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Nagasaki, Japan: Retracing history in less than six hours

By Cy Yambao 16 October 2020

Header image courtesy of Cy Yambao

To a certain extent, the atomic bombing that devastated Nagasaki towards the end of World War II defines much of what we know about the port city. But if we were to travel back to many centuries ago, we will find that Nagasaki was a key figure in Japan’s foreign trade relations, regarded as the most important of the remaining open ports when international trading posts closed. At present, the thriving city that has quite literally risen from the ashes continues to honour the memories of its past.

From Fukuoka, one of the more convenient ways to reach Nagasaki is by joining a group tour, as it saves you from worrying about transportation in between stops. An obvious downside is the bus ride eating up a large chunk of your day, as it takes roughly three hours per way, but the trip feels surprisingly fascinating despite the limited time. Below is a preview of the places you can experience within approximately six hours—and we assure you that no trip is ever too short when it’s brimming with so much history!

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Glover Garden

Sitting atop the Minami-Yamate hill, Glover Garden is an open-air museum and foreign settlement site that exhibits the traditional homes once occupied by European merchants. The most popular—and also the main—attraction of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the former Glover residence built by Scottish merchant Thomas Glover, who played a significant role in Japan’s industrialisation and modernisation. Today, it remains the oldest Western-style wooden building in the country.

The garden offers a walkthrough experience of these well-preserved buildings, where you can get a feel of their previous owners’ wealthy living conditions through the opulently decorated rooms. Traces of personal memorabilia, such as Glover’s walking stick and fishing rods, are also on display. As you exit the garden, don’t forget to make a stop at the Nagasaki Traditional Performing Arts Museum. Here you’ll find a collection of dragons and floats used during the annual Kunchi Festival, as well as a large-scale video projection of this colourful celebration for autumn harvests.

Glover Garden, 8-1 Minamiyamatemachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0931, Japan

Nagasaki Peace Park

Nagasaki Peace Park is built around the hypocentre of the atomic bombing, and stands as a harsh reminder of this tragic event that once left the city in ruins. The tranquil garden also signifies the desire for world peace, personified in the Peace Statue designed by Nagasaki native and sculptor Seibo Kitamura. The 33-feet-high monument has its right hand pointing upwards to represent the threats of atomic weapons and its left hand stretching horizontally to symbolise the wish for peace.

At the southern end of the park is the Fountain of Peace that commemorates the survivors desperately searching for water after the blast’s immediate aftermath. If you look closely, you’ll notice an inscribed passage on the fountain’s memorial plate, which is said to have been taken from a poem written by a young woman dying of thirst. To learn more about the hardships during the war, walk towards the air-raid shelters at the foot of the park and peek inside the cave-type evacuation centres, where residents sought refuge during and after the atomic bombing.

Nagasaki Peace Park, 9 Matsuyamamachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture 852-8118, Japan

Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum

Designed by internationally renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the award-winning Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum is in itself a work of art. The modern complex, which conforms to the concept of a “breathing museum,” has two separate buildings bisected by a canal but bridged together by an enclosed glass walkway. These high glass walls lend a feeling of openness and create a sense of continuity, allowing you to connect with your natural surroundings as you explore a series of exhibitions.

The museum boasts the largest collection of Spanish art in the country, with thousands of pieces donated by a Japanese diplomat stationed in Spain during the Second World War. It is also home to permanent collections of modern art that are either created by Nagasaki artists or themed around Nagasaki elements. For a breath of fresh air, head up to one of the museum’s special features—its rooftop garden overlooking the port. The expansive lawn space, which doubles as an outdoor gallery of its own, offers panoramic views of the Dejima Wharf and Nagasaki Bay.

Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, 2-1 Dejimamachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0862, Japan

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Dejima Wharf

A short walk from the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum is the Dejima Wharf, a harbourside promenade best known for its assortment of indoor-outdoor restaurants, souvenir shops, art galleries, bars, and cafés. While the commercial complex features diverse cuisines—all of which combine the flavours of the world—one thing you must not miss is the fresh seafood available at relatively low price points. After all, Nagasaki is known to have the second-largest fish catch in all of Japan.

After exploring the nearby historical and cultural landmarks, you will be welcomed by the laidback atmosphere of this multipurpose seaside facility. Spend a few moments resting on the makeshift seating blocks that line the pier, as you take in the view of parked yachts in the harbour. The evening scene is an alternate definition of picturesque, especially during winter, when the entire wharf area is illuminated along with the ships, and occasional live bands can be heard playing in the background.

Dejima Wharf, 1-1-109 Dejimamachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0862, Japan

Mount Inasa Observatory

Located in the heart of the city, Mount Inasa rises 333 metres above sea level and features a glass-enclosed circular domed observatory at its summit. The mountain ranks among the best night views in Japan, alongside its strongest rivals in the form of Mount Hakodate (Hakodate) and Mount Rokko (Kobe). At certain times, it is even regarded as one of the top three urban night views in the world. If you have no idea what a ‘million-dollar view’ looks like, perhaps climbing to the peak is the only way to find out.

Mount Inasa is designated as your last stop for a reason—not only will you be treated to the reddish-orange hues of the sky just as the sun begins to set, but you will also witness the entire cityscape light up from a vantage point. On clear days, you might see as far as Mount Unzen, and also get a glimpse of the Amakusa and Goto islands. The observatory gets crowded deeper through the night, but if you try hard enough, you’re most likely to find a good spot for photographing this panoramic beauty. Keep in mind, though, that the best souvenir is observing the spectacular views of Nagasaki with your very own eyes!

Mount Inasa Observatory, Fuchimachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture 852-8012, Japan

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Cy Yambao


Born and raised in Manila, Cy is a freelance content writer who travels to escape reality. Her definition of delayed gratification is booking multiple plane tickets several months ahead, often to the same Asian cities that have significantly influenced her perspective of the world. She has been a passionate fan of K-pop for over a decade now and will always have half of her heart in Seoul.