After arriving in the historic port city of Nagasaki from my previous base at Saga, I booked a place on a special half-day island excursion (which will be the subject of a separate post). The tour was scheduled for early afternoon, which left me with several hours to kill – time that I decided to invest in a spot of downtown sightseeing.
During my previous visit to Nagasaki, I managed to cover some of the major attractions – bomb-related and otherwise – that usually rank near the top of your typical short-stay tourist’s itinerary. (Click here to view all posts documenting my visits to the city.) Nevertheless, that experience still left quite a few places unexplored, and with the whole morning to spare I decided to fill in several more blanks. My checklist consisted of seemingly unrelated attractions scattered across different parts of the city, with the route between them about as clear-cut and straight as a reticulated python.
Stop number 1: the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture (長崎歴史文化博物館, Nagasaki Rekishi Bunka Hakubutsukan).
The main exhibition area is filled with displays highlighting the long history of cultural exchange between Japan and the wider world, in which Nagasaki played a critical role. But before heading inside to view those exhibits, take a few moments to admire the building’s façade: a reproduction of the Tateyama branch of Nagasaki’s Edo-period bugyōsho (the headquarters of the local magistrate). Note how some of the original stonework, weathered and stained with age, was incorporated into the modern reconstruction.
A passageway from the museum’s modern exhibit hall leads into a full-sized partial replica of the bugyōsho itself, painstakingly rebuilt using authentic materials and techniques.
They’ve reconstructed everything, even the building’s old-fashioned squat toilet (not meant for actual use, of course), which you’ll find tucked away in a nice little room of its own.
Back out onto the street now, into the bright spring sunshine…
…where I set off towards a nondescript tile-roofed gate built into the side of an elementary school. It’s a short walk, shorter than Google Maps would have us believe (the gate’s actual location is on the same street running alongside the museum rather than on a side street as depicted below).
Through this gate, in a protected space underneath the school building that looms above it…
…is stop number 2: the Museum for the Former Site of Santo Domingo Church (サントドミンゴ教会跡資料館, Santo Domingo Kyōkai Ato Shiryōkan). The main exhibit is a large excavation pit containing the scant remains of a 17th-century church that was destroyed on the orders of the ferociously anti-Christian government of the time, along with various artefacts that were discovered on the site.
From here, I made my way east towards the Nakashima River, a narrow waterway flanked by stone walls that runs through the heart of Nagasaki. (Once more, Google Maps can’t seem to plot the route with complete accuracy since it insists on putting the Santo Domingo museum’s gate on the wrong side of the elementary school, but you get the idea.)
The star attraction isn’t the river itself – which is little more than a narrow canal at this portion of its stretch – but the old stone bridges running across it. I hopped from one to the other by way of a pleasant canal-side … er, riverside (to be generous) promenade, lined with small garden patches and benches.
I walked in a south-westerly direction towards the most famous of the Nakashima River bridges: a twin-arched span commonly referred to as the Spectacles Bridge (眼鏡橋, Meganebashi)…
…so-called because of its resemblance to a pair of eyeglasses. Constructed in 1634, this is supposedly the oldest stone arch bridge in the entire country.
A little further on, I spotted a marker standing at the very end of the promenade. No, it’s not for the bridge that’s visible just beyond it – the marker actually commemorates the fact that this area was the original target point of the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki on the 9th of August 1945. Poor visibility had spared the original target city of Kokura (now part of Kitakyūshū), and the same issue spared this particular spot of Nagasaki as well, forcing the bomb crew to release their deadly payload 3.4 kilometres north-west of here. The text on the marker notes that if the bomb had detonated over this district as planned, the resulting damage (devastating though it already was) might have been even greater, due to the dense concentration of civilian structures in what was the administrative and commercial heart of the city.
The next stop was some distance away, so I boarded a tram and got off near Nagasaki’s famous Ōura Church. That prominent landmark wasn’t my primary target, though, since I’d already gone there on a previous visit to the city.
Instead of going all the way up the road to the church, I turned right into a side street…
…with this sign as my landmark…
…and walked up to a small building with a religious goods store on the ground floor.
In the rear of the building (through and past the store) is the St. Maximilian Kolbe Memorial Hall (聖コルベ神父記念館, Sei Korube Shinpu Kinenkan). The hall consists of a small but well-kept exhibition room centred around a brick fireplace: the last surviving remnant of a house where the Franciscan friar (and now Saint) Maximilian Kolbe once lived at the start of his mission in Japan.
It’s not the sort of place that would attract much attention from casual tourists, but I strongly recommend making a stop here (especially if you happen to be Catholic) en route to the famous church up the hill. Apart from its obvious significance in the life of a well-known historical figure, the memorial hall gives visitors the unique opportunity to pray for the intercession of a widely admired saint in a place he had once called home. Even now, I treasure the quiet moments spent in contemplation before his portrait here, and I hope to pay a brief visit every time I find myself in Nagasaki.
Not long afterwards, I departed for my afternoon island excursion … but we’ll talk about that in the next post.