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Experiencing Nagasaki

After having worked feverously the entire day until 10:30pm finishing up the milk carton art project and not getting to bed until 1 or 2am, I woke up the following morning in a severe haze and then scrambled to pack for my vacation to Japan. Packing took about 20 or 30 minutes and then I was out the door without a moment to lose.

The last few months had been long and hard and I never thought that my two weeks of summer freedom would ever arrive. Just a few weeks before, I was quite hesitant on traveling anywhere, as I was severely fatigued by work and the extra demands I had put upon myself. In fact, I remember saying, “I don’t feel like going anywhere. I just want to veg-out at home and sleep.” Normally, that’s not like me at all, but I was indeed extremely tired, mentally and physically. Some R & R was definitely on my mind, and despite the temptation to simply veg-out, I was also very eager to ‘get the hell out of Dodge’ and experience something new. I needed some fresh air, and to my benefit, Japan was not too close yet not too far. It would act as the perfect getaway for several days in order to clear my head, allow me to rest, and provide some much needed fresh stimuli.

Upon reaching the airport with my 50-gallon backpack strapped on tight, I quickly guzzled a Starbucks double-shot soft drink and crushed the thin can with one hand and nonchalantly tossed it in the trash without looking. I was immediately jolted by the immense amount of caffeine and sugar, but finally felt ready for the quick flight to Japan. Now, I hadn’t had much motivation or time to really look deep into what I wanted to do;  I only had my initial itineraries set up to stay in Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka within the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. However, I wasn’t concerned at all, I was confident that with my adventurous spirit and open mind,  good times would come on their own.

After landing in Fukuoka and then quickly learning the ins-and-outs of where I needed to go, I hopped on a subway to Hakata station and then caught a 2-hour train to Nagasaki. By the time I reached Nagasaki, it was getting dark, but I found the hostel without a problem thanks to a few maps I had previously printed out. I stepped into the hostel immediately greeting the amiable owner named Shinji, and another traveler named Richard that I quickly ascertained was from London. Then not even 10 seconds passed before Richard insisted that I team up with him to catch the night-view of Nagasaki from atop the tallest peak in the area. Having not had any time to catch my breath, I hesitated for a split second, but immediately figured ‘why not?’ I concurred and we were on our way.

Nagasaki Harbor Night View

The night-view of Nagasaki harbor was absolutely magnificent. What a sight!  It then dawned on me at this particular moment that I was indeed in Japan and did not have to go to work the following day, and this miraculously eased tension and brought peace to my mind. Richard was also good company. We shared many travel stories, talked about girls, religion, and politics, and also offered subtle opinions to one another about current world affairs. Overall, it was a pleasant conversation. I also discovered that Richard decided to take a year off from work and life in London to extensively travel around the world. Amid his eighth week abroad, he sincerely mentioned he has a lot more to go before his year is up.  Indeed, he does.

Crossing the bridge back to the hostel

It was definitely coffee time the following morning and this hostel greeting (below) made me chuckle amid still being half-asleep.

Breakfast Sign at Casa Noda Hostel

After coffee I met up with Richard and we hooked up with a few South Africans, Martin and his sister, Jana, who happened to have the same plan in mind to visit the Glover Garden. Martin, who had been teaching English in Japan close to five years, had a car and offered to drive all of us there. We all ended up spending the entire day together.

Richard and Jana at Glover Garden

Richard and Martin at Glover Garden

Without going into too much detail, Glover Garden and the residences that reside there, were built in 1863 by Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish entrepreneur, and is the oldest Western style house surviving in Japan. The park also includes the Ringer House (completed in 1865 by Frederick Ringer) and the Alt House (built for William Alt). Glover and his businessmen contributed much to Japan’s modernization, and before foreign settlements were abolished in 1899 by the Meiji government, Nagasaki flourished as a free trade port of the new era.

Glover Mansion with cloud sky-scape

View from Glover Garden

Ringer residence

A distant residency at Glover Garden

Coy fish don’t mess around

Thomas Blake Glover (right) and family

The Oura Catholic Church is also located just downhill from the Glover residence. It was built in 1865 and is Japan’s oldest existing wooden church.

Oura Catholic Church – Built in 1865 and is Japan’s oldest existing wooden church.

Inside Oura Catholic Church

Later that evening I met a nice girl by the name of Jessica, or “Jessie”, whom is math teacher and writer from Phoenix, and we teamed up and headed to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum the following day. My first impression of the museum was that it effectively captured the true essence of atomic destruction and the need to halt atomic proliferation throughout the world. Some of the images were quite horrific. In addition, it also offered a bulk of interesting history leading up to the tragic event.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Blast from nearby town

Christianity was introduced to Japan in 1549 when Portuguese Jesuit priests, led by Francis Xavier, began missionary work on the southern island of Kyushu where Nagasaki is located. Local warlords granted the Jesuits freedom to preach and establish small churches in exchange for the profits to be gained from trade. Through the heroic labors of the missionaries, Christianity spread quickly through the whole country. Christians were soon to be severely persecuted by the Shogun the next three centuries, and later the Imperial Japanese government, however, Christianity survived in Nagasaki. In 1925, it became the the site of the largest Christian church in the Orient and also had the largest concentration of baptized Christians in all of Japan. However, the bomb instantly changed that.

Over the course of 20 years, Christians in the Urakama district built a church, laying one brick upon another. Their labors were rewarded in 1914 with the completion of the grandest church in East Asia. The church’s 26 meter-high spires were completed in 1925. However, located on a small hill just about 500 meters from the atomic bomb hypocenter, the explosion blew the spires down and reduced the church to a hollow shell of rubble.

Melted Rosary and crosses found after the blast near the hypocenter

Urakami Cathedral wall remnant still standing

Wall Clock – Found in a house about 800 meters from the bomb hypocenter. The clock was shattered by the blast, and its hands stopped at 11:02 – the moment of the explosion.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Replica

After the utter shock of what I saw and learned wore off several days later, I realized that I did not recall viewing much information at the museum at all to suggest the fact why Japan was bombed in the first place, or the horrible atrocities on account of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII and throughout the previous decades in Korea, China, and the Philippines to provoke this very unfortunate incidence.  In hindsight, this museum somewhat painted Japan as the victim, rather than the foremost aggressor, but I can essentially understand why – the atomic bomb was dropped on a purely civilian, non-military target. Gosh, war is hell, plain and simple, and it seems the innocent are always the ones that suffer the most.

Reconstructed Nagasaki Urakami Cathedral

After this museum, it was definitely time for a beer and a nap. Jessie was out like a light in the Casa Noda Hostel hammock.

Jessie is asleep in Casa Noda hammock

Good thing I took a short rest, as that same evening many other travelers and friends of Shinji, showed up at the hostel one-by-one to join the late-night festivities and fun conversation. English, Spanish, French, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Tagalog… many languages were being spoken amongst ourselves and one would initially surmise that it would be very difficult to communicate with one another, but everything was seemingly understood after a few rounds.

Casa Noda Hostel get-together

Drinks up at Casa Noda Hostel

The following morning I woke up early and was just ready to be on my own. Like with every place I visit, I sincerely felt the need to explore the city on my own – district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street – and that’s exactly what I did. Here’s some of the photos I snapped:

Spectacles Bridge – Nagasaki, Japan. It was built in 1634 by the Chinese monk Mozi of Kofukuji Temple. It is said to be the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan.

Ancient Hillside Graveyard

The dead… and the living.

Sōfuku-ji is an Ōbaku Zen temple that was built by the Chinese monk Chaonian in 1629 as the family temple of the Chinese from Fujian Province who settled in Nagasaki.

Coffee Antique. Ha ha, my father would flip if he saw this place.

Also, once Shinji ascertained I’m sort of a “foodie,” he recommended that I visit a super hole-in-the-wall tempura restaurant nestled in the other part of town. I zigzagged my way through Nagasaki and finally found the place called “Yaku-in” where I would soon have the BEST tempura I’ve ever had. Oh man, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it, and I swear I’d return to Nagasaki just to frequent this tempura joint again. The old couple that run the place were super friendly and even though we couldn’t communicate to each other effectively, the great food spoke for itself. Oh man, it was freaking tasty!

Absolutely BEST TEMPURA I’ve ever had. “Yaku-in” Restaurant – Nagasaki

“Yaku-in” Restaurant

“Yaku-in” Restaurant – Nagasaki, Japan. The best tempura can be eaten here.

Sure, the place isn’t fancy or very attractive, but “don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is a tempura joint off the beaten path that cannot be passed up. It was amazingly good!

Beautiful hostel friends dressed up for the fireworks festival in traditional dresses

Packed for fireworks show

Once-a-year fireworks show – Nagasaki, Japan

As so, waking up the following morning still satisfied with my tempura fill and a great once-a-year fireworks show from the night before, I left Nagasaki with earnest yearnings to hopefully return someday soon, not just for the great food, but for the great easy-going people, chill vibes, and enchanting views of the harbor that still cause me to daydream.

Stay tuned for more from Japan.

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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