Sightseeing and Industrial Heritage in Nagasaki
In 1945 Nagasaki was written forever into history as the target of the second atomic bombing of Japan. The museum dedicated to it is both engaging and shocking, where the exhibits synchronise to preach the importance of peace (Nagasaki City Website). There is a lot of history in Nagasaki. It wasn’t the primary target for the use of an atomic bomb, but by 1945 it was a significant shipbuilding city and military port spread across the hills and valleys surrounding a deep natural harbour—a large population centre in the industrial southwest.
Dejima, literally: exit island, was established around three hundred years before. It was an artificial island connected to the mainland by a small bridge, created as a result of Japan’s policy of isolation during the Edo Period and served as a trading post. At a time when the most influential Japanese feared the forces of Christianity and colonial rule, it would remain Japan’s only connection to the outside world. Nagasaki welcomed the Portuguese even before that in the sixteenth century but relations quickly soured and it was the Dutch who assumed trade in Nagasaki, specifically at Dejima. From this point forward only the Dutch and the Chinese were allowed to set foot on Japanese soil, although they weren’t allowed any further into ‘Jipangu’ than this small slip of land. The land along the coastline of Nagasaki has since been reclaimed, so the original site sits some hundreds of metres inland. There you can find a reconstructed Dejima and learn more about the island where upper class European merchants mixed with Japanese warlords and female entertainers (Dejima Web Site). Dejima was a place through which countless western ideas and sciences entered Japan in a time of enlightenment, medical advancement and industrial revolution in Europe. Global food products and other commodities also made their way into Japan.
Japan’s period of isolation ended in the 1850s with the arrival in Tokyo of Commodore Perry and his modern ships full of technology. Civil war in the 1860s marked the end of the feudal Tokugawa Shogunate and the inauguration of the Meiji Government, followed soon after by the rapid westernization and industrialization of Japan, essentially to ensure it maintained its independence and appear as an able global power. Things like food, styles of dress and architecture all changed very quickly. Tokyo Station is a fine example of the new architectural styles which entered Japan.
There are symbols of this shift all over Nagasaki. A short walk away from Dejima there is a sprawling Chinatown. There is a visible concentration of churches in Nagasaki as although Christianity was abhorred, the surrounding area became the bastion of Christianity in Japan. Some of the most obvious and popular sights in Nagasaki are the tramline and the Glover Gardens which straddle the hillside and look over the port.
Thomas Glover was a Scottish merchant who arrived in newly reopened Nagasaki in the 1850s. His home would be the first western-style building in Japan and he would be responsible for a number of developments in a newly progressive period. His early business interests involved supplying those forces associated with the Meiji Restoration with arms. Through this he became close to a number of individuals destined for government office, thus ensuring he had friends in high places and the smooth running of his future ventures. Such ventures included a coal mine, the introduction of beer to Japan in the form of the Kirin brewery and a steam railway. His involvement in the arms trade would lead into shipbuilding and his assistance with starting the famous Mitsubishi Company. He was later decorated with the Order of the Rising Sun.
One of Mitsubishi’s own ventures and particularly interesting as a symbol of industrial heritage in Nagasaki was Hashima Island or Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), which was actually featured in Skyfall where Daniel Craig’s James Bond faced off with Javier Bardem’s character. It’s abandoned now, left to the elements and only completely accessible by journalists and intrepid fisherman. It sits around 15km from the port of Nagasaki and was a coal mine from the late nineteenth century until the 1970s. In 2015 the island was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, having been open to tourists for a number of years. A controversial addition to the UNESCO list due to its association with the forced labour of foreign conscripts, its empty buildings give a ghostly image of almost-instant abandon.
Nagasaki strived to rebuild itself in the wake of the Second World War, at the same time becoming a worldwide monument for peace. Its modern economy suffers from the same problems as wider Japan including population decline and general economic downturn, but also reaps the benefits of local and foreign tourism.