Nagasaki: City of Peace

Hey everybody,

This blog should have been written last year, Thanksgiving week as a matter of fact. I went over to Okayama, Nagasaki, through Saga Prefecture, back to Okayama and flying home to Okinawa.

Students gather to remember at Nagasaki Peace Park.

I have been to Nara and Osaka the previous week, spent time with friends who feted me like visiting royalty and then hopped on the Shinkansen over to Okayama. It was a long way down to Nagasaki, and I realized just how big Japan is. It was a treat to drive through the mountains and get a sense of Japan outside of Tokyo and Osaka.

Nagasaki Peace Park

I had been to Hiroshima almost four years ago and gained a perspective and understand from another perspective of what had happened there. I have studied quite a bit about World War II over the years. My best friend’s Dad Harold, had served in England and I got to learn about the European theatre from his experience, but I never knew much about the Pacific front  until I came here.  We all know the history of the atom bombs and regardless of how you feel about it, the human destruction cannot be understated. 

painting of children
Girls in kimonos by Hiroshi Matsuzoe. This is  the website that tells a little more about  the painting and the story behind it. http://www.asahi.com/hibakusha/english/shimen/nagasakinote/note01-02e-2.html
A tree that survived the blast.
Aftermath of bombing, mid-October 1945 and now.

There is a gravity also to this city, but a different feel and experience than what it felt like to be in Hiroshima. I don’t know if it was because I had already been to Hiroshima, but I felt like I knew what to expect. Also, there were other associations for me here than in Hiroshima. Firstly, the famous night view of the city, the port with the cruise ship in the bay, the famous Fukusaya Castella Cake and the pork that was richly flavored and reminiscent of Okinawan san-mai niku.

A charming little house in downtown Nagasaki.
Koban, police box in Nagasaki.
A well-known restaurant in the old ‘entertainment quarter’ where in other times all kinds of services could be obtained.
View from my hotel room, the Luke Plaza Hotel.

Next on the itinerary was Mifuneyama Rakuen (check out the website: https://www.mifuneyamarakuen.jp/en/). “A creation by the reigning lord Nabeshima Shigeyoshi on a canvas of over 500,000 square meters.” It has been providing rest and relaxation at least since the early 1800s. I had recently returned from the USA, begun a new position and was looking forward to a little rest, relaxation and pampering. This place was better than any Beverly Hills spa.

The grounds of Mifuneyama Rakuen.

Mifuneyama Rakuen Ryokan entry room.
Luxurious rooms in Mifuneyama Rakuen Ryokan.
Garden and pool outside my window.

I finally  understood what it was like to be rich and have servants. They brought dinner into the room and explained it, unobtrusively removing the previous  courses.  Outside the room were manicured gardens with small water features. There were private onsens that could be reserved and a larger one for bathing. The rotenburo (outside onsen) was a delight as I was the only one to take advantage of it. It was an experience unlike anything I have known. I wanted to hide in the hinoki-scented hallways and sneak out for meals and never leave. If you have the opportunity to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese lodging) definitely do it.

A private onsen
wooden bath copy
Hinoki (Japanese cypress) tub has a glorious scent. I spent an amazing three hours with the window open and the cold November air, while it rained gently outside.
Breakfast (あさごはん)at Mifuneyama Rakuen.

I sadly said goodbye to the ryokan and headed to another one of my passions: ceramics. Imari City, Ookawachiyama was pottery center for hundreds of years.  Korean potters were brought to this area in the Saga Prefecture more than four hundred years ago.

pottery street copy
Imari City, Saga Prefecture
Persimmons hanging to dry.
Ceramic bridge as an entry to the pottery village.
Unfired pottery await their turn in the kiln outside a shop in Imari City.
Pottery tiles, distinctive blue and white patterns.

I went from shop to shop inspecting the tiles, cups, plates, bowls and vases, afraid to touch anything or bring my camera for fear of it swinging into something worth more than my year’s salary. It felt like a mecca of ceramics, it was thrilling to be able to spend time there. I also got a little teacup that I use every day.

Okayamajo, under construction, the crow castle because of its dark color. Built in 1597.

Rounding out my trip, I was flying out of Okayama and wanted to see one of the three great gardens in Japan: Okayama Korakuen. The local lord ordered its construction in 1687.

Okayama Korakuen, one of the three great gardens of Japan.
Light resting on bamboo
Okayama Korakuen in the shadow of Okayamajo.
A young couple who had just been married…
Behind the couple is the castle, which is why the photographer is lying in the grass to get the shot.
Nailed the landing!
tea in the field copy
Tea in its natural state at Korakuen, Okayama.

I  recommend this garden for anyone who has some time to spend. I enjoyed ground sesame covered mochi with fresh matcha tea while overlooking the grounds and making conversation with some Korean tourists. 

Over the course of about ten days, it was a pleasure to see parts of Japan that were off the beaten path. For anyone over here, or having time to spend in Japan, I would highly recommend learning the trains and getting an international driver’s license. Rent a car and drive around. You will not regret it.

A last note: I am writing this on Memorial Day and due to COVID-19, travel is not possible right now. I am quite happy I never wrote this up as it gave me a chance to relive my travels. As a foreigner who has been here for quite a while,  I think it’s important for me to travel to these historical sites and gain some understanding of why Americans are sometimes perceived differently than we perceive ourselves. Traveling abroad helps  me widen my outlook and hopefully helps me be a better human, not just a better American.

Take care of yourselves.