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]

U.S. – Mexico to create peace park along border?

The U.S. and Mexico have announced plans to move ahead with the creation of a peace park along their shared border. Presidents Obama and Calderon met last month to sign an agreement that would protect the wild and untamed wilderness along both sides of the border near Big Bend National Park in West Texas, although concerns about security along that border do remain.

Big Bend has been a bit of a hidden gem in the U.S. national park system almost since it was established back in 1944. Located in a remote region of Texas, it attracts an average of just 300,000 visitors per year. That makes for a rather uncrowded experience considering its size, which is in excess of 1250 square miles. The park has miles of hiking and backpacking trail, and falls along the Rio Grande River, which offers up excellent rafting at certain times of the year. The park is an interesting combination of both harsh deserts and rugged mountains, and is home to a wide variety of wildlife including mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, golden eagles, and more.

Reportedly the wilderness on the Mexican side of the border is even more untamed and seldom visited by travelers, with herds of Big Horn sheep and even more bears roaming the area. That region is currently mostly unprotected however and the creation of the international peace park would change that, making both sides of the border an ecological refuge.

There are challenges to overcome to make the park a reality however. Opponents to the idea say that it will create security issues and could allow illegal immigrants and drug traffickers better access to the border. Supports of the plan point to the the Glacier-Waterton park which falls along the U.S.-Canadian border, as a model of success for this type of park. Of course, there aren’t a lot of Canadians trying to sneak into the States either.

For now, the plan is just a very basic idea, and the details on how the park will be organized and operated, remain to be worked out. But if, and when, it is completed, the park will be a new and amazing destination for adventure travelers looking to visit one of the lesser known and untrammeled regions in all of North America.

[Photo credit: Eleutherosmartin via WikiCommons]