Nagasaki Travel Guide   長崎

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The original trading post of Japan

A port nestled among steep hills, a long exchange with foreign countries, a quietly commemorated tragic background: welcome to Nagasaki, the most cosmopolitan and enjoyable city on Kyushu.

11:02. It's impossible not to think of that fateful time when in Nagasaki. It was at this time that the hands of the clocks froze on August 9, 1945, when the second American atomic bomb hit Urakami. This hilly northern suburb of of Nagasaki, residential and discreet, perpetuates the memory. The point of impact today is the Peace Park, which adjoins the Atomic Bomb Museum, captivating and moving, near the green roof of St. Mary's Cathedral (where, infamously, the bomb was dropped as churchgoers were attending service).

The christian adventure

A cathedral in Japan? That's another story, not of atomic destruction but of Christian martyrdom. It dates back to the sixteenth century, when missionaries first arrived in Kagoshima to evangelize this mysterious country. Nagasaki is where the Jesuits found the greatest success, building churches and converting the masses. A string of Christian communities stretched down the west coast of Kyushu, from Amakusa to Karatsu, through the island of Hirado.

In their wake came the traders, Portuguese and Dutch. Nagasaki traded with Europe and imported weapons, sugar, medical books, recipes (such as the Castella sponge cake, famous in both its native Castille and now in Nagasaki). But this cultural exchange was cut short, Christianity was soon banned and its followers persecuted (some were plunged into the boiling waters of the Unzen volcano).

Bearded Dejima

However, Nagasaki remains the capital of the Christianity in Japan, and a symbol of tolerance and openness. All foreigners were deported by imperial order in 1641. All except in Nagasaki, which reserved the island of Dejima, now in the center of town, for the blond and bearded traders. They let the Dutch East India Company settle there, and met them, after nightfall, in the district of Shianbashi in its geisha houses, such as the gorgeous Kagetsu, now a luxury restaurant. For two centuries, Dejima was the sole point of contact between Japan and the West.

Loti in Nagasaki

New settlers arrived in 1854, during Japan's period of closure (sakoku). They moved to Yamate, which became the refined western district of Nagasaki, with its colonial houses and rose gardens. The writer Pierre Loti met his wife, Kiko-san, there, who inspired him to write Madame Chrysanthemum (1887). Visitors can still see this romantic and charming Nagasaki of the past, in the Dutch slope, which retains the old French consulate, now turned into a café, and in Glover Garden, perched on a hill at the foot of which you'll find the beautiful Oura Church, founded by French Jesuits in 1864.