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Japan: 5 Things to Do in Nagasaki

On the northwest coast of the island of Kyushu, set on a large natural harbour, lies the vibrant, charming, and beautiful city of Nagasaki. Whether you've been here before or it's your first time to Japan, there are so many things to do! But where to begin?

5) Immerse Yourself in the Culture at World-Renowned Festivals

Lantern Festival

In Nagasaki there's a festival for every season, and most of them draw inspiration from the mix of cultures that founded the city. Whether it's the Tall Ships in spring (Dutch), the Lanterns in the winter (Chinese), the Kunchi festival in the fall, or the near-weekly festivals of the summer, there's always something interesting to check out!

The Kunchi of Suwa Shrine (長崎くんち) is a festival that is held every year in Nagasaki from October 7 - 9. The festival, dating back over 400 years, incorporates various parts of both Chinese and Dutch cultures, which have each played their own role in forming the city and its history. The festival's name, "ku-nichi" translates to, "ninth day," and is held on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar.

The Nagasaki Lantern Festival (長崎ランタンフェスティバル, pictured above) takes place over the first 15 days of the Chinese Lunar New Year in Nagasaki. Back in 1994, the festival grew and expanded from the confines of Nagasaki’s Chinatown to become a main event in the city. It features more than 15,000 lanterns and it includes fireworks, Chinese acrobatics, Lion and dragon dances, Chinese theatre, Kokyu performances, an Emperor’s parade, a Mazu (goddess) procession, and even a beauty contest.

4) Let Your Troubles Melt Away in an Onsen

An absolute must during any trip to Japan is a stay in a Ryokan (旅館), a traditional Japanese Guest House, especially if it has an Onsen (温泉), hot spring bath. Not too far from Nagasaki is Japan's oldest National Park, Unzen Jigoku ("The Hells of Unzen"). Here you will find Unzen Onsen (雲仙温泉), a hot spring resort town near the peak of Mount Unzen. While you'll no doubt want to check out the geysers and volcanic activity during the day, make sure to take a relaxing dip in one of the onsen baths in the late evening or early morning, as per Japanese customs.

Thanks to the nearby volcano, Unzen is known for their high sulphur content, and it's the perfect way to soothe your sore muscles and wind down at the end of the day. Pictured above is an outdoor onsen, located on the top floor of the ryokan, and features a spectacular view of the mountains!

3) Sample Delectable Local Cuisine


photo by: @andrewseelee

Once upon a time, Nagasaki was Japan's only port to the outside world, and served as a gateway for people from foreign countries to visit. They brought along with them regional dishes and cuisines from their homes, and over the years, these have been "redeveloped" with Japanese flare. Nagasaki is particularly famous for two such cuisines, Champon and Castella.

Champon (ちゃんぽん)

Champon is a noodle dish most famously known as a specialty of Nagasaki, Japan, with Chinese origins. It's made with simple ingredients: seafood, vegetables, pork, and specially made ramen noodles unique to this dish.

Champon was first served by Shikairō (四海楼), a Chinese restaurant in Nagasaki. According to the restaurant's origin story, it was based on a dish in Fujian cuisine, and arose from a need for a cheap, filling meal to suit the palates of the Chinese students living in Japan during the Meiji era. Nowadays, the Champon recipe has evolved, and is a popular specialty food of Nagasaki. Shikairō, where it all began, does it best in my opinion. Bonus: the dining hall features breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and harbour.

Castella (カステラ)


photo by: @shiho_rbka

Castella, another specialty of Nagasaki, is a light and fluffy sponge cake. The popular dessert is made with flour, eggs, sugar, and starch syrup. Castella was first brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century, when the Portuguese began trade and missionary work. At the time, Nagasaki was the only Japanese port available for foreign trade. The origin of the cakes name, "castella," comes from Portuguese Pão de Castela, which means, "bread from Castile."

Over the years, the taste of Castella has adapted to suit Japanese palates, which lean toward a preference for more subtle flavours. That is to say, it's a dessert that's just the right amount of sweet!

2) Marvel at the East-Meets-West Architecture at the Famous Glover House

Glover Office

Photo by

Scottish merchant Thomas B. Glover was a key figure in the industrialisation of Japan, supplying ships, machinery, and weapons for the modernisation of the country. Built in 1863, Glover House and Office, his former home, are a fusion of British colonial and traditional Japanese architecture.

The French windows, stone-floored verandas, and latticed arches are some of the distinct European elements of the home, while the Japanese influence is in the roof, with demon-headed tiles made to ward off evil. The roof was later altered in order to add the unmistakable British chimneys.

Glover Gardens, the unofficial name of the grounds, overlooks the beautiful Nagasaki Harbour, and the home stands as the oldest surviving wooden Western-style house in Japan.

1) Explore an Abandoned Island, the Enigmatic "Gunkanjima"

Gunkanjima silhouette

photo by: @gunkanjima_gdm

About 15km from the city of Nagasaki, you'll find Hashima Coal Mining Island, or Gunkanjima. Once the most densely populated locale in the world, the artificial island has been abandoned since 1974, and is perhaps most famous today for its empty, haunting concrete buildings. Hashima got its famous nickname, Gunkanjima, from the shape of its silhouette, which looks like a battleship.

Coal was discovered in the area in 1810, and the successful production lead to significant growth of the island, both in size and population (in the 1960's, Gunkanjima's population density was 9x greater than that of Tokyo's). In the early 1900's, thanks to the big population boom, Japan's first reinforced high-rise concrete apartment building was constructed, and still stands today.

Abandoned homes of Gunkanjima

photo by: @onsen_azarasi

These days, the island remains a hot topic, as a concise definition of neither the length of time, nor the nature of the labour that was done there, particularly by Koreans, has been agreed upon by all parties.

Gunkajima Digital Museum

With interactive exhibits, including model rooms, videos, and a chance to take part in Virtual Reality exploration of the Island, you can learn the history of Gunkanjima or Hashima Coal Mine Island. English audio guide available. For more information on tours, contact their office at +81-95-829-1314

Have you ever been to Nagasaki, or anywhere else in Japan? What would you include in this list, and what was your favourite part of your visit? Hit us up with your thoughts.

For more information on some of the sites of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed above, see here.

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