Nagasaki is not just an international city with a long and fascinating history. It is a global inspiration for all those who seek to create a safer and more secure world - Antonio Guterres
At 11.02 AM on August 9th, 1945 Nagasaki briefly became the most famous city in the world. Up until then, it had simply been the largest city on the island of Kyushu in Japan, albeit one that was steeped in a rich cultural tradition and history.
In a blinding flash of light and heat that devastated the city, the Second World War and one of the darkest periods in human history finally came to an end, and Nagasaki was indelibly scorched into mankind’s collective psyche forever.
But in the seven and half decades since that day, Nagasaki has been rebuilt and has once again assumed its former mantle as a city filled with breathtaking architecture and a vivid identity of its own.
Despite its tragic past, Nagasaki has thrived and stands as a testament to a day that changed the world and the way we, as a species, view conflict and warfare.
And its unique place in the saga of humanity has granted Nagasaki and its inhabitants a rare outlook on life that has led to them, and their home becoming universally known as the most welcoming place in all of Japan, a reputation that both the people and the city have wholeheartedly embraced.
A popular destination with tourists who usually don’t know what they’ll find when they arrive in Nagasaki, its a place filled with wonder and mystery, and so that you, unlike the other legions of visitors who flock to its gates, will know what exactly what to do when you arrive there, we’ve put together a brief guide of the things that you have to do in Nagasaki.
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Musuem
Opened in nineteen ninety-six, more than fifty years after the second atomic bomb was dropped on the city, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Musem was built to replace the Cultural Hall that originally served as a stark reminder of the city’s place in history.
A haunting edifice to the horrors of war, the museum tells the story of the events that led up to that terrible day from the point of view of Nagasaki’s inhabitants via a series of photographs that captured everyday life there before pulling back the curtain and painting a brutally honest depiction of the bombing and its aftermath.
The museum also tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb and how it has shaped our world since it was first deployed in the closing month of World War Two.
This stands in direct contrast with the display of artifacts that were collected and gathered from the city, which includes a watch that stopped at the moment the bomb was detonated, in the months following the attack.
The museum is a sobering reminder of the futility of war and its tragic cost that everyone who visits Nagasaki needs to visit.
Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall
Directly adjacent to the Museum is the Peace Memorial Hall, which was built to remember the forty thousand people who died on the day the atomic bomb was dropped.
A somber and reflective place, the Peace Memorial Hall houses the recollections and stories of the survivors as well as photographs, and possessions, of those who died.
A haunting place, the memorial ascribes names and faces to the unbelievable horror that was unleashed, the Peace Memorial Hall is guaranteed to linger long in the memories of all who visit it.
Nagasaki Peace Park
Built near to the hypocentre of where the bomb detonated, the Peace Park was first opened in nineteen fifty-five and still contains what is left of Urkiami Cathedral, which was the largest and most spectacular church in South Asia during the first half of the twentieth century.
Home to the famous ten-meter peace statue created by native Nagasaki sculptor Seibo Kitamura that jointly calls for peace while excoriating war, the peace park surrounds both the Museum and Memorial Hall and wandering around it, and losing yourself in its beautiful floral displays, provides a much needed chance to catch your breath after visiting both the Museum and the Memorial Hall.
One of five hundred and five uninhabited islands in the Nagasaki Prefecture that is roughly nine miles from the center of Nagasaki, Hashima was abandoned shortly after the bombing that made Nagasaki famous all over the world.
A reminder of Japan’s rapid industrial development during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Hashima was a forced labor camp for Prisoners of War for much of the Second World War and remains as it was when the guards fled and the prisoners who were left behind were forced to fend for themselves.
In two thousand and fifteen, Hashima was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks partly to the increased interest in the island from tourists and historians who claimed that it was a vital part of Japan’s industrial history and needed to be both protected and remembered as such.
While it’s all too easy to become lost in the reason for Nagasaki’s place in history, the city has a tradition of cultural and historic festivals that celebrate its past.
The Kunchi was originally a way to honor the Autumn harvest and later became a shrine festival in the seventeenth century.
Following Japan’s ban on Christianity, the festival was also used as an excuse to look for hidden Christians, which led to the modern tradition of the city’s inhabitants opening their gardens to public scrutiny and encouraging people to visit them.
The most famous aspect of the Kunchi though is the Dragon Dance which often spills out into the streets of the city, to the delight of locals and tourists.
The festival takes over the streets of Nagasaki between the seventh and ninth of October and so it’s worth putting those dates in your diary if you’re planning to visit Nagasaki.
The Lantern Festival
While Lantern Festivals are a common occurrence in China to celebrate the final day of Chinese New Year, it’s incredibly rare to see them anywhere else in Japan and Nagasaki is one of the few places to have embraced and celebrate this tradition.
Held between the eighteenth of February and the fourth of March, it’s a spectacular display of luminosity and creativity that lights up the island and shows it in all of its glory while celebrating the innate and indomitable spirit of Nagasaki and its inhabitants.
If you were trying to find the right dates to book your visit to Nagasaki, there’s no better time to go than when the Lanterns fly.
The Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan
Built following the end of the Japanese government’s policy of seclusion in eighteen fifty-three, the Basilica is the only Western-style building in Japan that is considered a National Treasure and is the oldest Church in the country.
Originally built to honor the Twenty Six Holy Martyrs, and the perfect place to discover their heart-breaking and incredible story, during the nineteenth century the Basilica is the church credited with helping to re-establish Christianity in Japan.
It also gave the Christians who were forced to worship in secret following the Shimabara Rebellion in sixteen thrity and the government reaction to, and suppression, of the religion in its aftermath a place to formally gather and celebrate their faith following two centuries in hiding.
A Church where history was made, the Bsicallica is still considered to be one of the most important Christian sites in the world.
Built at the end of the nineteenth century, the Confucius Temple was a place for the Chinese community to gather, worship, and celebrate their cultural identity.
Severely damaged by the events of August nineteen forty-five, the temple was left in ruins for the next twenty-two years, before it was finally rebuilt and opened again in nineteen sixty-seven.
It’s is seen as being another example of the open-mine tradition of Nagasaki and the people who live there and their willingness to embrace and welcome other cultures, strangers, and tourists.
Established almost five hundred years ago, Kofukuji is one of the oldest Buddhist temples of the Zen tradition in Japan.
One of only a handful of temples dedicated to the Chinese goddess of the sea, Mazu, the Kofukuji is a place of solemnity where Asian traditions collide and are one of the most important cultural buildings in Nagasaki.
Guaranteed a warm and open welcome, tourists are encouraged to visit and discover more about the historical impact that Buddhism has had on Japanese society.
The Spectacles Bridge (or Meganebashi) over the Nakasahami River, was built in Nagasaki by one of the second generation of Chinese monks who helped to establish the Kofukuji and brought the tradition of Buddhism to the island.
Said to be the oldest stone bridge in Japan, it has been used by the inhabitants of the city since it was first erected in sixteen thirty-four.
The City of Nagasaki
While it’s all too easy to associate Nagasaki with the events that helped to finally bring the Second World War to an end, there is much to see and enjoy in one of Japan’s hidden treasures.
Warm and welcoming, Nagasaki is a testament to the dichotomy of human nature, and one of the cities that everyone with a love of history and culture needs to visit and explore at least once in their life.