The history of Nagasaki Prefecture has long been a story of the ocean. It is almost totally surrounded by water, and no other area of Japan can boast quite as many islands as this prefecture. Although the capital city of Nagasaki is located on the northwestern side of the large island of Kyushu, more than 45% of its landmass comes from the 971 smaller islands off the coast, including the famous islands of Gunkan and Tsushima.
Because the city of Nagasaki is easily accessible through the East China Sea, many foreign countries used its port as a route for cultural exchange with all of Japan. In the Muromachi Period (1330s-1573 AD), both the British and the Dutch East India Companies established their presence in the city, and trade flourished. The Edo Period (1603-1868 AD) saw the closing of Japan to all foreign influence, except through the specially-built Dejima in the bay of Nagasaki. Christianity also found a foothold in the prefecture, although it did not always coexist peacefully. The Shimabara Rebellion of 1637 saw a violent end to the Christian movement, and soon after, the expulsion of most foreign traders.
Despite this, many Western-style buildings still stand in the city. The house of Thomas Blake Glover, a Scottish weapons merchant, has remained almost unchanged in the past 150 years, retaining its stunning views of the harbor and its rich historical atmosphere. It has even become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition to its beautiful natural scenery and exciting history, Nagasaki also gets attention for its unique local cuisine. Its most famous fare includes renowned dishes such as champon (noodles stewed with seafood and vegetables) and Sara udon (fried udon topped with ingredients such as cabbage, sprouts, and squid.). But Nagasaki’s local menu is much wider than just these dishes. How about some recommendations?
First of all is castella. Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century brought all sorts of goods to Nagasaki, including New World crops like tobacco and corn. But they also brought their recipes, like castella. This type of cake has since become a popular souvenir throughout Japan. However, the original recipe brought by these missionaries was filtered through the techniques of traditional Nagasaki confectionary, eventually becoming the lighter, fluffier cake that exists today.
Shippoku, or Wakaran cuisine, is another good example of a Nagasaki specialty that has grown out of its international character. When written in Chinese characters, wakaran displays the characters for China, Japan, and the Netherlands. Just, as its name implies, this type of traditional cuisine consists of Japanese, Chinese, and Western dishes all heap together of large platters, from which everyone shares communally.
A current tasty trend among the local residents of Nagasaki is the Turkish Rice. Upon seeing this dish, you might mistake it for Okosama Lunch (lunch plate for children), as it piles on delicious ingredients like pilaf, spaghetti, and pork cutlet. Its connection with Turkey remains somewhat mysterious (Muslims do not eat pork), but some believe that the name is slightly more metaphorical. Pilaf (fried rice) to represent China, spaghetti to represent Europe, and pork to represent a bridge between the two regions, just as Turkey acts as the bridge between Asia and the West.
Finally, there is Guzoni, a traditional soup from the Shimabara area. Its savory flavor is paired with basic rice cake, but it is not a simple dish. Having over 10 ingredients from both the mountains and the sea, it takes a skilled culinary artist to perfect this dish.
Based on these recommendations, it is easy to see that Nagasaki can be considered an international melting pot inside Japan, and it is a great place to contemporaneously experience the culture, history, and cuisine of Japan and its neighbors.