My, how time flies. With only two days left in Nagasaki, I am filled with mixed emotions. Although anxious to reunite with family and friends after spending a month in a faraway land, I am also distressed by my imminent departure. Nagasaki has truly grown on me; Akari International Hostel has become a home away from home, and the staff, a surrogate family. What so endeared me to Nagasaki, a city that didn’t warrant more than a few pages in my infallible Lonely Planet travel book? Perhaps reflection in the following days will provide some answers.
Over the past few weeks, I have developed a routine of sorts. My time here is spent food shopping at Shindaiku Market, scouring libraries for interesting sources, meeting people with insights into Japanese spirituality, and visiting countless churches, temples, and shrines. My original plan was to concentrate my studies solely on Christianity, but for the comparative religion buff that I am, Buddhism and Shintoism proved far too tempting to ignore. Hence, my interest has expanded to provide a more accurate portrayal of Japanese religious institutions.
If spending hours in musty libraries isn’t your cup of tea, not to worry. There are plenty of wonderful things to do in Nagasaki, even if (like me) you see all the major attractions within three days of your stay. First off, Nagasaki has some amazing onsen. The closest that I’ve been to is Yasuragi Iojima Onsen on the island of Iojima. Aside from baths with various temperatures, this onsen has sheets of warm rock outside where you can dry off and relax. The 1000 yen onsen pass (which you can purchase at Nagasaki Harbor) includes a 20 minute ferry ride to and from the Iojima Island. What a deal! Below is a view of the island from the ferry.
Although it is a trek from Nagasaki City, the region of Obama is also worth checking out. Known for having some of the hottest springs in the country, Obama’s onsen date back to the 700s! Many of them are milky and color and smell a little funky, due to a nearby volcano called Mt. Unzen. Below is the view from one of the Obama onsen I visited. Normally photos are not permitted in onsen (for obvious reasons), but since no one was inside I snagged a picture.
There is an old Japanese saying describing Nagasaki : haka, saka, baka. Translated into English it conveys what the city has in abundance: graves, steep slopes, and crazy people. “Crazy people” in this admittedly accurate phrase refers to Nagasaki’s craze for festivals. In addition to 25 officially recognized annual festivals, smaller neighborhood festivals (akin to block parties) are common in the summer. Crazy? Perhaps. Super fun? Most definitely. My favorite festival so far has been Minato Matsuri held at Nagasaki’s Dejima Harbor. This weekend long event featured perion boat races, lines of food stalls, taiko drum performances, and an amazing firework display. What the festival celebrated, I haven’t a clue. Any excuse to gorge myself with yakitori and takoyaki is fine by me.
While quite fond of Nagasaki, by week four I was feeling restless to explore other areas. When a friend of mine mentioned taking a few days to tour Goto, an island chain west of the mainland, I jumped at the opportunity. Goto is home to the remaining kakure or “hidden” Christians, whose ancestors endured unthinkable persecution during the Tokugawa period isolation. While on the islands I saw many amazing churches, inspiring beacons of perseverance and faith that both renewed and challenged my own spirituality.
Christian history aside, the islands also offer soothing onsen and tropical beaches. At the beach pictured below, I skim boarded among vacationing Japanese students, found delightful sea shells, and sampled Goto’s famous udon.
Unfortunately, getting around Goto will prove difficult unless you have access to a car. I was lucky enough to have contacts living on the island who graciously offered to show me around.
With the anniversary of the atomic bombing looming, my final days in Nagasaki will be spent attending various remembrance ceremonies and services. The next time I update this blog, I will be headed back to Boston!