Of all the things we had planned to do in Nagasaki, I was most curious to see the Peace Park. Established in 1955 to commemorate the atomic bombing on August 9, 1945, it is built on a hill directly north of the hypocenter. The top of the slope offers a commanding view of the city below; looking down at the many trees and rolling hills, it’s hard to imagine this place was every anything but gorgeous and green.
Having already visited the peace park in Hiroshima, where the first bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, I wondered how Nagasaki’s would fare without its own A-Bomb Dome, which has come to be such an iconic symbol of peace.
Not knowing the exact layout of the park, we followed the route Google Maps had given us and ended up outside the entrance to the Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum was opened in 1996 to mar the 50th anniversary of the atomic blast. I had skipped the museum on my visit to Hiroshima because the line to get in was impossibly long, so I was eager to see inside here.
On top of Minami-yamate, a gorgeous hillside overlooking Nagasaki Harbour, sits Glover Garden (グラバー園), an open-air museum of the homes of former Western residents of the city, who settled there after the end of Japan’s isolationism in the latter half of the 19th century. The Garden is the original site of the former residence of Scottish trader, Thomas Blake Glover, and features six other mansions which were dismantled, moved, and reconstructed here as important national cultural properties.
The walk up to Glover Garden begins at Oura Catholic Church, the oldest wooden church of Gothic architecture in Japan. It was built in 1864 by the French missionary Bernard Petitjean of Fier, and dedicated to the 26 martyrs who were executed on Nishizaka Hill. In 1865, Hidden Christians from Urakami came to the church and professed their faith to Father Petijean after two years in hiding. Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1981 and declared it the “Miracle in the East”.
Next to Oura Church, is one of two entrances into Glover Garden. Along with entry, the 600円 ($5.20) ticket gets you a map and cardboard cutout Glover mask that you can use to take pictures with. Two escalator rides later, Austin and I found ourselves in front of the Mitsubishi dock house, a former facility where crew members could rest while their ships were in for repairs. Even more impressive than the house is the view from its garden, which overlooks Nagasaki Bay and the surrounding hillside.
I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Netherlands, partly due to my Dutch ancestry but mostly because of my love of cheese and other edibles. So when Golden Week began approaching, an annual string of public holidays, and Austin and I were planning a road trip around western Kyushu, I figured why not make a stop in Japan’s very own Amsterdam.
Huis Ten Bosch (ハウステンボス) is a 17th-century style Dutch-themed amusement park located in Sasebo, Nagasaki facing Omura Bay. Named after one of the residences of the Dutch Royal Family, the “House in the Forest” recreates the atmosphere of a Dutch city with windmills, canals, and tulip gardens straight out of a Jacob van Ruisdael painting.
The park is the size of Monaco and pays homage to the city’s relations with Holland, which date back to Japan’s isolationist period. Despite the country’s sakoku policies at the time, Dutch traders were allowed to buy and sell wares on Hirado island, and later Dejima in Nagasaki Bay.
WELCOME TO NAGASAKI! I fist-bumped the air as we drove across the border into Kyushu’s westernmost prefecture – the only one I had yet to conquer on Japan’s third largest island.
Ian, Vidy and I were making our way down for Nagasaki Lantern Festival. The event, now in its 22nd year, draws crowds that make it nearly impossible to find accommodation anywhere near the city center. So we had driven to Saga the night before (Friday), slept over in a hotel, and were now completing the final leg of our 5-hour journey.
When we finally pulled into the park where Ian and I planned to car-camp for the night (Vidy had managed to hustle some floor space in a local B&B), the light drizzle that had followed us all the way from Kumamoto had finally stopped. It might not be the fanciest of accommodations, I thought to myself, but boy do we have a view.