Nagasaki is Japan’s most international city. Tokyo is of course more cosmopolitan and the Kansai area definitely has more foreigners but Nagasaki is the only Japanese city that truly feels international. Where the rest of Japan has added and adopted elements of foreign cultures only recently, Nagasaki has been Japan’s international center for hundreds of years.
This makes it a special place to visit because it is historically unique. It is also a great place to visit because, in my opinion, it is the perfect one-day city. There is plenty to do in Nagasaki, and yet not so much that it will overwhelm you. Of course with more time, you can see all that the city has to offer, but in one (very busy) day you can take in all of Nagasaki’s main attractions and get a taste of the international flavor that the city is so famous for.
Here’s how I fit it all in the last time I visited Nagasaki.
With just one day to pack everything in, I had to start early. The first place on the list for me was Glover Garden. Built at the top of Minami Yamate hill in the south of the city, Glover Garden is a garden in name only. It is really a collection of historical western houses, each owned by wealthy merchants, most of whom were part of the Glover family and business.
Many mementoes of the family survive unchanged to this day, and walking around the grounds and houses felt like a step back in time. You can even dress up in traditional clothing from the period and walk around the grounds you really want to dive into the area’s history.
Interesting Fact: Thomas Glover, the patriarch of the family was a founding member of a company that would eventually become the Kirin Beer company, and some people believe the moustache of the dragon on every beer is modelled after Glover’s own moustache.
On the slope coming down from Glover Garden there is souvenir shop after souvenir shop, selling all kinds of trinkets and speciality foods. This is a great place to pick up Nagasaki’s most famous souvenir; Castella Cake. Based on a recipe originally introduced by Portuguese missionaries in the mid-16 century, and then developed by the people of Nagasaki, Castella is now the city’s most famous and most delicious souvenir.
Nestled in and amongst these souvenir shops is Omura Catholic Church, constructed in 1864 for the growing foreign settlement led by men like Thomas Glover. It is considered to be the oldest church in Japan, and whilst it lacks the WOW factor of its European counterparts, it is interesting for the large role it played in the foreign merchant community of Nagasaki.
Interesting Fact: Omura Church is the only Western style building to be designated a National Treasure in Japan.
After visiting Glover Garden and Omura Church I had built up a pretty strong appetite for lunch. Luckily one of Nagasaki’s best restaurants, known for its international cuisine and its truly incredible view of Nagasaki harbour, was nearby.
Shikairo Chinese restaurant is famous for Nagasaki Champon, the city’s most famous food. Nagasaki is famous for a Chinese food because it was not only westerners that came to Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were plenty of Chinese merchants and students who came over to Japan during this period too. Because of this, Chinese restaurants sprung up everywhere in the city and Nagasaki Champon is their most famous creation.
Interesting Fact: Shikairo is not just a restaurant. It also has a small museum devoted to the history of Nagasaki Champon on the second floor.
From Glover Garden in the south of the city, the next attraction was a short tram ride away. Dejima is the man made port constructed in 1636 to segregate Portuguese residents (mainly missionaries) from the Japanese population. A few years after this, the Portuguese missionaries were expelled from Japan and were replaced by Dutch merchants. Dejima, now an interactive museum, focuses on how the Dutch lived on the island, the specifics of Dutch trade worldwide, and Japan’s part in this.
The buildings have been restored to their original specification, and plenty of the port’s historical relics are on show, making Dejima the perfect place for myself and any other tourists interested in the city’s history.
Interesting Fact: Reconstruction of Dejima began in 1996, and the ultimate goal is to convert Dejima back into an island by digging canals around all four sides of the island.
Nagasaki Heiwa Koen
After Dejima it was time for me to hop on the tram north again, and head this time to Nagasaki Heiwa Koen, the park dedicated to memorialising the dropping of atomic bombs in 1945. Nagasaki’s memorial is very different to that of Hiroshima because Nagasaki’s park is focuses as much on the future and the goal of peace through international cooperation, as it is on the events of World War Two.
All around the park there are incredible statues given by the governments of several different countries as dedications to the aim for peace, which made Heiwa Koen both a beautiful and informative place to walk around at the same time.
Interesting Fact: The Peace statue that dominates the park is 10 meters tall, and the statue’s right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons while the extended left hand symbolizes eternal peace.
Nagasaki Peace Park was the last of the main attractions of the city but I also managed to fit in one more thing once the sun went down. Mount Inasa is a 333m high mountain that is very close to the city centre. Because of its location the mountain offers a spectacular view of the city, best seen at night. It really is worth the climb, especially when it can be done via ropeway, car or bus.
Interesting Fact: The view from Mount Inasa is ranked among Japan’s three best night views besides those from Mount Hakodate and Mount Rokko.
Nagasaki then, is a city defined by its international history. Whether it’s the Dutch trading post museum that you visit, the Chinese food that you eat for lunch or the Portuguese souvenir that you take home, you can’t go anywhere in Nagasaki without encountering the city’s international past. Best of all you can do all of this in just one day, and take it from me, it is definitely worth a visit!
Address: 8-1 Minamiyamatemachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0931, Japan
Relevant Info: 08:00 to 18:00, 610 yen admission.
Address: 4-5 Matsugae-machi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0921 , Japan
Address: 6-1 Dejimamachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0862, Japan
Relevant Info: 08:00 to 18:00, 510 yen admission.
Nagasaki Heiwa Koen
Address: 2400-3 Matsuyamamachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 852-8118, Japan
Relevant Info: 08:30 to 18:30, 200 yen admission.
Have you been to Nagasaki? What are your recommendations for the top things to do there? Let us know in the comments!