In Japan, New Years is celebrated with family and a variety of colorful foods in bento boxes. Additionally, many have time off of work and school. This year, I had December 29th through January 3rd off. With this time, I decided to take my very first trip outside of the prefecture. I drove to Nagasaki with one other JET. Nagasaki is located on the west coast of Kyushu and is about a four hour drive from my city (around 360 kilometers). Because Nagasaki City is a major port city, it has multicultural influences that have been integrated throughout the prefecture.
We arrived to Nagasaki City the evening of the 29th. Our hotel was located in the city center within walking distance of many tourist locations and public transportation. However, because New Years is such a big holiday, many restaurants, museums, and other places were closed or closed early. We were fortunate to find a shopping mall the first night that had an entire floor dedicated to restaurants, food huts, and a grocery store. I ended up ordering a dish called "champon" and gyoza (Chinese dumplings). It wasn't until later that I learned champon is the specialty dish of Nagasaki. Champon was inspired by Chinese food. It is a soup dish that has ramen noodles, pork, seafood, and vegetables in a thick cream sauce. It was delicious, and probably my favorite meal of the whole trip.
The next day we walked to Shinchi Chinatown. Shinchi Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in the country. During the Edo Period (1603 - 1868) Japan isolated from the rest of the world. However, Nagasaki port was open for trade with China and, therefore, Chinese people were allowed into the city. At the time, the Chinese were only allowed to live within a certain district, this area today is where Shinchi Chinatown sits. Shinchi Chinatown stretches over several streets and is home to many restaurants, shops, and shrines. During the lunar New Year, it transforms into a Lantern Festival, an event that takes place over a two week period with thousands of lanterns that illuminate the various streets.
We ate at a very overpriced Chinese restaurant, but I did get some more gyoza that was covered in cheese. We also went window shopping and I got a little pig to display in my future entertainment center. Also, we gave our respect at several shrines in the area.
Later in the evening, we headed over to the wharf for dinner. Christmas lights were displayed all the way down the wharf. Even some of the boats at the dock were decorated with Christmas lights! Unfortunately, many restaurants were closed, but we were able to find an open Italian restaurant. I ordered my favorite: spaghetti with meat sauce and had a slice of cheesecake for dessert.
The following day was New Years' Eve. We were excited to learn that the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture was open. The museum focused on the Edo Period, again that period of seclusion. It is where I learned about trade and international affairs with both China and the Dutch during that time. Most of the information in the museum was in Japanese only, but with the help of the Google Translate app, I was able to understand the overall meaning most of the time.
One of my favorite parts of the museum was an exhibit honoring photographer Ueno Hikoma. Ueno Hikoma was a famous portrait and landscape photographer from Nagasaki that opened a photography studio in the mid 1800's. The museum recreated a camera that Ueno Hikoma used. With the push of a button you can take a picture alongside a cardboard cutout of him. The picture is taken with about a minute long exposure so the smallest of movements will make your picture blurry. I figured this out the hard way because the instructions were in Japanese so right after the first shutter, I moved and appeared ghost like next to the cutout. The picture is then displayed on a small screen for a few seconds
On New Years' Eve in Japan, it is very common to visit a shrine in order to pray for good luck and good health in the upcoming year. We visited Suwa Shrine. Suwa Shrine is a major Shinto shrine located on Mount Tamazono. Before entering, it is important to bow once as a way to ask permission from the guardian deities to enter. Once entering the gates of Suwa Shrine, you can look back and see a beautiful view of Nagasaki City.
When you are inside the gates, it is important to purify your hands and mouth with the spring water. First you put a little bit of water in your left hand and then a little in your right hand. Finally, you put some water in the palm of your hand to get your lips wet, but make sure not to drink the water. The practice is more of a symbol than an actual cleaning. After this, you can move on to the actual shrine building. It is important to bow upon arrival, offer five yen (about five cents), pull the rope to ring the bell, clap twice, pray, then bow again.
On New Years' Eve there are a lot of booths set up where you can find omikuji, or strips of paper with fortunes. I chose three different omikujis: one for my specific birthday, one that was in English, and a general one. You pay for the fortune and open it there. All three of my fortunes were good luck, so I got to keep them. However, if you receive a bad fortune, you fold the paper and tie it to one of the metal wires that are around the shrine to leave the bad luck behind. At Suwa Shrine, there were also various good luck charms for sale. I purchased a little tiger (for the Lunar New Year 2022) with a bell inside that will be placed next to my pig. For New Years' Eve, the shrine also had several food trucks and carts set up. I didn't purchase any food but some of the foods they were selling were candy apples, chocolate covered bananas, cheese hotdogs, and ramen.
The final day we stayed in the city, we took the train to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum is in remembrance of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki by The U.S. on August 9, 1945. The museum covered the events leading up to the bombing, the immediate effects of the bomb, the lasting effects that happened from the radiation, and the reconstruction afterwards. Some of the displays came from warped objects or buildings, torn clothing, and even bones found in the wreckage.
The museum was the most emotional part of our trip. The hardest part was when I saw a little girl who was upset and her mother trying to comfort her. I immediately began to cry. The museum highlights one of the really ugly events in America's past. After all the damage that the atomic bomb caused, it is completely disgusting and immoral that America still owns weapons of mass destruction.
After the museum, there is Peace Hall where you can honor the 189,163 victims who lost their lives to the atomic bomb with a prayer and moment of silence. The names of all the victims are written and kept inside of a glass case at the end of the hallway.
When you exit, you walk through a water feature that was created to honor all of the people who were desperate for water. A path then takes you down the stairs to the hypocenter of the bombing. It is a park that is bare except for a monument marking where the bomb hit ground as well as various monuments that circle the area.
Not far from the hypocenter is Peace Park. Peace Park is home to the famous Peace Statue created by sculptor Seibou Kitamura. The statue's extended left hand represents peace, the right hand pointing upwards is a reminder of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and the statue's shut eyes represent a prayer for the victims. While one leg is folded in a meditative state, the other one is grounded to represent healing of the world.
When we were walking towards Peace Statue, we stopped by one monument where a man was standing. The man approached us and told us he was a survivor of the Atomic Bomb. This man's name is Inosuke Hayasaki. At the time, Inosuke Hayasaki was 15 years old and working at the Mitsubishi Arms Plant. He was working only 1.1 kilometers north of the hypocenter. When the bomb went off, Inosuke Hayasaki was blown behind a giant pillar. The pillar protected him from the blast and heat. Out of the 32 workers in the plant, only Inosuke Hayasaki and one other colleague survived. Today, Inosuke Hayasaki works for the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace and continues to share his story with the world. He asks for eternal peace and for the end of all wars. Meeting Inosuke Hayasaki was by far the most memorable part of my trip. Even though my platform is small, I am very happy to be able to share his story with you.
After spending time in Peace Park, we headed to an onsen. An onsen is a bath house. Some of them are public and others are private. This particular onsen was public, outside, and had a view looking over the city. However, it was located on a mountain and did not have a direct bus route. We sat at the bus stop for over ten minutes, and realized that because of the New Year, the bus was on a different schedule. So we started our hike up the mountain. By the time we arrived at the onsen we were both completely exhausted. It was my first experience at an onsen, so I was quite nervous. But, ultimately the whole experience felt natural. It was very relaxing and enjoyable once I was able to get over my initial fears.
The final day, we visited a Dutch theme park called Huis Ten Bosch before heading back home. Similar to the Chinese, the Dutch were allowed into Nagasaki during the Edo Period for trade. Many cultural influences from the Dutch remain to this day, and thus Huis Ten Bosch was born. The park has buildings modeled after the Netherlands, interactive attractions, various rides, and lots of cheese and wine. We first stopped by at a restaurant called "Cheese Waag" where we got various foods that had real cheese in it. The cheese was great! Afterwards, we walked around and checked out some of the attractions. There was a cool interactive attraction that showed the various stages of a flower in a room full of mirrors. The colorful lights bounced off of the mirrors and made a beautiful illumination in the room. If I were to go back, I want to purchase the evening ticket. Huis Ten Bosch has great illumination outside. Including colorful lights all the way down the canals that circle the park, string lights that completely cover a rose maze, and more. We were unable to see any of this since we visited the park during the day. Additionally, they have a whole section of wine tasting and cheese pairing that I could not partake in because I had to drive back home.
The trip to Nagasaki was much needed. It was the first time since I have been in Japan that I really got to explore. I gained confidence by driving across prefecture lines as well as learning how to use the public transportation system (which I do not use in my own city). I am very much excited for my next adventure!