A Ride to Nagasaki
The Kamome Limited Express operates between Hakata (Fukuoka) and Nagasaki on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kamome means seagull in Japanese and the service has linked the two cities since the line between them was electrified in 1976.
It is only about 160km from Hakata to Nagasaki, but as the Kamome operates on the conventional narrow gauge line the journey takes about 2 hours. A shinkansen is currently under construction and will partially open in 2023.
I have made the journey between Hakata and Nagasaki two or three times. It is one of my favourite train trips in Japan. For the second half of the journey the train hugs the coastline and the views out to sea are especially beautiful.
The coastal geography means that the line is single track for much of the distance. It is quite interesting to see how precisely JR Kyushu operates its express trains with such limited infrastructure. The Kamome service runs half hourly for most of the day, and so there is an intensive system of passing loops with trains usually waiting at each one all the way along the line.
The service is currently operated by two different types of train; the older 783 and the more modern 885. Both are restricted to 80 mph on the line.
In 2016 we returned to Japan on Finnair flying directly into Fukuoka from London via Helsinki. We made a trip to Nagasaki to see one of my wife’s friends in the city. We used the Kamome in both directions.
I first visited Nagasaki in 1990 when I was living in Yamaguchi and we had a Japan Railpass. I visited again a year later with my parents. My wife and I also went back again together in 2000.
I like Nagasaki a lot. It is situated around a large harbour and the whole setting is quite beautiful. It is a relatively small city (400,000) but there is plenty to see and do. It has a tram system too which is always a bonus and is a great way to get around.
The city is, of course, world famous as the site of the second (and hopefully last) atomic bombing. The area associated with the bombing is worth seeing once, but it is the city’s more positive connections with the outside world that make Nagasaki so interesting to me.
After opening its port up to trade in 1571 Nagasaki became quite a melting pot and received a lot of cultural influences and an inflow of people from countries such as Portugal, China, and the Netherlands.
We investigated some of these foreign connections on our most recent trip.
We started with lunch and “China”
“Nagasaki Champon” was invented in the late 19th century by the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Nagasaki. He saw a market among homesick Chinese students for a reasonably priced dish made with noodles, cheap meats and vegetable. The dish became popular with the Japanese too and eventually spread all over Japan. A descendant of the original restaurant is still operating in Nagasaki and it incorporates a little museum too.
We continued with religion and “Portugal”
We visited Nagasaki Cathedral and its associated museum. We learned about the growth of Catholicism in Japan generally and specifically in Nagasaki. The museum relates the story of the subsequent persecution of Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries and how Japan closed itself to the outside world between the 1630s and the 1850’s. Interestingly, when relations were restored again in the middle of the 19th century Catholicism found its base again in Nagasaki
We visited the Glover Garden to see the influence of the United Kingdom in general and the Scottish merchant Thomas Glover (1838-1911) in particular.
The Glover garden is a clever project that has gathered various late 19th century western buildings from around Nagasaki and relocated them together in a beautiful park setting on the side of a hill overlooking the harbour.
The buildings tell the story of how western countries, particularly the UK, influenced the growth of modern Japan. The buildings help to relate the story of how Glover helped Japanese shipbuilders to adapt to new techniques, how he modernised the fishing industry and how he helped set up the first beer brewing company (an ancestor of today’s Kirin) in Japan.
We had afternoon tea in one of the first western restaurants in Japan.
Finally we went to the Dejima area to see the influence of the Dutch on the city.
During the period when Japan was closed to the outside world only the Dutch were permitted to trade with Japan. They could do so only as long as they restricted themselves to Nagasaki and specifically to the island of Dejima inside the city.
Today the old buildings and museums in Dejima tell the story of the Dutch trading period and offer a fascinating image of what it must have been like to be Dutch and to visit the closed country that Japan was at the time.
In the evening we met my wife’s friend and we had an excellent dinner in a local Izakaya.