15 Things to Do in Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a fascinating prefecture with a long and colourful history. It was the first part of Japan where foreign explorers were allowed to trade with and has thus been a testing ground for the future of the country. With beautiful scenery, fascinating fusion cuisine and a host of great things to see and do, it is no wonder why Nagasaki prefecture is such a popular tourist destination.
1. Visit Dejima
A great place for those who love historical Japan. Dejima was the artificial island where sailors from foreign nations would live whilst they brokered trade deals with ancient Japan. At the time it was illegal for foreigners to set foot on Japanese soil so this artificial island was the only place they were allowed to go. Today the city has expanded to include the island but several groups are working to build a mote around it to make it an island once more. Here you can dress up in classic Japanese kimono and explore the old buildings that shaped Japanese history.
2. Eat Castella Cake
One of the newest things European traders brought to Nagasaki was cake. Castella is a very plain sponge cake but it is universally loved. For Japanese people it was their first experience of cake and thus has stuck around as a kind of novelty. It is now the signature food of the region and often bought as a gift for friends back home. You can get the cake in a variety of fashions. It has been adapted into Swiss rolls, cake sandwiches, rusks, and many other iterations.
3. Climb Mt.Inasa
Mt. Inasa is the best place to get a view of all of the city. At the top of the impressive mountain there is a massive viewing platform that overlooks all of Nagasaki Bay. You can sit out and watch the sun set over the sprawling landscape as it turns from a industrial city into a sea of twinkling electric lights. There is also a visitors centre below the observation deck with a small gift shop where visitors are encouraged to create a sign with their name on it. Once you have finished making your sign, you can then hang it on the visitor center’s tree like a Christmas ornament or traditional Japanese charm.
4. Photograph Spectacle Bridge
The bridge has became famous because of its double arches that are reminiscence of spectacles. On a perfect day the water reflects the arches to make a full circle just like a pair of lenses. It is a nice, relaxing attraction to explore and just take some photos at. There is also a brick in the impressive river bank walls that is shaped like a heart. The bridge has become a hot spot for couples who want to take a picture on top of the spectacle arches and in front of the heat shaped brick. The area is also great for finding traditional sweet and souvenir shops. The street that runs parallel to the river is full of cool little businesses to check out.
5. Pay Respects at the Nagasaki Peace Park
A sad but unavoidable part of Nagasaki’s history is the atomic bombing. The city is not bitter about the attack. People remember it as a terrible event but not as something that should be avenged, rather something that should never happen again. The atomic bomb memorial park is dedicated to peace and hope to inspire an end to wars all over the world.
Around the park you will find various memorials to the victims of the bombing. The most dramatic of which is either the ruins of Urakami Cathedral or the giant statue of Seibo. The statue is in an odd pose with one arm extended to reprint the threat of nuclear weapons another pointing up to represent the potential for world peace.
6. Explore Glover Garden
Glover Garden is another place to get great views of the city from. The gardens are the remains of a rich business man’s private estate that was donated to the city. The garden stretches up the mountainside. At the top you can find the traditional Glover house where the man who invented Kirin beer, Thomas Blake Glover, made the first big international business deals between Japan and the outside world. The park is full of statues and water features and is a popular place to get married.
7. Have Fun at Huis Ten Boisch
Perhaps Nagasaki’s oddest attraction. Huis Ten Boisch is a European themed amusement park. It used to be just Dutch themed but has since expanded to represent an amalgamation of all European culture. The park is famous for its tulips fields and its recreations of European architecture that look quite cartoonish. The fake windmills and opulent European hotel are lit up at the impressive nightly illuminations. Guests get a chance to dress up in lederhosen and eat Belgian waffles as they ride the ferris wheel. There are also plenty of indoor events that use 3D technology to take visitors on a futuristic journey.
8. Ride Out to Gunkanjima Island
Also Known as Battleship Island, Gunkanjima is a great place to visit if you want to have a truly unique experience. The island was an industrial mining colony that eventually became defunct and was shut down. The island was so small and remote that there was nothing else to run the economy on. When the mine shut down, everybody left and now the island is like a ghost town. It was developed from end to end, there is no scrap of nature left, making it look like an aircraft carrier. It is a floating industrial block. The island has such a mysterious atmosphere that is was used as a super villain hide out in James Bond: Skyfall. Visitors can take a boat out to the island and have a guided tour. (For more info about Gunkanjima, click here).
9. Visit Shimabara Castle
This massive five story castle is the Jewel of Nagasaki. It was where the feudal lords used to run the prefecture, now it is a museum. You can go inside the castle and see the intricate architecture as well as exhibits that teach you about Nagasaki history. The most popular pieces are statues by the same artist who made the statue that stands in Nagasaki peace park, Seibo.
Unfortunately this is not the original castle. Almost all castles in Japan were destroyed in order to consolidate power in Kyoto and Tokyo. They didn’t want any defensible positions to stage a rebellion from. This castle, among others, was rebuilt to the same specifications as the original in the 1960s.
10. Make Friends at Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium
Nagasaki penguin aquarium gives visitors an amazing opportunity to get up close and personal with penguins. The little guys have massive enclosures where they can swim about freely. Some have even been released into the wild at the nearby beach. They still rely on the aquarium staff for food and spend most of their time on the beach but you can see them behave as wild penguins would. There are opportunities to feed the penguins and hear the staff talk about their biology. They have a penguin parade, a penguin petting time, and kayak so that you can float around the same beach the semi-wild penguins live on.
11. Learn the History of Oura Church
Christianity was first spread to Japan through Nagasaki. The prefecture was the most open to outside ideas and the religion was able to take hold here. In ancient Japan any known Christians were killed as they were seen as a threat to the Daimyo's power. After Japan became more tolerant of the religion, this church was built. Oura Church is the oldest in Japan and a very important place for the few Christians who live in Japan today. Many people make pilgrimages here to understand the role the religion played in the nation’s history.
12. Explore Sofukuji Temple
Originally built for the Chinese population of Nagasaki in 1629 this temple has beautiful gardens that tourists can stroll through. The temple is obviously different to the others you would find in Japan. It is a lot more colorful and has more statues. The architecture was all done in a Chinese style to keep the merchants from China happy when they stayed in Nagasaki. Europeans weren’t the only ones to trade with Japan through Nagasaki, in fact the Chinese had a much greater influence introducing foods such as Ramen, Gyoza and steamed buns that are all now part of the regular Japanese diet. The best time to visit is late July so that you can see the impressive three day long Bon Festival. The festival celebrated Chinese Buddhism with colorful flags, traditional dishes and attracts hundreds of Chinese onlookers.
13. Visit Nagasaki Confucius Shrine
Another fascinating example of Nagasaki’s history involving China. Nagasaki’s Confucius Shrine is one of the few Japanese shrines that is dedicated to the Chinese philosopher. The shrine has beautiful architecture with large, sweeping red rooftops and an opulent interior. There are a lot of Confucius statues in the shrine, visitors are encouraged to find a statue that reminds them of a loved one who has passed away and pray to them. There is also an in-depth museum of Chinese history attached to the shrine, as well as beautiful gardens filled with interesting Chinese statues and monuments.
14. Relax at Obama Onsen
Unfortunately Obama Onsen has no relation to the US president but it is an amazing place to take a hot bath. Relaxing in natural hot spring onsen baths is a big part of Japanese culture and Obama Onsen is famous for its therapeutic water. The waters are said to be good for the joints, skin and all around health. There are a lot of ryokan that have opened up to take advantage of the natural hot springs. You can stay in a stylish Japanese hotel and get pampered with spa treatment, then cap it all of with a soak in the onsen. Many places even offer private bath to cater to foreigners.
15. Travel Around the Kujuku Islands
Also known as the 99 islands, the Kujuku islands are an archipelago that stretch out from mainland Nagasaki. There are 208 islands in total but they are all very small. These tiny bumps of land cluster together in a beautiful sea of mini islands. Tourists can take boat rides out to the islands and cruise around the odd sea scape. The luxurious boats, that look like cartoon pirate ships, offer ample seating. If you don’t enjoy boats but still want to see the picturesque formation you can stay on the mainland but climb up one of the main observation towers such as Tenkaiho Observatory tower. From here you can take amazing photos of the uncanny islands.
Nagasaki is a wonderful place to visit with a lot more to see and do than you might first expect.