WHR January 2016
Cover art : Susumu Takiguchi
Editorial - on this page
The name Nagasaki evokes deep emotions because of its atomic bomb connection. However, the City offers many other things which would make it worthwhile for any haiku poet in the world to pay a visit there. Here is my introduction to Nagasaki.
If you are an opera lover, especially Giacomo Puccini, the first port of call in Nagasaki would be the Glover Garden which is situated on a hill in the middle of the City, commanding a stunning panoramic view of Nagasaki harbour. Here lies the house, the first Western-style building ever constructed in Japan, in which the British merchant Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911) used to live with his Japanese common-law wife, Tsuru, who, according to a theory, was the model of Madame Butterfly. The bronze statues of the Italian composer and of Tamaki Miura stand in the garden, the latter being a Japanese soprano who became famous for her role as Cio-Cio-san. They had a daughter called Hana. There was a sad story in the family, perhaps sadder than the tragedy of Madame Butterfly. Thomas Clover also had a son by another Japanese woman called Maki. The son was born in Nagasaki and when grown up as a British-Japanese citizen with a Japanese name, Tomisaburo Kuraba, made a great contribution to the growth of local economy. However, during World War II he was hounded by the Japanese military police who suspected him as an enemy spy and in the same month as the atomic bomb was dropped he committed suicide, which was a historical irony to say the least.
The Glover Garden is not a mere tourist trap. This is because Glover was actually instrumental in helping the backward nineteenth-century Japan modernise, industrialise and, in a sinister way, militarise. For instance, he not only sold such a huge “commodity” as a warship but also helped build modern Japanese shipbuilding industry. He can be said to be the father of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry and by extension the whole Mitsubishi Empire. He brought the first steam railway locomotive engine to Japan in 1868, five years before Japan launched her own railway. His “first in Japan” also included the founding of a coal mine, introduction of dry dock system and the setting up of a brewery whose beer is enjoyed across the world now.
Nagasaki has a long and close relationship with Britain as well as with China and Holland, mainly through trade. Dejima Island, a man-made reclaimed small area, was used for commerce even during the Sakoku, or Isolationist Period. The first Briton to set foot in Japan in 1600 was William Adams (1564 – 1620), later to become a Japanese citizen, Anjin Miura, the model of James Clavell’s novel Shogun. This Western samurai made a huge contribution to the advancement of Japan in the early part of the seventeenth century in terms of trade, military strength and such important technological progress as shipbuilding and navigation. Though he was connected with Hirado Island, some sixty miles north of Nagasaki, the Tokugawa regime benefited enormously from him in preventing Japan from being colonised by Western powers. The seclusion of Japan, which soon followed, from the outside world for over two centuries turned out to be the most effective means to achieve that goal. Paying the price of being left out of the industrial and other progress in the West, Japan spent these peaceful years finding national identity, internal commercial, industrial and cultural prosperity until she could no longer resist the foreign incursion in the mid-nineteenth century. There are relics and places of historical importance which will tell you the story of Nagasaki for the last five hundred years and beyond.
Before the Dutch and the British, it was the Portuguese who first made contact with Nagasaki with Christian missionary and subsequent trade, paving the way for other powers to follow. The City has the oldest church in Japan, Oura Catholic Church, though it was built by French missionaries in 1864 and is now designated as a National Treasure.
Having been an international city for centuries, Nagasaki boasts of its ability to provide good foods, European, Chinese and of course the indigenous Japanese cuisines. The Chinatown near Dejima Island is well-known for its many excellent Chinese restaurants, some of which go a long way back. Good traditional Japanese restaurants abound in Nagasaki, most notably Kagetsuwhich goes back to 1642 and is situated in the district called Maruyama which was one of the three greatest gay quarters in Japan along with Yoshiwara (Edo, or Tokyo) and Shimabara (Kyoto). If you want to savour Western, Chinese and Japanese foods all put together, Nagasaki has an answer:Shippoku Ryori.
Kagetsu is also well-known as a place where one of Japan’s popular heroes stayed. Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-67), born two years before Thomas Glover, also played an important role at the dawn of modern Japan when she was a bit like present Iraq or Afghanistan with warlords splitting the nation asunder over the question of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate, returning Japan’s government back to the Emperor-orientated system and opening the country to the rest of the world, i.e. the end of the isolationist policy. Sakamoto was a power-broker, king-maker and a nascent Western-style entrepreneur. However, the greatest reason for his popularity lies in the patriotism and passion with which he aspired to help build a new Japan, strong, prosperous and great. The NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting corporation, ran a year-long TV drama featuring the life of Sakamoto. It was a resounding success.
For haiku poets the most important place to pay homage in Nagasaki is Susuki-zuka, or Pampas Grass Memorial at Himi-toge Hill. This is where Kyorai said good bye to his family and friends when he was leaving Nagasaki, his hometown, for Kyoto where he lived. Himi-toge Hill is still a beauty spot, commanding a fine view of the Mount Unzen. In those days this was the only path to be used in or out of Nagasaki.
(Readers might also be interested to read a new English translation of a lecture on Kyorai given by Susumu Takiguchi, which has been serialized in World Haiku Review in 13 instalments and is now reproduced in its entirety in this issue of the magazine HERE.)