This exotic and cosmopolitan Japanese city has much more to offer than a memorial of the atomic bomb. Nagasaki once had one of the most famous geisha quarters in Japan, as well as being a central trade port. Its foreign influences have shaped Nagasaki culturally and physically to give the city a distinctive flair and charm.
For a fascinating insight into Nagasaki’s history, and ruins of a non-atomic kind, a visit to the abandoned island of Gunkanjima is a must. The tiny coal-mining island, which once boasted the highest population density in recorded history –5000 people residing on a chunk of land 480 metres long and 150 metres wide – was abandoned after the mines were closed in 1974 and typhoon damage and erosion made it a danger zone.
In 2009, a new dock made it possible for sightseeing boats to land on Gunkanjima for tours of the eerie, eroded island, which starred as the villain’s lair in the James Bond film Skyfall. Tour boats to the island depart from Nagasaki Port.
Cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japan, and Nagasaki’s Tateyama Park and Sakura no Sato are stunning parks containing thousands of cherry trees. They’re open from late March to mid April and admission is free. Many visit Nagasaki for the Nagasaki Peace Park, which commemorates the atomic bomb of 1945, and the nearby Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
Eat and Drink
In traditional Japanese restaurants in Nagasaki, you’ll usually find Shippoku cuisine, which is a fusion of Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes born out of trade and cultural exchange. Shippoku dining scatters a series of entree-sized dishes across a round table to be shared by diners.
The coastline of Nagasaki is considered one of Japan’s prime fishing areas and the abundance of fresh seafood enables a plethora of sushi, sashimi, oysters and seafood rice dishes that are considered the pride of the Nagasaki people. Nagasaki is also known for its top-quality wagyu beef. Enjoy it with the city’s famous Junmai Ginjo sake.
Where to Stay
Staying centrally in Nagasaki city and the Shianbashi area is ideal for tours, shopping, sight-seeing and nightlife. You can visit most tourist attractions via the JR Nagasaki train station and there are a number of premium and low-budget Western hotels within a few minutes’ walk.
If you’re after something more authentic, you can stay at a traditional or modern ryokan (Japanese guest room). Due to the hot springs in the Kyushu region, many ryokans here have onsens (hot-spring baths) where you can indulge and relax after a big day of exploring.
Haman-machi Mall is Nagasaki’s largest shopping centre with around 700 shops including department stores, electrical shops and other specialty stores.
For something convenient to the best hotels and public transport, the Amu Plaza mall is part of the JR Nagasaki train station, making it a handy place to shop, for clothes and books in particular. It also has a supermarket and food court.
For unique Japanese pieces, shop where the locals shop at the Naka-dori Arcade. It is one of the oldest of its kind in Nagasaki and most shops are privately owned, producing bespoke pieces you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
Nagasaki Like a Local
Many locals are known to love a game called pachinko, played in garishly lit parlours spread across the city. Pachinko is a combination of pinball and slot machine. Players are given steel balls and the aim of the game is to control the speed of the ball enough for it to divert into a slot.
Though this is rare, players win new balls if the initial ball gets into the slot and three of the same pictures appear. Players can then exchange these steel balls for goods at the parlour’s gift shop.