Nagasaki: Melting Pot of Three Different Cultures. Part 1

Do you know “Madama Butterfly” on a Giacomo Puccini’s opera stage is a lady in Nagasaki? Well, it is true!

Even in Japan, Nagasaki enables you to enjoy three distinctive cultures: Europe, China, and Japan. These sometimes co-exist and blend in some cases. For example, local cuisine in Nagasaki adds a touch of Chinese food. Or western style wooden structures are built in the former enclave for western foreign residents.

Nagasaki has various sightseeing spots and annual events which were strongly influenced by China and Europe, in particular, Holland. Unlike other cities or tourist attractions in Japan, Nagasaki can be called a magical destination for foreign tourists.

The history of Nagasaki began as a trade port and the center of the Society of Jesus which intended to attract new Catholic believers.

In the end of 16th century, Christianity was prohibited. In 1639, from then on, the Tokugawa shogunate government adopted national isolation policy so called “sakoku” in Japanese.

In those days, however, Holland and China were permitted to continue their trade with Japan only in the port of Nagasaki.

In spite of Anti- Christian Edicts, there are numerous hidden Catholic believers, so called “kakure-kirishitan” in Nagasaki. Today, the total number of Catholics in Japan is shot of 0.5% of its population, but in Nagasaki Prefecture, it reaches nearly 5%.

One other thing to note here is the devastated havoc by the atomic bomb. On August 9, 1945, the second atomic bomb was dropped at Nagasaki following Hiroshima. The northern area of this city called “Urakami” district was a hypocenter and the whole area was completely destroyed.  (Top left corner of an image 2)

On the other hand, however, the bomb had little influence on inner city due to its complex topography.

From that time, citizens in Nagasaki always pray for world peace.

Nagasaki constantly ranks high as a popular sightseeing spots among Japanese as well. Please let me introduce recommendable tourist sites respectively.


Sailing Ship Festival in Nagasaki Port


Panoramic View of the city of Nagasaki


Scenery of Nagasaki City from the Glover Garden


( Photo by (c)Tomo.Yun )



Western Influences

 The Glover Garden

Japan opened four ports after the end of national isolation. Nagasaki was selected as one of the important trade harbors and played an important role as what it used to be.

After 1859, British merchants like Thomas Glover who based on Nagasaki participated actively in the trade with Japan as it had been limited to Holland.

Today, their residences are preserved inside the “Glover Garden”. It is one of the most famous and popular sightseeing spots. The garden is located in the hillside from which we can overlook whole Nagasaki harbor. The scene is really picturesque.

Former Glover House



Oura Church

Of numerous churches in Japan, only this church called “Oura-Tenshudo“is designated as a national treasure. After the conclusion of the trade treaty with various western countries, the Tokugawa Shogunate government recognized the freedom of religion which was limited to foreign residents in enclaves. Then, in 1864, it was built by French priests and devoted to 26 martyrs who were executed in Nagasaki in 1597 due to the prohibition of Christianity.




Speaking of Nagasaki, most of Japanese associate the city with famous sweats named castella or “kasutera”. It is said to be originally introduced to Nagasaki by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Its ingredients are wheat flour, sugar, egg, and honey. They are stirred to keep lumps from forming and are baked in an oven. In Nagasaki, there are many confectionary makers specializing in castella which is one of the most popular souvenir in Nagasaki.


( Photo by (c)Tomo.Yun )



When the isolation policy was adopted, among European countries, only Holland, a protestant country, was permitted to trade with Japan. On the other hand, their freedom to act was severely restricted inside a small artificial island called “dejima”. At the same time, Japanese people were also prohibited to enter the island without special permission.

Today, former surrounding sea area is reclaimed land.

This historic site, dejima, has been gradually restored to the original shape by Nagasaki city. The main feature is a Dutch Trade House including the interior decorating which looks like its original appearance.


Restored Dejima



Bird’s eye view of former Dejima in the Edo Period


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