9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 3 (Part 2): Hashima Island

Saturday, 28 January 2017


Day 3: Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park --> Hashima Island (端島) --> Glover Garden --> Mt Inasa Night View --> Hotel

007 fans! Can you recognise what's in the photo above?
That's right! It's the inspiration behind villain Raoul Silva's secret headquarters in the 007 James Bond movie Skyfall! When I found out, as someone who enjoys going to the movies, I knew I had to include it into the itinerary. Hence, after our morning at the bomb museum and peace park, we proceeded to Hashima Island (端島).
Hashima Island has another name, Gunkanjima (軍艦島) which roughly translates to mean Battleship Island. Well, if you look at the first photo, you probably can understand why that name was given. It definitely does look like some creepy floating battleship, doesn't it!
To get to Hashima Island, you will have to join one of the organised guided tours. The journey starts with a 30 minutes ferry ride where we passed by the Mitsuibishi factories. As it is a guided tour, there was a guide on-board as well as a documentary that was being shown. Unfortunately, it was all in Japanese and we could not understand a single thing that was being shared. Thankfully, it was a scenic ride and I spent my time grabbing pictures instead. My parents took a short nap though.

While doing my research online, I had read that on several occasions, especially if the seas was particularly rough or if the weather was not good, the tour boats may not be able to dock on the island itself. On those occasions, the ferries would instead make their way around the island before going off.
Hence, while I was precariously swaying on deck taking a gazillion photos, I was also fervently praying that we would be able to dock and get onto the island. I mean, why would I want to come this far only to just circle around the island?! And when our first attempt to dock wasn't successful, I wondered for a moment if we would really be that unlucky! Thankfully, the crew managed it on the second try and we all clambered off onto Hashima Island.
Once on Hashima Island, we were struck by how desolate the place was. All around us, the place was in complete ruins! Seriously, it doesn't take much to imagine it being a site for a Hollywood zombie flick. Ok, yeah I know Skyfall. Hashima Island makes for a good villain lair too. All those crumbling buildings are booby-traps themselves!
Having said that, it's not as if we were free to roam the place on our own. The guided tours were extremely strict about you keeping to designed routes. Any sign of attempted wandering, the few guides around would be quick to put a stop to it. I guess, no one wanted to deal with the curious tourist who fell through a floorboard.

Speaking of which, the guided tours catered mostly to the Japanese crowd. Nevertheless, there was a couple of guides who did very simple English translation for the international crowd. They also checked to see if you had someone accompanying who could do the translation. Once they realised that we had an accompanying guide, the tour operators would stop to ensure that our guide would do the translation for us before continuing with their spiel. Very professionally considerate!

Hashima Island was initially established in 1887 for undersea coal mining and its development spurred on by Japan's industrialisation period. The ruins were a perfect backdrop when we heard about its dark past as a site of forced labour during the Second World War. Indeed, the whispering winds that swept past sounded as if they were the moans of those war prisoners who perished on the island.
By 1959, Hashima Island reached its peak population of over 5000 and became one of the most densely populated places on earth. That's over 5000 people on a tiny 6.3 hectares plot of land! Still no sense of how tight that is? Ok, imagine over 5000 people trying to live and work within 4 soccer pitches. That's how insanely populated it was! Despite that, they could afford to build a hospital and even a theatre on that island!
Anyway, we also learnt that people abandoned the island once the coal mines were depleted in 1974. Overnight, Hashima Island became a ghost town. And in the 3 decades that followed, weather and sea waves destroyed whatever's left. Hashima Island was recently minted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When she heard this, my mom just couldn't wrap her head around it. We are fortunate to live in Singapore and hence we are very sheltered from disasters and calamities. Plus, mom's from the era where unfortunately, she was not able to complete even her primary education. For her, it was probably a first, in-the-face moment of how a place could turn to rubble so quickly. My mom first made sure she understood correctly that it was a mere 30 years. Thereafter, she kept asking me how bricks and stones could just "crumble like that" or if we abandoned Singapore, whether "Singapore would also crumble like that".

But that's what travelling should do right! For us to learn, experience and expand our horizons! I'm so glad we made this trip! Truly another highlight and I strongly recommend this. Except maybe try and do this either earlier in the morning or later in the day. We were on the 1:30 pm departing boat and did the tour in the mid-day scorching sun. By the way, there's no sheltered walkway on this tour, so you're going to have to literally brave the same elements that the dilapidated buildings do.

Tip: Bring a bottle of water with you, you're going to need it. An umbrella too if you don't mind carrying one around.

I think on my next trip with my parents, I'm going to have to carry a backpack instead. I ended up hauling all their bottled water in my shoulder tote. Add the weight of my camera and lens. It wasn't long before my shoulder let me know just how burdened it was!

So although it was a fascinating tour, in a way, I was also quite glad when they signalled that the visit was over and we had to return to the ferry. Out of the hot sun and off with the load!

Except, the tour hadn't really ended!

The ferry circled around the island for a 360 degrees view. There was some explanation going on at this time, so it was probably something significant that they were trying to share. But my guide was fast asleep so nothing there for us since we now had no one to help us translate. Instead I made my way onto the deck for the fantastic photo opportunity! Heh. That's when I got the first pic of this post.

By the time I returned to my seat, the Japanese tour operators were in the midst of doing a souvenir sale. We didn't get any as we prefer to buy food over kitschy keychains and stuff. Nevertheless, they presented each of us with a certificate when we got off the ferry at the end (Nagasaki Ferry Port Terminal) so there was still something for keepsake.

Tourist Information

Hashima Island
Get your tour tickets from Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal
Ticket price: 300 yen

Nagasaki's Specialty Dishes

Saturday, 21 January 2017

There's quite a number of food specialties to watch out for in Nagasaki and so I'm going to dedicate a post just for that today.
First, something that you can actually bring home as a souvenir: Nagasaki's yummy Castella cake.
The castella cake (カステラ Kasutera) is a popular Japanese sponge cake made with flour, sugar, eggs and a bit of starch. There's debate as to whether the cake has its origins as Portuguese or Spanish with the popular version being the Portuguese merchants bringing with them a cake called Pão de Castela, or “bread from Castile”, named after a region of central Spain.
Castella cakes can now be easily found in Nagasaki, especially along popular tourist destinations and in souvenir shops. Most come packaged in long, rectangular boxes. Awesome as it's easier to pack them into the luggage. The cake also comes in a variety of flavours with the more common ones such as matcha, honey and chocolate.

In the short time that we were in Nagasaki, my parents and I tried so many different brands and flavours of castella cakes from various shops. Our unanimous choice: the original flavoured ones from Bunmeido (文明堂). Amazingly soft and the sweetness was just nice. My dad liked the matcha ones. Great if you're a matcha fan since it was literally a burst of matcha in the mouth with every bite taken. Unfortunately, I'm not and so dad lost out to me and mom on what to buy back. Heh.
There's plenty of Bunmeido outlets all over Nagasaki and you probably can also get them at the airport. We happened to get ours at the outlet that's just next to the Peace Park (pictured in photo  above). Totally convenient if you're going to drop by the Peace Park or the Atomic Bomb Museum. And the sales people were the ever gracious Japanese sort, they let us try almost everything and even worked out the expiry dates for us.
The castella cakes from Bunmeido come in yellow boxes. I've circled it in red in the photo below for your reference.
If you prefer something more savoury or if you like your meat, you may wish to try the kakuni manju (角煮).  Kakuni is a Japanese braised pork dish that is very similar to the Chinese Dong Bo Pork. Not surprising since this dish has its roots with the Chinese merchants who came to Nagasaki. The Japanese version is cooked in dashi, mirin, soy sauce, sugar and sake, and is milder in taste compared to the Chinese Dong Bo Pork.
Kakuni manju is then a slice of the tender, braised pork placed in-between a soft, steamed white bun (see photo below). The one I had from a stall near my hotel was absolutely delicious. I forgot to grab a picture of the stall (that was how much I fell in love with the pork bun) but I can give you the directions:
Locate the hotel Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill. This is a hotel that is right at the base of Oura Cathedral and Glover Garden. Next to the hotel is a walkway lined with shops that leads to both attractions. The shop from which I purchased the buns is located at the base of this shopping street (starting from the hotel). It's one of the first 4 stalls and the first one that you hit from the base of the shopping street.
Simply awesome melt-in-your-mouth goodness. My mom and I wanted to share another one but we had already grabbed the last two available before the shop's closing.
Alternatively, this dish can also be found in the many restaurants in Nagasaki Chinatown. We were so impressed with it that when we were in Chinatown, we ordered the dish again. Unfortunately, we very much preferred the one we had from the stall near our hotel.
Next up on my list of recommendation is something that is touted as a Nagasaki's regional cuisine. In fact, it's almost a mantra I heard from various friends and colleagues who found out that I was visiting Nagasaki: "When in Nagasaki, eat Champon".
Champon was first served by Shikairo (四海楼), a Chinese restaurant in Nagasaki. You probably also guessed it, it's yet another dish that's inspired by Chinese cuisine. Champon is prepared by frying pork, seafood and vegetables with lard. A broth made by boiling chicken and pig bones is then added. The last item that is added to the soup is the special champon noodles.
Since Shikairo was located right opposite our hotel, it became a no-brainer that we just had to try the champon at the original store! Unfortunately, I found the place a tourist trap. I didn't like the food we ordered. The sweet and sour pork was over-fried and most dishes were just bland. Portions were more than decent though and definitely filling. While my parents and I didn't mind the champon, we all agreed that an earlier meal we had at another Chinese restaurant was way better. To us, champon wasn't really worth the hype but the sunset view at Shikairo made up for it.
If you only had time for one meal in Nagasaki though, I would recommend instead that you try the lesser known sara udon (see photo above). This is another native noodle dish, and is basically fried noodles topped with stir-fried vegetables, seafood and pork.
We tried ours at a restaurant called Horaiken Bekkan (宝来軒別館). This was an amazing Internet find that's located near the Atomic Bomb Museum. When you see locals taking up table spaces, you can be sure that the food is great. My parents and I loved every single dish we ordered, and to this day, my mom fondly remembers the sara udon that we tried.
So, if you're visiting Nagasaki soon, don't forget to try these 4 Nagasaki specialty dishes!
Tourist Information
Local name: 文明堂
There are many Bunmeido outlets in Nagasaki but here, I've included the address of the main store. You may wish to google to check if there are any outlets near your hotel or place-of-attraction you plan to visit.
Address: 1-1 Edomachi, Nagasaki
Local address: 江戸町1-1
DID: +81 95-824-0002
Local name: 四海樓
Address: 4-5 Matsugae-machi, Nagasaki 850-0921
Local address: 〒850-0921松が枝町4-5
DID: +81 95-822-1296
Horaiken Bekkan
Local name: 宝来軒別館
Address: 5-23 Hiranomachi, Nagasaki 852-8117
Local address: 〒852-8117平野町5-23
DID: +81 95-846-2277

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 3 (Part 1): Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Apologies for the hiatus. There were so many things that have happened in the past months and I just didn't have the time or want to blog. With 2017, I'm just trying to get back on track, so here's the rest of my Kyushu trip.

Nagasaki (長崎市)

Nagasaki's location as a important port of call secured its position as a centre of Chinese, Portuguese and Dutch influence from the 16th to the 19th centuries. When in Nagasaki, the Portuguese and Dutch influences are abound and something which you should not miss as a traveller.

Nagasaki is also notoriously known as the second (and let's all pray that it will be the last) city to have experienced a nuclear attack in 1945.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum (長崎原爆資料館)
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum was completed in April 1996 and is dedicated to serve as a remembrance of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. A visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum is almost a "must-do" for all travellers visiting Nagasaki.
Day 3: Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park --> Hashima Island --> Glover Garden --> Mt Inasa Night View --> Hotel
Upon entering the museum, you can almost feel a palpable sense of solemnity and quiet permeating through the place. The stark white and grey interiors of the entrance add to the atmosphere, almost as if they are aware of the sobering and tragic exhibits that lie beyond.

This "String of a Thousand Cranes" art piece hangs along the walls while you walk down the inclined slope towards the exhibits. The Japanese believe that if a wish can be granted if you fold a thousand paper cranes. These strings of paper cranes have since become symbolic of hope and peace.

Exhibits within the museum depicted the devastating horrors of the explosion and advocated against nuclear war. Our tour guide shared that even though he had brought many to this place so many times, to date, he still could not look at the exhibits without feeling emotional. And mind you, our guide was not a local Japanese.
Initially I was still worried that my parents would not be appreciative of the museum tour. They're not history buffs nor are they the museum sort; my mom once breezed through a local museum in 15 minutes and then waited a full 2 hours for me. My fears were thankfully unfounded.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum did well in presenting a tragic historical event that was made easily understandable. My parents spent quite some time looking through the many photos and items, such as the replica of the Fat Man bomb, pictorial scenes of destruction, the impact of exposure to radiation, etc. My mom, who's illiterate, even asked for translations of some of the signages that came with exhibits. Like I said, other times when I brought her to similar places, she would have just breezed through them. Do note that most of the exhibits were well accompanied by explanations in English for the international visitors, so language wouldn't be an issue here.
This particular stop on the itinerary was an emotionally educational one. Having said that, it's not as if we ended the museum visit feeling depressed. Rather, it was more of a sobering effect about the dangers of nuclear war. Perhaps, even of war in general. I remember having a discussion later that day with my parents about our current state of world affairs. And at the end of the tour, my parents even asked if I could bring them to the Hiroshima museum one day.
I didn't take much photos while touring the museum either. It just seemed disrespectful. However, I sought to capture these many strings of colourful folded paper cranes. These appeared at the end of the museum tour and like a breath of fresh air, brought to bear the significance of the hope for peace.


Enroute to the Peace Park, we also passed by the Hypocenter. This is the point directly beneath where the bomb exploded 500 feet above on that fateful, day (9 August 1945, 11:02 am), i.e. Ground Zero. The site is now marked by a black cenotaph that is ringed by concentric circles, symbolic of the ripples of devastation. The empty tomb at the base stands in honour for those who evaporated and were never found in the aftermath.

Next to the Hypocenter, the scorched ruins of a church wall stands. This is what remains of what was once the largest Catholic church in Japan, the Urakami Cathedral. Likewise, the foundational stones that innocently line the path towards the Peace Park are testaments of what was once a prison. Nothing much else within the very simple and innocent compounds, and hence, all the more effective as reminders of the devastation endured.

Given the historical significance, I was pretty sure we would encounter students before we started the tour. In fact, our tour guide shared that encountering students and learning groups at this venue was common. Sometimes, the place would be crowded with students and most groups would often bring along strings of coloured paper cranes as offerings. I sincerely hope that the lesson of peace would be felt by as many of these student as possible.

The Peace Park is adjacent to the Atomic Bomb Museum and a pleasant, short walk to get there. I remembered reading that it was feared that the place would be devoid of vegetation for 75 years from all the radiation. So these lovely flowers made it a memorable shot for me.
The hallmark of the Peace Park is the bluish 10-meter-tall Peace Statue created by sculptor Seibo Kitamura.  This is a very well-known symbolic piece of artwork; the right hand of the statue points to the sky, signifying the threat of nuclear weapons and war. The extended left hand symbolizes the wish for eternal peace. The mild expression on the statue's face is representative of divine grace, while the closed eyes offer a prayer for the souls of the victims of the bombing. The folded leg is also symbolic of the wish for peace while the other leg appears in a pose indicative of the need to be ready to stand up against nuclear threat.
Unfortunately, I wondered how many of the swarm of Chinese tourists (who were all loudly clamouring to take photos and selfies with the statue) understood and appreciated the significance of the Peace Statue.
By the way, apart from the students, please also be prepared for the swarm of Chinese tourists that are likely to descend on the place as well. Given Nagasaki's location on the sea routes as well as it's historic Chinese influences, it is common for cruise tours from China to make a stop-over at Nagasaki.
The city of Nagasaki had also invited donations of peace monuments from countries around the world.

I can't recall which country the above sculpture was from but the one below, of a mother holding her child high, was a symbol of love and peace from Italy.

This huge stone with the Mandarin characters for Peace is from China.

Halfway through, I thought I had lost my parents. It wasn't a very big park but there were tons of Chinese tourists abound. It was only after a bit of looking around that I found that they were distracted by a lady selling ice-cream! It wasn't any ordinary ice-cream either. Check out my picture below!

In a place full of beautiful sculptures, this amazing ice-cream lady painstakingly sculpted her ice-cream cones to look like roses! I should have take a video of her at work, but unfortunately, my parents had by then shoved one of her cones into my hands. She's a regular feature at the Peace Park and even shared that she had once been on a Japanese TV show because of her amazing skill! In fact, she was being filmed while we were there! So do look out for her if you're visiting the Peace Park!
Tourist Information
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Local Name: 長崎原爆資料館
Address:  7-8 Hirano-machi
Local address: 平野町7-8
DID: +81 95-844-1231
Opening hours: Mondays to Sundays, 8:30 am to 5 pm. Admission closes 30 mins before closing.
Admission fees: 200 yen
Peace Park
Local Name: 平和公園
Address: 2400 Matsuyama-machi, Nagasaki 852-8118
Local address: 〒852-8118松山町2400-
DID: +81 95-829-1171