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Connie: We love Nagasaki!

February 25, 2011

The first trip of my spring break was taken in Nagasaki. The reason was that it was my friend’s hometown and he agreed to let us meet his family. Me and the two girls who went with me were greatly looking forward to it, though we didn’t know how Nagasaki itself would be. Several Japanese people said it wasn’t a very interesting place.

The three of us came back thinking about how wrong they were!

We were originally planning on taking local trains all the way there to save money, but we discovered that taking the 新幹線 (shinkansen), or the famous bullet train, only cost about $20 more and cut out 8 hours of travel. The train really was quick. It felt like we’d only just got on when we got off. It’s like riding an airplane, only on the ground.

When we arrived in Nagasaki we were not only greeted by our friend, but by a giant lantern—it was the lantern festival, and the town was littered with them here and there. All of the zodiac signs were scattered about the city.

We stayed in a hostel a bit away from the station. We would probably never have found the place if it weren’t for our Japanese friend. He knew exactly which tram we needed to take. On the way we admired the scenery that makes up Nagasaki. It’s a really charming city. The buildings climb up the sides of mountains and look almost surreal. There are trams rather than buses that give it a lovely feel. The place near our hostel felt very stereotypically Japanese – there was a river flowing right through the city with bright orange koi fish swimming in it. There were twisted old trees lining it and across from our hostel was a shrine.

The owners of the hostel were extremely friendly. The hostel itself was nice and cozy. I really liked it. When us three American girls were led to the fourth floor where our room was, we saw there was already one occupant in one of the beds. By looking at his clothing spread out on the bed we could tell immediately it was a guy. Our day sightseeing was spent pondering what sort of guy we were rooming with. We met him that night–he was nothing like any of our conjectures, but he was a nice Japanese guy and had very good English. We all wonder where you are now, Mr. Yoshi.

The first night we wandered down the river looking at the lanterns strung across it, went up and down the main shopping road which was scattered with festival food vendors, and went through China Town where the best of the lantern displays were. That night our friend took us to his house where his parents made us some of the most delicious food I’ve had in Japan, including pan-fried noodles, sweet and sour shrimp, and Japanese-style fried chicken. They were extremely open and friendly to us. The most interesting part was that the moment we met them, we knew exactly how our friend had turned out like he did. He’s an off-beat guy who is always trying to prove himself. I’m sure this comes from his friendly and also slightly off-beat family, almost all girls, who make fun of him every chance they get. When he walked in our friend said, “These girls gave me Valentine’s day chocolate!” His sisters were quick to reply with, “The first time since you were born!”

The next day our sight-seeing was more in-depth, even despite the steady rain and inevitable puddles in my shoes.

Our first stop was 出島 (Dejima), the place where the Dutch people who first came to Japan were forced to live. It was once an artificial island hanging off of Japan, but nowadays it’s surrounded by artificial land that’s really indistinguishable from the rest.

Of course the history of the place is interesting. But me being a language nerd, the most interesting part of the plaques covering the walls of the Dutch-Japanese fusion style houses was the way in which the Japanese and English versions of the same paragraphs differed. Naturally, the Japanese was more in-depth.

After exploring Dejima we made our way to Glover Garden somewhere at the edge of Nagasaki. Glover, a once-influential man in Nagasaki, owned a rather large chunk of land that has been turned into a tourist destination. The buildings there were the inspiration for the set to Madame Butterfly. But to me the most beautiful part was the outside with the beautiful garden. It was also the most bizarre, as you traveled from one place to another by escalator. It almost felt like I was walking through some kind of surreal painting.

After our site-seeing, we returned to China Town. We were just in time for the dragon dance, in which a bunch of people control a long dragon prop and make it float around the stage in the telling of an old legend. But my favorite part was the lion dance that came after. Fantastic work to all the Japanese people! Sometimes I really did forget that there were people inside.

Nagasaki is famous for several food items. These are Chinese food, チャンポン (chanpon) which is like thick ramen, トルコライス (Turko Rice) which is noodles with yellow rice and breaded pork on top, and カステラ (castella) cake. I had some of all of these things. They were good, but my favorite food on the trip was that prepared by my friend’s family.

Everywhere we went this day we saw high school students. “Don’t they ever go to class?” we asked. Our Japanese friend replied, “They’re probably on a school trip,” until he got a look at their uniforms. “What? Those are Nagasaki uniforms!” So, I guess Nagasaki students never go to class. Ever.

Our last day was short as we had to catch the shinkansen back at around 3:30. When we arrived back in Saijo, our Japanese friend immediately said he missed Nagasaki. The weather at Hiroshima station was very noticeably more chilly and there weren’t lanterns lighting the roadways. “Let’s get back on the train right now,” we joked. But of course we didn’t.

So far, Nagasaki is my favorite of the places I’ve been to. Definitely go if you get the chance!

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