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(Top 3) Chinatown’s In Japan February 21, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “(Top 3) Chinatown’s In Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LA

There are 3 major Chinatown districts in Japan.  They are located in Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.  I have had the pleasure to visit each one and all of them are different.  To me Chinatown is a tourist destination that isn’t really an actual Chinese area.  When people say you must go to Chinatown, I feel like I am about to head to a tourist trap with various vendors hawking their wares.  Japan, unfortunately, continues this stereotypical trend.  Being of Chinese descent and having visited China I feel that Chinatown is not a great representation of Chinese people or China in general.  While the surrounding areas may be more representative, I feel as if I entered an amusement park where stereotypical Chinese culture is on display.

The biggest Chinatown in Japan is in Yokohama.  Located at the end of the Minato-mirai Line, which happens to be connected to the Tokyu Toyoko Line, is the Chinatown where most people will visit when they come to Japan.  It also happens to be the most crowded and touristy of the three Chinatowns.  I found that the area is almost completely filled with Japanese people and various restaurants selling different types of buns.  I never had a great time visiting Chinatown in Yokohama and rarely recommend it to tourists.  Japanese people tend to love it there and think that the food is all authentic Chinese food.  Unfortunately most of it is Japanese variations of traditional Chinese dishes.  It can be hard to get excited when the Chinese chefs adapt their dishes to Japanese tastes, but that is how they make their money.  I may also be slightly biased due to the fact that I found a small worm/maggot in a buffet lunch and all they did was use the tongs to throw it in the garbage.  Not the most hygienic method of fixing the problem if you ask me.  If you enjoy large crowds and Japanese style Chinese food, Yokohama’s Chinatown is a nice place to visit.

As you can tell, bigger does not equal better.  Kobe has the second largest Chinatown in Japan.  It is actually called Nankinmachi (after Nanjing) rather than Chukagai (Chinese Street).  It is one of the best Chinatowns in Japan, in my opinion.  It is lined with various food stalls and a few touristy souvenir shops as well as the stereotypical Chinese style architecture of Asian styled red roofs.  Once you get past the touristy look of this Chinatown, you can get a lot of good food and a large variety of it too.  Kobe’s Chinatown is also less crowded than Yokohama which makes it a lot easier to move around.  Sometimes trying to get around in Yokohama can be a challenge as there are people spread across the entire street making it nearly impossible to move faster than a snail.  In Kobe, this is not a problem at all.  The only problem with the Kobe Chinatown is the fact that it is very touristy.  It is hard to escape the fact that they do cater to tourists but thankfully I also saw many Chinese tourists when I visited so it couldn’t be that bad.  I’m sure they are curious as to how Japan views Chinese culture just as Japanese people are curious to try sushi in other countries.

The last Chinatown, and smallest is Nagasaki.  It spans just a few blocks and it is lined with various large and small shops.  Like the other Chinatown’s, it is dominated with restaurants but the unique feature of this Chinatown is the number of other types of shops such as fireworks and medicine shops.  You can easily notice a huge difference in atmosphere in Nagasaki.  I felt relatively safe in Yokohama and Kobe however in Nagasaki I felt it was a little dangerous, comparatively.  It could also be the fact that I walked in the area around midnight.  In Nagasaki, it is common to see Chinese people as in Kobe but you can also eat the famous Nagasaki Champon, Sara Udon, and Kakuni Manju.  These are all delicious, yet Japanese variations of originally Chinese dishes.  I do enjoy them the most as they are fairly close to Chinese tastes.  Due to the size of Nagasaki’s Chinatown, it is difficult to elaborate a lot on the different things in Chinatown as there really isn’t a lot.

Chinatown in Japan is something that a resident should see once in their stay in Japan.  However for the average tourist, I doubt a trip to Chinatown would be very high on their list of things to see or do.  I find it to be overly touristy and focused on Japanese people.  As with many other Chinatown’s in various other countries, I rarely visit them.  I prefer to go to the real thing.  I have already visited Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing.  I doubt I could find anything that is specifically Chinese in any Chinatown in the world, even in my hometown Vancouver.  The food is good, for the most part, but dealing with the crowds and tourist activities is not as enjoyable for me.  I would much rather go to a normal Chinese restaurant in another area than head to Chinatown.  In fact, for people looking for a more authentic Chinese food, Ikebukuro is reputed as a secret Chinatown.  Many Chinese people take up residence near Ikebukuro leading to many Chinese restaurants being located there.  It is also somewhat contentious as the Chinatown merchants in Yokohama have complained openly about the idea of starting a Chinese Business Association in Ikebukuro as they feel it will create a rival Chinatown to their destination.  I doubt things will really change in the near future but who knows about the long term.

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Nagasaki (Part II) November 9, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kyushu, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nagasaki (Part II)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-uL

One of the better areas of Nagasaki is the Glover Park area.  It’s a large area at the south end of Nagasaki itself.  The area contains Glover Garden, Oura Catholic Church, and the nearby Holland (Dutch) Slope.  The Holland Slope is something that can easily be skipped.  It’s a nice place with lots of history.  There are a few items of interest, but in reality, other than a few plaques and an old style road, it’s not special.  The Oura Catholic Church is something that should be visited.  While entrance to the church requires a fee, visiting the grounds outside is free.  You can easily just walk around the outside and not worry too much.  Inside, you will see a typical western style church architecture and art.  It is the oldest church in Japan and a national treasure.  The inside of the church is not particularly interesting, but paying the fee means they can help maintain the church for historical reasons, at least I think so.  Outside, you can learn a lot about the history of the Catholic Church in Japan.  The church is dedicated to the 26 martyrs, Catholics who were crucified when Christianity was outlawed, and also the history of Catholicism during this period.  You can see a few of the artefacts on how they hid their faith within Buddhism and Shinto.  The outside ground of the church was quite interesting as you can see the Japanese influences on the surrounding gardens and their take on Catholicism.

From the church, it’s a relatively short walk to Glover Garden.  It’s a long way to the top of the hill, but when you pay the admission and get to the top, it’s a nice place to relax.  If you are from outside Asia, you might not care too much for the park.  There is a lot of history in this open air museum.  You will see old buildings of the former government officials and other foreign dignitaries in Glover Garden.  You will be able to see the history of Japan during the Meiji Restoration, I think.  It’s the period of time when Japan was becoming westernized and leading up to the period before World War II.  You can see Europeans in traditional Japanese clothes, and vice versa.  While I didn’t care too much for the buildings, I will say that the entire park was beautiful and worth a visit.  What you take from it will depend on your own personal mindset.   If you keep in mind that the architecture will be more European with Japanese accents, you’ll be able to appreciate it a lot more.  I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a top 10 in Japan.  It was a must see for me though.

Nagasaki has two places in two different “Japan’s Top 3” lists.  The Top 3 list was created, in my opinion, to spark interest in various regions and promote tourism within Japan.  Unfortunately, this has become so rampant that the top 3 lists are losing their value, and in all honesty, I don’t think some of them warrant a mention.  For example, I mentioned earlier that the Nagasaki Chinatown was small and not very interesting, yet it’s part of the top 3 Chinatowns in Japan.  In fact, Chinatowns in Japan are far from exciting.  The second point of interest for Nagasaki, in terms of top 3 items, is the night view.  Nagasaki is part of the top 3 night views, along with Hakodate, and Kobe/Osaka.  I spent some time going to Mt. Inasa to check out the night view one evening.  Going there, you have to go through the Fuchijinja (shrine).  It’s a small shrine that is located next to the ropeway at the base of Mt. Inasa.  The ropeway is, of course, the easiest method to access the top of the mountain.  The shrine itself is beautifully set and there are some interesting smaller shrines just above the main shrine.  They have 6 shrines dedicated to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.  It was the first time I had seen something like that in Japan, and I’d recommend a quick trip up to see these small shrines.  To reach the top of Mt. Insasa, you have to either take the ropeway, or drive up to the top.  When you go up to the top of Mt. Inasa, it’s nice to get their a little early to see the sunset along with the night view, of course.  It doesn’t take long to take a few pictures and return back to Nagasaki.  At the top, if you arrive a little late, in time for the sunset, there isn’t much to do.  Most of the shops are closed before dinner, and to be honest, there aren’t many shops at all.  I was surprised that a Top 3 Night View had so little in the way of things to do, and the ropeway closed early as well.  I’d say it’s worth the trip to the top as the view is very nice.  Whether I’d say it’s one of the best in Japan or not is debatable, but if something is recommended, why not try it.

Nagasaki is a lot bigger than you can expect.  You don’t have to do too much to get around and see everything.  While you can walk around and see almost everything without using public transportation, I didn’t get a chance to see some of the other famous sights, such as the peace park, and a Chinese temple.  It was a little far from the area I was staying in, but if I do go back to Nagasaki, those are two places that I will have to visit.  I do think that visiting Nagasaki is an important place, and there is a lot more to do than you would expect.  Whether you rush and do everything over a couple days, or take your time and spend several days there, you will leave very happy.

This is Part II of a two part series on Nagasaki.  To read more on Nagasaki, please head over to Part I.

Nagasaki Information:

Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Nagasaki
Japan’s Top 3 (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Japan%27s_Top_3
Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2162.html
Nagasaki Tourism Agency: http://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/mlang/english/

Oura Church (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ōura_Church
Meganebashi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megane_Bridge

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Nagasaki (Part I) November 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kyushu, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nagasaki (Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-uD

Nagasaki is a small city located in Kyushu, southern Japan.  It is often one of the most overlooked cities in Japan as it’s far from Tokyo.  It is one of the most historically important cities in Japan, but a city without the traditional culture of Kyoto, or the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.  It was one of the very few ports that allowed trade with the Europeans from the 16th to 19th centuries.  When visiting Nagasaki, you can easily see this influence in the architecture.  In the modern era, Nagasaki is more infamously known as being the second and last city to be bombed by an atomic bomb.  While the bombing in Hiroshima is well known, very few people outside Japan remember that a second bomb was dropped in Nagasaki.  When people hear this, they tend to be a bit surprised. Nagasaki is a very different city to Hiroshima.  Rather than promoting peace through education, they have decided to grow past it, and much of the city focuses on its history with the Portuguese and Dutch.  That’s not to say that they don’t still remember and commemorate the tragedy of the Nagasaki Bombing.

The first thing to know about Nagasaki is that it’s a hilly town.  Getting around town can be difficult as you have to climb up and down various hills.  If you are staying in the main area, there is nothing to worry about.  You can easily walk from Nagasaki Station to wherever you need to go, without taking the tram or a bus.  However, if you are carrying bags, it’s a good idea to take public transportation.  The station area is a very busy area that is full of cars and people.  It’s the centre transfer point as the final stop for the JR lines is Nagasaki Station.  You must transfer to one of the many buses, or the trams to get anywhere else within the downtown core.  Walking south along the harbour will take you to Dejima Wharf, and a nice park.  This area is a great place to relax during the day.  There are a few large shopping malls between the park and the station, but once you cross into Dejima Wharf, you suddenly enter a different world. Dejima Wharf is like any typical tourist wharf area.  There are boats and lots of bars and restaurants.  It’s probably one of the nicest places I’ve seen and I’d love to go back and enjoy a day just drinking on the wharf.  Just past the wharf is a nice large park that is on reclaimed land.  It’s where the Japanese Coast Guard moor their various ships and also for summer festivals.  When I went in July 2010, they had a big summer long festival where you can get all of the local foods, get free entertainment, and enjoy fireworks from time to time.  It was a bustling place with thousands of people enjoying themselves.

Next to the park and wharf is Dejima itself.  Dejima was a colony/prison island for Europeans.  When the Portuguese and Dutch did their trading during the isolation period in Japan, they were limited to this island.  Today, you’d be hard pressed to tell that it was an actual island.  The river that isolated the island is only several metres wide, and it doesn’t look that deep or dangerous.  The waters were very calm and no dangerous animals in sight.  In fact, as Nagasaki grew over the years, so did the land area.  Dejima used to be an island that was surrounded by Nagasaki Bay, but they have since reclaimed the land and the entire area is surrounded by land.  The most interesting aspect of this area is that they still had some old warehouses and churches in the area.  If you are walking along the river, you can see the old buildings.  The entire Dejima area is now a museum and you can enter the museum itself, but you must pay an entry fee.  Inside, you will be able to see some scale models of the island from the old days, and you might see some artefacts of the island as well.  Personally, I didn’t bother to enter, but if I return again, I will.

Nagasaki is well known for its Chinatown.  There are three famous Chinatowns in Japan, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.  The Chinatown in Nagasaki is probably the smallest of the three, and it wasn’t very special.  It’s a nice place and easily visited within 10 minutes.  There are the typical Chinese red gates throughout the area, but at night, they have special lights at the top of the gates within Chinatown with various pictures of dragons and tigers.  The entire area felt like a typical Chinatown tourist trap.  Various Chinese restaurants and some medicine shops were the main attraction.  For those who aren’t into visiting Chinatown, if you head a little further north, you’ll run into the shopping area of Nagasaki.

The shopping area of Nagasaki is a nice place to relax during the day.  At night, it’s busy and difficult to get around.  I’d suggest avoiding it after 4pm if you are looking to have a relaxing trip.  If you continue north along the shopping arcade, rather than east-west, you will come to a nice small quiet street where you can see various small shops selling crafts.   The character alone is worth a short visit as you never know what treasure you will find there.  Heading in this direction will also lead to Meganebashi, or Spectacles Bridge.  It’s supposedly the oldest stone bridge in Japan, and the water is so clean that on a sunny day, the reflection in the water with the arches makes the bridge look like a pair of spectacles.  The area itself is very clean and you can view the bridge from two areas, one that is level to the bridge deck itself, and the other is from the river.  It’s a nice place to visit, but in reality, nothing special.  If you do have the time, please go and visit the landmark, but if you don’t have the time, don’t worry about missing it.   It’s not a must see in Nagasaki.

This is Part I of a two part series on Nagasaki.  Please continue reading Part II.

Nagasaki Information:

Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Nagasaki
Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2162.html
Nagasaki Tourism Agency: http://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/mlang/english/
Japan’s Top 3 (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Japan%27s_Top_3

Dejima (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dejima
Meganebashi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megane_Bridge

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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