Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu might be better known for its sombre past, but today it is one of the liveliest, most vibrant Japanese cities. With its beautiful setting, deep history and thought-provoking museums, the city warrants a deeper look. However, the things to do in Nagasaki aren’t just limited to its World War II past. Explore a distinctive fusion of cultures from the very first Chinatown in Japan, Catholic churches and Western-style houses. Nagasaki might seem rather un-Japanese without giant robots and eccentric dining concepts, but it’s filled with an air of openness and inclusivity. Here are the best things to do in Nagasaki!
1. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki is best known as the location where the second atomic bomb was dropped. 40,000 people died on impact, and in the months to follow many more thousands died from injuries, burns, radiation and malnutrition. At Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, you will learn everything about this dark time in the city’s history through survivor accounts and the legacy of the blast. Connected to the museum is the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall, which contains every single victim’s name.
Literally translating to ‘Battleship Island’, Gunkanjima is an abandoned mining town. Its most notable features are the concrete buildings that once housed the mine’s workers, managers and their families, as well as the surrounding sea wall. The mine was closed in 1974 and its inhabitants all moved away. The structures were left to the elements, until 2009 when it was opened as an attraction. Today, you can visit the island with a tour that will fill you in on its past.
Dating back to the 15th century, Shinchi is Japan’s very first Chinatown. Today, the former Chinese settlement houses a variety of shops and restaurants. Make sure to try some of Nagasaki’s famous Chanpon and Sara Udon! During Chinese New Year, Shinchi also becomes the center of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival where thousands of lanterns light up the city. The dates vary every year just like Lunar New Year, so make sure to check your calendar!
4. Oura Church
Oura Church is a Catholic church built by French missionaries in 1864, and is said to be the oldest church in Japan. It is also known as the Church of the 26 Japanese Martyrs, a group of Catholics who were executed in 1597. Right next to the church is a museum, which contains various exhibitions on the history of Oura Church, Christianity in the region and across Japan, along with various artifacts on display.
5. Sofukuji Temple
Sōfukuji is an Ōbaku Zen temple, built by a Chinese monk in 1629. Constructed in a Chinese architectural style, the temple feels different from other Japanese shrines that you may have been to. The Chinese Bon Festival is also held here every year, with Chinese coming from all over Japan to take part in the ritual for the dead.
6. Mount Inasa
To get out of the city and for the best views over the city, take a trip to Mount Inasa. You can get to the summit via ropeway, bus or car. The night views from here consistently ranks among Japan’s three best night views. Can’t get enough? The sleek Garden Terrace Hotel sits halfway up Mount Inasa, offering panoramic views over the city from every room.
A man-made island in the port of Nagasaki, Dejima is where the Dutch people were restricted to and lived in during Japan’s two centuries of isolation. A number of Dejima’s historical structures remain or have been reconstructed, including residences, shops, walls and gates. The highlight is the Chief Factor’s Residence, which offers a glimpse into life for foreigners during the Edo Period. If you’re here in April, make sure to check out the colourful Oranje Festival!