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

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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

Japan – Fukuoka, The Bus to Nagasaki

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: I’ve been toying with the idea of a trip to Nagasaki for a few days now. According to information gleaned from the airport bus ticket desk a few days ago there are buses every 30 minutes, costs about £30 return and a journey time of 2 1/2 hours from Hakata bus station. A day trip to Nagasaki then is i’d say is perfectly feasible. So, today its an early stomp across to Hakata to catch the 7 AM bus south to Nagasaki.

The bus station is easy enough to find – its in a shopping mall next to the railway station. What isn’t easy is finding somewhere to actually buy a ticket. The buses here are local with tickets dispensed by machine, and no sign of a bus to Nagasaki let alone a ticket desk for even machine for an express intercity ticket. I’ve already missed my planned 7 AM departure, so now what? Another circuit of the station in a last attempt at finding this bus. A sign board catches my eye with indications that there are more buses on the 2nd and 3rd floor above! Oh silly me not to think I might be in a  multi-level bus station. At last, via the 3rd floor of this shopping mall there’s a counter selling the required tickets to Nagasaki – £30 with a credit card secures me a place on the next bus and the return trip later.

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After pick-ups around the city centre we’r finally heading south to Nagasaki, should arrive 10.15 AM hopefully, allowing plenty of time to stomp around the place before returning on the 5 PM. So, for the next 2 1/2 hours sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately what started as a reasonable day weather-wise has descended into another day of low clouds and drizzle. Nonetheless, one can still imagine green hills and a blue sky as the bus speeds past quaint little settlements between the hills.

Scenery on the way to Nagasaki…

 

NEXT… Nagasaki Hypocentre, Ground Zero…

Japan – Higashihirao Neighbourhood, Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: On my travels across Asia I’ll often go and explore a neighbourhood. Whether its in Bangkok or Kathmandu, suburban neighbourhoods can often offer an insight to real local life well off the beaten tourist track. One can experience local food at cheaper prices and explore the local architecture in peaceful surroundings, not to mention the parks and green spaces and get a real identity for the country that tourist ghettos just can’t provide.

Today we’re going to explore a neighbourhood close to the airport called Higashihirao. This place caught my eye on Google Maps because its predominantly low rise tiled roof properties. I’m guessing there might be a degree of community spirit to be discovered here and of course some local Japanese urban character. So, since the sun’s shining and the spring breeze is warm, lets go and stomp the neighbourhood.

Just a short ride across to the airport then from there its about half an hours stomp South towards Higashihirao along the busy highway. As the edge of suburbia approaches, turn left into a plethora of quiet back streets and start exploring.

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If the Japanese have a social class system then I’d say this area belongs to the middle and middle-upper class. Properties here have character, look well maintained and have neat looking gardens. very quiet actually – no traffic, no people just tweeting birds under the blue sky. The place extends uphill but not enough to get dizzy through lack of oxygen – just a gently incline towards the local shrine.

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Japanese shrines are generally places of historic interest to the average tourist, and an essential element of Japanese culture. The scriptures and artwork to be found here look in a pretty historic state but impressive nonetheless.

The first sign of life  – a group of boys monkeying around with sticks. Only one of them can speak enough English to say Hi and reveal his name, but they all smile and politely nod as they move away into the woodlands.

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woodland trails around here leading up through the spring blossoms and red maple into a clearing surrounded by cherry blossoms, and plenty of them to. These must be the late variety since until now most of this seasons flowering has been and gone. Oh look, there’s another shrine, or something like it anyway. Very peaceful in the spring afternoon sunshine surrounded with the faint aroma of woodlands and blossoms.

A great afternoon away from shopping malls, skyscrapers and the incessant roar of the urban Jungle – well, to be fair the Japanese urban jungle of Fukuoka isn’t all that bad compared to others around Asia. For example, if a traffic light is on red, the place with take on an eerie quietness for a minute or two as the engines of queuing traffic will shut down! Anyway, just a little insight into suburbia Japan that is the neighbourhood of Higashihirao (Google Map).

Japan – Japanese Noodle Soup, A Family Affair

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: So having spent the last couple of hours freezing almost to hypothermia while stomping around an old ruined castle, one needs to thaw ones anatomy a little. Given that there appears to be an abundance of chicken noodle soup in Japan, i’d say right now that’ll do pretty nicely.

A little more stomping to do, along some minor streets would probably reveal a noodle counter. Yes, this looks fine with reasonable prices and plenty of soup and noodles according to the pictures in the window.

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A quaint little place, small with a couple of those tables that one can only kneel at or sit at crossed legged in true Japanese fashion. Thankfully the place also has a stool bar, a little more user friendly than those tables. Communication isn’t easy, no English around here, but eventually by doing my finger pointing act at what looks pretty nice on the table there, we come to a basic understanding that I’ll have what they’ve got!

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Noddle soup with a bit of everything is how I’ll describe this – and its mighty tasty! Some kind of flavoured broth, bits of fish, meat, vegetables and condiments its simple uncomplicated cheap food that’s beginning to thaw ones parts other soups just wouldn’t reach.

Looks like a family affair in here today. Grandma left holding the baby while husband pops out to let wife have her lunch. Cooking behind the scenes is grandpa and they all seem happy to have me, an English tourist stumbling into their lunch bar, eating their rather lovely food.

550 Yen, about £3.70 for this large bowl of freshly prepared noodle soup. Oh, and I got given some coffee afterwards, complimentary.

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Japan – Fukuoka Old Castle Ruins and Sakura in the rain

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: Anyone visiting Fukuoka will likely end at the city’s main attraction, the old castle ruins. The grounds form part of the giant city park which I can see might take sometime to explore. Renowned for being full of Japanese cherry blossoms I’m hoping there’s still some of it left! So, lets go forth and checkout whats left of this seasons Sakura blossoms and the old medieval castle.

A depleted display but still quite a reasonable show – yes, looks like i’ll catch the last of the cherry blossoms as the stomp along the boulevard between the subway and the park reveals. Its the second week into April so I should probably count myself lucky!

The weather, still freezing cold with a biting wind, overcast with spits and spots of drizzle but the rain is holding off for now, so lets go and grab some photos in pink before it all gets blown away.

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A public park so one is not required to part with any cash. A Well maintained place with health and safety clearly of paramount importance, plenty of toilets around too which is useful since cold weather like this definitely has an adverse effect on the bladder! A lot of girls dressed in costumes and hair styled in the shape of those Japanese cartoons we know an anime. Whether its a pastime or part of a festival I don’t know but with their unappealing rather grim expressions, I’m not even going to ask!. So, while theses characters wander between the castle ruins, I’ll take a stroll under the blossoms, and quickly because its just started to rain!

Not the best day to be stomping around in costumes…but this tourist thanks you for it!

 

In-between belts of rain I’v managed to cover some ground without getting soaked. All that’s left of the castle is a few walls, entrance steps and a couple of lookout posts. To the casual overseas tourist, not that interesting without a deep understanding of Japanese history – well, I don’t have the time for that in-depth research, so lets move swiftly on.

 

From the castles high point, there are panoramic views across to the city’s downtown, rather unimpressive on a dark, wet day like this – a view better saved for when then the sun shines. For now though I won’t dwell any further here on Fukuoka castle and go and look for some lunch.

A view from the high point..

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NEXT… A noodle cabin, family affair at lunchtime

 

Japan – Introducing Fukuoka (FooKwarker)

Japan, April 2018: In short, Fukuoka is a major coastal city in southern Japan, surrounded by hills and a few mountains and the airport is slap bang in the middle of downtown – well, close enough. I picked on Fukuoka because I want to experience a taste of Japanese living without the full-on tourism Tokyo or Osaka would have been and If I get a little board, I can always nip across to the airport and grab a few aeroplane photographs. Air BnB is a reasonable £24 per night for a private room but as for other associated costs of living, well, we’ll see how they stack up across the next 9 days.

Day 1 and its freezing cold, Gray overcast with the potential for rain and its a damn howling wind. Unfortunately I’ve left my winter cloths back in Nepal – I didn’t reckon Japan being this cold in April! I’m am however determined to get out and go and find some cherry blossom. Since I’m already a week late and with this howling wind, there’s a danger that all will disappear – blown away, all the way to Hong Kong probably!

Stomping around in the drizzle looking for breakfast and I’ve ended up near Yakuin Subway station (Google Map) and Masters cafe. So, for Japanese breakfast number 1 its a small bowl of plain rice, chicken soup with tofu and fish eggs. Oh, and comes with a raw egg all for £3.30. The staff kindly boil the egg for me this time, but apparently its supposed to be eaten raw!

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Quick research suggests the city park areas will be good for seeing whats left of this years cherry blossom, referenced by the Japanese as Sakura. The good news is that i’m in the right side of town, bad news is the weather looks slightly worse than when I started out, typically English one might say. Ohori Park then, just a few stops on the subway according to Google. (Google Map).

NEXT.. City parks,  Pink, Gray and anime.

Japan – Arriving Fukuoka (Fookwarker), Trouble ahead

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: arriving into Fukuoka airport is interesting. After circling round an Island for 40 minutes the aircraft makes its approach low over the city before a sharp left turn to line up with the runway. Its a small airport, almost deserted at the small international arrivals hall which is bad news because that gives the officials more time for potential interrogation!

Arrivals from most developed nations have visa free access for 3 months, providing one can give precise address details and phone numbers of the accommodation one is residing at while . This I wasn’t expecting – and all those details they wan’t are stored with Air BnB, on my Ipad! Thankfully the airport has WiFi but its slow and cumbersome with the Air BnB App, especially when one is slightly panicked. At last, 20 minutes and the officials at immigration let me in.

Next hurdle is the customs check. Since everyone has gone, I’m the sole passenger left and a big target. Yes, one gets pulled over and thoroughly interrogated! Seems that my visit to Nepal earlier this year has caused concern as they pull out a list of drugs with their associated images. I shake my head and thus the unpacking of my backpack begins with a degree of small talk in the process.

At last, on Japanese turf. With some rather sketchy directions from the Air BnB host I’m heading towards Hakata, on the airport bus, dark and cold. At Hakata I,m to get a train then a bus…actually I’m abandoning that plan. I can walk from here, 25 minutes or so and much easier with Google maps than trying to navigate Japanese bus’s. Dark, cold and windy but after about 40 minutes of looking for the place, helped by the staff at the nearby Lawson corner shop, I’m on the 7th floor of a housing block in Takasago and starving! I spotted a little noodle bar type of place up the road there, better make that the next stop before it all closes down for the night.

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Tonight’s cheap and cheerful chow comes in the form of noodle soup topped with 2 thin slices of pork. £4 for this, but right now I’m too tired to pass Judgement, just to say it was palatable.

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Hong Kong – Goodbye but not Farewell, Chep Lak Kok

Hong Kong, April 2018: Today is moving day. This time I’m off to Japan and the city of Fukuoka (Fookwarker) for 9 days, then I shall return to Hong Kong for further exploration.

A21 is the dedicated airport bus from Nathan Road, runs frequently, picks up just outside by the mosque, 33 HK$ cash only and no change so I am told by the hostel guy. Well, he got the pick up wrong – its down the road a bit and not obvious either. Thanks to the queue of white tourists towing suitcases I was able to find the bus stop and tag on in the hope that they know whats what! Another ride on the double-deck bus this stunningly sunny morning – an hour to the airport and indeed it is 33 HK$, about £3.30.

To the airport…

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Efficiency beyond what were’r used to in the West. Here at Hong Kong Airport the queues my be long but they move fast thanks to officials directing passengers to the x-ray machines. No messing about having to get undressed or unpacking ones digital gadgets. Into the machines they go and out the other end hopefully! Immigration, about 30 seconds if the leaving card has been completed correctly and with in 10 minutes one is into the departure halls. With time to kill then an opportunity here for some plane spotting before My Hong Kong Express flight to Fukuoka.

Hmm.. “I wounder if that’s my plane!”

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One of the smartest airports I’ve travelled through in recent times. Spacious, plenty of natural light and loads of planes to spot! On the downside, if ones flight is with a budget airline then there’s quite a long hike along with an internal train ride to get to a terminal right in the middle of the airfield. Opened 20 years ago to replace Kai Tak airport Hong Kong’s Chep Lak Kok still looks brand new and fresh.  While passengers await their boarding call, there’s a bank of Apple Mac’s internet ready to while away the time.

Tracking planes in and out of the airport…

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3 good reasons to fly with budget airline Hong Kong Express. First, the boarding pass is sent via email as an image or downloadable PDF via their App. All I had to do was show the image on my phone to security for them to scan me into the system. Second, the cabin crew always with a smile and attentive which pretty rare on budget carriers these days! I was even asked “when would you like your food sir, now or later?”. Third, the price was pretty good – £60 for the 3 1/3 flight and that’s not a promotional fare either! So, with lunch over, time to settle in for the next couple of hours until Japan.

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