Nagasaki Travel Guide
Nagasaki is a city that owes its fame to a day of infamy. On August 9, 1945, it became the second city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon – thankfully, it was also the last.
In addition to the museums that chronicle that fateful day, you’ll also find what was once the world’s most densely populated island, and the usual assortment of shrines and temples.
Come check out our Nagasaki travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Nagasaki, Japan.
The world’s first atomic bombing at Hiroshima had shocked Japan and the world. With no word from Imperial Command on whether they would surrender to Allied forces, a second nuclear attack was carried out on August 9, 1945.
At 11:02 am, ‘Fat Man’ exploded over a heavy industrial area in Nagasaki – 22,000-75,000 people died in the first 48 hours, with many thousands more passing away over the following weeks and months.
The story of this solemn day in war history is chronicled by the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Within, you’ll learn about how nuclear weapons were developed, the devastation wrought on Nagasaki, its reconstruction, and effects that last to the present day.
Artifacts that were devastated and warped by the explosion show the power of nuclear weapons in their infancy, while photographs put a human face on a day that forever changed the nature of warfare.
Honour the victims of this human tragedy by heading next door to the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. A place for quiet contemplation and prayer, this hall contains detailed personal accounts from survivors of this blast, as well as displays which illustrate how this disaster has contributed knowledge on how to treat the survivors of a nuclear attack.
Water is a central theme of this memorial hall, as it is the one thing that the dying cried out for as laid on the ground in agony. Visitors are encouraged to leave messages of peace in guestbooks – feel free to take part, but be respectful.
Learn about the role of Nagasaki as one of a handful of open ports during the Edo Period by visiting the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. From the start of the 17th century through to 1868, only three nations were allowed to trade through Nagasaki – China, Korea, and the Netherlands.
As one of the only places in Japan with foreign influence, its economy and culture became one of the richest in the entire country. In this institution, you’ll find exhibits that showcase how this port’s wealthiest traders lived, the goods brought in from afar, and a complete reconstruction of a courtroom where criminals were tried during the Edo Period.
As Japan rapidly industrialized, it had an insatiable appetite for coal. Located 15 kilometres off the coast of Nagasaki, Hashima Island was found to have abundant deposits, and so, an industrial town was built there.
Despite only containing 16 acres of land, this isle became densely populated, hitting a peak population of 5,250 people in 1959. These people were accommodated through the building of multiple stark apartment blocks made of concrete. Once the coal seam was exhausted, the island was quickly abandoned – upon its annexation by Nagasaki, though, its formerly crumbling buildings have since been shored up, allowing tourists to visit for the first time in decades.
Used as a shooting location for Skyfall, a recent James Bond film, Hashima Island is as popular as it ever has been, but take care as you make your way around: many buildings are still in rough shape.
After spending time in the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Memorial Hall, continue to pay your respects to the victims of the August 9, 1945 bombing by visiting Nagasaki Peace Park.
A peaceful, green space that stands in stark contrast to that horrible day more than 70 years ago, there are several highlights you should see – these include the Hypocenter Park (where the bomb detonated), a leftover pillar from the destroyed Urakami Cathedral, and the Peace Statue.
Fans of religious points of interest will want to include the Suwa Shrine on their list of places to go while in Nagasaki. Situated upon Mount Tamazono-san, it was spared the destruction that visited most of the city, leading some to view this as a message of the kami of Japan.
The buildings of this shrine are located at the top of a 277-step staircase, so be prepared to physically exert yourself to reach this attraction. If you have a chance, try to take in the Yutate-sai, a ritual where a Shinto priest plunges their hand into a vat of boiling water – this is done to show the power of the kami, as they purportedly protect their limb from being scalded.
Those travelling as a family may want to include the Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium in their schedule. Home to several different species, there are shows and opportunities for visitors to interact with this Antarctic animal.