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Historical Nagasaki

When many Westerners think of Nagasaki, they think only of the second A-Bomb.  Although that’s an important part of Nagasaki’s history, its earlier history of contact with the outside world is far more interesting and engaging.  For around two and a half centuries (roughly 1600s to 1850s), Nagasaki was the only place in all of Japan where foreigners were allowed to visit, and even then it was extremely limited.  The Dutch were allotted a postage stamp sized artificial island in the harbour called Dejima.

Today, Dejima is no longer an island, after land reclamation.  The original site is now an historical museum and recreation of the original facilities on the island, from which the Dutch used to trade (largely sugar) as an extension of the Dutch East Indies Company’s route.

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I was in Nagasaki for the Spring Equinox long weekend, showing my parents around during their stay in Japan.  Our first stop in Nagasaki was catching a trundling Nagasaki tram to Dejima.  A canal runs along one side of Dejima, which is the only of its original boundaries still facing the water.  However, Nagasaki city apparently has plans to eventually recreate the island.  Old relics and displays show what living on Dejima would have been like – the Dutch were mostly not allowed off the island, to keep Japan closed from the rest of the world.  One thing I didn’t know was that for a 5 year period during the Napoleonic times, when Holland was occupied and the British were attempting to plunder all Dutch possessions, the only place in the world to freely fly the Dutch flag was Dejima!

Dejima

Before the Dutch arrived in Japan, the Portugese, were present in Kyushu.  They were eventually perceived as interfering, especially by the Jesuits trying to convert the locals.  The Portuguese were forced out, the Dutch were allowed to stay in a very limited way, and Dejima was established.  (Nevertheless, Nagasaki has one of the highest proportions of Christians in Japan, and it was a Catholic church in the suburb of Urakami that was the hypocentre for the atomic bomb blast.)  The above two photos are recreated warehouses on the Dejima site.  The photo below is a genuinely old building (over 100 years old), but not originally part of the Dutch settlement.

Dejima

After Japan opened up during the 1860s, and then in the Meiji Period, Nagasaki remained a trading port, and attracted foreign traders and visitors.  This is similar to Hakodate, which I visited about a month ago – although Hakodate is much colder and doesn’t have the earlier history of contact, both cities were early trading ports (along with Yokohama), have old Western style buildings, and are very scenic harbour cities.

Glover Garden is near the Yamate district of Nagasaki, and is home to some Western style homes where some pioneers used to live.  As the name suggests, one of these was Thomas Glover, a Scottish trader who lived out his days in Nagasaki.  I can’t help imagining what living in Japan would have been live for foreigners back then.  I guess that the foreign residents living in Japan now owe something to these early pioneers who must, in some way, have helped pave the way for us all.  This is Glover House, which is allegedly Japan’s first Western style home. (Click on photo for larger view.)

Glover House

The view from Glover Garden over the city would be nice on a clear day, but Sunday was wet and misty. (Click on photo for larger view.)

Nagasaki from Glover Garden

Nagasaki has a fleet of trams that run on four lines around the city.  Some are newer, but the below photo is one of the older ones.  From a date-stamped plate inside, I think it was built around 1962.

Nagasaki tram

The Shianbashi district, where I stayed, is full of bars and restaurants, including some hostess bars (offering their company only – don’t get the wrong idea now!).  I’ve never seen in Japan hostesses out on the footpaths touting for business quite as much as around here!  When I turned up late on Thursday evening (the night before a Fri-Sat-Sun long weekend), there were lots of people out and about, many who had over indulged.  It was one of the most vibrant entertainment districts I’ve come across in Japan.

There are some other interesting things to stumble on around Shianbashi other than just the bars.  This old building is a police box!

Old police box

One of Nagasaki’s “meibutsu” (iconic souvenirs) is castella cake, which was introduced by the Portuguese in the 1500s.  The Japanese will tell you that the Portuguese don’t make it any more (although I don’t quite believe that myself – maybe the name “castella” has died out?), and every tourist shop in Nagasaki is busting to sell you some.  This shop below is one of the original castella shops, and is high on Nagasaki visitors’ agendas. (If you look at the sign, you can see “Castella” written right-to-left in katakana.)

Other tourist shops are the same as all the others around the country.  They sell the same plastic trinket crap, and look the same.  I’ve got no idea who buys this shit.

Chukagai

Nagasaki also has a strong Chinese influence.  Chinese traders were allowed to trade alongside the Dutch during the closed country era, and Nagasaki has one of Japan’s big Chinatowns.  One of Nagasaki’s other famous dishes is called “champon”, which is a noodle dish containing a mix of seafood, pork and vegetables.  (I prefer my tantanmen, but gave champon a go.)

 

3 Comments

  1. Hi, just wandered by. I have a Yokohama site. Can’t believe the amount of information out there. Not what I was looking for, but very nice site. Have a nice day.

  2. […] a series of Nagasaki posts, from my weekend visit to Nagasaki a few weeks ago – the others are here and […]

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