Nagasaki a treasure trove of art, history and lots of fun

Photos by Yashira M. Rodriguez Sierra
Photos by Yashira M. Rodriguez Sierra

Nagasaki a treasure trove of art, history and lots of fun

by Yashira M. Rodriguez Sierra
Stripes Japan

Usually when you hear about Nagasaki, places like Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki Peace Park, or the Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium may be what are mentioned. Nagasaki City is a big city full of fascinating places to visit beyond the usual tourist hot spots. This city is the capital of Nagasaki Prefecture and sits on the southeastern Japanese island of Kyushu in southeast Japan. If you visit, you’ll realize this region has so much to offer! 

Nagasaki has a privileged place in traditional arts, especially the art of blown glass. Glass was introduced to the Japanese by the Portuguese when they arrived around 1542. With this in mind, I decided to visit Rurian Glass Studio to experience this prestigious art.

The technique of glassblowing was first used in Syria during the first century B.C. and is still in use today. The basic technique for creating glass sculptures is by manipulating “molten glass” on a very hot surface (oven at 1,100 degrees). I watched the artisans’ effort and concentration as they worked on each piece. They are very careful in the process because it is a dangerous job. After I selected the size, color and shape of my glass, the studio masters demonstrated the step-by-step process and, with their direction, I molded my own piece of blown glass.

After the glass workshop, I still had a few more hours to explore this city. Not far away from the glass studio, I found Minamiyamate Hill, where there were many cartoon street artists, souvenir shops and restaurants. The area is also known as British Hill, due to the many Britons that used to live here.

I made a stop at Inori-no-oka Picture Book Museum, a whimsical place with a beautiful garden filled with trees, seasonal and wildflowers. The two-story building features early 19th Century British architecture. The second floor is the museum where picture-book drawings from Japan and abroad are on exhibit. On the ground floor, shop their huge collection of picture books–which can also be purchased along with illustrated postcards, stationery, and other products. Admission to the museum 300 yen for adults and 200 yen for high school students and below.

 

A short walk from the museum, I stopped at Oura Cathedral, which was built in 1864 and is the oldest Catholic church in Japan. The historical significance of this place of worship is one steeped deep in the region’s and country’s story. Officially known as Nihon Niju-roku Seijin Junkyosha Tenshu-do, or the Chapel of the Heavenly Father for the Twenty-six Martyred Japanese Saints, the church is dedicated to 26 foreign and Japanese Christians crucified in 1597 by order of feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The rise of the Catholic religion was a threat to Hideyoshi’s reign over Japan. According to the Oura Cathedral’s website, it is also the site where in 1865, the so-called Hidden Christians confessed their faith.

Designated a National Treasure in 1933, Oura Cathedral’s gothic architecture, both inside and out, stands out amongst its surroundings. There’s a fee to enter the church, and no photographs are allowed inside.

After my visit to the cathedral, I headed to Glover Garden House at the top of the hill. This extensive park and property is the former residence of Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover, known for his contribution to the modernization of Japan. Today, the residence and surrounding garden are open to the public and from here you’ll get a great view of Nagasaki Harbor.

In the garden area, you’ll notice a few statues. One is of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, creator of the opera Madama Butterfly, which was set in Nagasaki. Can you spot the butterfly on his left shoulder? There’s also a statue of Madama Butterfly’s prima donna Tamaki Miura, who performed the lead role in 1918. Glover Garden House grounds are also home to the Nagasaki Traditional Performing Arts Museum, a tea and coffee shop and more. If you are into history, this is the place to go!

For a refreshing break in the nice weather, I went to Seaside Park. I was surprised at how quiet and peaceful this park is. I saw many locals enjoying picnics here with their families. Overlooking the sea as its name suggests, the park is a great place to sit and take in the scenery, ride a bicycle, or go for a good walk.

My visit ended at the Nagasaki Art Museum for a look at the work of local and international artists and also participate in their workshops. I was lucky and got to try two of the free workshops the museum offered that day, the pressed flower and stained-glass classes. I enjoyed those and browsing the museum’s collection of artwork from Japan and Spain shared by Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Nagasaki is a beautiful city with plenty of options fit for everyone in the family. My time there was a little bit of history, a little bit of art, a lot of walking and plenty of fun!

- Rurian Glass Studio
Address: 5-11, Matsugaemachi, Nagasaki-shi, Nagasaki
Website

- Glover Garden
Address: 8-1 Minamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki

- Inori-no-oka Picture Book Museum
Address: Nagasaki 2-10, Minamiyamate-machi
Website

- Nagasaki Seaside Park
Address: 1-60 Tokiwamachi, Nagasaki

- Nagasaki Art Museum
Address: 2-1, Dejima-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki
Website

For more information about O-ura Church and other places in Nagasaki visit here.

 

YN3 Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra is originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico. She is assigned to Sasebo Naval Base. Rodríguez Sierra enjoys nature and moving to Japan was a dream come true. She volunteers at a local orphanage. Before joining the Navy, she was an artist and journalist.

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