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Exploring Nagasaki

We’re going back to Kyushu in this week’s Exploring Japan with Nagasaki.

Nagasaki prefecture is situated on the northwest part of Kyushu and consists of peninsulas and many islands on the East China Sea.  The population is 1,407,904. The capital city is Nagasaki.  The five largest cities are:

  1. Nagasaki (443,766)
  2. Sasebo (259,800)
  3. Isahaya (141,151)
  4. Omura (90,517)
  5. Minamishimabara (50,363)

The population of Nagasaki and its cities has been declining for quite a long time, since at least the 80s.


Shimabara Castle in Shimabara is a reconstruction of the original castle.  It’s mostly concrete with not much left of the ruins.  It looks nice, but I’ve heard it’s not impressive.

Hirado Castle in Hirado is another reconstruction.  It’s situated on the top of a hill surrounded by the sea.  It sounds pretty nice.  I’d like to see that.  The main tower is a museum.

Kushima Castle in Omura is the remains of a castle with a reconstructed turret.  The walls are in great shape, so it’s probably worth seeing.  The grounds are now a park.

Kaneishi Castle in Tsushima is located in an interesting place.  It’s on Tsushima Island halfway between Japan and Korea.  There’s a turret gate and some stonework still there.

Things to see and do

Nagasaki is probably most famous for the second atomic bombing by the Americans in World War II.  However, it’s got a rich history with a connection with Europe, particularly Portugal and the Netherlands.  It also has the largest proportion of Catholic people in Japan.

Nagasaki city has a lot to see and do.  The 1945 bombing is commemorated by a couple places.  First is the Atomic Bomb Museum.  Also, try the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims and the Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum.  And of course, the Nagasaki Peace Park. For some foreign flavour, there’s also plenty to see.  Glover Garden is a collection of European style houses from the 19th century.  The Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum and Monument is a memorial for the 20 Japanese and 6 foreign missionaries that were crucified in the 16th century. Koshibyo Confucius Shrine is the only Confucius shrine that the Chinese built outside of China. Sofukuji temple was also constructed by the Chinese, though they were residents of Nagasaki.  Oura Catholic Church is the oldest church in Japan, though it’s no longer a church. Urakami Cathedral is a reconstruction of the original, having been destroyed in the bombing.  Dejima was the only port in Japan that remained open to the Dutch, and is now a reproduction of the original, allowing you to walk around and see what it was like. Nagasaki Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Japan. For something more Japanese or contemporary, there’s plenty to offer.  From the top of Inasayama, you get an amazing view of Nagasaki, and it’s considered one of the top 3 night views in Japan. Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium is a very good aquarium that’s next to the beach. Suwa Shrine is a good place to visit.  The Kofukuji temple was one of the only historic places to escape destruction. Also enjoy the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture, as well as the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum.  Off shore, there’s an island called Hashima.  It’s nicknamed Gunkanjima, Battleship Island.  The small island is actually a ghost town, the abandoned ruins of a tiny mining city that used to be the most densely populated place in the world.  Enjoy the Lantern Festival, a Chinese festival featuring thousands of Chinese lanterns.  Also, Kunchi, Nagasaki’s biggest festival with plenty of food and floats.

Sasebo, the second largest city, also has a bit of foreignness about it.  Apart from the US Naval base, there’s plenty of tourists.  The biggest draw is Huis Ten Bosch, the Dutch-themed amusement park.  Sasebo Zoological Park and Botanical Garden is decent, hosting plenty of plants.  Pearl Island Resort is a small shopping mall, and you can also see the small Sasebo Aquarium and IMAX Theater.  To see the history of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, check out the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces Museum. You can also go on a tour of the Kujuku Islands by boat.

Shimabara, next to Minamishimabara, has a few things to see.  In addition to Shimabara Castle, there’s also Hara Castle Ruins, which consists of foundations and remnants of the Shimabara Rebellion. The main attraction is Unzen-Amakusa National park.  Mt. Unzen is an active volcano, and you can also visit the Mt. Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall.  Mizunashi-honjin Fukae has 11 well-preserved houses that were quickly covered by pyroclastic flows, but are now available for public viewing.

Tsushima is a city that is also an island.  It’s a fairly big island that’s located halfway between Japan and South Korea.  The island has some good things to see.  The Arirang Festival is a Korean-Japanese friendship festival that has unfortunately had a problem, and is suspended for at least 2013.  Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center is dedicated to only one animal, the Tsushima yamaneko, or Tsushima leopard cat.  Ayumodoshi Nature Park is a good place to go hiking, swimming, and camping. Tsutsuzaki-Osakiyama Park provides a beautiful view of the sea. Tsushima has numerous small mountains that can be hiked, as well as many places to go biking.  There are plenty of beaches to enjoy, as well.


The local favourite in Nagasaki is champon, which is similar to ramen, but uses a lot of seafood.  Ringer Hut is a chain restaurant throughout Japan that specialises in Nagasaki champon.

Have you been to Nagasaki?  Leave a comment with your recommendations!


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Exploring Hiroshima

Exploring Japan is now going to the Chugoku region, the westernmost part of Honshu, with Hiroshima Prefecture.

Hiroshima is located on the Seto Inland Sea on the southern side of western Honshu.  It’s the first prefecture in this region that I’m writing about.  It has a population of 2,857,990.  The capital city is Hiroshima.  The 5 biggest cities in Hiroshima are:

  1. Hiroshima (1,173,980)
  2. Fukuyama (465,238)
  3. Kure (240,820)
  4. Higashihiroshima (183,834)
  5. Onomichi (148,085)

The population is slowly decreasing, though Hiroshima city’s population is increasing.


Hiroshima Castle is a reconstruction, since the original was destroyed in the atomic bombing in 1945.  It’s a concrete reproduction, though some more recent work is done using traditional methods. It’s now a museum for Hiroshima’s pre-war history.

Fukuyama Castle in Fukuyama was a huge castle, though it was destroyed in World War II.  It’s a reconstruction now, and it serves as a history museum.


Hiroshima has 2 major professional sports teams.  For baseball, there’s the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, and for J League soccer, there’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Things to see and do

Hiroshima is famous for two major things.  Of course, the world’s first atomic bombing on a city happened at Hiroshima city, so there are many sights related to that, including the Genbaku Dome, or Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  Nearby is the island of Miyajima (Itsukushima) with it’s very famous and often photographed Itsukushima Shrine. Both locations are very important national treasures in Japan, while the Hiroshima Peace Memorial is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hiroshima is a major tourist destination in Japan for obvious reasons.  The city itself is rather typical of Japanese cities as far as appearances go.  The most likely place anyone will visit is the Peace Memorial Park, which has many things to see.  In addition to the Genbaku Dome, you can also see the Children’s Peace Monument, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.  There are an incredible number of monuments in the area.  Too many to list.  In addition to the castle and Chuo Park, which surrounds it, there are other things to see.  The Hiroshima Children’s Museum, a science museum with a planetarium, and the Hiroshima Museum of Art could be good to see.  Another museum is the Hiroshima City Manga Library.  Fudoin is a temple that survived the bombing.  Mazda’s headquarters are near Hiroshima, so there’s also the Mazda Museum. Mitaki-dera is a beautiful temple with three waterfalls.  Shukkeien is a very beautiful Japanese garden that’s considered one of Japan’s best. Hiroshima has plenty of festivals to see, too.  There’s the Peace Memorial Ceremony, of course.  The Flower Festival is a major festival with live performances.   And then there’s the Food Festival, which has a lot of food for you to eat.

Fukuyama, Hiroshima’s second city, also has plenty to see.  Tomonoura is a very scenic port area with several temples and shrines. Myooin is a major temple with a 5-storey pagoda. Kusado Sengen is a medieval town that was excavated. The city has an annual Rose Festival, as its city flower is the rose.

Hatsukaichi, near Hiroshima, is the city famous for Miyajima and the Itsukushima Shrine. It’s an absolutely beautiful shrine built on the coast, and it appears to be floating at high tide.  It’s a must see, I think.  Miyajima has more than just the shrine.  The Marine Plaza Miyajima is an aquarium. You can also see the Miyajima Natural Botanical Garden on the island.  There used to be a castle on the island, Miyao Castle.  You can visit the ruins there. In August, you can see the Miyajima Underwater Firework Festival.

Higashihiroshima isn’t famous for much, but it does have a festival that sake lovers will want to see.  It’s the Sake Festival in Saijo.

Kure is known for its link to the sea and shipbuilding.  You can visit the JMSDF Kure Museum, showing the history of the Japan Marine Self Defence Force, as well as the Kure Maritime Museum (also known as Yamato Museum) which features a 1/10 scale model of the battleship Yamato. Mount Noro is a good place for hiking and enjoying nature.

Miyoshi is a small inland city that features the Origami Museum.

Mihara city is known for the Buttsuji temple, and also has the ruins of Mihara Castle.  The destruction of this castle is a bit unusual.  It was demolished to make space for a train station in the late 19th century, and in 1975, the entire site was split in half by a shinkansen station.

Onomichi is a beautiful city filled with many temples and shrines.  I can’t list them all, but here are some major sights.  Senkoji Park is on Mt. Senkoji, and is well-known for its cherry blossoms.  On the hill is Senkoji, a historic temple.  Jikoji is a temple where you can make your own little Buddha statue. Tenneiji is a temple that has 500 statues in its main hall, and nearby is the Maneki-neko Museum, dedicated to the lucky cat.  Saikokuji has a beautiful red pagoda. Jodoji is a temple that was founded more than 1400 years old. If you like art, you can visit the Onomichi City Museum of Art.


Hiroshima is famous for a very popular kind of food, Okonomiyaki.  It’s similar to a pancake, but it’s filled with vegetables, meat, seafood, and pretty much anything you’d like to include.  Hiroshima’s okonomiyaki is layered, and contains a large amount of ingredients.

Have you been to Hiroshima? Leave a comment with your recommendations.


Filed under Hiroshima, Japan