Wednesday, 23 July 2008

長崎 Nagasaki

My journey west met its end, when I reached the most westwards point of my journey: Nagasaki. From here on, it would be back eastwards. There are many reasons to come to Nagasaki: the Atom Bomb, Dejima, Clover among others. But for me someone else called me to this city: 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryouma, who has become my hero. He spent a lot of his life in Nagasaki and changed Japan from here...

長崎 Nagasaki

Nagasaki is an extraordinary city. During the three hundred years of 鎖国 Sakoku (closed country), when Japan was closed to the outside world, only one single port remained open to the world: Nagasaki. During and before the 明治維新 Japanese Revolution Nagasaki served as a source for western ideas, philosophy and technology, which inspired many people in creating a new world, where all would be equal. Also it served as a possibility to get into contact with western people and get your hands on western guns or warships, by clever trading. Finally during the Second World War weapons were produced in Nagasaki, reason enough for the US Administration to add Nagasaki to the list of possible Atomic Bomb targets. When the nearby city 小倉 Kokura, which hosted a lot of armories, was clouded out of sight on the 9th August of 1945, Nagasaki's fate was decided.

長崎あかりバックパッカーズホステル Nagasaki Akari Backpacker Hostel

Sleeping with a tent was out of the question in Nagasaki, since Nagasaki is a huge city and the nature far away, so I looked for a Youth Hostel before hand and instead found a wonderful Backpacker Hostel named Akari. The couple leading the hostel have been around the world themselves and are fluent in English. The hostel is really nice and has three computers with 24h free Internet, a big kitchen for everyone to use and a television set with a lot of DVDs for Movie Nights with the other guests. The dormitory rooms as well as the private rooms are tatami rooms and really clean and nice.

The two owners are really friendly, and I spent a lot of time talking to them. One of my question was, which placed in Nagasaki are connected to my hero 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryouma. Luckily the man was also a big admirer or Sakamoto and the lady found a Sakamoto Ryouma tour through Nagasaki, which she photocopied for me.

坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryouma

Sakamoto Ryouma was born 1835 in 土佐藩 Tosa Province (now 高知県 Kouchi Prefecture) on the island of 四国 Shikoku. In Tosa Province a couple of 上司 Joushi (upper class samurai) ruled with iron hand and Ryouma had to experience many cruelties during his youth. He was the son of a family of 郷士 Goushi (lower class samurai), which became wealthy in the Sake business. He was known around town for bed wetting until his adolescence, his bad writing and slow learning and was generally considered an idiot.

When he witnessed how the 大名 Daimyou (feudal lord) or Tosa killed friends of him, because of showing improper politeness when he was crossing a bridge, his life changed. He sought for a way to have an influence in the world and change it and what he found was swordsmanship. His simple childish plan was to become the best swordsman of Japan and by that gain influence. And so he did, with the burning passion and motivation of dreams behind him. Also 乙女 Otome his bigger sister played an important role, always seeing a great man in him and personally teaching him sword fighting lessons.

his big sister 乙女 Otome

When his skill reached a high level he joined tournaments in Edo (now Tokyo), which he was able to win. By that he made important contacts and friends in Edo. When he returned to Tosa, childhood friends of him created a local branch of the 尊皇攘夷 Sonnoujoui (a league to expel foreign dominance and influence on Japan and restore the power to the Tenno). At this time he met 吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin and his students and was inspired by his teachings.
He initially joined for a certain time until they started to kill important leading figures of the feudal political structure of Tosa and Japan using the slogan 天誅 Tenchuu (heavenly punishment). At some point he got himself into an assassination mission of an important navy instructor in Edo called 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishuu. When he was about to kill him, he asked him to listen to him first and then decide whether to kill him or not.

吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin

勝海舟 Katsu Kaishu

Katsu Kaishuu was on of the visionaries of the time and foresaw that a nation wide Civil War would weaken Japan to such a high extent that foreign powers could easily turn it into a colony of slaved. He saw the only way out in learning western science and building war ships like they do, building relations and find a peaceful way to change Japan into a strong modern country. Ryouma was immediately able to see the wisdom in his words and shared the passion of his dreams and thus in spite of killing his target, he became his 弟子 Deshi (disciple).

Together they worked on improving Japan's navy and acquired skills in how to operate steam powered war ships. They built a navy academy in Kobe, which became a place for free thinking, philosophy and dreams. The same as around Yoshida Shouin, the Kobe Naval Instruction Facility became a magnet for 志士 (shishi free thinkers and revolutionaries) from all over the country. At this time Ryouma was a 脱藩者 Dappansha (a person leaving a province without allowance by the feudal lord, a crime punished by 切腹 seppuku). Along with him many other people commit ed 脱藩 Dappan and joined Ryouma at the Naval Academy.

Although Ryouma was nor formally working for the Shogun he was still in good terms with the 尊皇攘夷 Sonnoujoui and other 志士 Shishi. When he met 吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin, he also formed strong bonds of friendship with 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku, and 木戸孝允 Kido Takayoshi, which would influence the outcome of the revolution. When he was visiting 京都 Kyoto together with his 先生 Sensei, he also eye witnessed the 御門事変 Gomon Incident and at this time also made friends with 西郷隆盛 Saigo Takamori. Because of these connections he was later able to convince the two hostile provinces of 長州 Choshu and 薩摩 Satsuma to form an alliance the famous 薩長同盟 Sacchou Alliance to revolutionize the country.

西郷隆盛 Saigo Takamori from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Province

and 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku

and 木戸孝允 Kido Takayoshi from 長州藩 Choshu Province

After his protege Katsu Kaishuu had to return to Edo and abandon the Naval Training Center in Kobe, Ryouma was on its own again. However by that he and most of the 志士 Shishi became targets of feudal lords again and had to flee. The found refugee in the 薩摩藩邸 Satsuma province feudal lord villa (like an embassy) where Saigo Takamori was residing. Having time to think about the future he decided to follow the ideals of his Sensei and form a company, Japan's first company, independent of political power. For that he had to move to 長崎 Nagasaki, the only city with an open port.

In 長崎 Nagasaki he formed the company and named it 亀山社中 Kamayama Company. With some initial support from Satsuma the trading company prospered and brought Japanese goods as silk, green tea, spices and pottery to the western world in return for weapons and later war ships. Later he realized the significance of his position, and part of his success in forming the 薩長同盟 Sacchou Alliance was to promise to supply the Choshu army with fire arms, while Satsuma would get rice from Choshu to supply their troops after a bad harvest. After that he continued supporting the revolution by making his company buy war ships for the revolutionaries. Therefore at this point he decided that his organizations needed a new name and he renamed it to 海援隊 Kaientai (sea support troop)...

On The Traces Of Sakamoto Ryouma

(1) 光永寺 Koueiji

福沢諭吉 Fukuzawa Yukichi, One of Sakamoto Ryouma's cotemporaries studied here for over one year 蘭学 Rangaku (western science). Later he joined the Kanrin Maru, Japan's first steam powered ship) to a trip to the United States. Upon his return he founded the Keio University in Tokyo. He can be considered one of the founders of modern Japan.

image from Wikipedia

福沢諭吉 Fukuzawa Yukichi

(2) 竜馬通り Ryouma Street

the road leading up the hill to the 亀山社中 Kameyama Company was named after Ryouma. The road is narrow, has a lot of stairs and no car could ever drive there. It is really nice, especially knowing that you walk the same footsteps than Ryouma and his 脱藩者 Dappansha and 志士 Shishi. It is even more fun, because every couple of meters you will find a nicely hand made Ryouma Doori sign with Ryouma on it quoting some of his sayings. Also in bigger distances characters from the Kameyama Company are presented on information signs. And thirdly another set of signs leading to the remains of the company house has a different Kameyama member on it every time.

Yoshi! Let's use our passion and create a splendid new world

introduction of the most famous members of the Kameyama Shachu, some of them later had offices in the Meiji government

only 60 meters remaining

(3) 亀山社中 Kameyama Company

The house were Ryouma and the others lead the first Japanese company and plotted and dreamed the abolishment of the class system and the overthrowing of the Shogunate is still standing. Alas the structure is not safe anymore to enter. I played with the thought of climbing over the fence and looking inside anyway, but that would have been a crime and I was not ready to commit 脱藩 Dappan yet ;) ...

(4) 坂本竜馬のブーツ The Boots Of Sakamoto Ryouma

After the company house you can find a really nice statue of boots and a ship steering wheel. You can go inside the boots and take the steering wheel in your hands and pretend to navigate the ship called Japan into a future without class system, where everyone is equal and democracy of the people, rather than arbitrary feudal lords, rule the country.

(5) 亀山社中資料展示場 Kameyama Material Museum

The next stop is a museum lead by people who admire Sakamoto Ryouma like me and gathered all they could find about him and the Kameyama Company in Nagasaki. You can find all the pictures taken in Nagasaki, the first city in Japan where people could make pictures of themselves. You can still see many people wearing gloved or hiding their hands. The reason is that it was believed that the camera takes away your soul, and you can prevent it from not showing your hands... ^_^

You can also find some of the letters Ryouma wrote to his sister Otome in Tosa Province or to important Samurai. Also his famous eight paragraphs to form a democracy out of Japan are preserved here.

The people in the museum are more than willing in starting to narrate about Ryouma and what he has done in Nagasaki and for Japan. With their lead the photos suddenly come alive and tell their stories and interact with other people from other photos.

the most famous photo of
坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryouma

and his wife, the Ex-Geisha 竜 Ryou

She saved his live in 伏見 京都 Fushimi Kyoto, when she noticed an ambush when bathing and run naked to his room and fought side by side with him the way out. Afterwards he decided to marry her.

the banners of the Kameyama Shachu

(6) 若宮稲荷神社 Wakamiya Inari Shrine

On the way up the hill, you will come across this shrine. It looks really cool, but the coolest about it is an event in October when two men, dressed as white foxes in honor for the goddess Inari, climb two white poles and perform incredible acrobatics on top.

(7) 亀山焼き Kameyama Pottery

As I narrated above, Kameyama Company traded with a lot of typical Japanese things as green tea, silk and pottery. In fact they created their own set of unique pottery, they created not 500 meters away from the company house. Now the house is owned by a different family, but you can find remainders of the Kameyama pottery behind a window and if your lucky and find the new proprietor leaving the house (he is perfectly fluent in English and eager to show it), he will also lead you inside the garage and show you where the pottery has been burned.

Kameyama Pottery

The owner asked me inside his house, and showed me where the pottery was made

(8) 坂本竜馬之像 Sakamoto Ryouma Statue

When you finally reach the top of the hill, Ryouma awaits you clad in bronze. Ryouma is one of Nagasaki's greatest heroes and as such now he stands and watches over the city.
(9) Ryouma Quote Stone

On the same place you can find a memorial stone for Ryouma quoting him seeing huge western ships entering Nagasaki harbor:
"Nagasaki is the city of my dreams, soon it will become the base for the Japanese revolution."

(10) 上野家墓地 Grave Of Ryouma's Photographer

If you proceed downwards again you will come across a graveyard. On it you will find the grave of Japan's first Japanese Photographer, who among else, took photos of Sakamoto Ryouma.

(11) 花月 Kagetsu

This is not on the city tour, but was a tip from my Hostel host. In this Geisha establishment, Sakamoto broke into a fight (he was still searched for (wanted) by the Shogunate) and eventually had to flee. The traces of the fight can still be seen in the shop that has now been transformed into a restaurant. Alas eating there is really expensive and starts around 5000 Yen minimum.

中の茶屋 The Central Tea House

Another remainder of ancient times is the Central Tea House. It was a Geisha Establishment and stands as it stood 200 years ago. It has a wonderful garden and walking through it you can imagine the Geisha playing Shamisen to clients here at night or training their arts during the day. The garden in front of the tea house is really wonderful.

Nagasaki Old Town

The part of Nagasaki that has not been leveled by the atomic bomb is really wonderful. Especially the riverside near the Hostel Akari caught my eye. Every 200 meters you can see wonderful stone arched bridges across the river. And whenever you proceed towards the hills you will find countless old temples and walk on roads never paved for city car traffic.

an ancient but still used 交番 Koban (police box)

and many cool stone bridges

and old temples

眼鏡橋 Spectacles Bridge

One bridge is especially cool, because with its reflection in the water it looks like perfect spectacles, therefore the name. It is also one of the oldest still standing bridges in town. 8)

出島 Dejima

Onwards to the next chapter! We talked about Nagasaki having been the hub to the western world. But in fact during the 300 years of 鎖国 Sakoku (Closed Country) only a tiny little artificial island has been open to the western world or more like only to one country of the western world. The artificial island is called 出島 Dejima and the country was Holland. Before Holland the Portuguese and some other European nations made heavy trade with Japan, but their religion interfered and Japan started getting pulled into the religious struggle of Protestants versus Catholics on the European Continent. Therefore at some point out of political reasons all trade with Christian Nations was forbidden in Japan. With the one exception of Holland who only wanted to trade and make money and had no thoughts for politics or religion.

a model of Dejima

the captain's reception room

this box contained the allowance from the Shogun to trade with Japan, only one existed and was handed on from Dutch captain to captain

Captain's study room

and the dinning room
the guide explained me that the Dutch people in here secretly celebrated "Winter Solstice Parties", since all religious activities were forbidden

a Dutch trading vessel

So throughout the Sakoku Period only trade with Holland was allowed. Todays Dejima is completely reconstructed, because it was leveled with the Atomic Bomb that struck Nagasaki in 1945. It has been built how it looked like during the Sakoku Period, since plans and many pictures remained. Todays you can walk in this really well done reconstruction and meet the old Dutch captains who traded with Japan and walk through their houses and see how they lived in Japan and watch the cultural exchange. This cultural exchange can be followed really nicely when walking through Dejima and seeing how western and Japanese architecture meet and merge, both on the outside and the inside of houses. You can also watch some videos which show some meetings between Japanese and Dutch people. There are also a lot of helpful volunteer guides, which gladly lead you through the houses on Dejima and make the time come back to life by telling stories about it.

you can find western style rooms

and Japanese rooms for Japanese servants on Dejima

and then you can gradually see how the living style mixed

cultural exchange also means that the Dutch showed Japan their games

One of the most important thing that arrived in Dejima and was carried on throughout Japan was western science. All western science coming from Holland were thus called 蘭学 (dutch science) in Japan. And the intelligent elite in Japan all had to learn dutch to read all the scientific works that reached Japan. Some very clever persons like 佐久間象山 Sakuma Shōzan, how only by reading a dutch encyclopedia where then able to create Japan's first magnet, camera, telegraph, glass, telescope and thermometers. Not surprisingly Shozan became a close friend of both Yoshida Shouin and Katsu Kaishuu, about which I have talked earlier.

image from Wikipedia

佐久間象山 Sakuma Shōzan

science books

and tools

of course also many normal goods were traded, and many buildings on Dejima served as storage rooms

the trade with western weapons was very important

and things were weighted carefully

One section of Dejima is made into a garden dedicated to P.F. Siebold who created such a garden in 1826, when he arrived in Dejima to teach Physics in honor to his predecessor E. Kaempfer (who came to Japan in 1690) and C. Thunberg (1775). Those three men significantly contributed to Japan's development and cultural exchange between Europe and Japan.

Impressions of Dejima:

Through Dejima the first color reached Japan, the first color used was this blue tone

Dejima's flagpole where the Dutch flag was hissed

オランダ坂 Hollander Slope

In the 19th century when the Sakoku policy was weakened more and more people moved more into Nagasaki and built a settlement on one of the hills close by, afterwards called Hollander Slope. The hill remained largely unaffected by the bomb and therefore you can see a lot of old western style houses built there, including churches and school for the children of the westerners who decided to live there. In the 19th century English started to replace Dutch as the language of the western world in Japan and it thus became the language the Japanese tried to learn to communicate with the people living by trading business in this area.

The people formed a league or club of gentlemen and were also referred to as Clubbers. The clubbers are the ones who traded the warships and guns to Sakamoto Ryouma's Kameyama Shachuu and later to Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa. The trade and relation with them was an important factor to the revolution. A garden remains, where many of those meetings took place, that can be accessed for a fee. It is confusingly called Clover Garden (Clubber and Clover are pronounced exactly the same in Japanese).

I wonder whether the escalator was there at the time of the clubbers

I also had a nice personal experience, when I entered an interesting looking house here and inside was a horror and trick shop. The owner would show everyone magic tricks, whenever somebody bought something. I bought two pins for my brothers and some other guests bought other two things and we watched three magic tricks. He also made a lot of Japanese pun jokes like:
when spoken it sounds like "you can't do it with money money", but mane (money) also means to imitate, and therefore the sentence can also be read as "it is forbidden to imitate money"
お知りたいですか? お尻が痛いですか?
Next he would ask us if we want to know how a trick of his worked. Oshiritai desu ka? do you want to know? When we said yes, he asked again Oshiri ga Itai desu ka? Suddenly the sentence meant does your ass hurt? and when we fell for it and said yes again, not noticing the change in meaning, he offered us ass medicine.
He had a lot more of such jokes in peto ^_^

there were also other interesting shops, like this Sakamoto Ryouma shop

The significance of Dejima is heavy. Again it is Nagasaki who made an incredible influence in Japan. The people having the knowledge gotten from Nagasaki and the technology and stratagem coming along with it would be able to rule Japan.

原爆弾 Atomic Bomb

Finally we move to the final historic chapter of Nagasaki. World War 2 and the second Atomic Bomb in history that was used against civilians to end a war. You can find a lot of things dealing with the Atomic Bomb, I visited the Hypo Center, the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Park.

長崎原爆資料館 Atomic Bomb Museum

I started with the museum. It is partitioned in several sections dealing with different aspects of the bombing. The first shows pictures of Nagasaki prior to the bombing as a thriving harbor town. Then the damage cause by the bomb is illustrated by showing some of the few structures remaining after the impact, like ruins of a cathedral and a bended water tower. In the next section you can compare pictures of Nagasaki before and after the bombing, the impact was devastating, where before a city stood, only flat surface remained. In the same room it is described how the Atomic Bomb works and what effect it has on nature and people. Basically the destruction is caused in three forms: the blast, the heat rays and the radiation. The next section shows how many nuclear weapons are currently stored in which nations of this world and how much more devastating their effect would be. But also how many sides tried disarmament and talking nations into abandoning the nuclear path. In a final section you can see videos and read stories of persons personally experiencing the bomb and its effects.

gods let this never happen again

central Nagasaki before

and after

remnants of the cathedral

the bomb that hit Nagasaki was called Fat Man

the number of nuclear weapons is frightening

this wall is tells the sad story of a man and his ladder, who have been evaporated at the time of the blast and served as momentary shadows for the heat ray exposed wall behind...

impressions of the disaster

原爆落下中心地公園 Atomic Bomb Hypocenter

Hypocenter means the theoretical spot the bomb would have hit the surface. As we have already learned in Hiroshima. The bomb is exploded above the surface to increase the damage it can cause. At the spot of the Hypocenter a little park has been erected with an angel praying for peace and a monolith menacing point upwards where the bomb exploded telling people not to forget.

a mother holding her dead child

another remainder of the cathedral

a black monolith marking the Hypocenter

平和公園 Peace Park

My final stop was at the peace park. It is a large park on a small hill. Curiously enough many many nations dedicated artistic statues here as a symbol for global understanding and peace and to symbolize their unwillingness to use Atomic Bombs ever again. A huge blue bronze statue thrones over the park as another symbol for peace and understanding. In its features both Christian and Buddhist beliefs can be read. It meditates calmly but also points to the sky, where the bomb came from, to urge people to action to prevent wars and fight for world peace.

Nagasaki's symbol for peace

The peace park was erected were previously the prison for war prisoners stood. The prisoners were mainly Korean and Chinese, but also a lot of western prisoners were inside when the bomb exploded and blew the prison to ashes. It might be a nice symbolic gesture to built the peace park were the prisoners of wars died, instead of building it were Japanese people died.

remains of the prison


Wow what a city! I stayed two days here to intensely enjoy all the history building up around me and to visit places I have read about and saw in Manga, and of course to follow the heroes of the revolution even further.

From here on I originally plant to continue to Kagoshima, center of 薩摩藩 Satsuma Province and home of 西郷隆盛 Saigou Takamori. But my money was slowly running out, and Kagoshima would be at least another 1-2 day trip away at the very southern bottom of Kyushu (while Nagasaki is close to the northern border) so I gave up on that plan and postponed it to a later visit in Japan. Instead I ended my history tour for now and continued to explore Japan's fascinating extraordinary nature heading towards one of the largest active volcanoes in the world...

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