Eccentric England: The Headington Shark

Headington Shark
Henry Flower

Once again, I’m back in Oxford for my annual summer working holiday. I love this place. This quintessentially English city offers beautiful colleges, the world’s coolest museum, even the chance to bump into the Queen.

But all this pales in comparison to the sight of a giant shark crashing into a roof.

The Oxford suburb of Headington is a bit dull, so local resident Bill Heine at 2 New High Street decided to commission sculptor John Buckley to create a 25-foot shark to adorn his roof. It was put up on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. As Heine explained, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”

The clipboard Nazis in the local council were not amused. They tried to have it removed as a pubic hazard. When their engineer said it was perfectly safe, they tried various other excuses. Much legal wrangling ensued.

Decades later, the naysayers are all gone and the shark is still there. It’s a much-loved local landmark, a modern folly. I see it every time I come in on the bus from London and enjoy pointing it out to newcomers. There’s even a Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook with more than a thousand members. So if you’re coming to Oxford, pop on over and see the Headington Shark.

Nagasaki, Japan: More Than You Think

Outside of Japan, the port town of Nagasaki is simply known for one thing – the bombing that ended the second world war. There are plenty of reminders around the city, such as the striking single-legged torii gate (below) whose other half was blown off in the atomic blast, the stirring statues scattered about town and numerous memorials. It’s an important site in world history and worth going to for that reason alone.

Of course, no trip to Nagasaki would be complete without visiting Peace Park or the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, but there is so much more to Nagasaki.Yellow ceramic oragami paper cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Yellow origami ceramic cranes in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

A monument under where the atomic bomb hypocenter was located.

Peace Park being visited by an elementary school field trip.

Nagasaki played an extremely important role in Japan’s history prior to World War II as well. For over 200 years, between 1633 and 1853, Nagasaki was the only port in all of Japan that was officially allowed to conduct trade with foreign countries. The impact of this role can still be seen today in the city’s food and architecture.

Megane-bashi, the spectacles bridge.

Megane-bashi, Japanese for “spectacles bridge”, is named for the reflection it creates in the water, is a very popular and romantic spot. Visiting around sunset is key and so is finding the heart-shaped brick in the stonework.

Castella, one of Nagasaki’s unique foods.

Today, Nagasaki is probably best known within Japan for its food. The two most popular dishes are castella (above) and champon. Castella is a simple cake that was brought in by the Portuguese. It’s rich with egg flavors and can be purchased virtually anywhere in the city. On the right is the original flavor and on the left is a green tea variation. Champon is a very popular pork and seafood noodle soup that was inspired from Chinese food. There is even a popular chain restaurant called Ringer Hut that sells Nagasaki champon throughout Japan.

The cute streetcars of Nagasaki.

Much like in the U.S., most cities in Japan used to have thriving streetcar networks. Today, most have ceased operation in favor of subways and making more room for cars. However, most of the big cities in southern Japan have held onto their streetcar tradition, including Nagasaki. It’s a convenient and fun way to get around the city and their bright colors are adorable.

Onboard a Nagasaki streetcar.

A row of torii gates at a local Shinto shrine.

Nagasaki is certainly not a main attraction in Japan, and quite a ways from many of the big name sights, but it’s worth it. It’s a quiet and quaint seaside town. It’s a great place to wander around and get lost in, to stumble across small neighborhood Shinto shrines and handicraft stores. There’s an important history to Nagasaki, without a doubt, but there’s a wealth of sights to see and things to do.

[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]

Germany opens new military museum in Dresden

Germany, WehrmachtA new military museum has opened in Dresden, Germany.

The Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr opened today and is sure to court controversy. With the shadow of the Third Reich always looming over the German historical consciousness, the design of the displays was a delicate matter. The museum’s director says that the focus is on individuals, both as perpetrators and victims, as well as the many who stood aside and did nothing.

The museum covers the entire history of armed conflict, not just World War Two, and features many graphic images of death. German war atrocities are shown with an unflinching eye. Other countries don’t get off lightly either. The American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 185,000 people (mostly civilians), are memorialized with an artwork showing the victims’ shadows left by the bombs’ blasts.

[Photo courtesy Bundesarchiv]

Dutch theme park in Japan plans to add a casino to boost visitor numbers

When the Japanese city of Nagasaki wanted to honor their historic relationship with the Netherlands, they decided that a monument was just not going to be enough – so they built an entire Dutch city.

The Huis Ten Bosch theme park opened its gates in 1992 – and it has never turned a profit. Initially, the builders expected up to one million international visitors a year. Sadly, much to their surprise, international visitors preferred to visit the real country over a mock one.

In March, Japanese travel agency H.I.S. took over from the previous owners of Huis Ten Bosch, and hope to revive the park. Part of their plan is to add a casino and an outlet mall – because looking at old buildings was clearly not enough of a draw.

The first steps to raising visitor numbers were probably more effective than anything else – they slashed ticket prices and added more attractions.

Still, if you ask me, the best way to see The Netherlands is to actually visit The Netherlands.

(Photo from Flickr: Joone4u)