Going nuclear at Nagasaki

Fukuoka’s airport had a smoky tinge to it, like that of Chiang Mai, which I found surprising. The airport was surprisingly busy, with lots of big Japanese domestic aircraft and international arrivals from China, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Fukuoka’s domestic and international terminals are inconveniently separated from each other and require a bus to shuttle between them. Unfortunately the subway station is located beneath the domestic terminal.

After passing a big sign advertising “Goo” we stepped off the bus, descended into the subway and caught the short ride to Hakata station (the cities of Fukuoka and Hakata being contiguous but for a river between them. Then a short, but familiar, walk to the nearest Toyoko Inn.

The check in time wasn’t until late in the afternoon, but I made use of their toilet to wash up a little and we left our luggage with them. Alex was already crazy about the lift and the automatic doors.

Three zombies walked back to the train station, swapped our Japan Rail Pass vouchers for the real thing and booked a ride to Nagasaki. Then, with a bit of time to spare before departure, we had a big breakfast at one of the delicious bakeries.

I was disappointed to see that the train waiting for us at the platform was not one of the very modern looking 787 class that I so wanted to catch. Instead it was the angular grey “Relay Tsubame” trains that had taken us part of the way to Kagoshima in 2009. These are no longer needed for that service as the full Shinkansen line was opened on the 12th of March this year.

Such a difference between this train and the railcar that we had caught between Chiang Mai and Bangkok! Though it was about the same age, this carriage was in perfect condition. The legroom was huge, the seats very comfortable. Lots of warm wood rather than gunmetal grey.

Not long after leaving Hakata we all fell asleep. After maybe an hour I woke up to see beautiful ocean scenery out of the windows. Small fishing towns, seaweed posts in the water, ships in drydock. And on the other side rice paddies and mountains.

It just started to rain as we pulled into Nagasaki. Alex drove us crazy playing on the station department store escalators and lifts while B went shopping in Gap Kids. Then, after purchasing a tiny Japanese umbrella I dragged them away to catch a tram.

With the current Fukushima reactor emergency it seemed appropriate to visit one of the two cities stuck by an atomic weapon. We had previously visited the other city, Hiroshima, and been greatly moved by the museum and displays there. How would Nagasaki affect us?

A happier commonality between the two cities is that they retain tram systems. Alex made friends with another family while we rode in the old tram, snuggling their baby.

We stepped off the tram into heavier rain as a thunderstorm struck the city and got wet as we climbed the hill to the museum.

The museum holds many graphic and confronting images of the devastation and human suffering brought about by the exploding of the atom bomb above the city. It was horrifying, yet I felt more moved by the Hiroshima version. Perhaps that was because we suffered our own nuclear meltdown during our visit.

The ticket gates made beeping noises when someone stood in front of them and this is all that Alex cared about. We couldn’t let him stay there so he screamed and he cried. Nothing we did settled him down.

The whole atmosphere of the afternoon was explosive. When we stepped out of the museum a loud crash sounded behind us as lightning struck nearby. I was very nervous going through the Hypocentre Park (the area directly beneath the bomb explosion), despite the beauty of the pink cherry blossoms contrasted against the grey sky.

We returned to the station by tram. Nagasaki, one of Japan’s first open trading ports, seems like an interesting and scenic city, but we had no energy to explore it. While Alex slept B and I ate a noodle dinner in one of the department store’s restaurants, then bought Alex a bento box for the ride home. Outside the sun was orange despite being well above the horizon.

I was delighted to see that a 787 type Kamome train was waiting for us at the platform for our ride back to Hakata. It’s not only modern on the outside, on the inside it looks like some hip studio with lighting, wood panelling, black leather seats and glass partitions like the Japanese paper windows.

B hated it though. I don’t think she likes tilt trains. They are bumpier and give her motion sickness. So she slept while I tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery outside while putting up with an Alex obsessed with the automatic doors at the end of the carriage. He just wouldn’t stop playing with them, which I thought quite annoying for other passengers. When I tried to stop him he would scream and carry on. I tried to reason with him, but he would quite happily lie to my face so that he could get down and play some more. This new Alex is very, very difficult. I think we have discovered the “terrible twos”.

By the time we got back to the hotel we were all absolutely dead on our feet. The other two went quickly to bed, but I had to stay up to wash our clothes in the coin laundry that is a very useful feature of Toyoko Inns. I struggled to stay awake for the two hour process of washing and drying.

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