We started our rainy day off by walking the windy streets to Bread A Espresso, a modern, sparse cafe run by a (again, I assume) husband-and-wife duo. Pastries and breads are laid out in a display case and a big coffee machine and grinder sits to the right. Other than a couple of wooden counters, there’s not much else in the interior of the shop. I ordered a chocolate bread and half a loaf of rye and Jake got a walnut roll. I also chose a long black after much deliberation. The coffee was fresh and good and the chocolate bread was delicious, light but still bready and not too sweet. The rye was a little whiter than I prefer and I would have liked some butter, but it was still really good. I stuck the leftover in my pocket for a snack. We decided to come back tomorrow and ran to catch the tram to the Atomic Bomb Museum.
The tram system here is the main form of public transit, and the trams, while old, are clean and cheap and relatively efficient. We chose to buy day-passes at the hostel, mostly for ease of movement. We got to the Peace Park area in under 15 minutes on the blue line. Being in Nagasaki really makes you think, but there’s no way to explain walking around the Peace Park and Hypocenter Park and into the Museum.
The statue, built in 1955, is pretty powerful, and the explanation is straightforward, warning of the dangers of nuclear weapons and expressing the importance of harmony and peace. The information is all presented so matter of factly. Most of the Japanese folks here were smiling and taking pictures. It’s so interesting and such a departure from what sites like this are like in the us. In some ways, it adds even more meaning. The mountains ringing the city on three sides are beautiful, partially hidden in the fog, and are a constant reminder of the endurance of the earth, or some shit like that. The city was completely rebuilt, and life goes on.
I think it’s important that we as Americans reckon with the complexities and horrors of the bomb and the war, but also take a step back and acknowledge a longer view. You stand here, in the very space the bomb exploded, and can’t help but conjure imagery of that explosion and the devastation it wrought. A black monolith marks the hypocenter, but no one is around, and people seem more interested in the Peace Park above.
When people talk about the horrors of the A-bomb, they’re obviously right, but I do like to remind them that hundreds of thousands more people were killed and injured in firebombings of Tokyo, Osaka and other cities. That doesn’t lessen the tragedy, but just adds context. There’s some evidence the Japanese would have surrendered even without the bomb, but at what cost. The way the museum laid out this information was interesting. It was very passive about the war, and presented things so neutrally it was almost uncanny.
It wasn’t just the explosion itself that was so destructive, but the fire that spread, the heat and the wind and the radiation that it generated. There is a twisted beauty in a lot of the objects in the museum. The melted glass bottles shining with blues and greens. The ruined ceramic bowls, charred but still beautiful. The ruins of the largest Christian Church in East Asia at the time. The intact but scorched coins and stones and all kinds of objects. The bowl of rice a student had brought for lunch that day. The intact clock that stopped at 11:02, the moment of the explosion.
The long term effects of the bombing, even on survivors, are horrible to behold. The scarring and internal damage and obviously psychological damage. The museum manages to make a pretty strong case for the grave threat the atomic bomb poses and the need to ensure this never happens again. It’s a pretty potent message coming from a museum just a few feet from ground zero. The museum was chilling but it wasn’t overdone. The message was just, this is what happened (not even why it happened), this was bad, this needs to never happen again. I also think it’s appropriate that it’s raining today. As Jake said, there’s something poetic about it too: the water, falling from the sky. The consequences of the decision to drop the bomb still reverberate around the world, even if Hiroshima and Nagasaki are functional, totally rebuilt modern cities.
After the Museum we made a brief stop in the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. You enter by walking around a symbolic circular pool of water. There are tall wooden walls and hallways and illuminated, vaguely green glass pillars that make up the main memorial. It reminds me a little of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin with the feelings and sensations it evokes. The memorial is calling for peace. It was empty except for us and a guard, even though the museum had some tour groups and tourists.
I really do feel that we’re slowly learning some basic language skills. I pick up on words and at least intonations I didn’t before, and when we don’t know something essential, I can look it up. I feel that especially in restaurants, I’ve gotten more comfortable. The Google Translate app also has an awesome feature where you take a picture of something and it translates it for you. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s pretty cool. We’re also really trying to make an effort, which I think goes a long way. So does a smile, as do a lot of thank-you’s and excuse me’s, both of which I have down.
After we left the Museum area (Urakami), we took the tram down through the center to Suwa-Jinja and walked up a long set of steps to the shrine in the rain. It was almost empty except for the couple taking wedding photos. Kind of unfortunate weather, but they seemed happy. I was hungry so we took the tram back one stop and walked to the Megane Bridge (The Spectacle Bridge), which was the oldest stone bridge in Japan, built in 1634. It survived the bombing but washed away in a 1982 flood, and was restored. Some people were crossing the swollen canal on stone crossings but I wasn’t so brave, so we just walked on the stone path along the canal to the next bridge.
From there, we walked to Menya Always ramen, where we sat in an empty ramen shop (until a few locals walked in) and ordered ramen lunch sets. Ramen is so reasonable here, especially in comparison to New York. A lunch set with a big bowl of ramen, full toppings, and sides of gyoza and rice comes to about $10. I ordered the tonkotsu ramen with an egg and added lemons, which was their specialty. I also asked for very firm noodles, when given the choice. I often feel that asking about how the customer wants the noodles or broth done diminishes the quality of the food, as there’s a “right way” that the chef should decide, but I don’t really mind because I like my noodles on the chewier side. The ramen was delicious; the tonkotsu was heavy but the lemons cut it perfectly and balanced the heavy pork broth with a light citrus zest. I added roasted garlic oil and some spicy paste and slurped up my noodles. The egg was barely cooked and mixed in nicely, and the gyoza and rice added just enough to fill me up. To make things even better, the shop was playing Japanese punk rock by The Blue Hearts, a punk band from the 80’s and 90’s here that is often compared to the Ramones and the Clash. I loved it, and hope I hear some more music like it while I’m here. Maybe even live.
After lunch, we rode the tram (the day pass was a good choice) to Glover Garden, on a hill overlooking the harbor. The woman across from us on the tram and her husband were also heading there, and she struck up a conversation with us. She was from another part of Japan and also visiting Nagasaki, and had a lot of questions about where we were from and school and jobs. A lot of people have asked Jake and I whether we’re brothers, which I find funny. I don’t think that would happen anywhere else, but maybe we look enough alike, I’m not sure.
We walked up the hill to Glover Garden, which is a collection of houses from the late 19th and early 20th century that include the first Western-style house in Japan. Thomas Glover was a British expat who was involved in a number of different industrial businesses in Nagasaki during the second half of the 1800s in Meiji Japan, including shipbuilding, brewing, coal mining and more, and he was highly regarded by the city. Most of all, Glover sold warships and arms to factions that became leaders of the Meiji restoration. He helped found the companies that later became Mitsubishi and Kirin. The gardens and houses are well-kept and although I wasn’t too keen on the pretty normal 19th-century British interior design, the views of the surrounding harbor and mountains were astonishing, even with the rain and fog. There was a huge cruise ship that we watched depart from the port, a suspension bridge in the distance, and foggy hilltops on three sides, in addition to the well-kept gardens in the complex.
There is definitely a lot more European influence here than I’ve seen so far. You see it in the buildings, but also in the construction of the port and the way the city feels. The trams along the boulevards, the waterways, the hills and the Dutch and British influences all lend themselves to create a more international baseline.
We also stopped at Jiyu-tei Cafe, an old-fashioned restored cafe which is rated as the #1 cafe in Nagasaki, within the Glover Garden area. I had a Dutch coffee, which I think is the same as Kyoto-style cold brew (it’s essential cold dripped coffee). Jake and I split a castella, which is a sponge cake that Nagasaki is known for, and a piece of chocolate cake. I didn’t love either, but it was nice to sit with the view of the harbor outside.
I took an umbrella from the hotel but my Patagonia Torrentshell, the DWR/NanoSphere tech of my Outlier Slim Dungarees and my waterproof shoes seemed to do the trick, even with pretty steady rain throughout the afternoon. Fashionwise, not perfect, but good enough, and I stayed dry. The raincoat doesn’t have an inside pocket but is otherwise great, the pants dry quickly and water seems to brush right off, and the shoes, while a little warm, keep my feet completely dry. I was hot all day as humidity hit almost 100%, and I’m really looking ahead a couple of days to colder temps.
We walked from Glover Garden down towards the water, but made a quick detour to see the Dutch Slope, a stone-paved street up a hill with maintained historic Dutch-style houses where foreign traders lived. From there, we walked down and through some landscaped space by a canal to the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, in a pretty glass and wood building by the water. I mistakenly bought tickets to enter a separate room where local art was displayed, at first only by kids but farther back by more accomplished artists, which turned out to be very cool. We made our way quickly through the small permanent collection on display upstairs. The museum is unique in that it has a collection of Spanish art by Yakichiro Suma, a diplomat and later spy operating in Madrid during WWII who amassed a collection of Spanish art encompassing the fifteenth to twentieth centuries. There were a couple of Picasso still life paintings I’d never seen, a Miro constellation and a couple of Tàpies pieces that were quite nice, among others. There were also some pieces by important local Japanese artists I enjoyed. The whole collection took about 10 minutes.
It was getting dark, so we took the tram back up towards the main train station and walked up through increasingly dark and empty streets towards a Buddhist temple complex that Jake wanted to see. We walked up some stairs and past a different temple with a large statue on the roof, and all of a sudden we were in a cemetery on the hillside. It was pitch black and eerily quiet, and if we were anywhere else I would have turned back, but I followed Jake up and around despite being a bit spooked. We finally found the temple complex but it was dark and we could see nothing, so we at least had an okay view of the harbor from the hillside before heading back down. We tried to get a manicure at a nail salon in the mall adjacent to the station but were turned away, pretty rudely. Who knew it would be so hard to find a simple manicure here?
We went back to the hostel to get some planning done before heading out to dinner. I felt sticky so I refreshed with an Oars + Alps face wipe, which made me feel a lot better. I think the Oars + Alps wipes, even though they are larger and take up more space, are more effective than the Ursa Major ones, which are most useful if you just need a quick refresher. The Oars + Alps wipe, if you use both sides, feels like a good scrub.
We didn’t know what to do for dinner and it was getting late, so we walked around looking for an izakaya. One place looked good, Yakitori Kouan, so we walked in. Immediately, the guy behind the counter put his arms up in an X, which is the widely used sign for “no” here. We got the message and turned around, but I definitely felt a little perturbed. Anywhere else in the world, restaurants want my American money, if nothing else. Here, a lot of places don’t want foreign customers. Interesting, though I’m not sure what to make of it, really.
We were hungry and there didn’t seem to be any better options nearby, so we decided to just go back to the same place as last night, Yakitori Torimasa. It was a good call. I had more sake in an overflowing glass and we ordered skewer after skewer, which Jake pronounced to be “better than the night before.” The pork belly with miso and the chicken meatball were the standouts for me. The waitress spoke a little more English, and we were given edamame in addition to the standard lettuce with miso as our appetizer.
I love yakitori here. I love yakitori always, because it’s fun and delicious, but at home, it’s more of a special occasion kind of meal. The cheapest skewers at a good yakitori place like Torishin or Totto run around $5, maybe more, and it adds up quickly. Here, even at nicer places like this one, the cheapest skewers are just about a dollar, and even the more expensive pieces are only 2-4 dollars. It’s all delicious, and it’s a really high quality meal that’s consistently affordable, unlike at home. I don’t feel bad about ordering a few extra skewers, a side of rice, or even another drink, because the prices are reasonable (even a bargain, for what you’re getting) and the food is so tasty.
Sated, we stopped at a Family Mart to withdraw money, but there was an ATM fee, so we returned to good old 7 Eleven. How funny that sounds, relying on 7 Eleven for anything, let alone eating the food there and liking it. It was late so we walked back to the hostel and packed up and got ready for bed. Sorry, this was a long one.
Excited for the Kamome 885 Limited Express,