Today’s plan: day trip to Nagasaki!

Nagasaki is about 150 km south of Fukuoka, in a bay, and unfortunately it is not on the shinkansen route, meaning it takes two hours to get there on a train that stops several times along the way. To be honest, I’m not really complaining: I’m already so tired that sitting for two straight hours is a blessing, not a curse!

As soon as I got off at Nagasaki Station, I took a tram to go to the Peace Park. I was armed with Google Maps and I had memorized the kanji for the places I was going to visit, but I needn’t worry: all the signs include English text, so I would have been fine even if I hadn’t prepared anything. There are even English instructions on the tram stops explaining how Japanese buses/trams work (you get on from the back of the vehicle, and you pay at the end when you pass the driver on the way out).

When I got to the park, it was about 11:30, there was nary a cloud in the sky, it was almost 30 degrees, and the sun was already at its highest point, hitting so hard that I had to go into a konbini to buy sunscreen. Sunscreen! In mid-tsuyu! (At least, I bought something that I think is sunscreen, anyway. I got something that said “UV” and “50” which I hope is the protection index, and it had lots of + + signs. There were two models available, which were GEL or MILK, to which my response was “Um,”). I guess I’ll find out by my face’s shade of red at the end of the day!

The peace park is a serene place, very tastefully landscaped, with memorial statues donated by different countries. There is a beautiful fountain in the middle (radiation victims were said to die begging for water; they built this fountain to spray it into the air in their memory), and at the end there’s a deceivingly large statue of a very bulky guy in a very strange posture. Every position of his hands and legs is symbolic, but still, maybe not what I’d have chosen for this place!

At the foot of this small hill is the Hypocenter Park, where a sober black monolith marks the spot above which the atomic bomb exploded on August 9, 1945. I would have stayed longer, but it was sweltering hot under the sun with very little shade for cover so I scurried away to the Atomic Bomb Museum.

Having visited the sister museum at Hiroshima had prepared me somewhat for this, but even then it’s a harrowing and emotional experience. It’s in fact very similar to the Hiroshima museum: it also combines a very matter-of-fact explanation of what happened when the bomb detonated, followed by heartbreaking stories of people who died or were affected, and absolutely devastating testimonies from the survivors. It also features a chilling last section explaining how many countries still have nukes (it’s… a lot) and how many (a lot a lot).

Around 80,000 people died that day or during the following months, according to the museum: nothing survived within a 1.5 km radius of the hypocenter. It’s impossible to imagine the pain and the damage that inflicts to a country, or how to move on from that. For all that tragedy, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s museums are notably level-headed, their explanations and inscriptions growing impassioned only when calling for disarmament.

After the visit to the museum, the tram ride back down to the city center was a good moment to decompress. I made my way to Dejima, the Dutch island.

In the 19th century, Nagasaki was Japan’s only major trading port with the West, most notably with Portugal and the Netherlands. As a result, a strong Western influence can be seen all over the city, especially in the architecture as there are plenty of old European-style houses that have survived or have been rebuilt.

One such rebuilt quarter is that of Dejima, a Dutch trading post that used to be a small island in the river (the river was filled in over the years and now it’s on the mainland). For JPY510 (€4.17) you can visit the restored houses of the Dutch delegates, which offer a peculiar mix of European and Western architecture and interior design.

It’s an interesting visit, honestly, but I felt a weird disconnect between the extensive, extremely thorough exhibits and documentation in every room and my interest in the place. I would have been fine with a general overview or stories of the people living there but I would walk into a house and it would have two full floors of exhibits talking about the specific ceramics used by the delegates. So I didn’t dwell too much on these -also, the sun kept beaming- and I went off to Chinatown for lunch.

As befits any trading port, Nagasaki has a tiny Chinatown. Most places were closed for Monday, but I went into a restaurant and had an okay sweet and sour pork (Hate to say it, but you can have better in London). You see, the Nagasaki must-have specialty is champon, which is squid and octopus, and I don’t like either of those things so I thought I might as well branch out today.

After lunch, somewhat rested, with an inch-thick layer of sunscreen on all my exposed skin like when I was in Thailand, I walked up and up the hills to my last sightseeing item: the Glover Garden!

The Glover Garden is a gorgeous estate, with large European-style houses and extensive gardens with wide views of Nagasaki bay, which belonged to a Scottish merchant in the 19th century. On a sunny day like today, it made for a great strolling backdrop, with lots of meandering paths and stairs and nooks and crannies. The houses were better furnished than those in the Fukuoka Hall, although sadly the main house was closed for renovations.

The real draw, of course, are the gardens, the sheer variety of them. There are ponds, there are small waterfalls, there are benches, there are verandas, there are tea houses, there are pavilions, observation platforms… I’m making it sound like it’s several hectares large, but it’s really not that big: it does that Japanese garden thing of separating distinct areas and atmospheres.

When I was finally satisfied that I’d seen all the different sections of the garden, I decided to call it a day and catch a tram back to the station… only to discover that the nearest tram stop was, according to the map, a 25 min walk away, which was exactly the distance to the station itself. So… off I walked! What’s half an hour more when you walk all day? (It’s a lot)

Anyway, I got to the station, got waved in by showing my JR Pass, and got into one of the Non-Reserved cars in the train back to Hakata. Once again, the two-hour train ride was a blessing!

Back in Hakata, I walked around Canal City a bit, taking in the weirdness of the space with its hollowed out central square with the fountains and the canal, and then headed back to the hotel. Gotta think what to do tomorrow…

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