Hong Kong – On the Hong Kong Express

Hong Kong, April 2018: Today I have to say good bye to Japan. Glad I came? yes, but I wasn’t wowed. For me Japan (Fukuoka at least) was perhaps too organised, too clean and dare I say it – too nice! I like a place with some edginess, a place with a sense of adventure, a place like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh and a place like Hong Kong. In a few hours I’ll be on the Hong Kong Express heading South for another visit to the famous ex British territory. This visit will last 10 days and I hope to explore corners where other tourists don’t reach!

Fukuoka airport is in 2 parts – domestic and international. The subway train ends its service at the domestic terminal. From there passengers take a free shuttle bus to the international terminal located on the opposite side of the airfield, just a 10 minute ride around the edge of the airport. Today’s flight is the return leg of my HK Express ticket.

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About £65 for the 3 1/2 hour flight with a pre-booked meal on this Airbus A320 aircraft. A standard cabin of a budget airline with just enough space to manoeuvre a laptop from the floor to the pull-out table on the seat in front. With most of the flight over water, then with solid cloud cover approaching Hong Kong there isn’t much to see. The plane arrives as it departed 9 days ago – in mist and drizzle! But at least we’r here in one piece, ready to face the onslaught of tourists at Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, an hour away on airport bus A21.

Here’s a few plane pictures from Fukuoka airport…

Japan – Budget Travelers quick guide, Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: I’m not usually into writing guides. Being a casual visitor one is hardly qualified to issue comprehensive guidance to a specific destination, but here are a few pointers that may help if one if following in my footsteps.

Accommodation: Air BnB has the cheapest single room accommodation. Located in the neighbourhood of Takasago, £24 per night, 7th floor in a block (Google Map). Double bed in a super clean modern room with power outlets and access to a kitchen, laundry. 10 minutes walk to the nearest subway station and 25 minutes walk to Hakata main station, 4 minutes to the nearest Lawson convenience store and 10 minutes walk to the nearest noodle cabin.

Transport: The Subway train is the cheapest and most convenient way to get around. Buses are complicated to navigate but are similarly priced. 4 subway lines with the fare indicated at each stop. Via the ticket machine, choose the fare to pay and feed in cash. Out pops a ticket to ride. A transport card can be purchased but for few short journeys over 9 days I might have saved about 30p! Fares range from between 90p to about £1.50 single journeys.

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Chow, Nosh, Food: After accommodation, the next key element to staying alive in Japan is food and will represent a big slice of the budget. Here’s my suggestions on how to make the food expense account easier to swallow. First and always, eat local. I often used the Coco Curry house – inexpensive, delicious and good portion size. 3 steps to a good nosh up here are 1, choose how much rice, 2, choose which variety of curry sauce and how spicy it should be and finally choose the topping. I’d often plump for the creamy scrambled egg (£3.50) but there’s a wide variety to pick from. The noodle cabins are a good way to keeps costs down. Slurping noodle soup with locals is a great experience. The soup often comes with 2 slices of pork and a boiled egg (£3.75 – £4.50) plus a host of condiments to spice it all up. The American chains we’re all familiar with are buried deep inside shopping malls and I came to the conclusion represent poor value for money. For breakfast I would eat banana porridge. With access to a kitchen I’d cook up a batch every couple of days using a variety of short rice grain and Dutch Lady milk, delicious. works out to about 70p each feed with a 1KG bag lasting the 9 days.

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Sights worth seeing: Fukuoka old castle, great for a panoramic city view and seeing Sakura cherry blossoms and its FREE. Day trip to Nagasaki is an awesome experience. The Atomic Bomb Museum is an eye-opener. £30 return on the express bus, £2 Museum fee. Nanzoin Buddhist temple is a must see – a unique experience. £8 return on a local train from Hakata. Temple complex is FREE to enter. Fukuhama Beach and promenade are worth a visit for some Spring solitude and fresh sea air. Daibutsu Daienji Pagoda and garden is worth a visit – An urban garden with impressive architecture.

And so as we say farewell to Fukuoka, here’s a gallery of snaps depicting the city and its people. Next stop, Hong Kong!

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Japan – 5 Good, 2 Bad and 2 Ugly points about Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan April 2018: As this visit to Fukuoka Japan comes to an end here’s my summary of the good, the bad and the ugly of the place.

Good point 1: Prices are reasonable. I had expected Japan to be pricey. Growing up in the eighties when Japan was buying up all of New York, we’d here about how Japan is the worlds most expensive country to live in. Today, 2018 I can tell you its not. While still expensive on some items, generally prices for groceries here are not unreasonable compared to other destinations like Seoul for example.

Good point 2: Super easy public subway transport. Yes, getting around is made simple in Fukuoka –  there’s only 4 subway lines and the price of travelling them is cheap. Between 90p and £1.20 for journeys on the subway trains across the city with stations convenient to points of interest.

Good point 3: Food is tasty and good value for money when eating out. Even plain and simple noodles in broth is a cheap tasty favourite and with the local Coco curry house serving up delicious pork cutlet curry for about £3.80, well, I dare any budget traveller to complain!

Good point 4Polite and helpful. We often read or hear about how super polite the Japanese are and how helpful they can be. Well, let me tell you its absolutely true, most of the time. If one looks confused, soon there will be a gathering of locals offering help and advice.

Good point 5: Clean living culture. There’s an obsession with clean living and that’s no bad thing. There is minimal traffic pollution and just the occasional piece of garbage blowing around in the wind. While at traffic lights, a good number of cars have their engines switched off and buses are using the cleanest fuels with low emissions apparently, either way, one won’t be suffering with lungs full of diesel fumes in Fukuoka. While Westerners struggle with their addictive personalities, not so here. Smoking is a dirty word as are any kind of drugs. Rolling around the streets at 10 AM clutching a can of lager just doesn’t happen around here.

Bad point 1: Bad weather. Fukuoka’s weather is subject to maritime influences and coupled with the Northern hemispheric airflow and weather front circulation, its no surprise to find it frequently rains here, very cold too during the winter and spring months.

Bad point 2: Premium coffee is expensive. Yes, premium coffee lovers will find that cup of Starbucks is going to cost more than a bowl of noodles, so budget travelers you have been warned!

Ugly point 1: No architectural charm. Most cities around the Asia Pacific have a degree of architectural charm whether modern or historical. Fukuoka has neither sadly.

Ugly point 2: Well, i\’m really struggling to come up with anything else, so that’s it.

So there you have it – my subjective list of the good, the bad and the ugly of Fukuoka city.  My objective from the outset was to grab a taster of Japanese living away from full-on mass tourism that comes with Tokyo. That objective has been met with success here in Fukuoka where apart from Koreans, there really ain’t many international tourists here at all. Perhaps the place is more of a domestic destination in the summer and perhaps that’s why prices are reasonable. So, if you want an introduction to Japan that’s gentle, un-rushed then Id say Fukuoka fits the bill – just try to make it for the spring blossoms and bring warm cloths!

So What did 9 days in Fukuoka cost? here’s a rundown of the expense account:

Air BnB private room in a shared apartment – £24 x 9 = £216                                                  Daily food costs averaging £13 x 9 = £117                                                                                          Getting Around by subway return journeys £1.80 x 5 = £9                                                            Return train ticket to Nagasaki £30                                                                                                    Return air fare from Hong Kong £130

Grand total £502 give or take a few pounds.  That’s probably about as cheap as one can get for a visit to Japan staying in a private room. There is of course the option of sleeping in dorm beds, on floors or on couches where a few more quid can be saved, but personally, that’s all in the past.

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Japan – Urban Temple, Urban Character and A City Beach in Fookwarker

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018:  Sometimes its good to just wander around, explore without a plan in mind. I do this quite a lot and especially in a new place. Fukuoka as a city itself has proved to be an uninteresting place thus far, but today I’m hoping a little stroll around will turn up something interesting. But first,  lunch and back to the wonderful little noodle cabin I visited on day 1 (that post here). A big smile once grandpa remembered me from a few days ago. Well, I don’t imagine there are too many British tourists frequenting this quiet part of the city. Once again a big bowl of noodle soup – the Japanese refer to this as Ramen I have since learnt.

Another warm sunny day here in the city and catching my eye is a pagoda extending prominently into the clear blue sky. Its some distance away but its something to aim for so lets go and take a hike.

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Predominantly a grid street pattern so maintaining the general direction of north is pretty easy. The neighbourhood is residential with blocks and hi-rise giving way to little houses on little lanes – yes, the area hear has some urban character, the first I’ve come across since arriving in Fukuoka city.

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About a 20 minute hike from the old castle area and the pagoda spotted earlier suddenly looms up from the urban jungle. A partly modern affair with elements of history indicated by the very old wooden gate and arch. I’m not sure if this can be called a temple as such since there isn’t the usual paraphernalia around but an interesting place nonetheless, especially if one has a liking for gardening! The small patch of greenery here is nicely landscaped complete with goldfish pond. There’s absolutely no one around the place so I’ll just wander around until I’m kicked out, or worse carted away by the police! Its worth the risk to have a look at this lovely urban garden this some intriguing bonsai plants.

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A very peaceful 30 minutes wandering around this little garden. Google has the place on their map as Daibutsu Daienji, a Buddhist temple located about halfway between the coast and the castle (Google Map). Set in a low-rise neighbourhood of tiled roofs and whitewash villas this area is beginning to change my mind about Fukuoka!

A quick glance at the map and one realises the sea isn’t all that far away. About 15 or so minutes away is the city coastline, who knows, there might even be a beach! After navigating across a few major roads and under the cities main motorway one arrives at the coast and the sea and yes, a little beach. A deserted beach with a smattering of what I assume to be old food carts littering the promenade. Not the best of beaches but for today its a welcome sight after days of concrete, steel and glass. A time to savour that sea view and breath in the clean crisp sea air coming off the Sea of Japan. The promenade stretches for a bout 1/2 a mile until a fishing harbour, then its back inland again. (Google Map) 

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Sandwiched between the docks to the east and the CBD to the west, this makes for a good and easy escape from the urban jungle and all its inhabitants. Now though, its time I was heading back to base.

Japan – Fookwarker Castle Again, Hurrah for the sun

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: Just to recap quickly, my first day in Fukuoka was spent stomping around the remnants of Fukuoka Castle (That post here). Cold, wet and windy weather didn’t make for the best of times here and so I promised to return on a day when the sun makes an appearance – that’s today. So, after gulping down my economic breakfast of banana porridge, its off to the subway and another ride over to the Old Castle.

Two things to be thankful for right now – the suns still shining and the cherry blossoms are still here, displaying gloriously under the big blue sky. This really must be the very last of this years Sakura, so how lucky am I to catch it on such a sunny day 2nd week into April.

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Very few people are here on this warm spring morning, well it is a workday after all, but even so for being the city’s only major attraction there’s even a lack of tourists. So, with the place practically to myself, here’s another round of photos from the old medieval castle and the surroundings.

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The old castle is also the place to get that skyline view. A short climb up to the high-point and one is presented with a panorama of scenery incorporating the Fukouka central business district with Ohori park (Google Map) in the foreground. Other than the stone walls and a couple of look out towers, there’s really not much to see around the place, so about an hour here i’d think will suffice for most inquisitive tourists. For keen photographers, arrive before 11 AM for the best sun position and detail.

Japan – A Wet Saturday in Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: Yes, it had to happen sooner or later! following almost a week of sunny weather, today its raining cats and dogs. Overcast, cold with a howling wind, pretty miserable on this Saturday. So, what does one do on such a morning? According to Google there’s about 20 museums mainly clustered around the northern sections of the city and if ones passion is museums then great. On the other hand, if like me the museum of Asian art, Japanese ceramics or Fukuoka literature don’t really hit the G spot of excitement, then the alternatives are rather thin on the ground. Looks like its going to mean hanging around the local shopping mall then, if only to get out and stretch ones legs!

Well, lets not get bogged down with shopping malls because they’r not really my thing either. Since I’m on a tight budget frivolous spending is off the agenda!  Just to say that here in Fukuoka, the goods on offer seem quite reasonably priced, just about as expensive as England is which makes it reasonable for a Brit, especially digital gadgets. If you managed to decode that last sentence, good on you! So after stomping around in the dampness for a while, time to find lunch and get back to base. There’s really only so much gawping at shops one can take – its a man thing I suspect.

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Japan – The Giant Sleeping Buddha of Nanzo-in, Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: With numerous shrines and temples dotted around the place and without delving too deeply into the religious side of Japanese culture, one would have to assume there is a lot of spiritualism around here. Today’s mission, after a tip off from Google, is a hike to see one of Japans most unique religious sites – Nanzo-in Temple. Unique because its reputed to having the worlds largest reclining Buddha statue in situate but then every time I come across a giant Buddha it the worlds ‘biggest’ – Thailand, Sri Lanka and now Japan all making the same claim! So, lets go and check it out!

A smooth ride on the local train to Kidonnanzoinmae, a small village some 20 minutes east of Hakata main railway station. Passing briefly through rural plains before one is transported into lush green valleys and since the sun is shining once again better make a clicks of the camera.

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Almost like going back in time as one alights at the very small old fashioned station in the sleepiest of villages. Yes, its very quiet on this warm spring morning. A couple of corner shops selling pot noodles and confectionery gift boxes, but there’s no place to get a cup of coffee, not even in the station which I guess is why we can call this place quaint – no Macdonalds, KFC or Starbucks around here and that’s no bad thing because the character around here is pretty and unique, unspoiled I’d say.

The quaint tiny village…

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The Temple site is just across the main road and up a few steps, not too many I hope! Just my luck to find this Buddha on the top of a mountain requiring a 2 hour climb. The place is clearly of significant importance to the Japanese as one is greeted by a rather rotund bronze statue. I read somewhere that if the statue is rubbed then good fortune is imminent by way of winning the lottery – its happened twice apparently!

Travel Japan Fukuoka

Travel Japan Fukuoka

Soon one realises the place is full of statues. Thousands, well, maybe a few hundred of these stone relics are placed along the pathways, stone steps and on hillside ledges and most of them are all facing the same way, towards the east. Each has an expression different from the next, I couldn’t spot any 2 figures the same!. The more one looks the more one becomes mesmerized with the spectacle. These are of course the equivalent to headstones and I daresay there will be a pile of bones or ashes associated with each statue.

See if you can spot two the same…

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In natural surroundings where nature has the final say in some spots. The place is definitely tranquil with just a handful of  locals in meditation and a few tourists stomping around respectfully of course. For those with itchy feet with a desire to explore further then here starts a trail that could take days to complete. up hill and through the bamboo forest one had better have some supplies handy. For me, well, I’m still looking out for the big Buddha and according to a French gal, I’m not far from it!

Through the connecting tunnel then and one arrives face to face with a blue giant! The giant Buddha sleeping peacefully and can’t be woken, even for tourists. Joking aside, this is a very serious business for those that  come to worship and those that sell the paraphernalia that go’s with it such as incense sticks. An impressive figure, arrived in 1995 weighing 300 tons according to Wikipedia. Not that I’ve got a measuring tape on me, but at a guess I’d say this could well be the worlds biggest Buddha statue.

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A quick mention for the wonderful little cafe here. A lovely curry noodle soup for lunch and they do nice coffee to. The prices are reasonable, about the same as downtown. Shame its largely empty because the staff here really are welcoming beyond anything that you’d see in England.

So, one last look around before heading back to base in Fukuoka.

In Summary…

Nanzoin Temple (Google Map) makes a great 1/2 day excursion from Fukuoka with minimal effort. Only 20 minutes by local train on the Sasaguri line, costing £4 each way. The complex is free for everyone and I’d recommend having lunch at the little cafe. Even if one isn’t into Temples and religious sights, this one is quite unique and well worth a visit. Overall a good experience and by no means is a tourist trap either.

Japan – Chinatown and Urban Hills, Nagasaki

Nagasaki, Japan, April 2018: After having just spent a sobering hour in the Atomic Bomb Museum its time to explore a little further into Nagasaki. According to Google, the cities other attractions – Chinatown, temples, architecture etc are located South in an area not so obviously effected by the nuclear blast. Back through downtown then and towards the port area means a tram ride since its way to far to walk. To the Chinese area then a stomp around the hill districts I think would fill the next few hours.

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The trams seem pretty easy to navigate. According to the map displayed here at the stop Its just one tram South, the blue line covers just about all the places I have in mind for this afternoon. While most of these tram cars are modern, one or two look like some historic relics – in a nice sense of course. A throw back to the 20th century when getting around on electric trams was the pre-cursor to modern day mass transit in most cities of sizeable populations. Here in Nagasaki, its still the tram and of course buses as the main method of transit around the place. The fare is a flat 80p for any journey making this 20 minute trip down to Chinatown pretty good value I’d say!

Chinatown Nagasaki isn’t going to be the mind-blowing experience i’d hoped – infact its the most un-Chinese of Chinatowns I have ever seen! A few shops exist on a single street and if it wasn’t for the Chinese arch marking the start of proceedings I’m sure one wouldn’t even know they were in Chinatown. There’s nothing here to hold my interest, even for 10 minutes so I’m heading to the hills just behind!

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When one stops to take a breather after walking up the hilly slopes of Nagasaki hills only then does one realise how vast the place really is. Its also surprisingly calming up here away from the busy city and its throngs of tourists. Yes, I’m up here on my own, getting a few nods and smiles from the locals. This is of course where the locals live out their days away from the gaze of tourism down below. Communities constructed post 1945 I would suspect, and perhaps older communities too since the terrain here offered protection against the bomb blast and ensuing aftereffects.

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Hurrah for the sun, yes at last there’s a little afternoon sunshine to help boost my photography efforts a little. So, without further ado lets take a stroll through the urban hillsides of Nagasaki.

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Nagasaki has a natural harbour 

This is a great way to spend a few hours away from the city. The surrounds are pleasant with some fine local architecture and neatly kept gardens to view. As much as I would like to hang around here all day, I really must start heading down into the city again and make steps towards the bus station. Carefully following Google maps to the nearest tram stop, about 10 minutes I’ve suddenly realised I need a cup of coffee. Well, thankfully there’s plenty of options around here including the American chains. A street turned shopping arcade has the option of a quick coffee – Macdonalds! well, its the quickest and actually the cheapest coffee I’ve found thus far in Japan, tastes OK too! Better grab a tram and find the bus station, somewhere opposite the railway station hopefully.

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In Summary… 

So that was Nagasaki in a day. There are of course more sights to see than the few I did. Temples, parks and then there’s the natural harbour to look at. This would have meant rushing around and getting annoyed at tourists all to frequently. My style today was somewhat relaxed while achieving the main objective of discovering and learning the effects of Nuclear war first hand conveyed by those that were there, albeit in a museum.

Cost – £30 return bus, £2 Museum entrance, £1.50 pumpkin soup lunch £1.80 tram fares, £1.10 Macdonald’s coffee

Japan – Peace Park 2 and the Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki

Nagasaki, Japan, April 2018:  Quick recap… About 3 hours ago I took a bus from Fukuoka and arrived here in Nagasaki. From downtown I’ve walked North towards the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace park, ate pumpkin soup, looked around the local area and now I’m ready to explore the remainder of the park before going into the A-Bomb Museum.

There are 2 parts to the Peace Park – ‘Ground Zero’ and then further along, a display of sculptures in nicely kept peaceful surroundings. Well, they would be peaceful surroundings if the Chinese tour groups would be more respectful! Yes, thus far not seen, but here they are, cackling as loudly as ever! So, with a few sculptures, some impressive some not so, its a few minutes of contemplation under the gray overcast sky before moving across to the Bomb Museum.

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The Atomic Bomb Museum next, just a short walk uphill following the signs and a trail of international tourists, at least its stopped raining! Housed in a modern building on several floors and after climbing up on the outside one is to make their way down again via a circular ramp after purchasing the £2.50 entrance ticket. The first artifact visitors see is a clock. A clock distorted in its face with its dials at precisely 11:02 and thus from here on, the brutality of warfare is brought to us with gruesome photographs of death and destruction. A boys body lies in the road charred, while we see just outline shadows of other bodied instantly vaporised with the searing heat. For the next hour or so visitors will learn about the events leading up to 11:02 AM, August 9th, 1945 and the explosion of the second nuclear bomb in the name of warfare, the science and politics behind it all. They will see evidence of the effects and lingering consequences of a nuclear explosion and learn of  the politics surrounding the future.

The exhibits are numerous, the science interesting sometimes overwhelming and the graphic images somewhat shocking. The whole thing leaves one with a mixed bag of emotions, but I came to try and understand the shear destructive power of a nuclear bomb and that goal has been achieved. If Mr. Putin, Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump set off their nuclear fireworks I’m pretty sure that’s the end of us all!

I could go on for hours more with descriptions of the photo’s displayed but really its just pretty gruesome, so that’s where I’ll leave the Museum for now but perhaps one day you’ll go and see for yourself the story of Nagasaki and the bomb.

A-Bomb Museum, Nagasaki…

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In the next post (under construction)… A stomp in the Nagasaki Hills..

Japan – Peace Park, Ground Zero, Nagasaki

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: Nagasaki, a city infamously know for one of Japans darkest days during World War 2. The last of two cities to ever get nuked in anger and thus shortly after ended the mother of all wars back in 1945. After a 2 1/2 hour bus ride I’m here in that city partly to satisfy a morbid curiosity of what a nuclear attack actually means –  to try and comprehend the immediate effects of the explosion, its aftermath and effects on the city as a whole.

First impression after being dropped off outside the city’s railway station is how ugly the place is. Yes, a rusting overpass, inane architecture much like that of Taipei. Add in the now steady rain and here in Nagasaki city centre, the scene is rather a drab one. However, lets not dwell on the state of downtown because time is short – just a few hours to see the sights of Nagasaki.

The main tourist draw here is the peace park and Atomic Bomb museum both located about 30 minutes walk north according to Google Maps. I could hop on one of those trams but after the bus journey a good old stomp wont do any harm. So, in the rain a stomp north with a photo or two along the way. As one leaves the dreary downtown the scene changes with residential lanes extending up hillsides.

Shopping mall with outside entertainment…

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Heading away from the city centre…

Its quite surreal arriving at the point of  ‘Ground Zero‘. Appropriate weather for a somber occasion perhaps – gray and damp, pretty miserable on this Tuesday morning. Ground zero is the point at where the atomic bomb exploded, August 9th 1945, 500 meters up. Its marked as the ‘Hypocentre’ with a black stone column. Almost 73 years ago the place around here was obliterated with the area reduced to 99% rubble. A few surviving relics are placed nearby such as the scorched pillars from the Nagasaki Cathedral. Nowadays its hard to imagine the scene back then. The ashes of the past have long gone with the area rebuilt and vegetation re-established. The park itself is a green space surrounded by flora and some late cherry blossoms. The actual A-Bomb Museum is uphill a little but before visiting there, I need to find some lunch.

Ground Zero…

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A residential area around the Peace Park with properties extending up the slopes and along the ridges but not much in the way of eats. A few pricey joints here and there but wait, here’s a little market street, maybe  I’ll find some lunch inside. Yes, a local market with produce as its main trades and a counter selling pumpkin soup – just the job, I’ll take 2 cups please! I’m so hungry I not even bothering to comparing prices, I vaguely have the figure of £1.50 running through my mind.

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A quick look around the area before exploring the rest of the park and into the Atomic Bomb Museum. Again, its hard to imagine the place as a pile of rubble all those years ago. Standing against the hilly backdrop, the rebuilt cathedral stands above the spray of urbanisation suddenly releasing a rush of emotion as slowly some perspective of the area and its re-birth are brought into focus.

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Local life in Nagasaki is thriving nowadays. The streets around here are bustling with locals, school kids and traffic – all the ingredients of modern living can be witnessed, with a smile.

In The Next Post (under construction)… Peace Park part 2 and the A-Bomb Museum