ITINERARIES Nagasaki and Saga—Diversity and Ceramic Heritage Like a pair of spectacles
Explore multicultural Nagasaki and its neighboring towns where the art of Japanese ceramics was born.
- Chinese, Western and Japanese architectural styles coexisting in Nagasaki
- Reflecting on the somber history of the city—Christian persecution and the devastating atomic bombing
- Learning the subtle differences between Arita, Imari and Karatsu pottery
How To Get There
By train, take the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Hakata Station. The ride takes about five hours. Then transfer to the Kagoshima Main Line for Nagasaki Station, taking about two hours. If you'd prefer to go by air, there are several flights per day from Haneda Airport to Nagasaki Airport. The trip takes about two hours.
The port city of Nagasaki was also the only place in Japan that stayed open to the world when the rest of the nation shut itself off to foreigners during the Isolation Period (1641—1854). Its international trade and its proximity to the Korean Peninsula, Mainland China and Southeast Asia, make the city Japan's most historically diverse. The cultural richness is still apparent today.
Begin your tour of Nagasaki's culturally diverse historical buildings at the Kofukuji, which was established by a Chinese monk in 1620 and is the oldest Chinese temple in Nagasaki.
Located in the heart of the city's Teramachi (Temple District), it had been built by the Chinese as proof that they were Buddhists at a time when Christianity was banned and Christians severely punished. There are clear Chinese architectural features here, setting it apart from other Japanese temples. Kofukuji is the birthplace of the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism in Japan.
Just a short walk from Kofukuji, Meganebashi Bridge—which translates to Spectacles Bridge—spans the Nakashima River. The bridge is so named because the reflection of its stone arches resembles a pair of glasses. The double-arch bridge is cast in stone, and was constructed in 1634 by Chinese monks living at the Kofukuji Temple.
Continue your tour at the nearby Sofukuji Temple, also located within Nagasaki's Teramachi. Featuring architectural design unique to China's Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the temple is notable for its Inner Gate and Main Buddha Hall which had been constructed in Ningbo, China before they were disassembled, shipped to Nagasaki, and reassembled.
Chinese from around Japan congregate here in late July for the annual Bon Festival, an important event on the lunar calendar when the Chinese honor the spirits of their ancestors.
Christianity was once punishable by death in Japan, and the Oura Cathedral, which was built by French missionaries in 1864, is a tribute to the 26 Christian martyrs who were executed by the state in 1597 solely for their faith.
The church, which once served the burgeoning community of Western merchants congregating on Nagasaki after the nation ditched its isolationist policy, is now the oldest standing church in all of Japan and a stunning showcase of contemporary European architecture. It is the first Western-style building to be earmarked a national treasure, and you can learn all about the rocky history of Christianity in Japan at the adjacent museum.
Put yourself in the shoes of a Western merchant living in 19th century Nagasaki at Glover Garden, a short walk from Oura Cathedral. This former enclave for foreign residents who congregated in the city after it opened up as a free trade port still retains its old-fashioned European feel.
The nine lavish Western-style buildings are located on a hilly park, with beautiful views over the city and harbor. One of the most famous attractions is the Former Glover House, where Scottish merchant Thomas Glover (1838–1911) once lived. He moved to Nagasaki in 1859 and would later help revolutionaries in a coup that overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 1868 Meiji Restoration.
Nagasaki and Hiroshima are the only cities in the world to have suffered the fallout of an atomic bomb attack. The Peace Park, located near Ground Zero of the August 9, 1945 bombings, is today a symbol of peace to the world. A memorial ceremony is held every year to mark that date in front of the 10-meter tall Peace Statue.
There is no more fitting way to end your day in Nagasaki than with dinner at its Chinatown, Japan's oldest. Feast on some of Nagasaki's famous Chinese-influenced dishes that are also well-known across Japan, including the chanpon noodle dish.
Chinatown also forms the heart of the annual Nagasaki Lantern Festival, which runs during the first 15 days of the Lunar New Year. During the festival, as many as 15,000 colorful lanterns are displayed throughout Nagasaki.
With a history dating back 400 years, Arita , in Saga Prefecture, is the origin of Japanese porcelain. The locally-made ware has distinct characteristics such as the almost transparent white base and the exquisite, vividly drawn pictures. The town is also known for producing what European collectors call Imari porcelain, named after the nearby Imari port city where the ceramics were exported. This was highly valued by royals and aristocrats in Europe and in Turkey during the 17th and 18th centuries.
See how it all started
Visit the Arita Ceramic Museum to find out more about Arita ware and how it all started in this humble landlocked town. Arita has forged a sister-city relationship with Meissen, Germany, which is also famous for its porcelain.
Learn from the pros
Imaemon has been plying their trade for nearly 400 years and is one of Japan's most famous porcelain manufacturers. Visit the Imaemon Museum of Ceramic Antiques to find out more about how techniques passed down from centuries ago are used to create Iro-Nabeshima porcelain with multi-colored overglazed enamel.
Buy home some exquisite ware
Held every year during Golden Week from April 29 to May 5, the Arita Ceramics Fair is now more than 100 years old. About 500 stands open along the four kilometer-Sarayama Street, peddling all kinds of ceramics at varying price ranges.
Okawachiyama is a small, isolated village hemmed in by the mountains. It was the first place in Japan to produce porcelain after the mineral kaolin was found in the area. The village is the site of many kilns, giving its name the Hiyo-no-sato, or secret kiln village.
A homage to Japanese pottery
Reflect upon the rich, exquisite nature of Japanese porcelain as you walk through Okawachiyama Village and its climbing kilns. At Nabeshimahano Park, you can see the ruins of several stepped kilns along with modern ceramic artwork.
Karatsu is a coastal city overlooking the Genkai Sea. It is also known for its brand of Karatsu pottery. Your visit to the city will not be complete without spending some time at the Karatsu Bay's beautiful, five-kilometer-long sandy beach that is populated with clusters of black pine trees.
Paint local pottery
In comparison to the colorful Arita ware and regal Imari porcelain, Karatsu's ceramics are generally of a much more earthy hue. They are known to adhere to the wabi-sabi aesthetic of "imperfection, impermanence and incompletion."
The Karatsu-yaki Pottery Gallery, located on the second floor of the Furusato Kaikan Arpino, is ideal to find out more about the Karatsu brand of pottery with a gallery that outlines its history and numerous exhibits on display. Here you can also experience painting the local pottery.
Built in 1608, Karatsu Castle is believed to embody the beauty of a crane that is spreading its wings. Head to the observatory facing Karatsu Bay for spectacular views of the sea.
Spend some time, too, taking a stroll around the park surrounding the castle, where 500 cherry trees and wisteria flowers bloom every spring.
In autumn, the town comes alive in a parade of floats for the Karatsu Kunchi Festival , one of the key events in the local calendar.
The hikiyama (giant floats) are on display at the Hikiyama Exhibition Hall located beside Karatsu Shrine all year-round. The hikiyama's base is made by layering hundreds of pieces of washi paper to wooden molds or clay shapes, and is then painted red, gold and silver. Their history dates to 1819, when a red lion was made as an offering to the shrine.
Head eastward from Saga Prefecture and you will find yourself on the Itoshima Peninsula, a beach paradise located less than an hour from the heart of Fukuoka City and a closely-guarded secret for many locals. There are hiking trails and pristine beaches, including the Futamigaura sunset strip that is home to the famous Meoto Iwa , "husband and wife" rocks linked together by a rope.