Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Kyushu Pilgrimage Day 60 Around Nagasaki

Tuesday February 18th 2014

It's overcast and dull as I leave my hotel near the main railway station and head south on my one-day exploration of Nagasaki. I've been here before, some years ago, and today I will be revisiting some places but also exploring some of the less visited sights. Rather than take the busy main thoroughfare which is filled with the roar of 6 lanes of motor vehicles spewing fumes into the air I go a couple of blocks towards the water and take a narrow street that is almost just an alley but feels like a canyon. Overhead a spaghetti-tangle of cables crisscross the sky like a web of a giant spider. 

My first stop is something called Dragon Promenadein the port area. It is a long, narrow, concrete warehouse running perpendicular to the water. The roof is a multifaceted membrane somewhat reminiscent of the geometry of stealth planes and boats and at the far end sits a huge, orange sphere. Steps lead up to the covered roof which is a public space and I believe sometimes events are held here, but mostly it's deserted and seems a little run down. Can't figure out the orange globe but supposedly the design of the building is meant to reflect the dragon used in the Dragon Dance at Nagasaki’s' Kunchi Festival. It is the kind of place I love to take photos.

 Almost next door is the new Ferry Building designed by ShinTakamatsu, an architect whose whimsical and geometric buildings are somewhat passe but again make for the kind of photography I most enjoy making. 

Moored in front of the terminal is a ship I had not seen before, the Kanko Maru. Its actually a replica of Japan's first modern warship. Primarily a sailing ship she also had paddle wheels powered by steam. She was built in Holland in 1852 and served briefly with the Dutch navy before being given to the Shogun in 1855 whose government had recently “opened” the country following The return of Perrys Black Ships. This replica was built in the same shipyard as the original following the original plans. Last I heard she had been operating out of the theme park Huis Ten Bosch but maybe she is now based here. A little further down along the waterfront, I come to thePrefectural Museum of Art. When I first came to Nagasaki it was not yet fully built and hidden behind hoardings, but approaching along the canal it is quite striking. It is two buildings with the canal running between them and a connecting glass walkway between the two parts. The area along the canal is a public promenade with sculptures. Even though it is overcast the combination of glass walls and the water of the canal offers me plenty of photo opportunities. I forgo the opportunity to go in even though they just open as I am there. Unless there is something specific I want to see in a museum or gallery I will often save myself the entrance fee, coming as I do from a country where entrance is free to most museums and galleries. 

Not far away is Dejima, the island where the Dutch traders lived in isolation. No longer surrounded by water but by city, it is somewhere else that was still under construction when I last came here. I do decide to fork over the entrance fee. It was interesting enough, though being a new reconstruction the newness of everything was kind of distracting. From here its just a short walk to Chinatown. I'm not sure when the Chinese New Year was this year, but I seem to have just missed the festival that celebrates it here in Nagasaki's Chinatown as there are still some of the large, brightly colored floats sitting in front to the entrance to the shopping street of said Chinatown. I walk quickly through as I am not interested in the restaurants and gift shops that to my untrained eye look just the same as at any of the dozens of Chinatowns around the world. What I am interested in is the hillside behind Chinatown which is actually where the Chinese Quarter was located during the Edo Period. It is a pretty decrepit and run-down area now, and I'm not sure how many Chinese now live here, but dotted around the area are some small shrine-temples built by the Chinese residents back then. I'm surprised to find them made out of brick, and while they are not grand like the nearby well-known Chinese temples of Sofukuji and Kofukuji, which were built later for the Chinese community here, it's nice to see the statues and decorations which are most certainly Chinese and not Japanese. Next, I head towards the line of temples flanked by the aforementioned Sofukuji and Kofukuji.

After leaving the old Chinese settlement I head to the long line of temples spread along the base of the hills to the south of the valley. Known as Teramachi, it starts with Sofukuji, one of the main tourist spots of Nagasaki, a Chinese temple containing several National Treasures. I had been there before, so this time I didn't pay the entry fee but contented myself with some photos of the unusual Chinese-style gate. The heavy rainfall predicted yesterday had still not arrived though it remained dark and overcast. Heading northeast along Teramachi short distance was the entrance to the next temple, Daikoji. The entryway leading to an impressive gate was flanked by well-pruned and sculpted trees, but poking my head inside the gate I saw nothing that made me want to explore further. Next was Daionji, up a long flight of stairs. There was not much to see except the bell tower which seems to have been encased in walls of ochre. Kotaiji, the next temple, was huge and really nice. Several plum trees, some sort of weeping plum I believe, were blooming which added to the scene. There was a fine pair of fierce Nio in their own gate and some more rather ornate statues of what I believe were some of the Shintenno, the four heavenly kings, also guardians. With lots of ancillary buildings, this is obviously a very active temple. Next along the road was Chosoji which did not look interesting so I passed by. Then it was Kofukuji. The oldest ofthe Chinese temples. There was a small entrance fee, and I had been here once before, but JapanVisitor wanted a write-up of it so I went in and had a good look around. Not as busy as Shofukuji, but intriguing nonetheless. There are a few more temples along the road but instead, I head north across the river and the busy main thoroughfare towards the new Museum of History& Culture.

 Just before reaching the museum, my eye is attracted to a sign pointing down a narrow alley where I find the Museum of Santa Domingo. Comprising mostly of the excavations which reveal the foundation of an early Portuguese church and settlement. Nagasaki was for a short while a Portuguese colony, and this is all that remains. Surprising and interesting, and best of all, free. I had heard good things about the new history museum in Nagasaki. It looks like the stonework of a castle, but unfortunately, today was a closed day.

 I headed back towards the station to complete my circular walk. A couple of hundred meters from the museum there was an impressive-looking temple gate and I went in to explore and was completely surprised. It is a big,old temple complex, though it is in a state of decay. There were a few nice statues inside the structures, and behind the main hall a wonderful wall built out of recycled roof tiles and demon tiles and such. The place was very atmospheric, as abandoned places often are, though it is not quite abandoned. There were no other visitors, which helped the atmosphere for me. Excited by having “discovered” something I headed off to the place I had found when studying Google Maps before I made the trip here. Fukusaiji used to be the biggest of the Chinese temples in Nagasaki. But it was completely destroyed by the fires that followed the atomic explosion in 1945. The new, concrete replacement is totally unique. The building is in the shape of a giant turtle!!! Sticking out above the main entrance is a huge turtle head made out of aluminum and standing on the top of the shell/roof is a giant aluminum statue of Kannon. Though the building is made out of concrete there is still a Chinese feel to it. The biggest surprise though is that the temple is home to one of the biggest Foucault Pendulum in the world. Suspended from a cable that begins in the Kannon statue's head and passes through the building to the basement below the pendulum shows the rotation of the earth. A most unusual and unique building that is almost unknown to visitors to Nagasaki, but certainly worth seeking out. I have almost completed my loop walk by now and the threatened rain never did appear.

 On my way down the hill towards my hotel, I stopped at Nakamchi Catholic Church. Built at the end of the 19th Century, all that was left after the A-bomb were the walls and spire and it was rebuilt in 1951. On the outside, it seems to have been modeled on the nearby Oura Cathedral. Inside is light and spacious with plenty of stained glass. After having visited so many temples and shrines in Japan over the years I now find churches quite atmospheric. Like Shofukuji and Fukusaiji, there is no entrance fee and little visited.

Tomorrow I head back to the coast and head down the Shimabara Peninsula and I should be back in Nagasaki in three days.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jake,
    Like you, I found the transition from temple to church arresting and though the iconography and architecture are familiar they obtain a new attractiveness after submergence in temples over the course of completing a pilgrimage in Japan.