The seasons seem to change really suddenly here. Only just over a month ago we were in Nagasaki (first visit) baking under a scorching hot sun in a clear blue sky. West Kyushu felt like a different country from the Tokai strip from Tokyo to Osaka where most Japanese (and foreigners) live. Tonight they’re due to get some snow, apparently.
For many people outside Japan Nagasaki, along with Hiroshima, is mainly associated with the atomic bombing that came at the end of World War Two, but it’s a beautiful historic city and if you’re planning a trip to Japan well worth adding to Kyoto and Tokyo if you can manage the time. The bomb fell in the north of the city and because of the mountainous geography most of the devastation was confined to that area, where some 40,000 people died that day and about as many subsequently. There is now a Peace Park and museum near the epicentre, but we didn’t visit them. I’ve already been to Hiroshima, seen several TV documentaries on the horrible effects of nuclear weapons and consider myself already thoroughly committed to the cause of peace.
More selfishly, we only had a couple of days, and there were other places we wanted to visit. The centre, round the harbour, seems to have been pretty much untouched by the bomb and there are beautiful old temples, churches and houses. Nagasaki used to be a very important port and has a long history of contact with foreigners: Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British… all of whom have left traces. Add lots of hills with views, nice old trams they’ve bought from other places too short-sighted to keep them, a fantastic view from a nearby mountain of the city and harbour, good food and a different culture from Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka and you can see why it’s a popular tourist destination. (We must have been off-season because there were huge almost-empty carparks everywhere.)
Winter starts quite late here and we were lucky to catch three blazing hot days – Summer’s sayonara party. There’s some beautiful countryside around and the blue sky, blue sea and lush sub-tropical greenery almost reminded me of Okinawa. The plants that grow around there are not the same as what we have here – there seemed to be many that I’d never seen. I don’t claim to be a Christian or anything (hard-line fundamentalist agnostic maybe?) but have to say that there are some really beautiful churches in the area. There have been Christian communities there for hundreds of years and some fishing villages have a local church instead of the usual shrine or temple. Even for a Westerner the effect is quite exotic.
Out of the handful of places we had time for I would recommend So Fuku Ji. This is an old temple, built by Chinese so it looks quite different from the usual Japanese temple, but not gaudy at all. That garish tinselly style I’ve assocated with Chinese temples up to now seems to have been subdued a bit and the result is peaceful and beautiful. Running out of time, we took a taxi back. Hearing that we had just visited a Chinese temple and hadn’t been to the peace park he remarked that the peace park should have come first. I could have pointed out that I was British and not responsible for dropping that devilish weapon, that I had taken part in a (tiny) anti-war demonstration, that I already knew plenty about what happened, that more people had died in Tokyo and Okinawa and many millions in Europe, but anything I said would have sounded as if I was belittling the dreadful suffering of all the innocent people who had that thing dropped on them, so I kept silent.
Maybe we should have visited the Peace Park.