Nagasaki is a strange city. It’s strange in the sense that in many ways, it feels very “un-Japanese”.
For one, it doesn’t seem to have the quirks that make Japan the endearingly eccentric country that it is. Things like giant mechanized robots and oddball restaurant concepts are nowhere to be found here. There’s no hi-tech subway system or young people sporting the craziest fashion trends.
Instead, it has the first Chinatown I’ve ever seen in Japan. It has Catholic churches and Western-style houses, many of which are the oldest in the country. It has an aboveground vintage tram system reminiscent of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars. And oddest of all, at least for Japanese food lovers like us, was the diversity of its cuisine.
A few of its core dishes have Portuguese, Chinese, and American influences. They even have a bizarre dish called toruko raisu or “Turkish rice”, which is a mashup of pilaf rice and spaghetti topped with a pork cutlet drenched in sauce! How strange indeed!
Much of this “un-Japanese-ness” has to do with Nagasaki’s prominence as a port city. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, it was the only port in the country open to foreign trade hence the proliferation of foreign influences. It felt like a throwback city in many ways, one that was starkly different from anything else we had experienced so far in Japan.
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GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Because of the current global situation, travel guidelines change almost daily. Our friends at SafetyWing created a website that lists detailed information on travel restrictions around the globe.
Before doing any serious travel planning, be sure to check the Flatten the Curve website for information on travel restrictions to Japan.
NAGASAKI AT A GLANCE
Nagasaki is the capital city of Nagasaki Prefecture in Kyushu. As described, it was a prominent port city throughout much of its history. When Japan reopened its doors to diplomatic relations during the Meiji period, Nagasaki was declared a free port which created a flourishing community of British, Dutch, American, and Russian traders. From its architecture to its food, these foreign influences helped shape the Nagasaki of today.
Devastated by an atomic bomb in World War II, Nagasaki is remembered as the last city in the world to experience a nuclear attack. The city has been rebuilt since then.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Nagasaki is located in Southern Japan so the weather here is relatively mild year round. It doesn’t experience extreme weather changes like Sapporo. We were here in February which is the height of winter but even then it was still pleasant and not too cold. But if you’re looking for the absolute best time to go weather-wise, then shoot for October to November. The temperature is at its most ideal and there are few rainy days.
HOW TO GET THERE
Nagasaki does have an international airport but it doesn’t seem to be a common port of entry into Japan. Most travelers will probably be arriving via Fukuoka Airport or through some other major city in Japan, then continuing to Nagasaki by train or by bus.
BY TRAIN: Most travelers doing a multi-city tour of Japan probably travel by train. You can check hyperdia.com to see how much it will cost you to get to Nagasaki from wherever you are. If you’re coming from Fukuoka, then the two-and-a-half hour trip will cost you at least JPY 4,450 each way.
If you are going on a multi-city tour of Japan by train, then you may want to invest in a JR Pass. It will give you unlimited use of all JR national trains in Japan, including Shinkansen bullet trains and the Narita Express. You can purchase a JR Pass in 7-, 14-, or 21-day variants from Klook, Get Your Guide, or Japan Rail Pass.
BY BUS: Highway buses are another popular way of getting around Japan. It’s cheaper than trains and will get you there in about the same amount of time. We took a bus from Fukuoka to Nagasaki and it cost us just JPY 2,570 each way. You can refer to the Kyushu Highway Bus reservation site to check for routes into Nagasaki from wherever you are. It’s important to remember that when traveling by highway bus in Japan, advanced reservations are strongly recommended. I suggest purchasing your bus tickets from the Kyushu Highway Bus website as early as 30 days before your trip to guarantee yourself a seat.
Like the Japan Rail Pass for trains, you can save on Kyushu highway buses by purchasing a SUNQ Pass. If you’re visiting multiple cities in Kyushu, then it will give you unlimited rides on consecutive days. There are three types of SUNQ Passes – All Kyushu 4 Days, All Kyushu 3 Days, and Northern Kyushu 3 Days. Please be advised though that if you purchase a SUNQ Pass, then you cannot make advanced reservations via the Kyushu Highway Bus website. You’ll need to call the number listed on this page of the SUNQ website to reserve.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Assuming you’ll be arriving in the morning on your first day, then two nights is perfect for Nagasaki. That’ll give you enough time to do everything in this guide. One night is too short and anything over two nights may be too long. Nagasaki isn’t that big of a city so two nights will give you enough time to see all the major sights without getting bored.
HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING
Japan isn’t cheap. It’s one of the most expensive countries in Asia. But just because it isn’t dirt cheap like Southeast Asian countries doesn’t mean you’ll need to sell a kidney to go there. There are ways to save money like staying at hostels, eating inexpensive meals, and buying discount transportation passes.
The unit of currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Assuming you’ll be staying in Nagasaki for 2 nights and sharing inexpensive accommodations with one other person, then a daily budget of around JPY 7,000-7,500 per person should be good. This takes into account your accommodations, attraction fees, transportation within Nagasaki, modest meals, and pocket wifi rental.
Please be advised that this is just an estimate based on our own personal travel habits. How much money you should bring is highly subjective and depends on many factors. For example, the Gunkanjima tour is more expensive so I didn’t include it in the daily budget. If you plan on doing it, which I think you should, then you can factor it in. You can also save money on some attraction fees with the Nagasaki Discount Card, which you can read more about in the TRAVEL TIPS section of this guide.
Another thing, bear in mind that Japan is still mostly a cash society. Some places like hotels and big department stores accept credit cards but for the most part, you’ll be paying in cash so be sure to bring enough with you.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
Banks and post offices are the best places to exchange currency in Japan. Based on what I’ve read, people seem to prefer post offices because the transactions are faster. I exchanged currency at a bank and the process did take some time. I had to fill a bunch of paperwork then wait for the transaction to complete. If you find yourself in Nagasaki’s Chinatown, then there’s a foreign exchange machine in nearby Kankodori Shopping Arcade. Just ask any of the banks there exactly where it is. I had never exchanged currency through a machine before so I was pretty amazed by the process. The transaction was fast and the rates competitive.
If you’d rather not bring a lot of foreign currency with you to Japan, then an alternative would be to withdraw JPY from an ATM. Rates are competitive and according to some, they may even be better. Just make sure you inform your bank that you intend to use your ATM overseas. That way they don’t block it or anything. In my experience, my card works in some machines but not in others.
WHERE TO STAY: Hostel Casa Noda Nagasaki
As its name suggests, Casa Noda Nagasaki is primarily a hostel but they do have a couple of private rooms on the top floor. When we stayed there in February 2017, rates were USD 53 for the private room and USD 23 for the dorm, both of which include a simple breakfast. The hostel is about a 10-15 minute walk from Nagasaki main station, making it a good choice if you have an early bus or train to catch. Conveniently, it’s almost directly in front of Gotomachi tram stop as well. Be warned though, there’s no elevator in the hostel so you’ll need to carry your luggage up 3-4 flights of stairs if you’re staying in one of the private rooms.
Check out my post on Hostel Casa Noda Nagasaki for more pictures and information. You can book a room there through Booking.com or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best rate. You can browse through those links for other listings in Nagasaki as well.
Approximate Room Rate (as of February 2017, with breakfast): USD 53 (private room) / USD 23 (dormitory)
THINGS TO DO
1. Visit Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)
Hashima Island is one of the most unique attractions I’ve ever visited on a trip. Nicknamed Gunkanjima or “Battleship Island” because of its shape, Hashima Island is a former coal mining community about 19 km from Nagasaki Port. Abandoned since 1974, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. If you enjoy visiting odd destinations, then you should definitely book a tour to this island. Fans of James Bond films may recognize it as the inspiration for Raoul Silva’s hideout in Skyfall.
Length of Tour: 3 hrs / Cost: JPY 4,300 per person
2. Revisit History at the Atomic Bomb Museum and Nagasaki Peace Park
This was the number one attraction I wanted to visit in Nagasaki, and I’m sure many visitors to the city feel the same way. As students, we had learned so much about WWII and the atomic bomb but all that information was confined to books. Being here in Nagasaki, visiting this museum and seeing actual debris from the bombing gave me a much deeper understanding of that event. It put a face to the tragedy. You don’t leave this museum with the most joyous of feelings but you can’t visit Nagasaki without spending a couple of hours here.
Check out my post on the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: JPY 200 per person
3. Explore Glover Garden
Glover Garden is an open air museum and one of Nagasaki’s most popular tourist attractions. It was the former home of Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish merchant who was a key figure in the industrialization of Japan. Set on a hill with beautifully landscaped gardens overlooking Nagasaki Harbor, it’s key feature is the former Glover Residence which is the oldest surviving Western-style house in the country.
Check out my post on Glover Garden in Nagasaki for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: JPY 610 per person
4. Enjoy the View at Inasayama (Mt. Inasa)
Inasayama or Mt. Inasa is a 333 meter high mountain in Nagasaki. At the top you’ll find this open air deck that gives you 360° views of Nagasaki City and Harbor.
We didn’t stay until nightfall but the evening view is said to be even more impressive. In fact, it’s so spectacular that it’s often referred to as the “10 million dollar night view”. To get to the peak, you can ride the Nagasaki Ropeway which is a stylish gondola designed by Kiyoyuki Okuyama, an internationally renowned industrial designer who produced designs for Ferrari and Porsche.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Roundtrip: JPY 1,230 on the Nagasaki Ropeway
5. Take a Cooking Class
Ren’s a great cook so we try to make time for one cooking class on every trip. We’ve taken a few cooking classes in different countries in Southeast Asia and I’ll be taking one soon in Tokyo. The way we see it, there’s no better way to learn about a foreign cuisine than by taking a cooking class. It’s like looking under the cuisine’s hood.
As you’ll see in the WHERE TO EAT section of this guide, Nagasaki is home to many interesting regional dishes like champon and buta kakuni manju. If you like to cook and want to learn more about Nagasaki’s regional cuisine, then you can check out airKitchen’s list of cooking classes in Nagasaki.
Photo by Artit Wongpradu via Shutterstock
6. Shop at Don Quijote
If you like bargains, then you’re going to love this place. Shopping in Japan doesn’t have to be expensive and Don Quijote is proof of that. Like Daiso shops, Don Quijoute is a discount chain store with over 160 branches throughout Japan, four of which are in Nagasaki. Many of their branches are like mini department stores with several stories of products ranging from groceries to electronics to clothing to household goods. Best of all? Everything is tax-free.
Visit the Don Quijote website to find the blue penguin nearest you.
NOTE: The Don Quijote branch pictured above is in Sapporo.
JAPANESE FOOD GUIDE
Ren and I love Japanese food. It’s personally my favorite cuisine in the world and a big reason why I want to visit Japan every year. If you like Japanese food as much as we do, then you need to read our Japanese food guide. It’s a labor of love that includes popular dishes in Japan as well as regional specialties by prefecture, including Nagasaki.
WHERE TO EAT
Open since 1866, Yossou is credited as being the very first chawanmushi specialty restaurant in Japan. If you’ve never had it before, chawanmushi is a savory steamed custard dish usually served in a teacup and eaten with a spoon. It can contain a variety of ingredients but Yossou makes their signature chawanmushi with nine specific ingredients – white fish, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, kikurage mushrooms, bamboo shoots, ginkgo, kamaboko (fish paste), wheat powder, and anago (grilled conger eel).
They’re known for their braised pork belly and shippoku as well, which are banquet-type meals consisting of Japanese, Chinese, and Western dishes served on a round table. There’s a reason why Yossou is the number one rated Nagasaki restaurant on TripAdvisor so you may want to reserve a meal here.
Check out my post on Yossou in Nagasaki for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: Around JPY 1,500-2,500 per set meal
2. Kaisen Ichiba Nagasakiko
We enjoyed one of our best meals in Japan at this restaurant. Kaisen Ichiba Nagasakiko is a seafood restaurant on Dejima Wharf that serves kaisendon, or bowls of fresh seafood piled over rice. Pictured below is a bowl of zuke kaisendon. Once a method of food preservation, zuke is now used as a way of preparing fish by soaking fillets in a soy sauce mixture for flavor. It’s really good.
They have tanks of live seafood here as well, including squid for a dish called ika-no-ikizukuri. A specialty of Yobuko in Saga prefecture, live squid are scooped up from a tank and quickly prepared. It’s so fresh that the flesh is still translucent when served. From what I understand, it’s not common to find it outside of Yobuko so you may want to try it here if it’s available.
Check out my post on Kaisen Ichiba Nagasakiko in Nagasaki for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: Around JPY 2,200 each with drinks
3. Horaiken Bekkan
Champon is a Japanese-Chinese ramen noodle dish that was invented by Shikairo restaurant in Nagasaki. It’s made by frying pork, seafood, and vegetables with lard, then pouring in a soup made with chicken and pig bones. The champon ramen noodles are added last before the pan is brought to a boil. Shikairō is the logical place to try this dish but if you’re looking for a restaurant near the Atomic Bomb Museum, then you can give Horaiken Bekkan a try. Their champon is highly regarded as well.
Check out my post on Horaiken Bekkan in Nagasaki for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: Around JPY 864 per full order of champon
Most of our meals are usually planned out well in advance but Izumiya was one of the rare exceptions. We were walking around Nagasaki’s Chinatown when we chanced upon this unagi specialty restaurant. We both love unagi but had never been to an eel specialty place before so we had to try it. It was damn good and well worth the detour. After our trip, I did some research and found out that Izumiya has been around for over 160 years. It deserves a spot on your itinerary based on longevity alone.
Check out my post on Izumiya in Nagasaki for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: JPY 2,900 for one premium unagi set
Castella is a sponge cake made with sugar, flour, eggs, and starch syrup. It’s a Nagasaki specialty brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century.
Castella cake is available throughout Nagasaki but some of the best can be found at Bunmeido, a Castella specialty chain that’s been around since 1900. If you were to bring home just one souvenir food item from Nagasaki, then this should be it. You can try visiting the original store on Edo-machi Street, near Ohato tram station.
Expect to Pay: JPY 1,350 for one box of Castella cake
1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel or ViaHero
SYGIC TRAVEL: If you think trip planning is fun, then you’ll love Sygic Travel. I’ve been using this free travel app to create our itineraries for many years now. It allows me to pin all points of interest on a map – like our hotel, landmarks, metro stops, and restaurants – then grouping them together by location. It’s available for free on iOS and Android.
VIAHERO: If you don’t enjoy trip planning as much or don’t have the time for it, then you can have a destination expert do it for you. ViaHero is a travel planning service that links travelers with local experts to create custom itineraries to different cities around the world, including Nagasaki. If you’d like to try them out, then you can get a 5% discount on their services if you use our link.
2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
Internet access isn’t a luxury anymore. In fact, it’s almost a necessity, especially when traveling. You’ll need it to convert currencies, navigate the transportation system, and google how to say “where is the best castella cake” in Japanese. We never go anywhere anymore without reserving a pocket wifi device first.
You can get wifi access in Japan by renting a pocket wifi device or getting a sim card. Even though they’re more expensive, I prefer pocket wifi devices because I find them simpler and easier to use. But it’s up to you which one to get as they both serve the same purpose. Click on the links to buy a 4G sim card or rent a pocket wifi device through Klook (7GB data | Unlimited data) or Get Your Guide. It’s a good idea to reserve it at least one week before your trip.
2. Bookmark Hyperdia or Get the App on your Mobile Device
Hyperdia will be your new best friend while in Japan. You’ll probably be riding the tram a lot and this commuter app will tell you exactly how to get from one station to another. It’s very detailed, providing several route options with fare prices and travel times.
3. Get a Nagasaki Discount Card
Getting a Nagasaki Discount Card can save you a good amount of money on attraction entrance fees. They’re available for free at participating lodging facilities throughout Nagasaki and are valid for three days from the date of receipt. We got ours from Hostel Casa Noda Nagasaki and it saved as a total of JPY 1,640 on entrance fees. It gave us discounts to Glover Garden, the Atomic Bomb Museum, and the Nagasaki Ropeway to Mt. Inasa.
Follow this link for a list of participating hotels where you can get the Nagasaki Discount Card. You can check this link to see which attractions honor the Nagasaki Discount Card and how much savings you’ll be making at each. You’ll see it’s significant so don’t forget to ask your hotel about it.
4. Get Travel Insurance
Whether or not to get travel insurance is something you need to consider before every trip. Some trips call for it more than others. The way I see it, if you plan on doing physical things like bungee jumping or skiing, then you should definitely get travel insurance. But if you’re just going to Hong Kong to traveleat for a couple of days, then you may not need it as much.
Personally, we don’t buy insurance before every trip but when we do, we buy it from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both leading travel medical insurance providers often used by long-term travelers. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for a description of the two. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.
5. Bring the Right Power Adapter
6. Learn Basic Japanese Etiquette
Japan is…different. It’s a fascinating country with many unwritten rules. You don’t want to mistakenly offend anyone so I think it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics, lest you be labeled a stupid gaijin. Here’s a good overview on Japanese etiquette for tourists.
HOW TO GET AROUND
There are no high-speed subway systems in Nagasaki. Instead, you’ll find a cool aboveground tram system similar to the cable cars of San Francisco or double decker trams in Hong Kong. They may not get you there as quickly but they’re cheap, just JPY 120 per ride no matter how far the stop, and they’ll take you pretty much anywhere you need to go in the city. It was the only mode of transportation we needed in two days in Nagsaki. If you think you’ll be using it enough, then you can purchase a 1-day tram pass from Nagasaki Station for JPY 500. It’ll allow you unlimited rides on the tram system for one calendar day.
VISA INFORMATION (for Filipinos)
Philippine passport holders need to secure a tourist visa to Japan. The entire application process is coursed through a travel agency so you’ll never have to go to the Japanese Embassy. I went with Reli Tours & Travel and they charge PHP 950 if you’re applying as a tourist, and PHP 2,000 if you’ll be visiting friends or relatives. It takes between 3-7 days to process.
Check out my post on how to apply for a Japan tourist visa for a step-by-step process and a list of accredited agencies.
I’m hardly an expert on Nagasaki but I do hope that you find this guide useful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from our trip. If you have any questions or comments, then please feel free to leave them in the comment section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.
Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful time exploring Nagasaki!
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