Nagasaki Weekender

Dan and I recently had a weekend away, in the great company of Brittany and Lauren, to Nagasaki. Just like the infamous Nagasaki night view, this beautiful hilly city has to be in my top three favourite places in Japan (so far…)

We stayed in a fishing port town called Mogi, a twenty minute drive from the centre of Nagasaki. Our hostel room was traditional tatami and had one of the best views I’ve ever slept next to. We had no idea we had booked such a gem! Waking up to an ocean view each day screams holiday and rest. Admittedly, trying to find the hostel at 10pm on Friday night was a little more challenging than we had envisaged, especially after a not-so-ideal detour into the centre of Nagasaki…but the view the following morning more than made up for it as our stress from the night before simply melted away.

On Saturday we started strong with a Starbucks breakfast. For those in the group with no concern for cavities, this meant sampling the new さくら (Cherry Blossom) drinks and foods, as the national さくら obsession takes hold. There is more build up to はなみ (Cherry Blossom viewing) here than Christmas! Next up, we found our wondering way to a Zen Temple, Fukusai-ji. The temple features a giant statute of Kannon (of compassion) riding a huge sea turtle. It was one of the oldest Zen temples in Japan, founded in 1628 but destroyed when the atomic bomb was dropped on August 9th 1945. It was an extremely restful place to contemplate the importance of peace and what has been lost to war.

From Fukusai-ji, our journey took us through a beautiful park to Suwa Shrine. Now, shrines are popular and many in Japan, and often I utter “once you’ve seen one shrine…” But there was something unique about Suwa. Firstly, it has a free attached zoo. We enjoyed the company of some fat well-loved Meerkats: were delighted to feed the monkeys; and I encountered an angry badger type creature that took a strong dislike to only me. On entering the temple grounds, the temple was in use for a wedding. Still, we enjoyed the views across Nagasaki and climbed higher to the shrine that sits above the temple. Initially, we were the only ones enjoying the tranquility of the shrine, which was surrounded by tall leafy bamboo. Then a couple joined us, with the Japanese lady reading a sign near a very large old tree. She then proceeded to hug said tree. It looked good, and we all joined in. I have never hugged or been hugged by a giant old tree, but it is something I plan to do again. Surrounded by such peace, it felt like this harmony with nature was very real and we all agreed that this has to be the best tree hug out there.

Our evening was planned around witnessing the famous Nagasaki night view, which is one of the top three in the world. Nagasaki is mountainous with houses and shrines scattering the steep hilly edges. The day view from Mount Inasa was breathtaking! We grabbed some prime viewing spots in the restaurant on the viewing tower looking out across the city. We could see the unusual Nagasaki coastline for miles and watched the journey of many ships and small boats make their way into the city. The best journey was that of a massive cruise ship, that was parked opposite us down the mountain in Nagasaki port. As the sunset and the lights of the city came on, the cruise ship began its journey, backing out into the narrow estuary. It was a magical view, contended by only Monaco and Hong Kong, apparently. I think I’ll have to check that for myself…

Sunday saw our trip to Hashima Island, the abandoned Mitsubishi coal mine island. As a tour route, we naturally were not allowed to move away from the path (much to the tiny adventurer inside me disappointment!) but still managed to get a good sense of the abandonment of this interesting place. Really, it is the history, not the present, which makes this island famous. Part of the Japanese industrial revolution plan, promoted by the power of the Samurai, the island was inhabited and mined from the 1880s until the 1970s. It sits 15 kilometers from Nagasaki, but it became a place of its very own. At its height it had more people per meter than Tokyo. The audio-tour sugar coated the facts, but one could be inquisitive enough to assume this would have led to a community that was perhaps a little too close at times. The tour did allude to tensions between men and women, as there were far more men than women on the island, but didn’t go into details. I somehow doubt we are talking about a rise of feminism.

On a sunny and warm spring day it was challenging to see the darkness of this island’s past. It is both a symbol of powerful Japanese industrialization and technology, and of the dark past of forced labour in inhumane conditions. It was closed without notice in January 1974, with all islanders leaving their home by the April. It remained abandoned and closed until 2009 and in 2015 it received world heritage status as a reminder of the age of Japanese industrialization. It felt like a historical end to a brilliant weekend exploring a city we are certain to return to!

Thanks for great company, a fascinating (albeit upsetting) history, and beautiful warm spring sunshine, Nagasaki.

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