Where in the world…

Part 2. Kyushu!

Japan has four main Islands: Hokkaido – with lots of snow, Honshu – with Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, Shikoku – with not much, and Kyushu – with us! Kyushu, the most southern main island, means ‘9 prefectures’, but they amalgamated one somewhere, and now it’s left with 8: Fukuoka, Oita, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Saga and Okinawa.

Map of Kyushu

Map of Kyushu

Okinawa is actually a set of smaller islands far to the south of Kyushu, so it doesn’t really count either.

Fukuoka has the largest city and is the one closest to Honshu. Fukuoka city was voted in the top twenty ‘livable cities’ in the word in 2010, so not too shabby. It is also famous for Ramen and a weird food product, Mentaiko, which is marinated pollock roe. I tried it for the first time this weekend, and it will not be something I am trying again.

Below us is Kumamoto, which has a large and famous castle, and below that is Kagoshima, famous for its volcano. To the left we have Saga, which has a balloon fiesta every year, and Nagasaki, which is known for not only being the site of the second A-bomb dropping, but for it’s Chinese and Dutch settlement and extremely large hamburgers. On the right is Oita, famous for hot springs and Miyazaki, which has really nice beaches, and used to have the worlds largest indoor swimming pool.

Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle

So far Scott and I have been to Saga for Balloon Fiesta 2010, Nagasaki to see the Chinatown, Oita, where we visited the nine hells of Beppu, and Kumamoto for the castle and a beautiful garden. We plan on hitting up Miyazaki and Kagoshima this spring to complete the Kyushu set.

Scott and Aya at the Balloon Festival

I am very happy to be living here. It’s full of beautiful natural sites, history and culture, and an area of Japan I would have missed out on had I been a tourist.

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Nagasaki Peace Park

On our trip to Nagasaki, one place we all wanted to go was to see the A-bomb memorial museum and peace park.

The museum itself was an extremely sad and moving place. Immediately after entering, you see a reconstructed area of town immediately after the bombing. Artifacts such as clocks stopped at 11:02 and buildings with shadows of people burned on to them line the walls.  After an exhibit of the many horrible effects of the atomic bomb, there is a hall dedicated to information on the decelopment of the atomic and hydrogen bombs and nuclear testing around the world..

Standing at the hypocentre was a surreal experience. The city and land have changed so much in the last 65 years that it’s hard to imagine it being the same devastated place shown in the museum.

It’s difficult to put into words what it looks and feels like there, so here are some photos:


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Nagasaki Lantern Festival

Here are some more pictures from the festival as I try and and learn how to slideshows!


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Nagasaki – Dejima

Model of the Island

Dejima is a small island in the bay of Nagasaki. It’s a fascinating place  because originally it was a peninsula, and was made into an island to house and contain foreigners during the Edo period, when Japan had no other contact with the outside world. Originally portuguese traders lived there, but it was later taken over by  the Dutch. For 200 years, workers lived on the island, unable to contact other parts of Japan except when, once a year, the controller made a 90 day round trip to Tokyo to report on trade relations. 

Now Dejima, which literally means exit island, is a Japanese national historic site, full of reconstructed buildings and exhibits on what life was life for the Dutch traders.  We almost decided to not to visit because of the 500 yen entrance fee (preposterous!) but I am glad we did. If only for the recreation of the controllers house, where I found the perfect wallpaper for my future house.

Wallpaper Love

There was also an exhibit on sweets and games of the period, and Scott’s favourite part was the museum where science and technology of the time was displayed. Because of the portuguese influence on the city, the popular omiyage, gifts to take back home, from Nagasaki is Castella, a portuguese pound cake. We tried it, but to us, it tasted just like omiyage cakes from every other part of Japan – somehow too sweet, and not sweet enough all at the same time.

Tanya oogles the sugar display

Oh well, there was still more Chinese food to try!

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Nagasaki Lantern Festival

Due to Nagasaki’s history as an international port city, it has Japan’s largest Chinatown and every year, more than 10,000 lanterns decorate the city to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Nagasaki Train Station

This weekend, I went with Scott and some of our English teaching friends who live in my building and we arrived in Chinatown Saturday afternoon intent on checking out the lanterns and eating some good food. Our wishes were immediately granted as a large dragon lantern hangs over the river near the entrance and the street stalls follow right after. The entire street was covered in beautiful hanging red lanterns. And the food! It was my first experience trying steamed chinese dumplings and I loved them. For  ¥100 you could buy a small meat filled dumpling or a roasted sesame ball. We also tried giant shrimp spring rolls, fresh out of the deep fryer, Indonesian style spring rolls, and brave Scott tried Pork Belly on a steamed bun, which did not look appetizing at all.

After getting an afternoon snack we went to explore the main lantern display. At the end of the street was a square lined with gigantic lanterns depicting men, animals and imaginary creatures. There was a garden of aquatic animal lanterns, and a lantern made out of ashtrays and chinese soupspoons. Half of our group, the 1987 babies, were excited to have their picture taken with the giant Year of the Rabbit display, but I was most excited for our Harry Potter fan picture taken underneath a gigantic Phoenix lantern. Yes, I am a nerd.

Lanterns on the river

Afterwards we walked to the other end of the park to see Chinese acrobats where we discovered Dinosaur lanterns and See-Saws. Needless to say, plenty of time was spent here. On the walk back to the hostel we found displays from years past, the Year of the Tiger, the Year of the Dog and the year of the Snake. Unfortunately we never found a statue for the Year of the Rat (yeah, 1984!) but it might have been pretty ugly anyway!

It was a lovely time and I would definitely recommend visiting Nagasaki in time to see the Lanterns!

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