The cosmopolitan port of Nagasaki has been Japan’s link to the Western world for nearly as long as it has existed. The Portuguese explorers who first stepped foot here in the mid-16th century brought with them trade and Christianity, and the former fishing village expanded and developed into one of Japan’s most vital cities. Present-day Nagasaki still retains the essence of its bygone days, with a busy natural harbour, significant Christian sites and churches, and cuisine that reflects its historical links to Portugal. The ubiquitous castella sponge cake can be sampled across the city, and tempura battered food first came to Nagasaki from the Portuguese visitors, before spreading throughout the nation.
When Japan began its policy of self-isolation, or Sakoku, the foreign traders were mostly forced out of the country – and kept out for a period of over 200 years. There were a few exceptions though, as Dutch merchants stayed on, residing on the artificial island of Dejima. Cut off from the rest of Nagasaki, but allowed to continue buying and selling important goods such as silk, sugar and porcelain, the ‘island’ is now reclaimed and operates as an engaging museum. When the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century ‘reopened’ Japan to the industrial world, Nagasaki once again became an important settlement for foreign merchants, and the heart of the nation’s shipbuilding industry. During the Pacific War, the significance of Nagasaki made its port and shipyards a key bombing target though – leading up to its eventual destruction when the US dropped the second, and final, atomic bomb upon it.
Rising from the ashes of this cataclysmic event, Nagasaki rebuilt and restored itself beautifully. The Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Museum, and other surrounding monuments, are a must-see for any visitor – a testament to the spirit and resolve of the city and its inhabitants. Nagasaki is truly one of the most fascinating and eclectic destinations in all of Japan, and is a veritable treasure trove for anyone willing to make the journey here.