After 8 months, I find the creative pen in me renewed and ready to blog again. I can`t guarantee the quality of this post will change the world, but I fully vouch for the honesty; I had an amazing experience in Nagasaki. This is now the second time these feet have strolled the city`s meandering streets, climbed it`s hills, and still I can`t fully put into words just what it is I enjoy about the place. Is it the history? The slower pace? That blue streetcar bathing the night in electric color?
Even as I struggle to put the thoughts into words, I can tell you that Nagasaki is starting to feel a bit like home to me. Situated on the Kyushu island of Japan, the city is the capital of Nagasaki prefecture. Many are aware of its saddening moment in the 20th century as it was the site of the last atomic bomb. However, Nagasaki continues to unravel deeper shades of its past for the curious. Centuries ago it was a center of Christianity in Japan, serving as a home to Japan`s kakure kirishitans, or “hidden Christians”. This legacy has quite literally left its mark in numerous ancient churches and grave sites across the city and its many islands.
It was these monuments that I had originally come to see for my own missions research on this blog. Now, nearly a year later, I again responded to a student`s invitation to visit their hometown, and after a 2 hour flight to Fukuoka, followed by a ride on the beautiful Kamome limited express, I was back staring at Nagasaki bay again. There`s something about towns by the sea that just does it for me. Maybe it`s a special blend, that rustic amalgamation of cultures that have drifted into port over time and never left. That isn`t simply pretty writing either; many of the people, foods and festivals are of an international background in Nagasaki. Take Chanpon for instance, a noodle dish of Chinese origin that is a regional favorite of the city.
Though chanpon was on my mind, it had to wait til I found my hostel, ROUTE Nagasaki. Located a mere 6 minute walk from Nagasaki station, I came across the establishment while attempting to reserve a room at their older sister, AKARI, where I stayed before. The ROUTE is a more upscale version of the former though. Whereas most hostels are dormitory style, this one has several cabin spaces situated inside a large, hipsterized room. The lockable cabins contain a bed, mirror, lamp and electrical outlets and the outer room came complete with dining table, refrigerator and nicely designed showers and toilet. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the manager from AKARI was also working here and remembered me from my previous stay. He refreshed me on the surrounding sites and attractions and once I had stowed my baggage and showered, I was off with my camera.
The first stop was a place that I had told myself I wouldn`t visit this time, but the Site of the 26 Martyrs of Japan was right across the street, so I paid my respects. In 1597, 26 Christians (20 Japanese and 6 missionaries) were marched 966 km(600 mi) to the spot and crucified. Their memorial statues are now arranged in a cross, with several of the figures noticeably shorter than the others. As a believer in Christ myself, it was a difficult reality to grasp that neither old nor the very young escaped the cruel grasp of persecution. These individuals certainly carried their cross to the end, their stories even further illuminated in the small but impressive museum behind the memorial.
The Martyrs shrine reveals itself as a must see no matter how many times you visit the city, but I wanted something new on this trip. So, I decided to head to this Dejima place I kept hearing about. Everyone asked again and again had I been and each time they were disappointed with a sheepish “no”. Honestly, it didn`t excite me: a small dutch island? Snore. Yet, I do try to be an open traveler and went anyway, which was a good choice as I enjoyed a step back in time to the Edo era. Dejima and its wharf was an artificial island constructed by the Japanese government for dutch merchants to live separately, due to the fears of Protestant Christianity spreading. Today, it is a large island of concrete connected by small bridges to the rest of Nagasaki. But for 500 yen anyone can explore the main attraction: the original factory and residential district that has been maintained as it was centuries ago. Old wheel barrows, flowers and spices from the Netherlands are preserved in glass and whole rooms and officers` quarters lay hidden away up narrow stairways. Yes, there were samurai warriors greeting you in the streets, their shiny Casio wristwatches betraying the time-slip, but overall it was a genuine effort to transport any kid at heart.
As the time winded down, my last day in Nagasaki was spent navigating smoke-filled streets as the locals celebrated a festival honoring last year`s dearly departed. Scores of families marched alongside floats and photos of their loved ones, on a quest to reach the bay. With each neighborhood block covered on foot, a rain of firecrackers sizzled and sparked on the streets. It was quite an exhilarating and still unusual thing to witness, traditions that resembled Chinese practices much more than Japanese; a fact confirmed by a fellow traveler from Hong Kong. I was told that it was unique to Japan, and got even stranger. Apparently the beautiful chaos was the result of the aforementioned festival falling on the same day as another that celebrated the return of the virgin Mary to heaven that night, every year. I stopped under one of the flickering lamps and took it all in; a city in a firey pot of cultures and beliefs, swirling and forming into, something. I`ll keep coming back to find out what that is.