Nagasaki is the capital and the largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. It became a center of Portuguese and Dutch influence in the 16th through 19th centuries, and the Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki have been proposed for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
A small fishing village secluded by harbors, Nagasaki had little historical significance until contact with Portuguese explorers in 1543. An early visitor was Fernao Mendes Pinto, who came on a Portuguese ship which landed nearby in Tanegashima. Soon after, Portuguese ships started sailing to Japan as regular trade freighters, thus increasing the contact and trade relations between Japan and the rest of the world, and particularly with mainland China, with whom Japan had previously severed its commercial and political ties, mainly due to a number of incidents involving Wokou piracy in the South China Sea, with the Portuguese now serving as intermediaries between the two Asian countries. Despite the mutual advantages derived from these trading contacts, which would soon be acknowledged by all parties involved, the lack of a proper seaport in Kyushu for the purpose of harboring foreign ships posed a major problem for both merchants and the Kyushu daimyo (feudal lords) who expected to collect great advantages from the trade with the Portuguese.
The little harbor village quickly grew into a diverse port city, and Portuguese products imported through Nagasaki (such as tobacco, bread, textiles and a Portuguese sponge-cake called castellas) were assimilated into popular Japanese culture. Tempura derived from a popular Portuguese recipe originally known as peixinho-da-horta, and takes its name from the Portuguese word, ‘tempero’ another example of the enduring effects of this cultural exchange.
Due to the instability during the Sengoku period, Sumitada and Jesuit leader Alexandro Valignano conceived a plan to pass administrative control over to the Society of Jesus rather than see the Catholic city taken over by a non-Catholic daimyo. In 1587, however, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s campaign to unify the country arrived in Kyushu. Concerned with the large Christian influence in southern Japan, as well as the active and what was perceived as the arrogant role the Jesuits were playing in the Japanese political arena, Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of all missionaries, and placed the city under his direct control. However, the expulsion order went largely unenforced, and the fact remained that most of Nagasaki’s population remained openly practicing Catholic.
In 1596, the Spanish ship San Felipe was wrecked off the coast of Shikoku, and Hideyoshi learned from its pilot that the Spanish Franciscans were the vanguard of an Iberian invasion of Japan. In response, Hideyoshi ordered the crucifixions of twenty-six Catholics in Nagasaki on February 5 of that year (i.e. the “Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan”). Portuguese traders were not ostracized, however, and so the city continued to thrive.
In 1602, Augustinian missionaries also arrived in Japan, and when Tokugawa Ieyasu took power in 1603, Catholicism was still tolerated. Many Catholic daimyo had been critical allies at the Battle of Sekigahara, and the Tokugawa position was not strong enough to move against them. Once Osaka Castle had been taken and Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s offspring killed, though, the Tokugawa dominance was assured. In addition, the Dutch and English presence allowed trade without religious strings attached. Thus, in 1614,Catholicism was officially banned and all missionaries ordered to leave.
Places Not To Miss:
- Nagasaki Peace Park:
The Nagasaki Peace Park commemorates the atomic bombing of Nagasaki of August 9, 1945, which destroyed wide parts of the city and killed ten thousands of inhabitants.The park is home to the massive Peace Statue as well as various other memorials. A monument around a black pillar marks the atomic explosion’s epicenter in the nearby Hypocenter Park and stores the name list of bomb victims. The Peace Park is located several kilometers north of the city center in Urakami.
Gunkanjima is a small island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port. Until 1974, the island served as a coal mine, and more than 5000 residents called the 480 meter long, 150 meter wide island home, resulting in the highest population density in history recorded worldwide. To accommodate so many people in such a small area, every piece of land was built up so that the island came to resemble a massive battleship. In fact, “Gunkanjima” is a nickname that means “battleship island” in Japanese. The island’s formal name is Hashima.
In April 1974, the mine was closed, and its residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings. Over the years since then, direct exposure to typhoons has caused the residences and mining facilities to deteriorate, giving the island an eerie and haunting atmosphere. In April 2009, however, a newly constructed boat dock made it possible for sightseeing tour boats to land on Gunkanjima. Tour participants are taken to three observation decks in a small part on the southern end of the island and spend about 45 minutes on the island with Japanese speaking tour guides. Tours do not involve getting too close to the buildings because of the risk of collapse. The boat ride between Nagasaki and Gunkanjima is also enjoyable. Boats take about 50 minutes one way, and pass large Mitsubishi ship building factories and other islands along the way. The ride also allows for some nice views of the city of Nagasaki and its port from the water.
- Mount Inasayama:
Mount Inasa (Inasayama) is a 333 meter high mountain in close distance to Nagasaki’s city center. The summit can be reached by ropeway, bus or car and offers great views over the city. In fact, the night views from Mount Inasa are ranked among Japan’s three best night views besides the views from Mount Hakodate and Mount Rokko. The Nagasaki Ropeway allows visitors to travel to the top from Nagasaki. A short walk from the cable car station are several buildings that house transmitters for TV and radio stations that serve Nagasaki and the surrounding area. There is an observation platform that is popular with tourists as it provides spectacular views of Nagasaki’s “10 Million Dollar Night View”.
- Sofukuji Temple:
Sofuku-ji is an Obaku Zen temple that was built by the Chinese monk Chaonian in 1629 as the family temple of the Chinese from Fujian Province who settled in Nagasaki. Consequently, the temple looks and feels more Chinese than other temples in Japan. Sofukuji belongs to the Obaku school of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
Two of its buildings have been designated as national treasures. The red entrance gate and other structures in the precincts are rare examples of the architecture of South China during the Ming dynasty. The goddess of the sea, Maso, is enshrined in the Masodo, along with other life-sized statues in the main hall. In the temple grounds is a large cauldron made by the resident priest Qianhai to cook gruel for people who were starving during the famine of 1681. The Chinese Bon Festival is held here from July 26 to 28 (by lunar calendar), with Chinese coming from all over Japan to participate in the ritual for the dead.
- Oura Catholic Church:
Oura Catholic Church (Oura Tenshudo) was constructed in the last years of the Edo Period in 1864 for the growing community of foreign merchants, who took up residence in Nagasaki after the end of Japan’s era of seclusion. Oura Catholic Church (Oura Tenshudo) was constructed in the last years of the Edo Period in 1864 for the growing community of foreign merchants, who took up residence in Nagasaki after the end of Japan’s era of seclusion. Oura Catholic Church is considered the oldest standing Christian church in Japan, and was the first Western building designated as a national treasure.
Dejima was a man-made island in the port of Nagasaki, constructed by segregate Portuguese residents from the Japanese population and control their missionary activities. Built in the bay of Nagasaki in 1634 by local merchants. This island, which was formed by digging a canal through a small peninsula, remained as the single place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period.
Today, Dejima is not an island anymore, as the surrounding area has been reclaimed in the 20th century. However, a number of Dejima’s historical structures remain, have been or are being reconstructed in the area, including various residences, warehouses, walls and gates. The ultimate goal is to convert Dejima back into an island by digging canals around all its four sides.