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In November I had the opportunity to visit Nagasaki for the first time. It was an intense two days and full of impressions of this charming city with an intriguing older history and a very sad recent one. Nagasaki is situated on lush green hills surrounding the natural harbour. The city is indeed as beautiful as the guidebooks say. The view from the tower at the top of Mt Inasa at night is fantastic with the lights reflecting in the water. That view also gives the visitor an appreciation of the old Nagasaki and the role the city played in foreign trade. The harbour that was the only port open to foreign trade and foreign visitors for centuries.
The Nagasaki Museum displays the city’s older history with displays of objects and illustrations of the life in the city at different times with an attention to detail that is a delight. I found a picture of my countryman Peter Thunberg who visited in the 18th century. He was one of Carlos Linnaeus scholars who travelled far to continue Linneaus work. He carefully studied the plants he found in Kyushu, wrote about his visit, and shared this knowledge far beyond Japan. In trying to imagine what Nagasaki must have looked like back then, the museum is a great help with its maps, illustrations and stories of life in the city.
The old Dutch quarter of Dejima is being reconstructed. The houses and exhibitions brings the visitors back in time and allows you to get a sense of the settlement and the daily life there and beyond. Moving a bit further, the lovely Oura Cathedral is a testament to the Christians who had kept their faith is secret for two hundred years before being able to display it publicly once the Meiji restoration began. Close to the church the Glover gardens house several homes that were built by enterprising men in the late nineteenth century. These entrepreneurs contributed to develop trade and contacts between Japan, China, Britain and many other nations. The Scotsman Thomas Glover - called “the Scottish Samuraj” by his biographer - is most well-known. He ran a trading business and seems to have been instrumental in introducing a number of young men from Kyushu, called the Chosu five” to visit and study in Britain. In particular, he established contacts between the visitors and the shipbuilding industry in his hometown of Aberdeen prompting orders for ships to be placed. One can assume that the visitors who were students also learnt about shipbuilding. Later on Glover would serve as an adviser to Mitsubishi as the company established a shipyard. Shipbuilding is integral to Nagasaki.
It is easy to walk in the footsteps of these former residents and their businesses and enjoy the many pleasures of Nagasaki but to my mind a visit is not complete if one hasn’t visited the Nagasaki Museum of the Atomic Bomb and learnt about the horrors on 9 August 1945. It is a chilling experience that takes the visitors through Nagasaki as it was on 8 August, through the horrendous blast and the devastation afterwards. Video-taped testimonies from survivors are excruciating and painful but their voices are the voices that must be heard. Be heard by all as those voices are the ones that convey the horrors the lived through and that the way forward must be one of peace.
I bring with my so many memories from a brief and intense visit, I learned so much about distant and recent history but most of all I found a delightful city. I hope I will return some day to explore the surrounding areas and see more of the island of Kyushu.