Port of Nagasaki
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As the Dutch gained more influence, Western culture and science took hold in the city. In 1859, the city was officially reopened to the outside world. With the establishment of numerous industries, such as brewing and shipbuilding, Nagasaki became the most international city in Japan.
Gradually, the Japanese began to wrest control of these industries from the Western ex-patriots. And, it was Nagasaki's strategically important shipbuilding industry that made the city a target in World War II. On August 9, 1945, the Americans dropped a plutonium A-bomb on the city, three days after the one at Hiroshima.
Today's tourists will find a completely rebuilt city. Although many come to see the Atomic Bomb Museum, the city has much more to offer, including remains of European influence in Glover Garden, two Catholic churches, shrines and temples dotting the hillsides and a thriving and walkable Japanese city center that is close to where the ships dock.
Nagasaki is quite an attractive city, set on a plain between the active harbor and a backdrop of mountains. Where industry does not intrude, the city has developed attractive park promenades -- perfect for a quiet stroll and an escape from the urban hustle and bustle. The city's largely linear layout makes it easy to navigate, and it's well worth exploring the city on your own. The efficient tram system will take you anywhere you want to go.
Top Nagasaki Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at Matsugae Pier in a very convenient location, adjacent to the city center.
The pier itself offers no services. Cruise-ship passengers can easily walk from here to the entrance to Glover Garden (10 minutes), the tram 5 stop or the waterfront promenade.
Good to Know
The Japanese drive on the left side of the road, like the British, so be careful when crossing the street. Drivers tend to be polite to pedestrians at intersections.
On Foot: Most of Nagasaki's tourist attractions are within a 20-minute walk of the port.
By Tram: The city's tram lines are easy to navigate, even for people who don't typically use public transportation at home. Board through any door, and pay the flat fare of 100 yen when you get off. There is also a 500-yen day pass, but most day visitors will not ride enough to make it worthwhile. The tram lines are numbered 1, 3, 4 and 5, and the stops are both numbered and written in English letters. The stop for tram 5 is just outside the wharf precinct and to the left, and you can get to most attractions in about five minutes. Tram lines 1 and 3 stop close to the Nagasaki Bomb Museum, a 15-minute ride from the city center. Buses supplement the trams, but they are harder to use.
By Taxi: Taxis are plentiful, cheap and metered. Drivers are usually very honest.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Japanese currency is the yen; check XE.com for current exchange rates. The Japanese use credit cards far less than we do for small purchases, so you'll definitely want to take out yen at ATM machines found around the city, including at the post office where there's also a currency change counter. Additionally, you can get yen at offices of the financial institution called 18 Bank. Currency exchange onboard your cruise ship usually offers a poorer exchange rate.
The official language is Japanese. Younger Japanese men and women are more likely to speak English than the older generations. Signs written out in the English alphabet are incredibly helpful for finding your way.
Food and Drink
Nagasaki, with its history of foreign influences, has a great variety of eating opportunities. One popular dining experience is the banquet-style shippoku-ryori, a meal in which a group of at least four samples Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese dishes, perhaps accompanied by Japanese beer, sake (rice wine) and green tea. Other Nagasaki specialties include champon, a kind of soup with pork, octopus squid, vegetables and noodles, and sara-udon, the stir-fried equivalent using the same ingredients. Of course, there is sushi (cold rice and raw fish or vegetables with soy and other sauces) and tempura (deep-fried seafood and vegetables).
Hamanomachi shopping arcade and its side streets offer the most concentrated selection of lunchtime places. Picture menus will help you choose, or you can look around at what others are eating. We found a place on a side street near an Internet cafe where, for $7, I had a bowl of noodle soup with shrimp, octopus, rice and dumplings. The department store's lower level food court (the Japanese equivalent of Whole Foods) is also outstanding with its mouthwatering and colorful displays, but it has no tables for onsite eating. However, on a nice day, the takeaway items can be enjoyed in the nearby waterfront park.
Shikairo is a Chinese restaurant conveniently located between the cruise ship pier and Glover Garden. The dining room is on the fifth floor and offers great views over the harbor. Menus are in English with pictures, and prices for the main dishes run from about $8 to $12. While the Chinese-influenced building is new, the restaurant (established in 1899) claims to be the inventor of champon. The complete meal adds dumplings, rice, pickled vegetables and tea. (4-5 Matsugae-machi; open for lunch and dinner)
Shippoku Hamakatsu offers shippoku dining for small groups and individual diners. At lunch, the set price is 2,900 yen ($24). On the main floor, the tables are set Western-style in private alcoves with bamboo screens, while on the floor above, the Japanese-style tatami room has cushioned seating around low tables. A larger menu with more selections, including sushi, is also available for larger parties. (6-50 Kajiya-machi; open for lunch and dinner)
Harbin is an upscale Russian-French fusion restaurant with a sophisticated atmosphere and dark wood furniture. Lunch is more reasonably priced than dinner. Specialties include buckwheat crepes with smoked fish, chicken Kiev (fried with butter), coulibiac (Russian-style salmon pie), roast duck in a red currant sauce, borscht (beet soup) and piroshky (stuffed pastries). (Yorosujamachi 4-13; open noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.)
Japanese cotton and silk patterns are just beautiful, and popular items include scarves, shawls, napkins, bathrobes or bolts of material for making your own clothes or sewing projects. If you're purchasing ready-made clothing, know that Japanese sizes tend to be small. Prints, lacquerware and pottery also make authentic souvenirs, as do the popular Mikimoto artificial pearls, which vary widely in size, color and, therefore, price. The best locations for shopping -- including one large department store halfway along and to the right -- are along the long, narrow Hamanomachi arcade. Another location for crafts is opposite Nagasaki's main JR railway station.