The quaint port city of Nagasaki is one of Japan's closest port cities to the Asian mainland and has played an important role in foreign trade relations for many centuries. Nagasaki was one of the most important ports open to restricted numbers of foreign traders during Japan's period of isolation. Fast forward to more recent history and Nagasaki became the second city after Hiroshima to be destroyed by an atomic bomb towards the end of World War II. Despite its checkered past, today Nagasaki is quickly becoming a must-visit city full of all sorts of attractions to see.
This Chinatown is the oldest in all of Japan so it’s definitely worth a visit. The district in downtown Nagasaki stretches over one city block. You’ll be able to weave your way through the busy lanes that are home to a variety of shops and restaurants. Nagasaki Chinatown is the best place to eat Nagasaki's famous, Chinese-influenced dishes like Champon. During Chinese New Year, Chinatown becomes the center of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival. If you’re planning your visit during this time you’ll be able to experience this popular event in which thousands of lanterns illuminate the city. Like the Lunar New Year, the festival's dates vary each year but it typically takes place during a two-week period between late January and early March.
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Take a walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and you’ll soon get to Kofukuji. This temple is a great attraction in Nagasaki to visit for those who love history and ancient architecture without having to walk much. The impressive 5-tier pagoda is quite the sight to see and makes it well worth a visit. One of the best things to do while you’re here is to take a short walk down to the small lake on the grounds and enjoy a relaxing picnic while you watch the world go by. This spot is also a great place for that picture-perfect moment of the temple and pagoda. It is worth noting that photos are not allowed inside the Eastern Golden Hall or The Central Hall due to it being under renovation.
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Nagasaki Peace Park
Take a stroll through the serene Nagasaki Peace Park and marvel at the Peace Statue. You’ll find the statue in the north of the park, it’s not hard to miss as it’s 10 meters tall. The statue, created by sculptor Seibo Kitamura features a mixture of western and eastern art, religion, and ideology. The statue's right-hand points to the ruins of nuclear weapons and the extended left hand symbolize eternal peace. It was established in 1955 and the ruins of a concrete wall of Urakami Cathedral, the grandest church in east Asia at the time, can still be seen today. In front of the statue is a black marble vault containing the names of the atomic bomb victims and survivors who died after some years later. It is said he divine grace captured in the mild face and the closed eyes depicted the prayer for the bomb victims to rest in peace.
The island's formal name is Hashima and until 1974, the island served as a coal mine, and more than 5000 residents called the 480-meter long, 150-meter wide island home. This resulted in the highest population density in history recorded worldwide. To accommodate so many people in such a small area, every piece of land was built up so that the island came to resemble a massive battleship. In fact, the nickname "Gunkanjima" means "battleship island" in Japanese. In April 1974, the mine was closed, and its residents had to leave, abandoning the island with all its buildings. Over the years the direct exposure to typhoons has caused the residences and mining facilities to deteriorate, giving the island an eerie and haunting atmosphere. You can explore parts of the island and see it all for yourself with a boat ride and tour between Nagasaki and Gunkanjima.
Glover Garden is an open-air museum in Nagasaki that exhibits mansions of several of the city's former foreign residents and related buildings. It is located on the hill where Western merchants settled down after the end of Japan's era of seclusion in the second half of the 19th century. The main attraction of the garden is the Former Glover House, the oldest Western-style wooden building in Japan. In addition to the historic buildings, the garden offers nice views of the city and the harbor, including some of Nagasaki's important industrial sites. There are also a cafe and a souvenir shop.
Nagasaki Dutch Slope
The Dutch Slope is a unique attraction in Nagasaki with its stone-paved street leading up the hillside. Many foreign traders resided after the opening of the city's port to foreign trade in 1859. Because the Dutch were the only Westerners allowed in the country for the preceding two centuries, "Dutch" referred to everything Western for a while. A few of the original residences remain in the area today. One of the top attractions in this area is Higashi Yamate 13 which is open to the public. Once home to a well-to-do European family, this old Western-style house has been well preserved, with much of the old furniture and room layouts remaining. There is a balcony upstairs where you can enjoy great views of the surrounding area and there’s a cafe on the ground floor if you’re feeling hungry.
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Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki is of course known as being one of the places in Japan where an atomic bomb was dropped and one of the main monuments to this is the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum which will take you through this dark time in the city’s history. Here you will find photos and items from the period such as clothes, furniture, and other artifacts that were found after the bomb, and you can also see galleries of stories that were compiled from survivors. It’s not for the faint-hearted but it’s well worth a visit to get an insight into what the locals went through on that fateful day and how it affected the lives of so many forever.
For something a little different in Nagasaki consider a visit to Oura Cathedral which is a Catholic church that dates from 1880s and was first erected in Nagasaki by French missionaries. The Oura Church is also the oldest of its kind in all of Japan and was built in the period after Christianity was banned across the country. It is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site which tells you everything you need to know about its beauty and cultural status in Japan. It’s quite the sight to see among the Japanese architecture and a must-visit attraction in Nagasaki.
Also known as Spectacles Bridge, this bridge is one of the most remarkable of several stone bridges that span the Nakashima River in downtown Nagasaki. The bridge, which gets its name from the resemblance to a pair of glasses when reflected in the river water, is a popular tourist attraction in Nagasaki. The bridge was originally built in 1634, its construction was overseen by the Chinese monk who would go on to become the resident priest of Kofukuji Temple, which is located a short walk away. The bridge, along with many of the others along the river, was badly damaged by floodwaters in 1982 but has since been repaired with recovered stones.
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Suwa-jinja is the name of a shrine that was built in 162 and now stands on a gorgeous hill overlooking Nagasaki. To get to the shrine you need to walk along a series of staircases but it is more than worth it for the views over the city. The shrine is known for its ornate sculptures of animals such as guard dogs known as komainu and water sprites called kappa komainu. One of the quirkiest sculptures on show is the gankake komainu which is another dog statue which would have been used as a place to pray by sex workers in Nagasaki who would hope that storms would hit the city and prevent sailors from leaving.
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