Fun in the land of pilgrims

Jose Paolo S. dela Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – As an emerging pilgrimage site for devout Catholics in Asia and the focal point of its history being its bombing in World War II, the Nagasaki Prefecture may sound more somber than most international tourist destinations. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t know a thing or two about fun.

The sea is the opening salvo to having fun in Nagasaki, what with Japan being an archipelago like our own country. From my room at the Yumihari No Oka Hotel in Sasebo City, I wake up to the sight of the 99 islands of Nagasaki. The scenery and the crisp, clean air energize me as I yawn to welcome a beautiful day.

Later in the day, I get to know the surrounding waters aboard the Pearl Queen, which takes off from the Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort, a short drive from my hotel. The ride allows guests to enjoy the beauty of the blue beyond through a 50-minute cruise through the isles I saw earlier.

If you need more than a glimpse though, you may want to visit the nearby Kujukushima Aquarium. There, you can view one of the most beautiful aquariums on this part of Japan, and even harvest your own pearls and turn them into various souvenir items instantly. Here, I watch adorable dolphins as they display a splash of talents. While an air-conditioned viewing area is available for guests, I choose the ringside seats. The dolphins make waves — literally — but judging from my seat mates’ reactions, no one’s enthusiasm is dampened.

Another must-visit is Huis Ten Bosch in Sasebo City. The European-inspired theme park comes complete with windmills, cobblestone streets and castles. Attractions are aplenty in this picture-perfect location, ranging from horror houses to song and dance shows, water shows that chronicle great floods and even virtual shooting games based on world-renowned anime One Piece. One memorable attraction is a zipline on top of a garden of lights, which turns into a galaxy of stars, as we zoom by.

There’s also romance in this port city. Glover Garden by the Nagasaki Port was built for the Scottish ship magnate Thomas Glover, and is a lasting specimen of Western and Japanese architectural fusion. Also known as the Madame Butterfly House, the garden is home to a statue of Puccini’s famous protagonist. She points her young son to the direction of the sea, waiting for her faithless lover to return.

Speaking of lovers, lovers may search for two heart-shaped stones on the pathways. They say that when two lovers find these stones and make a wish, they will live happily ever after; or that if an individual makes a wish of love upon them, it will definitely come true. I found both.

Steeped in culture and tradition, Japan is also known for its festivals. I am lucky to catch one, in the form of the ?mura Nagoshi Matsuri (which happens from Aug. 1 to 3). Before I knew it, my arms are raised on both sides as an assistant from the Nagasaki International Hotel in Omura City dressed me up in a traditional yukata and wooden slippers.

I step out to find hundreds of costumed festival-goers, who celebrate their “purification from sin” through street dance. It isn’t as big as a mardi gras or as noisy as the Sinulog. Still, Omura’s Summer Festival is fun. Being in a rented yukata and wooden slippers makes me feel Japanese for a moment; and in the simpler pleasures that come from an endless array of takoyaki stalls, Japanese ice cream stands and toy lottery hawkers — I happily get lost.

Last but definitely not the least, there’s the night! As some of our companions enjoy the comforts of the Hotel New Nagasaki during our stay in Nagasaki City, our breakaway group of six ventures into the night scene. There we find the joys of Japanese Karaoke and izakayas (gastro pubs). The latter is a steal for those with a taste for alcohol, since a drink-all-you-can for Y1,000 (roughly P500) offer is present in most izakayas. With that amount, you can drink cocktails mixed with premium alcohol such as Johnnie Walker, Grey Goose and more within 100 minutes.

And with every shot of sake and a parade of cocktails in between sashimi and raw horse meat — not to mention the stories more befitting bars than pages of a much respected daily — we raise a toast to Nagasaki!

(Special thanks to the Network of Independent Travel and Allied Services and its president Consul Robert Lim Joseph Jr. and the Philippine Airlines, which flies from Manila to Fukuoka daily.)

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