Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nagasaki Day 4: Temple Street, Wrap-up

This is the final installment of a four-part series of posts on Nagasaki where I traveled to this past weekend.

Nagasaki Day 1: Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki Day 2: Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)
Nagasaki Day 3: Cruise Ship, Glover Garden, Mt Inasa
Nagasaki Day 4: Temple Street, Wrap-up

Last day of the trip, woke up early to go for a run at the nearby Nagasaki Seaside Park. Came back, had breakfast, checked out of the hotel. We left our bags there as our flight back to Tokyo wasn't until 8 PM.

Today we did a 'suggested route' listed on the tourist map of the city that our hotel had provided us. First place we went to was Meganebashi or Spectacles Bridge.

This is a stone bridge over the Nakashima River that runs through Nagasaki. The bridge was first constructed in the 17th century by a Buddhist monk. It's said to be the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan. The name 'Spectacles Bridge' comes from how the reflection of the arches in the water makes the whole scene look like a pair of spectacles.

The monk who constructed this bridge was called Mokusu Nyojo and he was a Zen master at the nearby Kofukuji temple. That's where we headed next. This area is called Teramachi - literally meaning Temple Street - and it has a cluster of some really important Zen temples.

Main hall at Kofukuji
Despite today being a public holiday (or maybe because of it?) there was hardly anybody here. Which suited us just fine. Solitude is also quite apt for a Zen temple.

Kofukuji is a 'Nationally Designated Important Property' or a national treasure. It was built in 1620 when Chinese merchants started making their way to Nagasaki and a Chinese priest established a shrine to pray for their safety on the sea journey. It is one of the few historical places in Nagasaki that escaped damage from the atomic bombing.

It has a beautiful Zen garden on one side.

Where apparently pigs aren't allowed.

Random. Something got lost in translation here, surely.

The grounds were extremely well-kept. The place was gorgeous, and completely silent.

These patterns on the windows are known as 'cracked-ice' lattices, which was a Chinese architectural style popular in the 17th century. Apparently this is quite rare for buildings in Japan.

This was the dining room or temple refectory. It looked out over the garden.

Next we made our way to Sofukuji, another national treasure that was a short walk away.

Entrance to Sofukuji

Sofukuji was originally built in 1629. The red gate at the entrance is an iconic Nagasaki image. And again, this particular style of Chinese architecture is quite rare for Japan.

The particular branch of Zen Buddhism these temples belong to is called Obaku, which was established in Japan by Chinese Zen masters. Both Kofukuji and Sofukuji are important Obaku Zen temples.

Obaku Zen masters belonged to the Ming dynasty in China. They brought with them to Japan cultural practices from the Ming period, including architecture and calligraphy.

Sofukuji as well, just like Kofukuji earlier, was remarkable for the almost complete silence and calm that greeted us there.

By now it was lunch time and once again we made our way back to the restaurant on the wharf where we'd dined the day before (and the day before that).

The bummer about Nagasaki cuisine is that all the typical dishes - quintessential Nagasaki if you will - have pork in them, so they're off limits. To the point of hilarity that there's a dish called Toruko Raisu or Turkish Rice, named after the country, which got us all excited up until we found out that it's made with a pork cutlet.

But this seafood restaurant near the port was excellent. It specializes in rice bowls with fish on top and we ate there every chance we got.

After lunch we just wandered around the area near our hotel.

We saw really elegant churches.

Discovered that Nagasaki, already with so many firsts and oldest this and that, was also the 'birthplace of bowling' in Japan.

Walked up Hollander Slope to see historic Western-style houses.

Walked through Chinatown and came across this huge plaza. Weird mix of styles because the layout is completely European while the architecture is all Chinese.

Finally, the last thing we did before heading to the airport was go back to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Hall to see the reflecting pool monument lit up at night.

The pool is covered with 70,000 small lights, symbolizing the victims of the bombing.

Nagasaki is an incredible city. It is extremely rich in history, and in an otherwise overwhelmingly homogeneous Japan it stands out as the proverbial melting pot of cultures. It is also blessed with incredible natural beauty. Even if it weren't for its recent history as being the second and last city on earth to experience a nuclear attack, these reasons alone should make it a not-to-be-missed destination.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Nagasaki Day 3: Cruise Ship, Glover Garden, Mt Inasa

Nagasaki Day 1: Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki Day 2: Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)
Nagasaki Day 3: Cruise Ship, Glover Garden, Mt Inasa
Nagasaki Day 4: Temple Street, Wrap-up

This continues a series of posts on Nagasaki. I'm trying to write one each day I'm here.

Writing every day is hard. I typically average three posts a year, so this is completely new territory. Hats off to people who write for a living.

Today we slept in and had a late start. Funny how a vacation tires you out. After two days of waking up early we had no morning plans. Started our day at 11 am with a trip to the convenience store for a coffee and donut. We took it to the seaside park nearby when suddenly this view greeted us around the corner.

A massive ship had pulled into town overnight it seemed. I don't think the picture gets across how big this thing was. It dominated the view, completely obscuring the huge Megami Bridge in the background. The front of the ship said Mariner of the Seas - Nassau, with Royal Caribbean written on the side. We wondered what a Caribbean cruiser was doing all the way up in Nagasaki. A quick Google search revealed that this ship has now relocated to Asia, making trips out of Singapore and Shanghai.

This was my first time seeing a cruise ship up close and I was absolutely fascinated by it. Apparently it can house over 4,000 people, has a shopping mall, basketball court, multiple swimming pools, ice skating rink, a mini-golf course, plus bars, cafes, restaurants on board. It's a moving five-star hotel. The ship shows up repeatedly in pictures from today, because it's so big there's simply no place to hide!

Tried taking a couple more shots just so that you can get a feel for the size. Here it is from across the street.

And from further away, behind multi-story buildings.

Absolutely massive.

Our first scheduled stop was a place called Glover Garden. I'd been hearing the surname Glover a lot; one of the apartment buildings yesterday on Battleship Island was also called Glover House. So was curious to find out more about him.

Glover Garden is a park on a hill overlooking Nagasaki Harbor. In it are residences that belonged to prominent western businessmen who lived in Nagasaki around the late 19th century. Foremost among them was a gentleman called Thomas Glover, originally from Scotland.

Steps leading up to Glover Garden

Glover came to Nagasaki at the age of 21 in 1859, which is when Japan's ports were opened to foreign trade. You could say he had first mover advantage and probably also came from a family of means. He set up a trading company in Nagasaki and became involved in the tea trade, shipbuilding, and coal mining.

Koi pond at the top

Not long after his arrival Japan transitioned from a military shogunate to Imperial rule under the Meiji Restoration. Under the new regime Glover gained prominence as a business leader and was also involved in transfer of technology. He was the man behind the Japan Brewery Company, which today is widely known as Kirin Brewery.

Glover House

Glover's residence was a huge bungalow. Built in 1863, it's the oldest Western-style wooden building in Japan.

Glover House

Glover had an absolutely amazing panoramic view of Nagasaki Harbor right from his front porch.

There's the cruiser again. It's impossible to see from the picture but at that exact moment there was a man doing laps on the running track on the ship's roof.

Behind the house was the stable, where they kept horses. That's what stables are for, I think, yes.

Stable at Glover House

There was also this random statue of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini.

Puccini composed an opera called Madame Butterfly, which was set in Nagasaki. So his connection to Nagasaki isn't random, but still isn't clear to me what connection if any he had to Thomas Glover.

Overall, Glover Garden was great. Brilliant weather for it too.

For lunch we went back to the waterfront to the same place we had dinner the night before.

Next stop was the Nagasaki Confucius Shrine, also in the same area as Glover Garden.

Entrance to Confucian shrine

Known as Koshi-byo, this shrine was built by Nagasaki's Chinese residents in 1893, although it looks the way it does now after a facelift in 1982. It's the only Confucian shrine in the world built outside China by the Chinese. And interestingly the land it's built on is technically Chinese territory, with the land rights controlled by the Chinese embassy in Tokyo.

Main courtyard

Materials from China were used extensively in the shrine's construction. The yellow tiles on the roof are from Beijing, and traditionally only used on the Emperor's palace or Confucian shrines.

Statues of Confucius' disciples

Behind the shrine is the Historical Museum of China. No photographs allowed, which is unfortunate as they had some great pottery in there.

Next we hopped on the tram to take us to Nagasaki Station, from where we took the bus to Mount Inasa.

Nagasaki is served by four single-car tram lines. The fare is a flat 120 yen per ride regardless of how far you go, plus you can transfer for free. You can get an unlimited use day pass for 500 yen, so it's worth it if you plan on taking 5 or more rides. So far though the most we've taken it in a day is 4 times so never had the use for a day pass.

Mount Inasa or Inasayama is a 300-meter high hill close to the city center. At the top they have an observation deck giving you a 360 degree view of the city of Nagasaki and surrounding areas.

The bus dropped us off close to the summit from where it was another 15 minutes on foot to the top.

There were a lot of stairs to climb. We lost count after about 300 steps of huffing and puffing.

The views as you get closer to the top are great. This is from the other side of the harbor and that's the same cruise ship in the background.

Tried to capture the sunset from the top but clouds foiled that plan.

The night view from the top looking over the city is ranked among the three best in Japan, along with Hakodate and Kobe.

The picture above gives a good layout of Nagasaki. The harbor cuts through the middle, south to north from the right of the image. Verdant hills surround the city on either side. It's incredibly picturesque.

As the light faded the temperature dropped and the wind also picked up, so we made our way back down.

Before going back to our hotel I wanted to see if we could board the cruise ship. Somehow I had it in my head that we would be allowed to 'take a tour'. It didn't matter anyway, because as we were walking towards it we noticed it started to move. Indeed, it was leaving port, moving slowly but noiselessly.

Cruise ship leaves Nagasaki

There were people hanging out on the balcony waving, and in turn people gathered at the harbor (us included) waving back. It was a special moment *sniff*.

That was it for the day. The cruise ship coming in to town was a completely unexpected but pleasant development. We were actually a bit worried what 4,000 extra tourists in town would mean in terms of crowds but it wasn't a big deal at all, surprisingly.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nagasaki Day 2: Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)

Nagasaki Day 1: Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki Day 2: Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)
Nagasaki Day 3: Cruise Ship, Glover Garden, Mt Inasa
Nagasaki Day 4: Temple Street, Wrap-up

Today was another early start. We had to be at Nagasaki Port by 8.30 am to take the Battleship Island ferry.

Battleship Island's real name is Hashima, located about 15 km to the southwest of Nagasaki. It's a small island, measuring only 480 meters long and 160 meters across. The island came into prominence in the late 19th century when undersea coal mines were established there. At the time Japan was rapidly industrializing so the demand for coal was high and that brought a lot of settlers to Hashima. The whole operation kept going until coal reserves depleted and the island was finally abandoned in 1974.

The island was reopened to visitors in 2009, and only earlier this year named as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The name Battleship Island comes from the fact that the island is surrounded by a sea wall, and also has multi-story reinforced concrete apartment blocks, and so from afar it looks like a warship. In Japanese it is known as Gunkanjima, gunkan being Japanese for battleship.

This was our ferry, the Marbella. We arrived at the appointed time of 8.30 yet still there was a long line to get on in front of us. We had booked tickets in advance but I was worried with the line that we wouldn't be able to get seats in the unenclosed section at the top. Being wary of getting motion sickness, I prefer somewhere you can get fresh air. Luckily we managed, they weren't the best seats but at least we weren't inside.

On the way over we passed the Mitsubishi docks. Mitsubishi Heavy Industry has a big presence around Nagasaki Harbor, and in fact that was one of the reasons why Nagasaki was a secondary target for the atomic bombing. Mitsubishi were also the owners of the coal mine on Hashima.

We passed under the Megami Bridge, which we were told is the longest cable bridge in Kyushu and the 6th longest in Japan.

About 45 minutes into the ride we caught our first glimpse of the island.

Closer look at the seawall:

The structures are all falling apart. In a way that's quite peculiar, because it has only been around 40 years since the island was abandoned. You'd think concrete buildings would stick around for longer than that. Though granted, there have been several large earthquakes since, and while elsewhere the building codes keep getting improved, that obviously hasn't happened here. Typhoons have also battered the buildings into disrepair.

This next building used to be an apartment block.

Seven stories tall, this is the oldest reinforced concrete apartment building in Japan. Known as Glover House, it served as housing for the miners of Hashima.

At its peak, the population of the island was 5,300, with a population density nine times higher than that of Tokyo, which would probably make it high in the running for highest worldwide.

Unfortunately you can't explore the island freely, everyone's bound to a tourist trail so to speak with three different observation or viewing areas from where you're allowed to take pictures.

The white building in the background is Hashima School. The first four floors were an elementary school, while five through seven were junior high.

We were told that the school was used as a backdrop for shooting in the James Bond movie Skyfall, serving as the lair for villain Raoul Silva played by Javier Bardem. However it appears that while the island was certainly an inspiration for the lair, no actual filming took place there due to the precarious nature of the structures.

The tour was fairly short, given that you can't really go anywhere on the island. Although we did see a few people fishing from on top of the surrounding wall. Wonder how they get to do that.

Back on the boat we circled the island a few times to get a better look at the profile.

We were back in Nagasaki at 11.30, so the whole tour took around 2.5 hours.

After lunch we had planned to do more sightseeing but the fatigue of waking up early two days in a row took its toll and instead we went back to the hotel and napped straight through till around 5 PM.

In the early evening I went for a run. I'm training for a half marathon in December but have been slacking off a bit and skipping the long runs on weekends. Having skipped last weekend, I didn't want to make it two weeks in row, so mustered up some will power and headed to a park nearby. I'm glad I did because it was really nice out, the park is right on the harbor and the views were awesome.

Dinner was at a seafood restaurant right by the water. I had salmon and tuna over rice plus some fried shrimp. It was delicious.

The scenery wasn't bad either.