Nagasaki has a history of being one of the most international places in Japan. It was the only city opened to foreigners for hundreds of years. This is made evident by the beautiful Chinese temples and European churches you can see throughout the city. You can also explore Nagasaki’s Chinatown which has tons of restaurants and bars to explore. The people are very friendly and welcoming to foreigners which is always a plus when you stick out like a sore thumb.
Located in Kyushu
Nagasaki is in the region of Kyushu which is the southern most island of the Japanese mainland. If you’ve never been to Kyushu prepared to be wowed. It is a more mountainous/hilly region than the flat areas of Honshu. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking and makes it impossible to take a bad picture. You are also not far from other cities like Fukuoka (the largest in the area) and Kumamoto, where an active volcano is located.
A rule of thumb when wanting to practice your photography in Japan is to find the shrines located in the area. It may sound a bit strange but usually they are located in a picturesque spot, because the Japanese like to place their dead in an area in which the spirits can look down upon the inhabitants. Many shines are located along cliffs or hills overlooking the city. Suwa Shrine was established as a focal point for Shinto worshippers after the Japanese began to reject the Christian teachings that had been brought to their country. The area is very large and you can spend a whole afternoon exploring so if you like to take tons of pictures, come prepared. There are what seemed like a never ending amount of stairs and if you go in summer or early autumn then you will sweat (a lot). The trek is definitely worth it because I took some amazing pictures and enjoyed wandering around the area finding different shrines off the beaten path. I would caution you to also bring insect repellant as I walked away with a large number of mosquito bites!
As I mentioned earlier, Nagasaki was heavily influenced by Chinese culture being a major port city that connected the two countries. The Confucius Shrine is absolutely beautiful and one of the coolest structures I saw in Nagasaki. The temple grounds actually belong to China and is said to be the only one built outside of China. There is also a Chinese history museum located at the back of the temple and worth a look if you are a history buff. I especially liked all the statues of the Chinese monks with different facial expressions and postures.
Oura Church and Glover Garden
Also called the Church of 27 Martyrs where 27 Japanese Christians were killed, Oura Church is an impressive French Catholic structure built on top of a hill. I felt a rush of excitement while ascending to the top of the hill as the church loomed high above. Many tourists can be seen going up and down the stairs trying to get that perfect camera shot. Inside the church you are able to get a history synopsis of how and why the church was built and about the event of the 27 Martyrs. There is a separate entrance for the Glover Garden but it is just a short walk from the church. I definitely recommend going to the garden because you will have such an amazing view of Nagasaki especially on a sunny day.
Mount Inasa at Night
If you are into photography like myself or just enjoy a beautiful view then you should definitely check out Mount Inasa. It’s rated as one of the best viewing locations in the world and it’s no wonder why. I would recommend going at night because the city looks spectacular all lit up and reflecting off the water. Make sure you bring your special lenses for all you photographers because you’ll definitely want a memorable shot at night. Tourists are everywhere and it took me a while to get to the railing so I could take a decent picture. Also the ropeway gondola isn’t open until February 2016 but if you have wheels (car or bus) then it shouldn’t be a problem getting to the top.
Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)
I’m a pretty big James Bond fan, so when I realized that Skyfall was partially filmed on an island close to Nagasaki, I had to see it. You can buy several types of tickets for your ferry ride to Hashima Island, its official name. Several different ferry companies will allow you to get onto the island and do a little exploring, but only certain areas of the island are open for touring. My friends and I were not able to get one of these tickets unfortunately so we opted for just the ferry ride up to the island and then back to the Nagasaki port. If you have a burning desire to set foot on Battleship Island then I would advise you to buy your tickets early. The island has been deserted after Japan’s period of industrialization where underwater coal mines were used. The trip out to the island is quite beautiful especially on a warm sunny day; have your camera ready!
Of course a trip to Nagasaki can’t be complete with out the history of the events of August 9, 1945. The second US atomic bomb was dropped over the southern Japanese city devastating its inhabitants. The monuments and museum making up the park was erected to promote world peace in hopes that such an event will never happen again. There was a quote written on a plaque close to the exhibit showing the ground level of Nagasaki on August 1945 (which basically showed rubble and ordinary items transfigured to unrecognizable objects). This quote really spoke to me, “I crossed the half-destroyed Matsuyama bridge over Shimonokawa. There were so many human corpses under it that they formed a dam in the stream! It was like a vision of the Apocalypse, a living hell on earth. Not a speck of cloud gained the sky above, but the earth below was a panorama of carnage and destruction.” I really can’t imagine what it would be like to live through such a nightmare, losing your family, loved ones, everything that you knew. I was asked by some of my American friends if it would be weird to go to Nagasaki since I am an American and my country was responsible for such loss of life. In short, it wasn’t weird; there were many people from all over the world and the park stands to educate people about the events so we can all achieve a better world free from war and catastrophe. I remember going to Pearl Harbor with my parents and seeing Japanese tourists. I didn’t think it was inappropriate; everyone should educate themselves about history and respect those who died during these dark times regardless of who was responsible.
Have you been to Nagasaki or other places in Kyushu? What are your favorite places or things to do?