Friday, April 11, 2014

Nagasaki: An Introduction

Last year during Golden Week we visited Nagasaki. Since Golden Week is a peak season for travel, we had not planned any trip. But at the last minute, we decided to travel somewhere. Since tickets and hotel reservations are difficult to get at the last minute, we were not sure if we could plan some last minute travel. With hardly any options available, we decided to try our luck and fortunately we could manage to book flight tickets and reserve a room in Nagasaki. 

Nagasaki is a city in Japan's southernmost region, Kyushu. Nagasaki is known for having been target of one of the two World War II nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan. 
Visitors to today's Nagasaki will be amazed at how the city has recovered from its tragic past. 

Apart from its tragic history, Nagasaki has had a bigger role in Japan's history. It was one of the few cities that had interaction with the outside world during Japan's long period of seclusion in the Edo period. In the Meiji era, when Japan opened up to the outside world, Nagasaki's port was one of the few ports to be opened up for trade along with Yokohama, Niigata, Hakodate and Kobe. 
This port city has had trade relations with various countries and these interactions have had a big influence on the city's architecture, cuisine and lifestyle. The major influence on Nagasaki has been its relations with European countries, especially Portuguese and Dutch. The first Portuguese and the Dutch arrived in 1571 followed by the Chinese. While the Portuguese were expelled from the country in 1638, the Dutch were allowed to remain but confined within the tiny island of Dejima. In fact, even during the long period of seclusion, the Dutch were allowed to remain in Dejima and this was the only interaction Japan had with the outside world from 1638 to 1854 ! 

The other outside influence on Nagasaki was its trade relations with the Chinese. The early traders to arrive set up the China Town which is one of Japan's 3 big Chinatowns. The other two Chinatowns' are Yokohama's Chukagai and Kobe's Nankinmachi

After the port opened up, British, American, German and French arrived too and contributed to the city's diversity. The foreign influence is not limited to its architecture. Nagasaki is famous for its cuisine too, which is influenced by its foreign interactions. The Portuguese castella, a sponge cake made of egg and flour is a famous Nagasaki souvenir.

These days Castella is available in a variety of flavours, like Cheese, Honey, Chocolate and even Green Tea.
We picked up a variety of Nagasaki specialities for ourselves and as omiyage for our friends.
While in Nagasaki be sure to try out Champon and Sara Udon, which are influenced by Chinese cuisine.

Champon

Sara Udon   

Nagasaki has also been the centre of religious action in the past. In the 16th century, Christians in Japan sought refuge in Nagasaki to escape maltreatment. When the expulsion of missionaries was ordered due to the increasing influence of Christianity, people in Nagasaki still continued to practice Christianity to a certain extent. Initially the Tokugawa shogunate was liberal to Catholics but in 1614, the Shogunate banned Catholicism and all missionaries were asked to leave. However even during the long period during which Christianity in all forms was banned, few people continued to practice Christianity under cover and these people were called "Kakure Kirishitan", the hidden Christians . Christianity was finally legalized in the Meiji Restoration and Nagasaki once again began the centre of Roman Catholicism in Japan. 

Thus, through its various foreign interactions, Nagasaki evolved into a cosmopolitan city and till today remains one of Japan's most cosmopolitan cities. 

Nagasaki's streetcars or "Romen Densha" are the best way to explore the city. 
The four lines connect most of the city and with streetcars running at intervals of 10-15 minutes, they are also the cheapest and easiest way to navigate the city.
One way trip costs 150 yen whereas day pass costs 500 yen. The day passes are not available on the streetcars, but they can be purchased at major hotels.
If travel between two places requires change of lines, a transfer ticket can be collected at major intersections. 

Nagasaki's location in southern Japan makes it a slightly distant destination especially since most tourists explore its other popular sights on the main Honshu island. Nagasaki has an airport which is connected by major as well as cheap airlines from major Japanese cities. International flights connect the city with Shanghai and Seoul. However most visitors prefer to fly to Fukuoka airport which has higher connectivity. A highway bus or train ride connects Nagasaki to Fukuoka. Overnight highway buses also run from Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe to Nagasaki. Sleeper trains also run between Tokyo and Nagasaki but this involves changing trains . Trains arrive at the JR Nagasaki Station.

Detailed posts about Nagasaki's various attractions will follow soon..........

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