So, dear readers, here’s what we did on our second day in Kyushu. I wrote about the first one here.
Getting to Nagasaki
To continue our bold last-minute dash across the island of Kyushu, we decided on a day trip to Nagasaki. We gave our JR Pass a workout and caught a sleek, super comfortable Kamome Limited Express. JR trains website provides an amusing description “It looks good and have very sophisticated atmosphere, but this seat is very slippery and has very strong leather smell….This car has dark painted wall and less lighting. And you will see lots of calligraphy and paint in this car. It looks like Art Gallery.”
The train did look good and got us to Nagasaki station in under two hours – just enough to enjoy a coffee served by an exceedingly polite trolley lady and read the Nagasaki travel section in my Insight guide.
What we (I) wanted to see
Nagasaki is famous for two reasons. Sadly, one reason is universally recognized to be one of the greatest tragedies of modern times. After Hiroshima, Nagasaki became the second and the last city in human history to experience atomic bombing. Of course, a visit to Nagasaki Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb museum were mandatory. Happier reason is Nagasaki’s history of contact with Europe and a rich foreign flavor or local architecture and cuisine. Not long before the trip, I read the The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a book that is set in the 18th century Nagasaki, where the island of Dejima was the only window to the foreign world. Hence, I was quite excited to actually see Dejima (no longer an island), along with Clover Park and China Town. Regrettably, we had to give a miss to the Huis ten Bosch, a theme park-like reproduction of a traditional Dutch village.
Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum
After a devastating visit to the harrowing Hiroshima Peace Park that left me sobbing once I got to the ‘thousand paper cranes’, I felt a bit uneasy about seeing Nagasaki’s memorial. However, I found the museum’s stunning modern architecture brought forth a reflective, philosophical and peaceful message rather the raw pain of Hiroshima. I think they complement each other and both are a compulsive viewing for anyone interested in modern history.
Visitors can add an electronic message of peace for the residents of Nagasaki and other visitors by drawing a picture, writing a message and saving it with your photo and details – it was a lovely touch and made me feel connected to the Nagasakians’ quest for world peace.
After taking a tram (Nagasaki is so easy to navigate on trams!) we reached the historic Dejima wharf studded with waterfront restaurants and cafes and then walked to the Dejima museum.
Now enclosed by land, Dejima was beautifully restored (or replicated) Dutch warehouses filled historical trades that apparently were excavated! It was hard to believe that something only 200 years old had been buried underground? Not exactly the Pyramids…I think I need to do more research into this! Here’s a few pictures of painstakingly reproduced interiors and miniature figure illustrations of those days. So Japanese!
China Town, Clover Park and delicious Castella cake.
Next, we walked to China Town (unremarkable, I’d say) and onto another tram and up to the Clover Park via some sort of lift. I am sure there is a name for it:
Once Japan was re-opened to Westerners at the end of 19th century, sophisticated European homes and chapels were built to accommodate an influx of foreigners. My biggest regret is that we did not actually go into the Clover House – I was devasted to read later that this was the setting for Puccini’s Madame Butterfly! Do not repeat my mistake, pay the fee and go see it. I also missed the Ringer house that stands on foundation stones brought from my home city of Vladivostok! What was wrong with me! Instead, we admired the National Treasure-ed Oura Catholic church (from afar) and enjoyed a lovely romantic walk down the lantern-lit street lined with cafes and a myriad of shops selling castella cake.
Castella is a legacy of the Portuguese and is an eggy, spongy yellow cake. Typically, most of the shops offered tastings so I stuffed myself with all varieties of Castella imaginable – cheese Castella, coffee Castella, chocolate Castella – and bought some as take-home souvenirs. Recommended!
Return to Fukuoka
Before we got on the returned train, I dragged Scott around the train station in search of more local delicacies. In addition to Portuguese influence, the Chinese traders also left their mark on Nagasaki so one of the popular dishes is BBQ pork buns. They were really, really delicious. Dare I say more delicious than the ones I’ve eaten in Sydney’s Chinatown or Singapore – the Japanese have a knack for taking someone’s staple dish and making it uniquely theirs!
It was a wonderful day of train travel, history, romance and food – even half of those attributes would make for a top trip. Go there!