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Nagasaki Travel Guide

Nagasaki : The Old Trading Post of Japan

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

11:02. How can one not think of that fateful hour when surveying Nagasaki? It was at this time that the hands of the clocks froze on August 9, 1945, when the second American atomic bomb exploded in Urakami. This suburb of the North Hills of Nagasaki, residential and discreet, perpetuates the memory. The point of impact is today 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 is another story, not of atomic martyrdom but of Christian martyrdom. It dates back to the sixteenth century, when missionaries arrived in Kagoshima to evangelize this mysterious archipelago. Nagasaki is where the Jesuits found the greatest success, building churches and converting the masses. A string of Christian communities then stretched on 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 cake eggs famous in both its native Castile and in Nagasaki). But the adventure was cut short, the Christian religion was soon banned and followers persecuted (some were plunged into the boiling waters of the Unzen volcano).

Bearded Dejima

However, Nagasaki will remain 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 blonde 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 single point of contact between Japan and the West.

Loti 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, in the district of Marche Dutch, which retains the old French consulate, turned into a café, and in the Glover Garden, perched on a hill at the foot of which exceeds the steeple of the beautiful Oura Church, founded by French Jesuits in 1864.

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