As overtourism overwhelms Earth’s most popular places, Wide Open World seeks emerging, offbeat but equally compelling destinations.
In Japan’s far west lies a rising destination in the Far East. Nagasaki is a wonderful, welcoming city best known for its sacrifices in World War II and the many years that followed. Although the world may define Nagasaki by the atomic bomb, a visit here reveals a city with a rich multicultural history, an eclectic food scene and a plethora of fascinating attractions. Nagasaki straddles a narrow bay and spreads up the sides of rolling hills. The setting and views are amazing. For hundreds of years, Nagasaki has been one of Japan’s most important ports. During the country’s period of isolation from 1639 to 1859, Nagasaki was the only port open to the outside. The international flavor is Nagasaki’s defining characteristic. British, Dutch, American, Russian and Chinese influences endure today. To outsiders, it might seem odd to find a Chinatown in Japan but Nagasaki has one. The city also features the stunning Confucius Shrine with its 72 sages, life-size stone statues depicting Confucius' disciples. Chinese immigrants built the original Fukusai-ji Temple which was destroyed by the atomic bomb. It was rebuilt in the 1970s in the shape of a giant turtle. The Kofukuji Buddhist temple is the oldest of the temples built by the Chinese with lovely, peaceful grounds. An attraction in its own right, Nagasaki’s vintage street car system is inexpensive and really fun to ride. It will get you everywhere you need to go, including the Atomic Bomb Museum. On August 9, 1945 the U.S. dropped the second atomic bomb of World War II, killing 60,000 to 80,000 people. Though somber, the museum is really well done and obviously a must-see. A compelling fact about the bombing is that Nagasaki wasn’t completely destroyed. Numerous historic buildings and temples remain. Even a few scarred trees are still living. It’s a testament to Nagasaki’s perseverance, an endearing spirit that seems to resonate all over this proud city.
Nagasaki lies about as far west in Japan as you can go. It’s on Kyushu, one of the four major Japanese islands.
Best Time to Visit
Nagasaki enjoys mild weather all year although summers are very humid. October and November are ideal.
Keep in Mind
You can fly into Nagasaki but most travelers arrive by train, as part of a broader visit to western Japan. The shinkansen, or bullet train, doesn’t go to Nagasaki. But you can still ride the high speed train to Kyushu, the island where Nagasaki is located, and then switch to a standard train.
The Japan National Tourism Organization has a comprehensive directory on Nagasaki attractions. Insight Guides and Fodor’s have solid writeups on the city, too.