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  • Day42

    Nagasaki

    October 8, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Up early around 6:30am and headed out to the station to catch our first train, a couple of hours south to the port city of Nagasaki. There's two WHS for us to visit here. The first site relates to Japan's industrialisation of the 19th century, when Japan's isolationist rulers realised that without massive change, they were going to be colonised like the rest of Asia. So after a pleasant tram ride down to the waterfront, we boarded a boat that would take us to Battleship Island, site of a large former coal mine.

    It's a famous spot these days, a tiny speck of land in the ocean covered with tall and crumbling concrete apartment buildings. It was all built for the coal mine between the 1890s and 1960s, which was one of Japan's largest and most productive. These days it's a ghost town, which you might remember from the James Bond movie Skyfall. Unfortunately due to typhoon damage we couldn't go ashore, but it was nice to cruise around a couple of times and get some footage.

    On the way there and back we also got a great view of the huge shipyards in Nagasaki's port. These were massive engines behind Japan's navy in the build-up to World War 2, and their flagship Yamato was built here, though these days they mainly build Princess and Carnival cruise liners. It's part of the World Heritage listing though, which is cool.

    Quick 7-11 lunch, then we walked over to the large cathedral on the hill. This is the centre of our second WHS visit for today, which relates to Christians in Nagasaki. Christianity arrived in Japan in the late 16th century with Portuguese missionaries and St Francis Xavier, and it spread like wildfire. Within a decade or so there was apparently 650,000 Christians in Japan which is quite startling! Suspicious that the missionaries were foreign spies laying the groundwork for colonisation, Christianity was eventually banned for 200 years, only being rescinded in 1863.

    But in the Nagasaki area, many people continued to secretly practice Christianity, worshipping Virgin Mary statues disguised as Buddhas, saying special prayers after they'd been forced to publicly renounce their faith, and passing on the gospel father to son. Unfortunately the site is called "Hidden Christian Sites of Nagasaki" and many of them are just that - hidden away in inaccessible locations. The best we could do is visit the main church in Nagasaki which was built just after the ban was lifted, and where the sudden emergence of all these practicing Christians turning up for church was considered a genuine miracle. The museum here was quite interesting too, showing how missionaries won over local leaders with their western science contraptions that seemed a bit like magic.

    Filming finished, we hurried back to the station and jumped on a train back to Fukuoka. No time to see the atomic bomb museum, but we'll see that particular legacy in a few days. We got back around 5pm, enough time to walk back to the hotel and enjoy their hour of free beer in the bar. More work and some washing, before dinner at a nearby traditional ramen place. Very tasty!

    It's funny how there's always an odd system in Japan. At the ramen place, to order you used a touchscreen at the entrance. You paid, and it would spit out a pair of chits. Take a seat at the counter, give the chits to the guy who then comes back a few minutes later with steaming bowls of ramen. Or on the bus, where you board via the back door and take a ticket with a stop number. When you get off (via the front door only), a screen at the front tells you the cost for tickets stamped with each stop number. You then put your money and tickets in the basket. Very different from Korea where every bus in the country takes the same tap-on/off cards, and to China where every bus in the country is 2 yuan and you just chuck notes in the bucket!
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    Trish Forrester

    Now that's a bit weird!

    10/15/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    The Christian history is interesting. I don't tend to think of Christianity in Japan at all! Was the typhoon damage you mention from the recent one?

    10/15/19Reply
    Joel Baldwin

    Nah this was a typhoon a few weeks earlier (the lady wasn't clear), so it might even have been the one we got in Korea. Christianity isn't a thing at all in Japan, only like 1% or so. It's actually a largely irreligious society - very few people practice a religion and those who do are mostly Shinto/Buddhist or both, as neither demand exclusivity. You might be surprised to learn however that Christianity is the largest religion in Korea!

    10/17/19Reply