Nagasaki, located at Japan’s southwestern edge on the island of Kyushu, is well-known for many things, such as its vibrant Chinatown, history as the foreign gateway to Japan, and atomic bombing site. But if you end your explorations of this coastal town when the sun goes down, you’re only getting half the story.
Any visit to Nagasaki should include a night out or two and not just for the delicious food and drinks, although they’re certainly a part of it. Nagasaki has long had a vibrant night culture and that tradition continues to this day. By heading out into the Nagasaki night, you’re taking part in revelry that goes back at least 400 years.
Shianbashi: Don’t Worry Be Happy
Located not too far from Nagasaki’s Shinchi Chinatown is Shianbashi, the city’s undisputed center for nighttime adventures. Party central for more than 400 years, it was near Maruyama Hanamachi, the famous geisha district. Male revelers out for a night of fun would often find themselves at the bridge on the edge of town deliberating, “Should we go on to Maruyama, or should we go home?” This is how the area got its name, with shian meaning “to deliberate,” and bashi, of course, being “bridge.” The bridge is now long gone, but the town remains.
Modern-day Shianbashi has a charmingly retro vibe and visitors will find everything they need for a boozy night out on the town, from live-music bars and karaoke joints to izakaya.
Don’t worry if you’re not a heavy drinker, as there are plenty of restaurants here too — it’s not known as the gourmet street by locals for nothing. For a deep dive into Nagasaki food culture, try Kagetsu, which has been in business for a whopping 380 years. They specialize in shippoku cuisine, a uniquely Nagasaki blend of European and Japanese flavors. The historical building, complete with garden, is worth the visit alone.
If you’d rather let loose with the locals, try Toriya, a Japanese pub specializing in chicken dishes. For the full party experience, go for a course meal with all-you-can-drink alcohol. À la carte dishes are also available. The adventurous will want to try chicken sashimi, raw poultry that tastes surprisingly like fish.
Once you’re done enjoying yourself for the night, your final port of call should be shime, or the last meal after an evening of drinking. It’s the perfect way to close out the night. And don’t worry if you think you’re full — there’s somehow always room for shime.
The standard shime experience is ramen, and there’s no better place to experience this than Sanpachi Ramen. In business since 1963, Sanpachi Ramen offers a variety of noodles, including Nagasaki’s take on tonkotsu ramen. There’s also champon, one of Nagasaki’s regional delicacies. Invented in nearby Chinatown, champon is a filling combination of tonkotsu soup, pork and a heaping helping of vegetables. Sanpachi also does another local specialty, saraudon, which is a heavenly plate of crispy noodles topped with Chinese-style pork and vegetables.
You may not think of onigiri as being an end-of-the-night snack but Kaniya could change your mind about that. Kaniya offers over 30 types of onigiri filling, with everything from standards like pickled plum and salmon to more unorthodox fare like curry soboro ground chicken and tenkasu, tempura batter crumbs. With over 50 years of history, the much-loved shop has a loyal customer base. Just look for the long line. In Japan, if there’s a long line, you know it’s going to be good.
Dejima Wharf: A Feast For Both The Mouth And Eyes
When Japan closed its borders to the outside world in the Edo period, it left one door open: Dejima. A small island in Nagasaki with a cadre of live-in Dutch merchants, it was the lone entry point for European goods and culture. Dejima is a must-see site, of course, but nearby Dejima Wharf offers several must-eat and must-drink options for when your sightseeing is done.
As the name suggests, Dejima Wharf is a port area. With a variety of restaurants that reflect the multicultural history of Nagasaki — there’s everything here from Western to Chinese to Japanese — you’re sure to find something tantalizing to eat. The port atmosphere makes it all the more special. After all, there’s nothing finer than enjoying a drink while gazing out at the scenery of Nagasaki Bay.
For more travel inspiration, visit the Discover Nagasaki website.