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.

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