The Best 20 Things to Do in Fukuoka: from Famous Festivals to Natural Miracles
Nagasaki Prefecture, the land where Japanese traditional culture coexists and harmonizes with different cultures. You might have not heard about Nagasaki much compared to Kyoto and Tokyo, but Nagasaki has its own charm and offers numerous places to visit, with a rich history behind them. ‘But I don’t know anything about Nagasaki’, you say? Well, you’ll find a brief history, and some of the must go/must do in this article, so by the end of this article you’ll want to book the first flight to Nagasaki as soon as possible!
●About Nagasaki Prefecture
●10 Best Festivals in Nagasaki
– Kazagashira Koen Sakura Festival (Spring)
– Hasami Porcelain Festival (Spring)
– Nagasaki Hansen Matsuri (Spring)
– Huis Ten Bosch Beer Festival (Summer)
– Peron Festival (Summer)
– Shoro Nagashi (Summer)
– Nagasaki Chugoku Bon Festival (Autumn)
– Kunchi Festival (Autumn)
– Unzen Akari no Harbor (Winter)
– Lantern Festival (Winter)
●Other Things to Do and Places to Go in Nagasaki Prefecture
– Onsen Hopping
– Enjoy Local Foods
– Feel the History
– Goto Islands (Five-islands Archipelago)
– Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)
– Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
– Shimabara Castle
Nagasaki Prefecture is located at the western end of the Japanese archipelago, on the northwest side of the Kyushu Island. Due to the closeness to the continent (mainland Asia), the port of Nagasaki has long been the gateway to the outside world for the Japanese people, especially during the Edo Period (1603-1868) when the Japanese government had the Sakoku or the “Closed-country” policy: the period of Japan’s national isolation. The influence from the Western culture is not the only influence from the outside world. You can see the Chinese-style temples and festivals in the city of Nagasaki as well.
Nagasaki has two national parks – Unzen-Amakusa and Saikai- together with ‘two quake-national and six prefectural parks, combine mountainous and marine aspects to present picturesque gifts throughout the prefecture’ (quote from the Japan National Tourism Organization website).
Japanese people love festivals. Nagasaki Prefecture boasts many festivals –both traditional and modern so that you have a great choice. Here are 10 festivals I’ve chosen that I guarantee that’ll change your life! (Or maybe not, but still very interesting and worth checking out!)
If you’re in Japan during spring, you’re likely to see a lot of blossoming cherry trees and the festivals that go with them. The Kazagashira Koen Sakura Festival is one of them. What’s unique about Kazagashira Koen Sakura Festival is that you can see cherry blossoms and bright red Shire gates as a background, as well as the statue of one of the most famous Japanese samurai – Ryoma Sakamoto! You can wonder around the park while checking out the charity bazaar and watch the rice cake pounding party too. Cherry blossoms pair well with the panoramic view of Nagasaki City after the sunset with 400 lanterns illuminating the flowers at night.
This festival is held from the end of March to the beginning of April (you should check out the flower forecast (yes, it’s a thing) for more details) at the Kazagashira Koen Park.
For more info on this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/kazagashira-koen-sakura-festival
One of the fun things about traveling in a foreign country is finding some souvenirs with a traditional touch. If you’re one of those people who is into chinaware and porcelains, you should visit the Hasami Porcelain Festival. Hasami Porcelain, or the Hasami-yaki, has more than 400 years of history, and you can buy some of these Hasami-yaki at this festival. This festival (or more like a market for Hasami-yaki) started over 60 years ago, and not only porcelains, but you can buy food and drinks while wandering around the stalls. Do not fret, they sell brand new ones to antiques, to not-so-expensive second-hand ones as well!
And while you’re there, you might want to create your own Hasami-yaki as well. You can paint your own Hasami-yaki and learn the skills of Hasami-yaki masters at the venue!
Annually held around late April to early May at the Yakimono Park Square and Hasami – Arita Inter Square. It’s around the ‘Golden Week’ holiday, and it will be really crowded and packed with people, so be prepared! Oh, and don’t forget to bring some bag to put your porcelains if you’re planning to buy it.
For more info about this festival, please refer to the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/hasami-porcelain-festival-wonderful-event-ged-traditional-souvenirs
Image courtesy of ©NPTA
Hansen Matsuri, which the literal translation would be ‘Sailing Ship Festival’, is quite different from the traditional Japanese festivals. This festival started in 2000, commemorating the 400-year trade relationship between Japan and the Netherlands. (Quick history lesson: during the Edo Period (1603-1868), Netherlands was the only country in the West that could have a relationship with the Japanese. Nagasaki port was the only port to the western world!) During the festival, many sailing ships gather at the port of Nagasaki, and you get to make a tour on some of them. There are ceremonies that take place when the ships enter and leave the port. Oh, but the most magnificent view would provide the fireworks during weekends. The light from the fireworks reflecting on the water surface with the silhouettes of those beautiful ships will take your breath away for sure!
This Festival usually takes place from mid to late April at the Nagasaki Port, Nagasaki Seaside Park, and Dejima Wharf (Another history lesson: Dejima – ‘Exit Island’- was the small fan-shaped artificial island which was built to constrain foreign traders.)
For more info about this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/nagasaki-hansen-matsuri-unforgettable-tall-ship-festival
Image courtesy of プレティオ
The last thing you would expect to find in rural Japan might be the Dutch theme park. But you might already know that Nagasaki has a long history of relationship with the Netherlands, so maybe you won’t be surprised to find one. The theme park in question is the Huis Ten Bosch, where the Beer Festival takes place! You can drink many kinds of beer at the festival including Amber Ale, Grolsch premium Weizen, Pineapple Ale, Warteiner, Mystic Cherry Beer, and many more. You can also take a look at the ‘Strange Hotel’ a.k.a. Henna Hotel that’s staffed by robots. (I think I’ve seen the photo where the check-in clerk was a velociraptor… I love them.)
This festival just started in 2018, during the high summer – mid-July. Therefore, it’s not clear if they will be another Beer festival next year, but I believe this festival is going to become an annual event. You’ll have to pay the entrance fee of 7000 Yen to get into the park, but it’s worth it. 20 min. train ride from JR Sasebo station.
For more info on this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/huis-ten-bosch-beer-festival-walking-drinking-feeling
Feeling like watching a boat race? Then you’ll have to see the Nagasaki Peron Festival! This festival started more than 360 years ago in 1655, to appease the anger of the sea God after the storm caused the devastating damage. (Peron originates from the Chinese words meaning ‘White Dragon’ since there were many Chinese people living in the damaged area.) You can see nearly 50 Peron boats rowed by various kind of people, including middle school students! You can’t participate in the race, but you can try Peron during lunchtime if you’re feeling like giving it a go. There is also a pleasure boat to take a closer look at this boat race.
This festival is held annually at the end of June or at the beginning of July for two days at the Nagasaki Seaside Park, which is 25 min. walk from JR Nagasaki Station. There are no public parking spots nearby, so make sure you use public transportation.
For more info about this festival, please refer to the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/nagasaki-peron-festival-traditional-stimulating-boat-race
Every culture has its own ways to send their loved ones to the other side. The Shoro Nagashi (Spirit Boat Procession) is one of the most famous festivals in Nagasaki, which features huge boats with deceased souls (not just humans, but pets too!) on them to send off. These acts of mourning are done by those who have lost a family member in the past year, but people who are not mourning can participate too. Contrary to the image of mourning being serene and quiet, the Shoro Nagashi is very, VERY loud and noisy because of the firecrackers. (the famous Japanese folk singer Sada Masashi sung a song about Shoro Nagashi, but he makes it sound like the festival is peaceful and calm. It’s not.)
This festival is held annually on August 15th, during the Bon Festival: when the spirits of ancestor revisit the household alters (I’ve always imagined Bon as a Japanese version of Halloween, but that might not be an accurate comparison.) You’ll find various Spirit Boats around the city of Nagasaki (especially in the China Town).
For more info on this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/shoro-nagashi-festival-see-spirit-boat-procession-nagasaki
Looking for something different from traditional Japanese festivals but don’t want to leave Japan since you’ve come all the way here? Well, you’re in luck, because the Nagasaki Chugoku Bon Festival is not a traditional Japanese festival! As the name suggests, the Chugoku=Chinese Bon Festival is held in the Sofukuji temple, which is the oldest Chinese-style temple existing in Japan. (Try spotting the difference between the traditional Japanese temples and Sofukuji temple! I love these ‘spot the difference’ when visiting temples in China or Korea!) The Chinese Bon Festival is rather solemn compared to the Japanese counterparts (cf. Bon Odori), so do not be surprised. You can have a tasty Nagasaki Champon noodle (more on that later) around the area too!
The festivity annually takes place for 3 days from late August to early September (or on July 26-28, based on the lunar calendar. I know, it’s confusing) at Sofukuji temple. 10-12 min by bus or tram from Nagasaki Station.
For more info on this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/nagasaki-chugoku-bon-festival-mystical-chinese-bon-festival
Now you know that Nagasaki Prefecture was heavily influenced by the Dutch and Chinese cultures even during the Edo period when the Islands of Japan had the ‘closed-country’ policy. So, now you want to know if there is a festival that has both Dutch and Chinese influence? Well, then you must see the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival! This festival is held in the Suwa Shrine and boasts more than 400 years of history. During this festival, there’re traditional Japanese dances, and then there’s Chinese influenced Dragon dance, and then, next thing you know, there’s a large float with the shape of a Dutch ship, with people dressed as a Dutch sailor pulling it. You might also see the influence of Portugal (other Western country allowed to trade with Japan during the Edo period) and Vietnam as well.
Held annually from October 7th to 9th at Suwa Shrine. Most of the performances take place at the shrine and a few other stages, with paid seating and/or standing areas. Tickets for the seating area might be extremely difficult to purchase if you don’t have any friend in Japan to help you out. But don’t worry, you can still enjoy the show without the ticket.
For more info about this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/nagasaki-kunchi-festival-see-fusion-different-cultures-one-place
Winter is coming. And so is the season for beautiful illumination! At the Unzen Akari no Hanaboro, you’ll see beautiful sceneries decorated with candle lights and electric lights while you’re heading back from the hot springs, which Unzen is famous for. The ‘Hanaboro’ is a local word for rime, which I find really cute since the word ‘hana’ means flower (makes me imagine the white snowy flower.) During the festival, you get to see the fireworks every Saturday as well.
Held annually during February at the Unzen City. The decorations and illuminations are lighted up from 5 to 10 pm.
For more info on this festival, please refer to the following link, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/unzen-akari-no-hanaboro
Nagasaki Lantern Festival is one of the most famous festivals in Japan, attracting more than a million people every year. This festival boasts over 15,000 lanterns decorating the city of Nagasaki. These lanterns light up the streets of Nagasaki in a dreamlike warm light, making the whole town breathtakingly beautiful. You might notice some of the lanterns are shaped like animals (are there 12 of them? Then they’re the animals from the Chinese Zodiacs!), or some shaped like humans.
They are mostly inspired by the Chinese culture, and the proof of that can be seen in the Chinatown. You just have to see these magnificent lanterns with your own eyes! The lanterns over the river are so exotic and remind me of the scene from the Disney movie Tangled… (My writing skill is not enough to show you how beautiful these are. Take many photos so that you can capture the atmosphere!)
The Nagasaki Lantern Festival is taking place annually for 15 days starting from the Chinese New Year (February-March) at the two main even venues: Minato Park and Chuo Park. Smaller sites are all over the center of Nagasaki, so you won’t miss the excitement!
For more info about this festival, please check the following article, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/events/nagasaki-lantern-festival-kyushu-take-beautiful-exotic-pictures
Nagasaki Prefecture is unique since there are hints of other culture’s influence everywhere. You might find this foreign influence slightly odd at times, but this is what Nagasaki is about! But there are still traditional Japanese ways to enjoy Nagasaki Prefecture as well.
Since Nagasaki prefecture has many active volcanos, there are a lot of hot springs, or the ‘Onsen’s in the area. It is said that these Onsens started to attract people from 701, and the area started to look like the town today by the 4th shogun era: 350 years ago. (we Japanese sure love hot springs!) Here are some of the most famous and popular Onsen hot springs in Nagasaki (listed in the order of the popularity based on the Japanese travel website):
– Located at the very first Japanese National Park Unzen
(Used to be a popular vacation spot for foreigners before the WW2.)
– The longest foot bath in Japan, and is one of the popular attractions
(Has nothing to do with the 44th president of United States, though.)
– Outdoor Onsen with a beautiful view of the mountains
(Famous for ‘Shimabara Rebellion’ of the Catholics in the 17th century.)
– with the milky white water said to be good for improving the blood circulation
(the name literally translates as “Little Hell”, because of the deserted view due to fumarolic zone.)
– You can enjoy one of the 3 best night views in Japan from this Onsen
(The observatory at the top of Inasayama has been renovated recently.)
– The “Tropical resort” Onsen, with the outdoor Onsen boasts the view on the ocean.
(there is a newly opened family bath with sauna as well.)
One of the fun things to do in a foreign country is trying local dishes. Here are some of the Nagasaki specialties you might want to try (in a chronological order of creation, more or less):
Image courtesy 663highland
a Japanese fusion cuisine. It is a mixture of traditional Japanese, Chinese and European dishes
(This cuisine remains a specialty of Nagasaki today, with round table adorned with several dishes which are shared with all the diners. The eating style and the recipes were developed during the Edo period. Yep, the Sakoku is the base of almost all the uniqueness of Nagasaki culture! You can eat Shippoku at the traditional Japanese restaurant a.k.a. ryotei. Us – commoners don’t go there quite often.)
– Sweet and simple, moist sponge cake, which has become a popular souvenir from Nagasaki.
(Based on a recipe introduced by Portuguese missionaries in the mid-16th century. Whenever I hear/see the name “Castella”, my head starts to play a prelude from “Orphée aux Enfers” by Offenbach… They had a very memorable TV commercial with dancing animals…)
– a dish from the Shimabara region with mochi rice cakes, vegetables, and seafood, in a light soup
(It is said to have been created in the 17th century during the Shimabara Rebellion by the General of the rebellion when rebels combined wild mountain vegetables with fresh seafood and mochi rice cakes from local farmers to make a soup that sustained the fighters for several months.)
– a noodle with a fried pork dish, seafood and vegetables with lard in a soup made with chicken and pig bones
(When most of the non-Nagasaki people hear the name “Nagasaki”, we all think of the tasty ramen-ish dish of “Nagasaki Champon”. There is even a restaurant chain called “Nagasaki Chamon” where you can try it in Tokyo. It is said that the dish was created during the Meiji period by a local Chinese restaurant with “Toaku”, the Tang soup (though in the past, Japanese people put the letter Tang in front of every foreign feeling things, so I’m not quite sure where this Toaku came from…))
– Tasty gravy-like sauce with vegetables and meat over crispy noodles (You can choose from thin noodles or thick Champon noodles. Be careful when you eat them because the noodles are really crispy and might make a mess around your mouth.)
– or a “Toruko Raisu”, a Western-inspired dish, with pilaf rice and spaghetti piled onto a plate with pork cutlet covered with demi-glace sauce.
(Fun fact: No one knows why it’s called “Turkish”. Nagasaki only had a relationship with Portugal and Netherland, and the history makes no mention of cross-cultural exchange with Turkey. Why don’t you ask people at the restaurant to find it out? You might hear some interesting theories!)
– a huge burger which made its debut around 1950
(You guessed it: the American Navy Forces stationed in Sasebo is behind the creation of this dish. Each store has its own recipe for the Sasebo Burger to make you find your favorite Sasebo Burger in town!)
Now you’ve heard about the Sakoku couple of times already. Let me get into details. One of the reasons for closing the port to the outside world was because the ruler at the time was worried about the influence of Christianity, which was brought to Japan by the Portuguese. This wariness was partially the reason for the Shimabara Rebellion of the Catholics in the 17th century and the persecution of the Christians that followed. There are still hidden statues of Virgin Mary disguised as one of the Buddhist deity of compassion, Kannon. (You really should google this “Kakure-Kirishitan” (hidden Christian)!
The rich history behind them is so tragic and beautiful at the same time.) The Western influence is quite obvious when you see some of the buildings around the town too. But there is a place other than the urban area where you’ll find the solemn and beautiful European influence, which was registered as a world heritage site on July 2018 – the Goto Islands!
Goto islands are a group of islands located off Japan’s farthest western point. They consist chiefly of the five islands: Fukue, Hisaka, Naru, Wakamatsu, and Nakadori. These islands were where the Christians escaped and hid from the persecution. And today the churches they’ve made is the main attraction of these islands. One of the oldest churches on the Goto islands is Dozaki Catholic Church, built in 1879, which was renovated in 1908 after the end of the persecution. You should check it out and find out more about the Kakure-Kirishitans!
While you’re at the Goto Islands, why not go Glamping? The Asia’s first Nordisk Village has just opened at the City of Goto on the Fukue island in September 2018. Judging from the photos on the website, they truly look glamorous and relaxing!
For more information visit their site, URL: https://www.nordiskvillage.jp
Hashima Island is better known as the Gunkanjima because of how the island looks like from afar. It is an abandoned island about 9 miles away from the city of Nagasaki. Since Gunkanjima was sitting on a rich submarine coal deposit, the island was developed by the Mitsubishi Corporation in the early 1900s. For the next 100 years, the coals mined there powered Japan’s industrial expansion.
To accommodate the miners, ten-story apartment complexes where built on a small island with courtyards and corridors, making the entire island like a high-rise maze. This tiny island housed almost 6,000 people by the mid-1950s! (which, by the way, is the highest population density in the world has ever known. And yes, I’m ashamed to admit that some of the miners were brought there from Korea against their will…Japanese and Korean government have different explanations for this, though.)
But the coal had run out, and the mines were closed, making everyone abandon the island. With no one to tend the buildings, the apartments started to crumble, and nature took hold of the island. The island became a ghost town in the middle of the sea. (By this point, all I can imagine is the scene in Studio Ghibli’s “Castle in the Sky”, or maybe Alcatraz but way more dystopian looking.)
This amazing island was closed to the public from 1974 to 2009, but now you get to visit the ghost island! And adding more excitement to that, Gunkanjima was approved for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015!
Even though the island is only accessible on organized tours, you should visit Gunkanjima! (the site has become really popular because of the “abandoned ruins” fans.)
Image courtesy of かがみー
When thinking about Nagasaki, almost all Japanese think about an Atomic bombing. If you want to see how devastating the destruction was, you should visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The building itself was built in 1996, a replacement building for the deteriorating International Culture Hall. The exhibition covers the history of the Nagasaki, and the history leading up to the day when the town was bombed, with photographs, relics, and documents relating to the bombing. (Next, to the museum, there is the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, built in 2003.)
For more information visit their site, URL: https://nagasakipeace.jp/english/abm.html
Also known as the Moritake Castle or Takaki Castle, is a five-storied white-walled building located in – you guessed it – Shimabara. Built during the Edo period by the local feudal lord, it was larger than the castles built by lords of similar status. Because of the high expense, the heavy taxation was imposed, adding more fuel to the people’s frustration toward the Lord who was also known for his religious persecution of local Christians. This led to the significant peasant uprising, the famous Shimabara Rebellion of 1637-1638.
The original Shimabara Castle was destroyed during the Meiji Period ((1868-1912.) It was a time when everyone hated everything Japanese… people wanted to become European.) The current buildings are the concrete reconstructions from 1964. The Castle museum has a collection of Christian artifacts found in the castle ruins, together with weapons and armors. You can climb to the 5th-floor observation deck which has a great view on Mount Unzen and, if the weather is right, Kumamoto prefecture across the water!
There are several small museums around the castle grounds and a samurai district with samurai houses preserved and restored for the public to see as well. So, find your own favorite place! There is also a City of Swimming Carp with narrow canals filled with hundreds of beautiful colorful Koi carps, and the preserved traditional Japanese style houses you can visit.
For more information visit their site, URL: https://visit-nagasaki.com/spots/detail/234
There are so many great places to visit and great things to do in Nagasaki. And the more you search for the information about Nagasaki, the more you’ll find something new to try out. Nagasaki is quite different from the rest of Japan in its delightful, sometimes confusing, blend of international influences, all in one serving. So, pack your bag and start exploring!
Click the banner below if you would like to explore Nagasaki Prefecture with a local guide who will show you the hidden gems of the area, introduce you to local customs and traditions, and maybe become a good friend of yours!
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Image courtesy of Tomomarusan
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