Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nagasaki Japan!

Thursday, March 05, 2009 – Nagasaki, Japan! Cloudy and 58 degrees
US$1 = 78 yen; population 450,000

It was a beautiful morning arrival on the Urakamigawa River into the Nagasaki harbor as we sailed under the Megami Ohashi bridge with only a 27 feet clearance! I’ve never seen a bridge with so little support under it! Such a sleek underside and beautiful suspension lines above…reminded me a little of the C&D Canal. It was a maiden call and we had a tug boat shooting plumes of water ahead of us. And this time the water turned colors! Yellow, green, blue, red…

After docking at Matsugae Pier, we had a very friendly group of mature women meet us in their kimonos for pictures, a band played and they had a visitor information booth, money exchange, bus ticket office and post office within 20 steps of getting off the ship! What organization! They were a huge help to me in shipping a box C.O.D. for a client and had the shipping company meet me within 10 minutes of my asking!!!

Nagasaki was the center of European influence in the 16th through the 19th centuries. It became a major Imperial Japanese Navy base during the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War. It is a place of hills rising from the deep, U-shaped harbor with boats and ferries chugging back and forth, of houses perched on terraced slopes, of small streets and distinctive neighborhoods. Its harbor remains one of Japan’s most active; it is home to the Mitsubishi shipyards.

Many from the ship decided to venture out on their own and headed to the streetcar for the Peace Fountain in the Peace Park. It was quite easy and inexpensive. We purchased the day pass and were able to communicate enough to know when to get off! Streetcars have been hauling passengers since 1915 and some of the cars are vintage! The conductor wears white gloves, sits on a seat the size of about a foot long and wide and speaks ever-so softly into a microphone to inform you of every little detail of the journey (as far as we could tell!). The stops were numbered also so if you could not decipher the names, you at least knew the number!

The Peace Park is dedicated to the many citizens who died from the nuclear attack on the city. Many countries have donated statues in the beautiful park and there is a 30-foot tall Buddha-like Statue of Peace as the centerpiece. “He holds out his hand in an appeal to human beings to realize that war is utter madness. At the same time he points heavenward ostensibly reminding us of horrors that human beings have often unleashed upon each other. A black box at the base contains the names of the victims in the 1945 bombing. Each year, the entire list is read aloud. Nearly a third of the city’s residents died instantly, and another third were seriously injured.”

In Hypocenter Park, a black monolith marks the exact epicenter of the explosion at 11:02 AM on August 9, 1945, three days after Hiroshima. The intended target was the nearby shipyards. A ghostly, charred section of the original Urakami Cathedral has also been preserved. The blast killed an estimated 75,000, while 75,000 more were injured in its wake.

The Atomic Bomb Museum displays Nagasaki before and after the explosion. Photographs, artifacts, videos and dioramas VIVIDLY re-create the event. A clock, frozen at the moment the bomb exploded, is one of the most poignant items. Simple objects – a melted bottle, the charred remains of a kimono – as well as photos of victims provide stark evidence of the bomb’s destructive powers. “The museum is by no means pleasant, but something every concerned individual should see.”

We wandered over to the professional baseball stadium and they were playing!! Must have been a practice game as there were only two people in the stands at 10:30 AM so Gene had a nice chat with two players and we watched a few innings. Very nice stadium and the scoreboard uses our letters: S, B and O for strikes, balls and outs! When they put the score in, it is in Japanese and English.

We were back on the streetcar headed to the Sofuku-ji Temple, the city’s most famous temple. Distinctly Chinese with its Ming architecture, it dates back to 1629. It is one of the three largest Chinese places of worship in Nagasaki. It was founded with the help of local Chinese residents by a monk. There is a gigantic cooking pot that stands enigmatically in the temple grounds used to make gruel to feed over 3,000 people each day during one of Nagasaki’s worst famines in 1682.

We continued walking past a very high class shopping and residential district. There were shopping arcades, restaurants, upscale condo buildings and small shops creating a very nice community atmosphere. One of the most photographed sights is the modest but curious Spectacles Bridge (Megane-bashi), a Chinese bequest to the city. Built by the Chinese Zen priest Mozi in 1634, it remains the oldest stone bridge in Japan. The curve of the bridge reflected in the Nakashima River resembles a pair of spectacles!

We meandered through the streets and came upon a nice fruit store with the largest grapefruit we have ever seen – like a basketball! A man then began to talk to us and took it upon himself to be our guide! We went up a steep tall elevator and then up another one for a great view of the harbor and ship. We were near the Glover Gardens, were a number of Western-style houses were built during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) on a hill overlooking the city and harbor. There are nine Meiji-ear buildings and homes on lushly landscaped grounds. Most famous is Glover Mansion, Japan’s oldest Western-style house, built in 1863 and romanticized as the home of Madame Butterfly, the fictitious, tragic heroine of Puccini’s opera.

Down the hill we walked, to the Oura Catholic Church, which is said to be the oldest Gothic-style structure in Japan. It is dedicated to the 26 Christian martyrs who were crucified in the 16th century and had some beautiful examples of stained glass.

As we kept walking downhill, we were passing the tourist street of shops. Many different varieties of sweets and snacks and no postcards! It was beginning to drizzle and then stopped. We headed back to the ship and watched the drum band play as we sailed away.
The waterfront was full of people waving at us. The band was playing LOUDLY on the drums. There was a nice simple sign “Please come back to Nagasaki again” being held by the mature Japanese women in their kimonos. It was a heartfelt welcome and farewell today. I even had tears run down my cheeks as we sailed away.

After snacking, I had some work to do before dinner and was never able to get properly dressed but I showed up anyway! (oh dear…) More work after dinner and we enjoyed an American piano player, Linda Gentille.