only one in the city center) and I feel that this city has so much to be experienced that it was definitely not enough time.
If you visit, and make sure you do, this is a great place for oysters and a famous Japanse cake the Kasutera, that is influenced by Portuguese culinary.
Nagasaki is a tremendously beautiful city. It’s not a Japanese high rise city, it keeps so much of it’s rich history intact and the perfect Mt Inasa rising above the port with a peaceful view is indescribable.
I had no idea of or time to visit Gunkanjima, but looking back, how could I have missed it? It must be an impressive sight. I should go back for that.
The Southern part of Japan really does get hot in the summer, so make sure to visit during more reasonable weather times. Also, I feel that Kyuushu has a vibe of it’s own I cannot properly explain, I wish I had taken a whole two weeks travel here.
I am sorry for the really long post, but it was impossible not to write a lot.
Also, because unfortunately no visit to Nagasaki would be complete without the subject of atomic bombing, the next day I went to Urakami to visit the Peace memorial. This will be my post for next week.
Hope everyone is doing well and thank you for reading.