Spirit of Nagasaki

Written by  Monique Burns


Arrayed across undulating hills overlooking its namesake bay, Japan’s Nagasaki is considered the “Naples of the Orient.” But Nagasaki is even better known as the city where the second Atomic bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945, killing 75,000 people, wounding another 75,000, and leaving generations of survivors physically and emotionally scarred.
The bombing was Nagasaki’s greatest tragedy. But it wasn’t the first. In 1597, nearly 50 years after St. Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan, Nagasaki witnessed the hilltop crucifixion of 26 Roman Catholic missionaries and laymen followed by more than 250 years of Christian expulsion and persecution.

Nagasaki emerged from these tragedies physically, economically and spiritually stronger. Today, visitors enjoy the natural beauty of Nagasaki’s seas, hills and gardens along with manmade attractions like Chinatown, Japan’s third-largest. Most importantly, visitors to this global “City of Peace” can tour internationally renowned historic sites and pay tribute to Atomic-bomb victims as well as early Christian martyrs.

In northwest Kyusku, Japan’s southernmost major island, Nagasaki, meaning “long cape,” is a frequent port of call for premium cruiseship companies like Holland America Line (, offering nearly a dozen Asia itineraries (see JAX FAX, September/October 2017, “Exploring Asia With Holland America Line”).
By plane, Nagasaki Airport is a two-hour flight from Tokyo, Japan’s capital. It’s also a two-hour flight from Shanghai, China’s ultramodern commercial center, and a 1 1/2 hour flight from Seoul, South Korea’s capital. From Nagasaki Airport, Japan Rail (JR) trains and airport buses travel one hour southwest to Nagasaki city. Via JR trains, it’s a leisurely 7-8 hours from Tokyo southwest to Nagasaki.

A city of only 440,000 residents, Nagasaki boasts a dozen four-star hotels and another dozen three-star hotels, some starting as low as $59 a night. Not far from JR Rail Station and Ken-ei Bus Terminal, you’ll find four-star Best Western Premier Hotel Nagasaki
( and three-star JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki ( The train station is right next to Amu Plaza with restaurants and shops, and the Tourist Information Center.

At Nagasaki’s south end, consider Hotel Monterey Nagasaki (, ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Nagasaki Gloverhill ( and SETRE Glover’s House Nagasaki (
Four streetcar lines and several bus companies provide easy access to Nagasaki’s major visitor attractions, stretching north to south in a narrow band near the harbor.

North, in the Urakami district, the atomic blast’s epicenter, are major sites of remembrance and reconciliation. Dominating the Peace Park is a 32-foot-high statue of a muscular man in a Buddhist semi-lotus position with one arm pointed skyward and the other outstretched in a gesture of peace. Clustered around a dove-shaped fountain are memorial sculptures donated by cities and countries around the world.
At the Peace Bell Memorial, you’ll find 86-year-old Inosuke Hayasaki, who miraculously survived the atomic bomb as a teenager working in the Mitsubishi arms plant. For a small donation, Mr. Hayasaki will hand you a ladleful of water to pour over white carnations. It’s a painful reminder of the extreme thirst that survivors endured after the blast.

The nearby Atomic Bomb Museum ( documents the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings, provides information on nuclear threats then and now, and offers grim reminders of Nagasaki’s blast: a shattered wall clock frozen at 11:02 a.m., the time of impact; photos of Japanese schoolchildren hours before the explosion; melted rosaries of Urakami Cathedral worshippers and fragments of a worker’s skull fused to a hard hat.
A short walk south, pay respects at the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims ( Nearby Hypocenter Park, where the atom bomb hit, is now a tranquil sanctuary with a black-granite memorial monolith and a statue of a grieving mother holding a dying child. Ringing the park are 500 cherry trees, blossoming each spring in defiance of those who believed nothing would ever grow there again.
At the park’s farthest corner is the ghostly fragment of a brick wall from Urakami Cathedral, built from 1895 to 1914 and once Asia’s largest Roman Catholic Church. Just east is the “new” Urakami Cathedral, rebuilt in 1959.

Urakami Cathedral is an ideal jumping-off point for landmarks honoring early Roman Catholic missionaries and martyrs. Seven streetcar stops south of Hypocenter Park and just east of JR Rail Station is the Twenty-Six Martyrs Monument and Museum (
Afraid that foreign missionaries would help European powers conquer Japan, 16th-century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi marched 26 Catholics, including Mexican, Spanish and Indian missionaries, Japanese friars, and three young boys from the lay Third Order of St. Francis, from Kyoto to Nagasaki, nearly 500 miles. On February 5, 1597, atop Nishizaka Hill, they were bound to crosses with ropes and chains, and lanced to death.
A 1614 edict banned all Christians from Japan. What followed was 259 years of repression and violence against Christians, including Nagasaki’s Great Genna Martyrdom of September 10, 1632, which killed another 55 Catholics.

From the Martyrs’ Monument, take a streetcar to Nagasaki’s south end. Opposite the Nagasaki International Cruise Terminal, where ocean liners from around the world regularly tie up, is the Hollander Slope district. It’s named for Dutch, Portuguese and other foreigners who congregated there between the 16th and 19th centuries when Nagasaki was Japan’s only port open to overseas trade.
Here is Oura Cathedral, the Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan, established in 1865 by French Jesuit Father Bernard Petitjean. Petitjean also discovered hundreds of the city’s “Hidden Catholics,” which Pope Pius IX later called “The Miracle of the Orient.”
Driven underground, Nagasaki’s Catholics, who numbered 300,000 at the end of the 16th century, remained faithful for seven generations. They adapted prayers to sound like Buddhist chants and worshipped Kannon, Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, as the Virgin Mary.
Originally a simple wooden church with three towers and now a white stucco basilica with stained-glass windows from France, Oura Cathedral, Japan’s oldest church, has been a National Treasure since 1933.

Nagasaki’s theaters of tragedy, like concentration camps, battlefields and other places that have witnessed extreme violence, leave visitors feeling deeply saddened. But they also provoke profound thoughts about the nature of inclusion and exclusion, of war and peace.
Nagasaki also epitomizes the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. In the south end, visit Glover Garden, home to Thomas Blake Glover, a 19th-century Scottish industrialist who brought the railroad to Nagasaki and helped incorporate a brewing company that became world-famous Kirin Brewery. Glover’s Japanese wife, in her butterfly-embroidered kimono, became associated with Cio-Cio-san, leading character in Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera, “Madama Butterfly,” set in Nagasaki.

Just north, watch Nagasaki’s busy port from the roof garden of Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (, with local works as well as the Suma Collection of Spanish art, one of Asia’s largest. Browse shops and eateries in Chinatown, Japan’s biggest after those in Tokyo and Kobe. Then take the Nagasaki Ropeway ( on a five-minute cable-car ride up 1,093-foot Mt. Inasa for views of the city and its bay, rivers and hills. That splendid vista inspired Nagasaki’s early traders and missionaries, and it still inspires visitors today.
For flights, contact Japan Air Lines (, Japan’s national carrier, and All Nippon Airways ( For information, visit,, and

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