Nagasaki’s Champon, a surprise in every bite27 February, 2014 by Chad
Checked out from our hotel in the morning, but we’d stay in Fukuoka for the afternoon. Hadn’t had time to plan ahead for the trip, so when we did book our hotels, there weren’t any affordable rooms available for the weekend in Hakata. To get around this, we’d spend the rest of the week at Nagasaki, but after researching at this last minute, we found out that there really wasn’t enough to fill up 3 full days at Nagasaki, thus the decision to spend the day in Hakata.
The first thing we did in the morning was to check out the shrine below that our hotel shared a lot with. We had passed by our multiple occasions but were always in too much of a hurry to our next destination. Since there wasn’t much planned for this morning, now was as good a time as any for our first shrine visit this trip.
The shrine below was pretty small, so there were hardly any people here apart from the groundkeepers and a small group of tourists that passed through quickly before leaving. After looking around ourselves, we were prepared to leave, when I spotted something interesting where they hung their ema tablets. It’s a habit of mine to take a look at people’s plaques.
Looking closer, we were surprised by some familiar names. Turns out that some members of HKT48 had visited the shrine and left their wishes here. Don’t remember hearing about them visiting this shrine before, so couldn’t help but wonder if we had barely missed them. Still, it was a wonderful coincidence that we had chanced upon these. It was amusing to see what the members had written down.
Since we had entered by the back of the shrine, we backtracked out way towards the front. A road separated another part of the shrine grounds, with a small pond that a bunch of pigeons called home. Rather than avoid us, the pigeons here approached us, perhaps expecting that we had food.
After we were done, we headed over to a nearby Yodobashi Camera, passing through an underpass which was painted with murals from various Western and Japanese fairy tales. Thought I’d check out the store in search for a cover for the camera.
The Hakata Yodobashi Camera outlet was really large, with floors dedicated to all manner of electronics, gadgets and media. We ended up nearly losing track of time while exploring the various levels there. Eventually, we returned to the ground floor to pick up a hard case for the camera. While it didn’t come cheap, hopefully it would come in handy when considering my history of breaking a camera every trip.
After considering for the past couple of days, we decided to go ahead see if we could get some live squid, which was one of Hakata’s specialities. You’d probably seen videos of it making its rounds on the internet before. Rather than squeamish, it was kind of pitiful though. The best place to get ika ikizukuri was at a place called Kawatarou, which was apparently the originator of this dish. Though we had barely made it for lunch time, we were informed at the counter that they were out of live squid. A little disappointed, we decided to head back to the canal area where we had seen another shop advertising the dish.
This other store store Kaji, specialised in pufferfish, but also offered sets that included live squid. Prices for lunch were affordable, with two options, a pufferfish and tempura set for about 1,500 yen, and another set which added the ika ikizukuri for another 1,000 yen. We opted to go with one of each, but unfortunately just as we were ordering, were informed that all the squids were dead. We had probably come too late into the week. Even then, the lunch turned out to be pretty good. It still was our first time getting to try some pufferfish, which was an experience. The fish had a distinct flowery taste and was quite nice.
After lunch, we did a quick revisit of the HKT48 Shop at Canal City. We had yet to get any souvenirs from Fukuoka so Gage was tempted to get something. After scrutinising everything in the store for some time he eventually decided to get a towel bearing the name of his favourite member and with that done, it was time to head over to Nagasaki.
Unexpectedly, the scenery on the way to Nagasaki was amazing. Which made it unfortunate that I neglected to capture much of it on film. The train took a winding path that drifted between the coast and mountains, occasionally revealing terraced farmland or houses built into the mountainside. So while the journey to Nagasaki took 2 hours by limited express, it was also thoroughly enjoyable.
Everything beyond the main station had to be travelled by street car in Nagasaki. Our hotel was quite a distance from the station, so even though it was a straight, fairly flat path all the way, it would take a bit of effort to get there. Upon reaching our hotel, Chisun Grand Nagasaki, we would spend some time unwinding there before heading out for dinner later.
The twin room which we settled for at Chisun Grand Nagasaki was really small. Sadly, by the time we had started getting around to booking our hotel just about everything was already snagged up for the weekend, which was also why we had to move over to Nagasaki in the first place, as opposed to staying longer in Fukuoka. The only rooms available at time of booking were a couple of single rooms and one twin room and since we were expecting Randy, had opted to share a twin with Gage.
While the condition of the amenities were good. The toilet and bath were even kept separate, with the sink placed outside of the room so as to make sharing more effective. Still, it ended up being probably one of the least pleasant hotel stays in Japan due to how small the rooms were. Inside, there wasn’t any place to move about after laying out our luggage so ended up painfully tripping over stuff many times.
On the plus side, the location was great, so I could foresee it being a lot more pleasant had we been able to get the larger single rooms. Twin rooms are rarely worth it in Japanese business hotels since they are hardly much cheaper.
After lazing around for a while, we decided to head toward the nearby Chinatown to take a look and to grab some dinner. Chinatown was just about a kilometer south of where we were staying. Nagasaki is actually a really small city. Along the way we passed by the famous Dejima Wharf which was just down the road. A couple confused American tourists hung around the entrance since the ticketing counter was closed. Entry was free at night.
Though it was free to enter in the evening, it was much too dark to enjoy the place so we’d come back again in the day. A old church there had been converted into a cafe. Just outside of Dejima was the restaurant Garcon Ken. I heard some great things about the place so was hoping to pay it a visit, but it was closed this evening.
Nagasaki’s Chinatown is one of three in Japan. I’ve previously visited and covered the ones in Kobe and Yokohama. Nagasaki’s Chinatown is famous mainly because Nagasaki was the only place open to foreigners during Japan’s years of seclusion. The Chinatown here wasn’t too impressive, being much smaller than the other two, but it was also less gimmicky compared to the others. Over our stay, we’d noticed that a strong foreign influence in all aspects of Nagasaki culture.
At this point it started to drizzle, we weren’t quite sure where exactly to go for dinner, being unfamiliar with the city. I had jotted down a few famous restaurants on Google Maps on my phone but the data connection was really bad in Nagasaki. After looping around the blocks a few times in search of some notable places, we decided to head back to the main Chinatown area itself and try out one of the restaurants there.
Along our way back, we passed by a traditional fireworks store, stocked full of interesting explosives. Wished we could had took some back to Tokyo, since we had planned to bring some to Nagano to celebrate the new year. Unfortunately, we would be taking a flight back to Tokyo so that wasn’t an option.
Back at Chinatown, we visited what was clearly the most popular restaurant there. While the rest of the stores looked empty, there was a constant flow of both local and foreign visitors to this establishment. Thanks to the bright colors and lighting, it certainly looked the most inviting. The first floor of the restaurant was packed full of Japanese customers, while the upper floors accommodated Chinese tourists looking for a more authentic experience. This spontaneous dinner at Chinatown turned out for the best. We decided to go with Champon, a Chinese-Japanese fusion noodle dish and one of Nagasaki’s specialities.
The Champon was really good. There were 3 versions of increasing size and luxury, normal, special and special deluxe. Gage went with a special deluxe version (see title image) for 1,500 yen that was larger and came with lots of extra goodies. I went with the 1,000 yen special version which had less stuff but was still delicious.
Champon was a strange but surprisingly enjoyable dish. It was a mix of white noodles with tons of cabbage, bean sprouts, minced meat, random stuff like fish cake, fish balls, squid, and in the case of the special deluxe one, meatball and sea cucumber. Oddly enough, there was just one of everything inside, making each scoop a mystery. The warm soupy dish was just what we needed after wandering around in the cold rain.
After dinner, it was time to stock up on some supplies for Nagasaki. Managed to pin point the location of a nearby Don Quixote, which we found to be located in a large shopping arcade. This expansive shopping area stretched across quite a distance, and opened till late, something unusual for a shotengai. Though some of the stores were starting to close, the supermarkets, pharmacies and even a book store here opened way past the typical opening hours in Japan.
Spent quite a bit of time looking around the all the random stuff at Don Quixote before finally getting some drinks and snacks. Gage contemplated for some time getting earrings that weren’t available in Singapore, but eventually decided not to. There were a couple of gifts we had to pick up that were cheaper here at Don Quixote, but the local flight back to Tokyo only afforded one check in luggage so we would wait till we returned there before commencing any real shopping.
Ended up taking a wrong turn on the way back, and ended up winding through the residential area behind the main road running through Nagasaki. This also meant that we had to climb up a hill, since most of Nagasaki’s buildings were built along the mountainside just like in Kobe. It was a leisurely walk back however, now that the rain had subsided.
Back at the hotel, Gage realized that he had left his HKT48 towel on the train to Nagasaki and was quite depressed. The plastic bag was black and had blended into the seats. We would have to visit the lost and found at Nagasaki Station tomorrow.
While had originally intended to sleep earlier, ended up staying awake past midnight having been sent a invite to the Hearthstone Closed Beta that night. Fortunately, our stay in Nagasaki would be quite peaceful over the next few days, since we’d have 2 full days to cover the few attractions in the city.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.