The history of Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県) has been both prosperous and tumultuous, where it transformed from a flourishing trading port to devastation by the second atomic bomb. Reconstruction of the city after its destruction took on a new direction, but one can still find traces of the city’s unique past.
Nagasaki City (長崎市)
The Nagasaki Peace Park (長崎平和公園) is a grim reminder of the horrors of war, while promoting the message of peace. The park itself is divided into three areas, but there are other sites surrounding the park that is worth a visit as well:
- Zone of Hopes – Peace Statue, Vault for the Unclaimed Remains of Victims etc
- Zone of Prayers – Hypocenter Cenotaph, Urakami Cathedral Wall etc
- Zone of Study – Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum etc
- Other places within the vicinity – Sanno Shrine (One-Legged Torii Arch), Shiroyama Elementary School Ruins etc
Access: From JR Nagasaki Station, take tram #1 or #3 and alight at Matsuyama-machi stop. The park is 2 mins away.
To get a panoramic view of Nagasaki city, go up to Inasayama Observatory (稲佐山展望台), which offers one of Japan’s best three night views (the other two are Mount Hakodate and Mount Rokko).
Cherry blossoms and azaleas bloom in spring and make for lovely photos at Inasayama Park. The Mount Inasa Azalea Festival (稲佐山つつじまつり) is be held from April to May, where visitors can look forward to karaoke competition, kite flying and musical performances and more!
Access: Substitute buses are available. Details at http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4412.html. *The ropeway up Mount Inasayama is closed from May 7, 2015 till February 5, 2016 due to renovation works.
Up on Nishizaka Hill lies the site to the Memorial to the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan (日本二十六聖人殉教地), which includes foreign and Japanese Christians executed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The museum displays articles regarding Christian oppression, such as statues of the Virgin Mary disguised as the Japanese goddess of mercy. It is affiliated to the oldest church in Japan, Oura Catholic Church (大浦天主堂), which commemorates the deaths of the 26 Christian martyrs. A sacred bell still sounds at noon and 6pm each day.
Memorial & Museum: From Nagasaki station, cross over to tram stop Nagasaki eki-mae and walk for 5 mins. Church: From Nagasaki Station, take tram #1 to Tsukimachi stop and change to tram #5 to Ouratenshudo-shita stop.
On one side of the church lies the popular Glover Garden (グラバー園), named after famed Scottish merchant Thomas Glover. He sold weapons to the rebellious Satsuma and Choshu clans, who successfully brought about the collapse of the Tokugawa government. This beautiful park now serve as an open-air museum containing colonial-style mansions from the 19th century.
On the other side of the church is the Confucian Shrine (孔子廟) built by Chinese. The Historical Museum of China beside it houses various treasures on loan from China.
Head over to the adjoining Dutch Slope (荷蘭坡), where the cobblestone slopes are lined with traditional wooden houses belonging to the Dutch who lived there. These slopes called orandazuka were named after “Oranda san”, a term for Westerners during the Edo period.
Access: Alight at Shimin byoin-mae stop on tram #5 and walk for approx. 5 mins.
Other noteworthy historical sites include the Suwa Shrine (諏訪神社), home to the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival (長崎くんち) held each autumn. Intercultural performances are present throughout the parade, from Chinese-style dragon dance to the Dutch Ship and the Dutch comedies. It is difficult to get a ticket for this festival, but you may just catch a glimpse of the fun along the parade route.
Access: Take tram #3, #4 or #5 and alight at Suwajinja-mae stop. The shrine is 5 mins away.
With the national seclusion policy, foreign trade was forbidden except on Dejima (出島), an artificial island home to the Dutch East India Company. It is now transformed into a museum featuring detailed reconstructions that showcase the life of Dutch merchants during that period, such as the Former Dejima Seminary and First Ship Captain’s Quarters.
Access: From Nagasaki Station, take tram line #1 and alight at Dejima stop.
Sasebo City (佐世保市)
Modeled after a medieval Dutch town, Huis Ten Bosch (ハウステンボス) lives up to its name (“house in the forest”) as the resort has countless shops, restaurants, hotels, a marina and a residential area surrounded by lush greenery.
The Dutch theme park is weirdly amusing, with a variety of different attractions including Palace Huis Ten Bosch, a trick eye museum, a One Piece ride and many others.
Access: From Nagasaki Station, take the Express “Seaside Liner” JR Nagasaki/Omura Lines to Huis Ten Bosch.
Nature-lovers should definitely visit Kujukushima (九十九島). Although it’s called Ninety Nine Islands, it in fact made up of 208 tiny islands that stretches from Sasebo to Hirado and forms part of the Saikai National Park. The rich scenery are largely untouched by humans, with an abundance of oysters and pearls in its waters.
From Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort, cruise around the islands on gorgeous excursion boats or visit the aquarium Umi Kirara for some marine indulgence. Choose from several observatory sites for an amazing view – Tenkaiho, Ishidake, Funakoshi, Yumiharidake and Hiyamizudake.
Access: Shuttle bus from Sasebo Station to Pearl Sea Resort.
Hirado City (平戸市)
To understand the history of Hirado, visit the Hirado Castle and Matsura Historical Museum (松浦史料博物館), which showcase treasures of the Matsura clan, who ruled Hirado from 11th to 19th century. Meanwhile, the Hirado Dutch Trading Post (平戸オランダ商館) focuses on the history of international trade at Hirado. The bright red Hirado Bridge (平戸橋) is a sight to behold. It is especially beautiful when lit up at night.
Can you spot Hirado Bridge?
There is a strong presence of Christianity on Hirado despite years of persecution. Enjoy the architectural beauty of the Tabira Catholic Church and St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church on Hirado, or the Yamada Catholic Church on the island of Ikitsuki, known as the island of hidden Christians.
In particular, there is a popular spot among photographers where you can capture the contrast between traditional and modernity, as the St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church is contrasted against ancient stone structures from old Japan.
Access: The best way to see Hirado is by car, or rent a bicycle for sights within close proximity.
Indulge in high quality Hirado flounder (flatfish) or fresh Ikitsuki smelt during your stay! Be sure to sample some delicious snacks such as Western-styled Casdous or Chinese-inspired Gobomochi, or bring them back as souvenirs for family and friends.
Some of them are introduced in the second half of this video:
Other cities in Nagasaki Prefecture includes:
Omura City (大村市)
A city with many famous historical figures and governed by the first Japanese Christian daimyo, Omura has many wonderful tales to tell.
Spring is the season for cherry blossoms, and Omura Park is on the list of top 100 best viewing spots in Japan. Omura cherry blossom (大村桜), also known as Omura zakura, has two rows of petals, making it unique among the cherry blossom species. A flower festival held from end March to mid June, with an assortment of food stalls and local crafts for one to buy.
Spend an hour or two to stroll around Omura Castle Town, where you can see a “stone garden” at the Garden of Former Enyu-ji Temple (旧円融寺庭園), and traditional architectural elements such as the “five-coloured walls” (kusabakoji; 五色塀) at various samurai residences (buke yashiki) along the way.
Shimabara Peninsula (島原半島)
East of Nagasaki city lies Shimabara Peninsula, well-known to onsen-goers and hikers. You can plan an educational trip to learn about volcanic eruptions at the Unzen Volcanic Area Global Geopark (島原半島世界ジオパーク), home to one of Japan’s most destructive volcanoes – Mount Unzen. Hike up to the highest peak, Fugendake (1359m), where you can see the newest peak that was formed from the last Mount Unzen eruption – Heisei Shinzan.
After which you can soak your tired body at Unzen Onsen (雲仙温泉), and walk along Unzen Jigoku, named after the surrounding hot spring fields that emit billowing, sulfuric steam.
Alternatively, you can head over to the nearby town of… Obama (小浜) for hot springs, “Obama Champon” or dolphin watching! The dolphins can be seen at anytime of the year, so don’t miss out on this experience of a lifetime!
- Learn more about Dejima through the interactive “Dejima Comes Back to Life” website!
- A comprehensive Nagasaki City Guide (and other cities).
- A great article on the life of Thomas Glover by the Japan Times.