Nagasaki destination guide
Nagasaki travel guide - What to do, see and visit in Nagasaki
Nagasaki is truly unlike any other Japanese city that you will visit. You won’t find futuristic mechanized robots or the quintessential bizarre styles of restaurants and bars. There’s no world-class subway or hipsters defining how cool fashion can be. Today, it is most widely known for the tragic dropping of “fat man”, the second and last nuclear weapon ever used in warfare during WWII. The modern day Nagasaki has been completely rebuilt into a buzzing metropolis and a visit here makes for an interesting, albeit tragic, glimpse into history.
Nagasaki, meaning ‘long cape’, is nestled between two mountains on the western coast of Kyushu, one of Japan’s main five islands. From the 16th to the 19th century, Nagasaki was a prominent port city. When Japan reopened its doors to diplomatic relations during the Meiji period, the city was declared a free port. This created a flourishing community of British, Dutch, American, and Russian traders who brought with them influences such as Christianity and Western customs. From its architecture to its food, these foreign influences helped shape the Nagasaki of today.
In Spring of 1945, the US military was considering which cities to deploy atomic bombs onto that summer. Unfortunately, Nagasaki ticked all of the boxes. It had a sizable population, a large surface area and was of high strategic value being a port city used for military installations. During WWII the city manufactured weapons for the Japanese military. The fireball created by the bomb was about half as hot as the surface of the sun, incinerating everything near the detonation point. Three days earlier, Hiroshima was devastated by the first nuclear bomb that was dropped and completely destroyed the city, killing over a hundred thousand people. The explosion of the Nagasaki bomb unleashed the equivalent of 22,000 tons of TNT, instantly killing anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 people (exact figures are impossible to obtain because the blast obliterated bodies and destroyed records). The hillsides surrounding Nagasaki took the brunt of the bomb's fury, limiting the devastation to the neighbourhoods within the valley. Whilst Nagasaki resulted in less deaths than Hiroshima, the damage was still completely devastating. Home, schools, sacred spaces and religious sites were flattened in a matter of seconds.
In the wake of the atomic bombing, the survivors of Nagasaki were committed to rebuilding their city to make way for future development. With an unwavering will for peace to ensue, much like was seen in the Hiroshima rebuild, Nagasaki was successful in rebuilding an even more thriving city than it had been before.
The atomic bombing often overshadows the fantastic highlights of a Nagasaki visit. Incredible volcanoes, beautiful offshore islands, historic buildings and relaxing hot-spring spas are some of the amazing things to see and do in Nagasaki. The city is well-connected no matter if you plan to come by train, car, bus or flight. With the JR Pass you can access the JR Nagasaki Station from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima or Fukuoka (Hakata) Station.
Nagasaki Peace Park
The Nagasaki Peace Park is a quiet, beautiful outdoor area which commemorates the atomic bombing. The park is full of flowers, trees and artwork donated by countries all over the world in support of the city's prayers for peace. You can see the Peace Statue, created by Nagasaki local sculptor Seibo Kitamura, in which the left hand is depicted stretching horizontally, symbolising eternal world peace. Every year, a Peace Memorial Ceremony is conducted in front of this statue.
Rising 333 feet above the city center, Mount Inasa offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the city extending all the way to the Sea of Japan. The summit can be reached by ropeway, bus or car. One of our top Nagasaki travel tips is to visit the mountain at night. After 10 pm the crowds disperse and the city lights put on a beautiful show. The view is one of the best nights views in Japan and one of our favourite things to do in Nagasaki.
Oura Church is the oldest wooden Cathloic church of Gothic architecture that exists in Japan. It was built in 1864 by French missionaries after the end of the Japanese government's seclusion policy. It’s also known as the Church Of 26 Marytys, and it was designated a national treasure in 1933.
Nagasaki Museum of History
The Nagasaki Museum of HIstory and Culture is unique because it is one of the few museums in Japan which has a collection of around 48,000 valuable items dedicated to the history of international exchange. The museum dives into Nagasaki’s colourful history with many interesting exhibits and historical artifacts.
Things To Do In Nagasaki
The best way to get around Nagasaki is by Tram. There are four colour-coded routes which stop at all of the major tourist sites. The tram stops are signposted in English which makes for easier accessibility compared to the buses. An all-day pass will cost you around 500 yen. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous you can also rent bikes from the JT Nagasaki Station where JR Pass holders will receive a 20% discount, but be warned, there is some hilly terrain!
This vibrant, energetic festival is the most famous festival in Nagasaki, its history stretching back some 380 years. Celebrating the local deity at Suwa Shrine, the festival is the pride and joy of the people of Nagasaki. If you’re in the area from October 7th to 9th, you can’t miss the festivities!
This stunning Chinese Obaku Zen temple dates back to the 17th century and is a beautiful example of Chinese-style architecture. The temple’s striking red daiippomon (first gate) and daiyuhoden (main hall) are National Treasures of Japan. The serene temple offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city.
Once an artificial island, harborside Dejima is a former Dutch trading post constructed to segregate Portugese residents from the Japanese population to control their missionary activities. A number of Dejima's historical structures remain or have been reconstructed in the area. The ultimate goal is to convert Dejima back into an island by digging canals around all its four sides.
Shippoku is a Japanese fusion cuisine with influences from Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes. This is a traditional, Nagasaki style of cuisine that entails a round table adorned with many dishes, overflowing with food that is shared by all diners. For seafood lovers, you’re in for a treat! The fish catch in Nagasaki is the second largest in Japan resulting in a wide variety of seafood dishes available. Try the Japanese horse mackerel, the red sea bream or the squid. Oysters farmed in Nagasaki are well known for their full, firm meat. Wash down the delectable cuisine with local sake; there are several brewery tours and sake tastings available. One of the most famous might be Nagasaki Junmai Ginjo Sake which is made from special Koji rice and a secret type of yeast that is added during the fermentation process. For desert, reach for a slice of Castella. This sweet, moist sponge cake was originally introduced by the Portugese and is now a popular souvenir of Nagasaki.
Huis ten Bosch
For a little taste of Europe in Japan, head to the bizarrely cool theme park, Huis ten Bosch, which has recreated a 17th century Dutch town. The wacky recreation celebrates Dutch-Japanese relations and makes for a day of windmills, ghost houses and mirror mazes . Stick around during the evening time for the illumination show which is quite a sight to see!
If you’re wondering what to do in Nagasaki, why not experience the energy of Shinchi Chinatown? To fully experience the divergence of cultures in Nagasaki, head to Shinchi Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinatown in Japan. The area was originally land that was reclaimed for warehouses used by Chinese boats and today it covers a large area filled with Chinese restaurants and shops.
Side visits from Nagasaki
Once you have enjoyed the highlights that Nagasaki tourism has to offer, you might be ready to adventure on to the next exciting destination. One of our top Nagasaki travel tips is to use the city as a base and explore the following side visits as day trips.
Lying around 15km from the city center, is the eerie abandoned island of Hashima, also known as Battleship Island because of its unique silhouette. Known as the forgotten world, you will find overgrown industrial sites, semi-ruined concrete workers’ quarters, and so-called “stairway to hell.” The James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ was partly set on the island.
Iwo Jima, known in Japan as Iō Tō, it’s one of the Japanese Volcano Islands and lies south of the Bonin Islands. Together with other islands, they form the Ogasawara Archipelago. It is also where one of the bloodiest fighting of WWII occurred, when American forces invaded the island for five weeks in 1945.
A city that is full of history, fantastic cuisine and a fascinating culture is always worth visiting. Nagasaki is often overshadowed by Hiroshima due to the sheer size of the disastrous atomic bomb, but it should not be forgotten. The resilience of the lively city is both inspiring and memorable. Combine this with some of the world’s best night views and relaxing hot springs, and a trip to Nagasaki will definitely be worthwhile.
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