Sasebo & Hirado

japan first traded with the West here, and the influences are still strong

Nestled in the northern part of Nagasaki Prefecture, the cities of Sasebo and Hirado offer a unique blend of cultural heritage and natural beauty. These cities have a rich history and have been heavily influenced by their interactions with the West. From stunning landscapes to delicious cuisine, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Sasebo and Hirado.

Sasebo, a city that has now gained international recognition, was once a small fishing village under the control of the Hirado Domain during the Meiji period. It was during this time that the Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Heihachiro Togo, visited Sasebo and recognized its potential. With its protected deep-water harbor, nearby coal mines, and strategic location near China and Korea, Sasebo became the site of the Sasebo Naval District in 1889. This harbor played a crucial role as a major port for the Japanese navy during the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War. Even after World War II, it remained an important navy base until its closure.

The Sasebo we know today was founded on April 1, 1902. While it was spared from the devastation of the atomic bomb, Sasebo did suffer significant damage during World War II. However, it managed to recover and rebuild itself as a thriving city. One of the notable influences on Sasebo’s culture is the presence of the United States Navy base. The U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo was established in 1946, and since then, Sasebo has become a place where visitors can experience various aspects of American culture. One of the most famous culinary delights of Sasebo is the Sasebo Burger, renowned for its soft and sticky buns, generous portions of lettuce, and flavorful sauce. It is a must-try for any food lover visiting the city.

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In contrast to the bustling city of Sasebo, Hirado offers a more tranquil and traditional experience. Connected to the mainland Nagasaki by a striking red bridge, Hirado has a long history as a port of call for ships traveling between the Asian mainland and Japan. The Hirado Dutch Trading Post, built in 1609, stands as a testament to the city’s rich trading history. Visitors can explore the trading post and witness the influence of the Dutch on Hirado’s culture. Despite these foreign influences, Hirado has managed to retain its unique Japanese identity, making it a fascinating destination for cultural enthusiasts.

One of the must-visit attractions in Hirado is Hirado Castle, the former residence of the Matsura Clan. The castle offers breathtaking views of Hirado Port and the ancient forest of Kurokojima Island. It is an ideal spot to immerse oneself in the beauty of Hirado’s surroundings. Additionally, Hirado is known for its vibrant festivals that take place throughout the year. One of the most prominent festivals is the Tabira Jangara, a harvest dance where the dancers keep their faces hidden throughout the performance. This dance has been recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Property, highlighting its cultural significance.

For nature enthusiasts, the Kawachi-toge pass provides a picturesque hiking trail with panoramic views of the island. On a clear day, visitors can even catch a glimpse of the nearby islands of Iki and Tsushima. Another natural wonder in Hirado is the Thousand Lantern Festival, held in spring to celebrate the renewal of the season. Fumonji Temple is adorned with beautifully crafted stone and bamboo lanterns, creating a mesmerizing sight. The festival also features food stalls, live music, and a vibrant atmosphere that captures the essence of Hirado’s spirit.

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To reach Sasebo, travelers can take JR trains from Fukuoka or Nagasaki. From Sasebo, a 90-minute bus ride will take visitors to Hirado. Alternatively, JR limited express trains run from Hakata Station in Fukuoka, providing a two-hour journey to Sasebo. For those coming from Nagasaki, hourly JR Seaside Liner trains offer a 100-minute journey. Nagasaki Airport is also well-connected to Sasebo via airport buses.

In conclusion, Sasebo and Hirado are two cities in Nagasaki Prefecture that offer a glimpse into Japan’s historical and cultural connections with the West. From the naval heritage of Sasebo to the trading history of Hirado, these cities showcase the lasting influences of their interactions with foreign cultures. Whether it’s exploring historical sites, indulging in local cuisine, or immersing oneself in the natural beauty of the region, Sasebo and Hirado have something to offer every visitor. Discover the charm and allure of these hidden gems and create unforgettable memories in the heart of Nagasaki.

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