Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nagasaki in Two Days


Nagasaki is a city in the westernmost part of Japan. It has a rich history of trade and war. Because it used to be the only port open to the outside world during the isolation period, there are a lot of foreign influences all over the city. If you have just two days to visit Nagasaki, here's a little guide based on my experience.

Most people will arrive in Nagasaki by train. If you are planning to come by train as well, check my 7 tips for train travel in Japan. The train station is the best place to start. First of all if you are staying in a hotel that is on the list on this page, do check-in first. You will receive a discount card valid for three days that will be used through out this guide.

Nagasaki is best explored by foot and using the streetcars (tramways). You can get an all day pass for 500 yen in your hotel. Single ride is 120 yen regardless the distance. I've put all points of interest described in this guide to a Google map below.


Hashima is a small island near Nagasaki famous for coal mines and looking like a battleship, hence the name "Gunkanjima" or "Battleship Island". It also featured in the Bond movie Skyfall recently. If you have arrived in Nagasaki in the morning, there is a tour at 10:40am. Another tour starts at 2pm. It might be a good idea to make your reservation anyway. It costs 3900 yen and you will need to show your passport.

The tour company is located near Ourakaigandori station, about 30 minutes walk from Nagasaki train station. I recommend starting there and if you are lucky, go on the morning tour. The tour consists of a boat trip to the island with plenty of time to take pictures and a small tour on the island itself.

The tour guide is a former Gunkanjima worker. English commentary is available, but it's not as funny as the uncle's story. The island was once the most densely populated place in the world. Now it's a ghost town. In case of rough sea, the landing is too dangerous and the island tour is cancelled.

The whole tour takes a little above two hours.

Dutch Slope and the Glover Garden

The next part of the itinerary is best explored before the 2pm tour or after the 10:40am tour. The Dutch Slope was originally a street when Europeans used to hang out. Now it's an area with schools and museums. It's a steep slope and it's nearby the Gunkanjima tour office. There are also some western houses of westerners who traded with Japan and lived in Nagasaki. Walk through it to the other side and find pointers to Glover Garden.

Mr. Glover was a Scottish businessman and Glover Garden is where his house stands. The garden is basically a park and a museum. The garden offers gorgeous views of the Nagasaki harbour. You can also rent a European costume and wander around dressed like a historical figure among the Japanese girls, who seem to enjoy this past time.

If you feel tired, you can enjoy a cup of dutch iced coffee in the coffee house. The former restaurant features the cold brew apparatus, again view of the harbour and you can have your first slice of the Castella cake here.

Leaving the garden, you can visit the Oura church nearby. On the way down, there are a lot of shops that sell Castella, a sponge cake originally brought by the Portuguese and perfected in Japan. The Izumiya cake makes among others has a huge shop there where you can sample not only the original sponge cake but also green tea, chocolate and other variants. You can also eat braised pork belly in a bun on the same street. It's a Nagasaki speciality.

Chinatown, Hamamachi and Maruyama

There is a really picturesque Chinatown in Nagasaki. One of the most beautiful ones in Japan. Red gates, Chinese food and shops. It's tiny and you can easily walk the whole Chinatown in few minutes.

Hamamachi area is one big street mall. If you are interested in shopping for anything, it's the right place to go. In Maruyama, there is an old Castella shop called Fukusaya. No posters, just a plain simple shop selling the best Castella in town since 1624. It's also a former red light district.

These three city quarters are the right destination for foodies. Best time to visit will be dinner time. Good restaurants serving a mix of Chinese and Japanese cuisine are located near Shianbashi station. Nagasaki's soul dish is Chanpon. It's a pork and seafood noodle dish.

Another famous example of Nagasaki cuisine is saraudon (literally plate udon, as opposed to regular bowl udon I guess). You can get a little weird "baribari" saraudon with crunchy noodles. Feels like not cooked.

Inasayama at night and Dejima wharf

Mt. Inasa offers the best view of the Nagasaki city especially at night. They call it ten million dollar view and it's definitely worth the 610 yen for the cable car return ticket. Without the discount ticket it's actually 1230 yen and a lot of Japanese will rather go there by car or walk.

To get there, take a bus from the Nagasaki station to the cable car at Fuchijinja, which is a quite nice shinto shrine by the way. The cable car runs frequently and it's a short ride. The viewing platform is free.

If you feel hungry afterwards, Dejima wharf offers some of the best seafood in Nagasaki along with live music often playing from an English pub there.

The Atomic Bomb Site and Museum

The next day, head to the Atomic bomb site. The Atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945 at 11:02 in the northern part of the city. The bomb exploded high above the ground and right below is now a small park that commemorates the event. There are statues, pieces of walls of nearby structures such as an old church and even an unearthed site with rubble that was kept intact since the explosion. To get to the are take the street car to Matsuyamamachi station.

The museum is only 100 yen for the discount card holders. It's emotional, be prepared to see some tough truth about the bombing. There are artifacts such as bones of a hand fused with glass, melted rosaries and other Christian artifacts, pictures of people suffering from the burns and radiation and others not so pleasant results of the war. Everything is explained in English and pretty scary.

The park, the nearby Peace Park with the Peace Statue and the museum are all bustling with tourists and sometimes school children on assignments.

If you have more time left...

This concludes a relaxing two day visit to Nagasaki, but there's more to see. There are a lot of churches around the city. As in every Japanese city, shrines and temples are also available for viewing. Others recommend penguin aquarium short train ride away. Grab a map at the tourist information center at the station. It points out the major sight and see the map below for all the points of interest mentioned in the article. Have fun in Nagasaki!


  1. We didn't make it to Nagasaki during our Japan travels last year, but it looks fantastic! Next time...

    1. It's a bit far from other cities, but if you plan to visit Kyushu, you won't be dissapointed. Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Mt. Asi make a great plan.

  2. All I know about Nagasaki is it's history in WW2 - I had no idea it was so scenic!

  3. Hi it's Christa, host of the Sunday Traveler, I just wanted to pop in and say thanks for joining in on the fun! Sounds like the perfect two days of exploring, the museum sounds interesting while it is great for educating I'm sure it pulls at the heart strings. Thank you for sharing, I love the photo of the peace statue!

  4. I lived in Japan for a year but I never made it to Nagasaki. It's still on my list of places to go. Especially Gunkanjima! Great posts and photos!

    1. I came to Japan 6 times and only now got to visit it! Thanks!

  5. we are planning t visit Nagasaki this May 2018, do trams accept cash as form of payment or do we need to purchase cards? thanks

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