Nagasaki City became the center of foreign influence in the 16th through the 19th centuries. It is home to one of Japan’s three Chinatowns and Portuguese and Dutch influences can still be seen throughout the town.
Today, visitors to Nagasaki can witness a 400-year-old festival, which incorporates different aspects of both the Chinese and Dutch cultures. The three-day event is known as the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival and was originally a celebration of the autumn harvest in the late 16th century. Later on, the festival was associated with the Suwa Jinja.
The Kunchi Matsuri features dance performances known as Hono-Odori. These dances are performed by various groups, each representing a specific Odori-cho (district) within the city. There are fifty-nine groups who perform on a rotation basis once every seven years. In addition to the dances, the festival includes floats shaped like boats, gorgeous costumes and a fireworks display. One of the boat shaped floats features a boy who represents the son of merchant, Araki Sotaro.
Sotaro was a samurai who relocated to Nagasaki from Kumamoto in 1588. He sailed to distant places like Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, eventually returning to Japan with a Vietnamese wife. Sotaro and his wife later established a trading emporium in Nagasaki. The couple are buried in Nagasaki at the Daion-ji temple and their gravesite has been designated as a City Cultural Property.
The focal point of the festival is the Chinese Dragon Dance. It was originally performed on New Year’s Eve by Nagasaki’s Chinese residents and today maintains all the mesmerizing movements and energy from the past, which brings the dragon to life. The festival music known as Shagiri is played on traditional Chinese musical instruments.
Four venues play host to the festival including: Suwa Jinja, Otabisho, Yasaka Shrine and Kokaido. The event is free of charge however paid seating can be secured at each of the event venues. Be sure to get there early as tickets sell out quickly and the venues get very crowded.
Reaching Nagasaki from Tokyo is relatively easy via the JR Tokaido/ Sanyo Shinkansen, exit at Hakata Station in Fukuoka. From there, transfer to the JR Kamome Limited Express train to Nagasaki.