Moving time: 2:06:34 – Distance: 37.8km – Climbing: 345m
I visited Nagasaki in the summer of 2019 for a conference. I planned the trip at the last minute, and the dates coincided with the commemoration of the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945. Flights from Tokyo were overpriced, so I opted to ride the train and carry my bike.
Summer in Japan is like the inside of the mouth of a dog. It’s wet, uncomfortable, and sticky. The humidity retains the heat of the day and radiates it at night. It gives no breaks. For weeks at a time, there are no shades where to hide. On certain days, like during my visit to Nagasaki, temperatures are simply too high to be safe for cycling. Going back to the analogy, during this trip it felt like the inside of the mouth of a running pug—too much to bare. So, after 38km of cycling at night, I decided to cut it short and avoid heatstroke.
Despite the heat-induced discomfort, I enjoyed riding in Nagasaki and I am happy to recommend the city to other cyclists. Climbers will especially love the steep hills that average gradients of 19 percent.
Nagasaki is a beautiful town with a long, complicated history. Many of the fortunes and tragedies of Nagasaki seem to be tied to its geography. Located in the south-west of Kyushu island, the city served as a natural point of contact with Asia and Europe. The first Portuguese ships landed shore in the early sixteenth century, bringing goods and missionaries to Japan. After a few decades, the shogunate grew wary of western influence and outlawed Catholicism. In 1959, 26 Catholics were crucified under the order of the local Daimyo. The crucifixion was the first in a series that occurred until the mid-seventeenth century.
During the Meiji restoration, Nagasaki became once more a hub for foreign trade. Moreover, given its strategic location, a large base of the Imperial Japanese Navy was built in the city to support the expansionist plans in Asia. In this period, Nagasaki also grew into a key industrial city with heavy industries and shipyards. After the colonization of Korea, a few thousands of Korean conscripts were sent to work in factories in Nagasaki, only to perish during the 1945 bombing.
The long, multicultural history of Nagasaki is still visible today in its cuisine and architecture. Some of the local dishes have Chinese roots (e.g., Nagasaki champon and sara udon) while others have western origins (e.g., Nagasaki castella and Toruko rice).
Nagasaki develops in the floor of a long, narrow valley. Most tourist attractions are conveniently located on a straight line from north to south. I started cycling in the evening near the Peace Park, the epicenter of the atomic explosion, and rode south. Before leaving the city, I passed by the memorial of the 26 Martyrs, the Megane Bridge, Chinatown, the Higashiyamate Western Houses, and the Nagasaki Sea Park. From there, I headed up to the viewpoint of Mt. Nabekanmuri. The climb was short, but very, very steep. However, the view from atop was highly rewarding.
I continued riding south until I reached Koyagimachi. The roads along the coast were very quiet as most of the traffic passes inland on larger state roads. Outside of the city, unlike Tokyo, it’s pitch-dark at night. So, if you plan to ride on a summer evening, charge the batteries of your lights.
In conclusion, Nagasaki is a fun city to ride, with lots of historical attractions, panoramas, and steep climbs. If you happen to be in Kyushu, do not miss it. But if you are planning a summer trip, go to Hokkaido instead!