July 14, 2008

Nagasaki Trip - Chinese Temples, Glover Gardens, Stone Bridges, Dutch Slope, and Dejima Wharf

This weekend, I booked a solo trip down to Nagasaki (in the Southwest of Kobe on Kyushu). I hadn't traveled alone for quite some time, and Nagasaki was as place that I really wanted to see. The best parts about traveling alone is the time to yourself, and the freedom of wandering around with no need to have any real schedule. The worst parts are definitely meals (boring!) and trying to use the "self-portrait" technique to get yourself in some of your own pictures.

(The first day, I saw a fellow gaijin traveler at one of the Chinese temples. My plan was to - "selflessly" - offer to take her picture in front of the temple, with the hope that she would reciprocate. Her response - "No thanks. The picture looks better without me in it." And so my grand plan failed miserably. I would have far better luck throughout the weekend taking the more direct approach of simply asking people to take my picture - I became a pro at my newly learned phrase - shashin o totte kuremaska? (Can you please take my picture?))

Nagasaki is a fascinating place, because it was the only place in Japan that was open to foreign trade during the Edo Period when Japan was "closed." During that time, a Dutch trading post was established in Nagasaki, and, over the years, other Europeans came to influence this city. Similarly, Nagasaki was open to trade with China since the 1600's, so there is a lot of Chinese history and influence. Before the Meiji era, when Japan rapidly modernized in response to the incursions of the West, both the Chinese and Dutch were relegated to their respective ghetto's - in the Chinese Settlement on a hill and the Dutch Settlement, on a small walled-in island called Dejima.

When I arrived, I decided to check out China Town and some of the classic Ming-style Chinese Temples from the early 1600's- Sofukuji and Kufukuji. Nagasaki has a terrific streetcar system (100 Yen takes you anywhere in the city), but its also small and walkable.

Friday afternoon was dead quiet. So I headed out on foot, staring with the old Chinese Settlement, making my way to the two temples. Both were neat. Sofukuji was more impressive looking - and had rooms of buddha statues and terrific grounds that climbed up the hill leading to a huge cemetery. Kufukuji was more zen, complete with tatami rooms and a table with tea set up overlooking a little garden.

The same monk who founded Kojukuji, built this Chinese-style stone bridge, dubbed Spectacles Bridge (because, with the reflection, it looks like eye-glasses), which is one of a number of stone bridges in the center of town. Nice area.

After walking along the water for a while, I eventually hopped a Streetcar in pursuit of lunch. I wanted to check out the local (Chinese-influenced) dish, called Champon (ちゃんぽん). It is a hearty noodle and broth based concoction that includes veggies, meat, and seafood. I am a fan. While looking for a certain restaurant in my guidebook, I randomly found my hotel. (I had no idea where my hotel was, so this was fortuitous.) I had booked what I thought was a fairly cheap package that included airfare, hotel, and breakfast, and I was pleasantly surprised. The hotel was (1) fancy (it was on the site of the former Bellevue Hotel); and (2) in a great location near the scenic cobbled slope that wound its way up to the famous Oura Catholic Church (the oldest church in Japan) and Glover Gardens.

After lunching at Shikairu (the place that apparently invented Champon, and which also has a really nice view of Nagasaki harbor), I explored Glover Gardens. Very beautiful place on a hill overlooking the harbor (and, in true Japanese fashion, outdoor escalators whisk you up the hill), containing a whole bunch of Western style homes from the 19th century.

I'm telling you, this guy Thomas Glover is on the short list for the favorite gaijin ever award. Glover was a Scotsman who married a Japanese woman (whom it is said was the inspiration for Madame Butterfly). He financed and ran shipping yards, ran an export business, and brought the first steam locomotive, asphalt roads, bowling, and tennis to Japan. He was one of the business partners who founded the company that is now known as Kirin Brewery. This guy was the real deal. They sell Scotland hats in the gift shop. In Japan. Enough said.

On the way down from the Gardens, I stopped and sampled Castella, another local delicacy - a light spongy cake of Portuguese origins. I also saw this door. (I did NOT go inside, since I have a standing rule never to walk through doors that look like mouths. Hey - it got me this far.)

After some cool-down time at the hotel, I headed out again to explore the cobble-stone area known as Hollander Slope (Oranda Zaka). This is another area with well-preserved Western style houses of the 19th century - houses with big rooms, wrap-around porches, made of wood or brick. The term "Hollander" is used to simply refer to foreigners, since the original foreigners were Dutch. Now to a "Westerner" all these "Western Houses" may not seem so impressive, but the fact that it was in Japan, interspersed among the Japanese (and Chinese) architecture made it really interesting.

Afterwards, I walked along the outskirts of Dejima to the Dejima Wharf, a little area on the Bay, with restaurants, bars, a little boardwalk, and a view of the boats in the harbor.

While I did say earlier that meals were the worst part, tonight I was lucky enough to have a truly fantastic meal at an Italian restaurant in Shian-bashi called Obinata. Shian-bashi, billed as "the entertainment district" of Nagasaki, was just that - and pretty sleazy at night. But this quiet candle-lit grotto-ish restaurant with dark wood exposed beam, classical music playing, a great wine list, and an amazing English-speaking owner, was just what I needed, after my days travels. The home-made bread, a glass of Chianti, and risotto did me very well.


Matthew J said...

What is the deal with the giant fish? Sounds like a great experience in Nagasaki...You even got in some baseball too (saw the facebook pictures)! But you didn't say much about the sleazy nightlife...Is that on another blog?

Mike said...

Baseball was day two of Nagasaki...to be posted shortly.

As for the nightlife, let's just say I was offered more "massages" in my five minute walk through Shian-bashi than in my five minute walk through the red light district Bangkok. Which was surprising and a bit scary. But c'mon Mattie O - this is a family show!

Lisa said...