From pirate ship rides to pottery villages to memorials and history, our 3 day trip to Nagasaki was filled with adventure and inspiration!
Day 1 – Drive to Nagasaki
When we decided to go to Nagasaki this week, I knew that there was going to be some rain. It wasn’t until we passed Fukuoka that Matt casually mentioned that there was a typhoon going on!
WHAT?!!? Anyone that knows me well knows that I have an ambition to live through every natural disaster. This has actually started to dwindle since I’ve seen the devastation they leave behind. I have yet to really experience a natural disaster, until now.
From what we could find this was a Category 1 tropical cyclone; basically winds 90-125 km/h or 55-77 mph! When we pulled into Nagasaki, downed bamboo trees were blocking roads. There was so much debris in the streets, we were dodging left and right! We made it to our Airbnb and it sounded like the roof was being torn from several of the surrounding buildings! It was crazy!
So what do you do when your traveling and the weather doesn’t cooperate? Party indoors!
First, the kids put on a show!
Then, we hung out at the mall – food and room for the kids to run around!
We finished the night with a movie! We ended up watching the movie “Silence” after the kids went to bed. It’s about two Catholic missionaries who came to Japan to find a priest who had lost his faith. It was a gripping and inspiring movie that portrayed some of the horrors of being a Christian in Japan during the 1600’s. It really laid a great foundation for our next day’s adventures!
Day 2 – Nagasaki and Sasebo
After a stormy night we woke up to a beautiful sunny day! Our first stop was the 26 Martyrs Memorial.
Christians were heavily persecuted during the 15th and 16th centuries. One of the first violent acts against Christians was when a group of 26 believers – 6 foreigners and 20 Japanese – were marched from Kyoto to Nagasaki in just under a month, then crucified on a hill.
It was only 7 o’clock by the time we finished there, so we grabbed breakfast from 7-Eleven and headed to Sasebo!
Originally we wanted to take a boat to Hashimi Island, which is just south of Nagasaki, but unfortunately they don’t allow children on board. Instead, we decided to go on a more family-friendly pirate cruise ship around the Kujuku islands!
We arrived at Kujukushima Pearlsea Resort, in Sasebo, just as the first cruise ship was taking off. This was great because the next ship was the pirate ship, which was designed to look like a pirates hat. They had pirate statues and treasure chests throughout and I think it made it more fun for the kids!
We then set sail for a 50 minute tour around the islands. The ship was remarkably fast and we were impressed by its agility when it maneuvered around the bay. There were several pearl farms that to see and even some fishermen on one of the tiny islands.
They had some shops and places to eat (including Cremia!) on the pier here. You can check out the aquarium that is there, they have dolphins and jellyfish and even a hands-on pearl harvest! The boat tour was our main purpose for coming to Sasebo, so we left after grabbing some lunch at a decent Indian restaurant, Bisne (highlight was the cheese naan – that was Matt’s favorite yet, but the curry was just average), and went back to Nagasaki.
The Urakami area was a stronghold of the Kukare Kurishitan, or Hidden Christians. When Catholicism was forced underground, Christians across Japan had to practice their faith in secret – but they kept the faith going for over 200 years! They would be forced to step on images of the Virgin Mary or Christ, an act called fumi-e, on the very place where the cathedral now stands. The Urakami Christians were the last group of Christians to be persecuted by the government of Japan. They were ultimately banished to four areas all over Japan – families were split up, and individuals were tortured. Around 800 died during the banishment.
When the government officially ended their persecution, the Urakami Christians returned home and decided they wanted to build a church. In 1895, ~20 years after the long ban on Christianity was lifted, construction began. It took decades to finish, but they labored and contributed what they could, eventually building the largest and first cathedral in Asia. All of their work would eventually be undone on August 09, 1945, at 11:02 AM when the atomic bomb exploded over Urakami Valley in Nagasaki.
Effects from the atomic bomb
Just down from the current church, you can see one of the two original bell towers that was blown 25m by the blast. There are also some statue ruins that were there when the atomic bomb went off. I’m surprised that anything survived as it was so close to the hypocenter.
Inside there is a bust from a wooden Virgin Mary statue that was miraculously discovered in the burnt-out ruins of the cathedral.
After a short walk from the cathedral, we arrived at the Peace park. The feeling was similar to the Hiroshima Peace Park. It is a beautiful memorial to those that died, demonstrating the effects of war and expressing the hopes of peace. One major difference that we noticed was that there were several artifacts transplanted to the park from other areas – for instance, a wall from the cathedral was moved down to the park. The hypocenter is more obvious than in Hiroshima; there are signs pointing you toward it and a large black cenotaph marking the location. There is a museum and several statues, plaques and fountains. After the atomic bomb was dropped it was said that this area would not have any vegetation growth for at least 75 years. This area is now filled with grass, flowers and trees!
Megane-bashi, or Spectacles Bridge
This bridge was built in 1634 by a chinese monk named Mokusunyoujo. The bridge got its name because of the reflection of the two arches in the water make it look like a pair of glasses. It is said to be the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, and, as one of the three most famous bridges in Japan, it shares fame with the Edo Nihonbashi bridge and our very own Iwakuni Kintaikyo!
Day 3 – Drive home via Okawachiyama
We woke up to heavy rain again so we were glad we would be in the car for a good portion of the day. We were hopeful that the weather would clear up as we drove, little did we know it was the start of the heavy rain that would be pounding Japan for the next couple of days!
We started driving home via Okawachiyama, a small pottery village that has been producing porcelain since shortly after porcelain technology came to Japan. The local daimyo, or ruler, had potters with unique abilities that he wanted to hide away from the world. So, he eventually forced them to live in Okawachiyama, well-paid but isolated from the outside world. They produced masterpieces here that were sold all over Europe and Japan!
It rained off and on while we were there but we were able to go in to a few of the shops and look around. One of the shops had an area for the kids to color, which was nice. The indigo pottery, ai-kutani style, was my favorite. It has beautiful contrast and interesting details, often featuring village or landscape scenes. The price was more expensive than the pottery from Onta where we went last year. Villages like this one are some of my favorite places to go. Okawachiyama is set in a beautiful valley at the base of towering mountains, with foliage that surrounds the area providing a sense of peace and beauty.
There was a beautiful old stone bridge above a swimming hole just outside of the village. We were able to throw some rocks into the river and look for crabs that were around the water.
The rain started to come on again, so that encouraged us to head to the car!
This was a quickly-planned trip, as we weren’t sure what we should do with all the rain expected during the week. We took our chances and I’m glad we did! We can now cross Nagasaki off our Japan Bucket List!
Have you been to Nagasaki? What were your favorite things to do there? Let us know!