Once the only place where selected foreign traders were allowed to do business during Japan’s years of isolationism, this sunny outcrop on the west side of Kyushu was centuries ahead of the rest of Japan in terms of cultural interchange. It’s clear on the streets of Nagasaki City, where you’ll find Western-style architecture mixed in with local buildings, and more Japanese Christians than anywhere else.
This area was once the place to discover strange new technologies and goods brought by the Dutch and Chinese, and it has its very own cuisine as a result: Shippoku Ryori. This is a fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and European foods unlike anything found elsewhere.
The town of Sasebo — now home to a US military base — pays homage to the diverse past of the region with a theme park named Huis Ten Bosch. This quirky, family-friendly place recreates a vision of historic Holland, with canals, windmills, and the obligatory tulip fields.
However, this history also has some darker moments, most notoriously the devastating nuclear bombing of Nagasaki City at the end of World War II. This event is also memorialized through the Nagasaki Peace Park and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum — somewhat less famous than their counterparts in Hiroshima, but no less somber and reflective.
If you’ve had your fill of history and fine dining, then like the Dutch and Chinese traders who visited before you, why not take to the sea? Nagasaki enjoys some of the most crystalline blue seas in Japan, perfect for all kinds of water sports. Dotted around the waters you’ll also find some fascinating islands: from a historic hideaway which recently gained video game fame, to Gunkanjima from Skyfall (a James Bond movie).