You can feel the air temperature dropping as the road from Obama leaves sea level and climbs up towards the Unzen plateau (727m). The name means "fairyland among the clouds", perhaps inspired by the pure mountain air and colourful flourishes of vegetation – azaleas in spring and autumn leaves – against which the onsen and their alter egos, the spitting, scalding jigoku ("hells"), compete for attention. Unzen town – little more than a village – consists largely of resort hotels and souvenir shops strung out along the main road, but fortunately there's plenty of space around and a variety of walking trails lead off into the surrounding national park. The best hikes explore the peaks of Unzen-dake; from the top of Fugen-dake you're rewarded with splendid views of the Ariake Sea and, if you're lucky, Aso-san's steaming cauldron.
Unzen's commercial centre lies in the north, concentrated between the two bus stations, while its geographical centre consists of a steaming, barren area known as jigoku. TThe nicest of Unzen's public baths is the old-style Kojigoku Onsen (daily 9am–9pm; ¥400), which occupies two octagonal wooden buildings roughly ten minutes' walk south of town. The highest and most active jigoku, Daikyōkan Jigoku, takes its name ("great shout") from the shrill noise produced as it emits hydrogen sulphide steam at 120°C.
A ropeway (daily 8.50am–5.20pm; ¥1220 return) takes visitors up from Nita Pass to an observation platform to the west of Fugen-dake. From the top station, you can walk up Fugen-dake (1347m) in about an hour for views of the 1990 lava dome, though check beforehand that the path is open. Buses to the ropeway (at Nita Pass) depart from Unzen's Ken-ei bus terminal.
The best accommodation option in Unzen is AKaseya (Tel:0957/73-3321, Web: kaseya.jp ; Price: ¥10000-15000), an attractive old ryokan on the main road just beyond the Shimatetsu bus station. Fukuda-ya (Tel:0957/73-2151, Web: www.fukudaya.co.jp ; Price: ¥10000-15000) is a more modern hotel with well-sized rooms and a choice of rotemburo. When it comes to eating, you're best off taking meals in your hotel.
The best and easiest way to travel around the beautiful bay city of Nagasaki is by tram. The logical place to begin is central Nagasaki in the station area, known as Daikoku-machi, which although cluttered and busy, contains dozens of shops and restaurants of interest, as well as a handful of popular and moderately-priced business hotels, including the Hotel Wing Port Nagasaki and the Nagasaki Orion Hotel , whose comfortable rooms are only about a one minute walk from Nagasaki Station. In addition, extra travel information is available nearby at the Nagasaki Tourist Information Centre . After getting some maps and advice, the 26 Martyrs Memorial , in Nishizaka-machi, and Honren-ji in Chikugo-machi are both popular tourist attractions. Make sure to budget plenty of time to see all the sites, however, as Nagasaki's plentiful hills and steep inclines, wear out even the fittest of tourists.
Continuing south, you will soon be at the Ohato tram stop. Reaching out into the bay to the West is Motofuna-machi, where, besides a few hotels with good views of the bay, you will find the Nagasaki Terminal and port area. From here, boats run tours of the bay and carry passengers to such destinations as Iojima , where you can experience an amazing view from the top of the unmanned Iojima Lighthouse . Pass over the Nakashima River, and you have arrived in Dejima-machi, an area of considerable world fame. Dejima was an artificial island built in 1636 in Nagasaki Bay for foreign traders, as foreigners were barred from the country. Here you will find a park and the Dejima museum , dedicated to the former Dutch outpost of the same name. While there, grab lunch at Chikyukan , a unique restaurant where both the menu and chefs change daily.
From this point, the tram veers west toward Shinchi-machi, an area more colloquially known as China Town . This area is similar to other Chinatowns worldwide, with excellent Chinese restaurants and a few specialty shops. From Tsuki-machi, the nearest tram stop, you can then head south toward the Glover Gardens . Glover Gardens are considered an "important cultural asset" by the Japanese government, because it is the home of the oldest wooden building of western design in Japan. The gardens are a relaxing and tranquil place to have lunch, or visit the nearby historical buildings, such as Oura Cathedral and the famed Dutch Slope . The slope is composed of irregular-sized stone slabs or bricks, and is lined by ivy-covered stone and concrete walls.If you're looking for nice, moderately-priced accommodations in this area, try the Nagasaki Washington Hotel ; the restaurant on its top floor offers a great view of the city.
Trams north of Tsuki-machi arrive in one of the livelier parts of the city. The first stop is Hamanomachi, where Hamanomachi Arcade , Nagasaki's largest and most famous shopping arcade is located. Follow the tram a little further east, past the Kanko-dori stop, and you have arrived in Nagasaki's entertainment district, Shianbashi Gourmet Street . In this area you can experience everything from fine traditional Japanese dining at places like Kagetsu , operating since 1642, to the relaxed and contemporary Moonshine . Best of all, the action in Shianbashi doesn't even begin to wind down until well after midnight, so there's plenty of time to try it all.
From the west end of the Hamanomachi arcade, the tram line continues north and gradually begins to veer northeast. At your first tram stop, Migiwai-bashi, you may want to step down to visit the Spectacles Bridge , just a block or so to your west. Another couple of blocks beyond, you will find Temple Row . You could continue on the tram line northeast, but if you have the strength and time, the road along Temple Row runs parallel, and provides quite a scenic stroll. Either way, you will eventually arrive in Shindaiku-machi. Not far from this residential shopping district is Suwa-jinja , the city's most prestigious shrine and another frequent destination on Nagasaki itineraries. If you're in town the first week of October, be sure to stop here for the energetic Nagasaki Kunchi , a colorful, energetic festival held in honor of the city's patron god. Travel due east and you will arrive back at the Nagasaki Station area, ready to explore what lies north.
Northern Nagasaki is perhaps the most frequented part of the city, due in no small part to Peace Park , where the Nagasaki Peace Ceremony is held yearly on August 9th. Even though a flood of visitors pass through Heiwa-machi everyday, the area is quiet calm and very relaxing. No doubt, the area's educational institutions and residential districts affect this to some extent. Just west of the Peace Park also lies Urakami Cathedral , from whose name the general area and local JR station draw their own names.
Two final areas of Nagasaki that deserve your attention are located in Minami-Yamate. One is Mount Inasa , located to the west, across the Urakami River from the Nagasaki Station area. This peak provides arguably the best views of the city, not to mention some of the finest hotels, including the Hotel Majestic , with its beautiful Southern European styling. A few kilometers in the other direction, to the east, there is another elevation, on which the Kazagashira Park is located. While the views from this residential area are not as spectacular as those on Inasa-yama, it is certainly more intimate and peaceful. Here, it is quite possible to enjoy a stunning sunset on Nagasaki Bay, which is a perfect way to end the day in this lovely and exciting city. Need something sweet before heading back to your hotel? Try Nagasaki Kasutera , which a large selection of th small kasutera sponge cakes for which the city is famous.
With regards to dining and drinking, Nagasaki may not be in the same group as some of the larger Japanese cities like Tokyo, but there are still plenty of great places to eat and drink the night away. Just remember to pace yourself! After a night of eating and drinking, the city's many steep hills can pose a formidable challenge to even the most fit.
For a wide range of casual dining options, the Hamanomachi Arcade is a great place to start. This strip and Kanko-dori, which crosses it, has dozens of restaurants, coffee shops, diners and cafes. You should not hesitate to wander down the side streets here, as many are packed with tastes to explore. Geographically the heart of the Nagasaki, this area is especially convenient for those who are staying near the city center.
If you want to forget manners and get a little greasy, try an iizakaya, a Japanese-style pub. Kyabetsu is a popular place for this style of Japanese bar food; however, there are many others. Just enter any store with red paper lanterns hanging outside. Or if the lounge-type environment is more to your liking, the Nagasaki Building at the edge of the Hamanomachi region has a number of recommended places. Cocktail Bar Joy is the most popular of the several lounges in the building, but Bar g Soul is more likely to attract youth, while the Suntory Jigger Bar on the second floor is appropriate for just about anyone.
One street to the north, Bar 10c , is popular amongst those who like sipping elegant cocktails, and one street beyond that, there are two other drinking spots of considerable popularity: Fanfan and Panic Paradise . If you are in your 20s, you may want to keep going north a couple of streets. Along this strip lies the legendary Ayer's Rock , where local youth gather to drink and dance to hip-hop sounds.
An area popular among adults is a strip that runs through Shianbashi called Gourmet Street . This area is interspersed with many bars, snack stands, and a number of Japanese restaurants, many of which stay open late. For traditional local cuisine, Ryotei Kagetsu is one of the nicest Japanese restaurants in the city. You will need a reservation and money to burn here but the ambiance and presentation of the food is as excellent as the cuisine itself. Alternatively, an excellent quasi-Japanese restaurant is the Steak House Okano . This highly regarded restaurant is renowned for both the quality of the food and wine and its pleasant interior.
But dining isn't the only thing to do in this popular district. Many people head here after dinner for the nightlife at places like Piano Bar Zucchini and the exceptional Inaka .
The most well-known area to dine in Nagasaki is China Town . Many visitors come to Nagasaki with dinner here at the top of their agenda, and for good reason. Along the crisscross of the streets that define China Town, you will find a dozen or so restaurants, some quite luxurious, others rather cheap. It was the Chinese who introduced Nagasaki's nationally famous staple dish, champon. This is a soup and noodle dish, also well known because sumo wrestlers consume it in large quantities. Another popular Chinese dish is the ubiquitous gyoza. You will not find a Chinese restaurant that doesn't have these on the menu. If you want to try one of the more formal, expensive (though still not exorbitant) restaurants then Kyokaen is a good place to start, with Pink Bloom Garden being another option for fine Chinese dining. Shinwaroh on the corner is fairly good, too, as is Kohzanroh, and for as casual as Chinese gets, visit Sanseigo .
There are many places to see and explore in Nagasaki, and a tour is the perfect way for travelers to see as much as possible in a short timeframe. A stop at the Nagasaki Tourist Information Center as soon as you get off the train at Nagasaki Station in Daikoku-machi is a great idea, which can get you going as soon as you get into town.
Offering fantastic views of Nagasaki City to the North, the 30,000-square foot Glover Garden , home of the oldest wooden building of Western design in Japan, is a beautiful place to start any tour of Southern Nagasaki, particularly in the Winter during the Glover Garden Winter Festival , when the property is dressed in lights, making it an exceptionally romantic destination. While there, you can get something to eat at the Glover Garden Tea House , the first Western-style restaurant to open in Japan in the early-1900s. From there, continue on to the historic Dutch Slope , whose path, lined with ivy-covered stone and concrete walls, offers picturesque scenery throughout this historic area.
Hamanomachi Arcade , Nagasaki Prefecture's largest shopping arcade, is great place to start any tour of Nagasaki, with a wide variety of stores and restaurants to choose from, and many attractions nearby. Try the nearby Kyabetsu izikaya for cheap, delicious food and something to drink. Then, for even more shopping and eating, head south to the famous Shianbashi Gourmet Street , which is buzzing with activitiy well into the night. Looking for the finest in traditional Japanese cuisine? Check out Kagetsu , which has been operating since 1642.
Also nearby is the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum , a visit to which is an essential part of any trip to Nagasaki.
Temple Row gives visitors the opportunity to become exposed to a huge amount of Nagasaki's cultural and spiritual life all in one place. Located in the part of the city known as Tera-machi or Temple Town, and comprised of eight different temples all located along one path, including Kofuku-ji, the oldest Chinese-style temple in Japan, this row is as scenic as it is spiritual. There are many more religious sites in this area as well, such as Fukusai-ji , with its 18-meter/59-foot tall statue of the Buddha sitting on the back of a turtle, and the much revered Suwa-jinja Shrine , which is host to the yearly Nagasaki Kunchi Festival . Also nearby is the Spectacles Bridge , one of many bridges that cross over the Nakajima River, which runs paralell to Temple Row.
Those with limited time and a penchant for oceanic vistas, may enjoy a jaunt to Iojima . Located ten kilometers from southern Nagasaki Bay, this island has a highly recommended hotel, the Renaissance Nagasaki Iojima, and other attractions, including fine beaches, and the unmanned Iojima Lighthouse , from which spectacular views are possible. Ferries from Nagasaki run to the island regularly.
Nagasaki Prefecture is actually home to a few hundred islands, though many of them are uninhabited. One of the more famous islands (or island clusters in this case) is Gotah. The name Gotah literally means five islands, and is renowned for its waterside scenery, as well as historic churches and buildings, unforgettable lodgings and onsen (hot springs).
Northeast of Gotah are two islands of special historic significance: Hirado and Ikitsuki . Not only are they historic but particularly scenic as well. Hirado was once a Dutch trading post, and vestiges of that cross-cultural history still persist in the charming town found there. Cross a bridge to the west, and you are on Ikitsuki, a small, incredibly rural island (expect beast-drawn carts) that records the tragic period of Christian persecution in Japan.
Even farther north, to the northernmost part of the prefecture, in fact, lie the two islands of Tsushima and Iki . Both are popular resort islands famous for their seafood and decent lodgings. Many people in the area remark that summer is the time to go to these two islands, but they really provide an appropriate getaway any time.
Dejima History Course for Grownups (+81 95 821 7200/ http://www1.city.nagasaki.nagasaki.jp/dejima/index.html)
Nagasaki Saruku (+81 95 823 3631/ http://www.sarukuhaku.com/e/index.html)
Curious Ku Nagasaki (+81 95 811 0369/ http://www.saruku.info/)
Nagasaki Prefectural Tourist Federation (+81 95 826 9407/ http://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/course/)
JAPANiCAN (+81 35 796 5759/ http://www.japanican.com/index.aspx)
Big Step (+81 80 3954 5015/ http://bigstep.seesaa.net/)