Like Hiroshima, everybody knows of Nagasaki for one reason. And, also like Hiroshima, it’s the home to both an excellent museum documenting the nuclear attack and some moving memorials to the victims. But, away to the South, there’s much more to see besides – if you’re in Kyushu, it’s a city I wouldn’t want to miss.
Tokkyu limited express trains from Hakata Eki (Fukuoka) take a couple of hours to reach Nagasaki. Alternatively, if you’re heading straight for the bomb hypocentre and museums, you might want to get off the train into the city at Urakami, which is nearer that part of town.
There’s a huge tram stop directly outside the main JR Nagasaki JR station; like most Japanese trams it’s a simple chuck-coins-in-the-hopper-as-you-leave system with a flat fare. If you plan to see a lot in the town you can buy a single tram pass, valid for unlimited rides on one day (handily, this enormous cardboard ticket also has a tram map on it) – this can be purchased from the tourist information office inside the main Nagasaki JR station. The tram system only has a few lines and will get you just about everywhere.
The Bomb Hypocentre
The atomic hypocentre, memorials and museums are all to the North of the museums (if you’re coming out of the station and facing the tram lines, left) – head up to Hamaguchimachi or Matsuyamamachi stops, then turn right. You’ll soon find a large park area, with a simple monument marking the hypocentre of the explosion. Further up are the memorials and museum. They’re all worth visiting, which will take a couple of hours plus time to put yourself back together afterwards.
The other things to see in Nagasaki are all to the south of the JR station (again, tram it). In particular, the Suwa Shrine (above) is beautiful and also offers a great view down over the city – as I visited it was swarming with NHK television crews, setting up to film the mid-October Kunchi festival.
Also well worth a few hours is Dejima – once an island, and an enclave for foreign traders, but now completely swallowed up by the city and a museum. A number of buildings have been reconstructed, and it’s particularly interesting to see the mix of Japanese and Dutch culture at work inside – tatami rooms, for example, with coloured, printed wallpaper and European furniture of the period.
There’s much more around the south of the town, too – a busy Chinatown, and long, thin shopping streets that wind off seemingly to the mountains. I stopped somewhere (honestly no idea where) at a restaurant filled with cat memorabilia, cat photos, cat books and, yes, cats, to try some champon – a ramen dish involving heaps of seafood and black pepper (and delicious).
With the Kunchi festival fast approaching, Nagasaki fills up in early October. I eventually found a room at the Business Royal Hotel, which is a short walk from the main JR station and a tram stop. It has a mix of western rooms and ‘ゆっくり和室’ (yukkuri washitsu – roughly, relaxing Japanese-style rooms?) – I stayed in one of the latter, which had two futons, tatami and a small TV (no internet, but the air con works).
It’s a little bit worn but perfectly nice, and the staff were very helpful when I arrived a bit early – I’d recommend it. Otherwise, there are a few business hotels including a JR Kyushu hotel and a Dormy Inn.