Chinese New Year

Japan: Nagasaki (Lantern Festival) 長崎ランタンフェスティバル

Nagasaki City (長崎市) was home to Chinese sailors and traders during the 15th – 19th centuries and today boasts having the oldest Chinatown in Japan.  Known as Shinchi Chinatown, Nagasaki’s Chinatown exhibits a Chinese flair not felt in any of Japan’s other major cities.   Shinchi Chinatown with its 40 plus restaurants serving the signature Nagasaki noodle dishes, champon and sara udon, confectionary shops and souvenir stores, draws visitors from all over Japan. However, each year more people flock to Chinatown for one event in particular.  This event is the Nagasaki Lantern Festival (長崎ランタンフェスティバル).

The Nagasaki Lantern Festival was originally organized by the Chinese residents of Nagasaki to welcome the Chinese New Year. Arguably the largest Chinese festival in Japan, it takes place on the first day of January on the Lunar Calendar and continues for 15 days (With additional days added in February). Spread out across several city blocks and with seven different venues for viewing various performances throughout the day, the festival draws over one million visitors to the port city. Approximately 15,000 Chinese lanterns decorate Shinchi Chinatown and the surrounding areas and there are various events scheduled throughout the festival which should not be missed. These events include the Chinese Lantern Ornaments, the Mazu Procession, the Emperor’s Parade, the Dragon Dance, the Chinese Lion Dance, the Chinese Acrobatics and the Erhu Event. If you plan to arrive by train be sure to pick up a copy of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival program at the station!

There are various locations for viewing the lanterns but if you are pressed for time, try visiting the top venues: Chuo-koen, Minato-koen and Shinchi Chinatown. By far, these locations have the most elaborate displays of lanterns.

Do dress warmly for the event as the cold breezes off the ocean can chill you to the bone.

Location(s):                      Shinchi Chinatown, Chuo Koen, Tojin Yashiki, Kofukuji, Kaji-ichi, Haman-machi Arcade, Koushi-byou (Confucian Shrine)

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JAPAN: Nagasaki (Shinchi Chinatown)

Having previously covered Japan’s Chinatowns in Yokohama and Kobe, it is now time to focus on the third Chinatown located in Nagasaki City’s Shinchi District.  Shinchi Chinatown, is Japan’s oldest Chinatown, established during the 17th century. This was possible because even during the Edo Period (1603-1867), when Japan was isolated from the rest of the world, the port of Nagasaki remained open to foreign trade with China. It is estimated that there were 10,000 Chinese residents, mostly merchants from Fujian, residing in Nagasaki City during this period. These residents were restricted to living in the hills of Nagasaki and it wasn’t until 1859 when Japan opened its doors to foreigners that they transferred to the Shinichi District forming the Chinatown we know today.



Today, Nagasaki’s Chinatown is a collection of over 40 restaurants serving the signature Nagasaki noodle dishes, champon and sara udon as well as confectionary shops and souvenir stores. The restaurants are typically open between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM for lunch and from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM for dinner.





There are four vermilion lacquered gates erected in each of the four corners of Chinatown.  They were constructed by craftsman from Fuzhou, China who wanted to develop Nagasaki’s Chinatown to rival those located in Yokohama and Kobe. Each gate is adorned with a sculpture of a god representing the four directions.  The Azure Dragon can be found on the east gate, the White Tiger on the west gate, the Vermilion Bird on the south gate and the Black Tortoise on the north gate.













Shinchi Chinatown is a popular tourist attraction and particularly crowded during the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, the largest Chinese New Year celebration in Japan, held in February.   It is estimated that there are as many as 15,000 lanterns decorating the streets during the festival attracting tourists from all over Japan and abroad.






The Chinese culture has also influenced other events held year round in Nagasaki. Among these is the Shoro Nagashi (the Spirit Boat Procession) which takes place on August 15th, during the Bon celebrations in Japan and the Nagasaki Peiron Championships (Dragon Boat Championship) which takes during the last weekend in July in the Nagasaki Harbor.

You can easily reach Shinchimachi Chinatown from JR Nagasaki Station by taking the No. 1 tram to Tsukimachi .  From that point Chinatown is merely 2 minutes on foot. Trams run every 10 minutes.




Address:             12-7 Shinchimachi, Nagasaki 850-0842, Nagasaki Prefecture

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JAPAN: Kobe (Nanjing town / Chinatown)

Located just south of Motomachi Station in Kobe is one of only three designated Chinatowns in Japan known as Nankinmachi (Nanjing town). Originated in 1868, the area is home to over one hundred Chinese restaurants, shops and a temple dedicated to Guan Yu.


When Kobe’s port was opened to foreigners after Japan’s isolation period, Chinese merchants from Guangdong and Fujian flocked in and settled in the western end of what was known as Kobe’s foreign district.  At that time, Chinese people were referred to as “people from Nanking,” therefore the settlement came to be known as Nankinmachi. The area flourished in the early 1920s but that all changed during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II when many of the settlers returned to China.  Further, the town was destroyed after the allied bombings and had to be rebuilt after the war by the Chinese who remained behind.  In 1995, Nankinmachi was damaged once again due to the Great Hanshin earthquake and quickly rebuilt where today it remains a thriving center of Chinese culture in the Kansai region and is home to 10,000 residents.


A popular tourist attraction, Nankinmachi has three gates: Chang’an Gate (長安門), Xi’an Gate (西安門) and Nanlou Gate (南樓門). Two main streets run through the district, intersecting at a small plaza in the center. They are packed with shops, restaurants and food stands that sell items such as steamed buns (manju), ramen, tapioca drinks and various other Chinese dishes, many of which have been altered for the Japanese palate. The plaza is decorated with stone carvings of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs is a well-liked spot for photographs.




Several events take place during the year, with Chinese New Year or Shunsetu Sai, being the most attended. The brilliant fireworks and dancing lions/ dragons are quite spectacular and attract thousands of visitors to the district.












The Motomachi Station is 3 minutes from Sannomiya Station, 25 minutes from Osaka Station on the JR Kobe Line and 30 minutes from Umeda Station on the Hanshin Main Line making it an easy stop over when visiting Kobe.







California: San Francisco (Chinatown)

Chinatown is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, covering 24 square blocks in downtown San Francisco.  It is also the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the top tourist attractions in the city, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge.




Since its establishment in 1848, it has played an important role in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America. Chinatown is a microcosmic Asian world, filled with herbal shops, temples, social clubs, and restaurants. It provides affordable housing for recent immigrants and the elderly and is considered the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan.




Chinatown was the port of entry for Chinese immigrants from the Guangdong province of southern China during the 1850s to the 1900s. Many found jobs working for large companies seeking cheap labor such as the Central Pacific Railroad. Other early immigrants worked as mine workers or independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the 1849 Gold Rush. During the 1960s , a large number of  working-class immigrants began to arrive from Hong Kong.  Despite their status and professions in Hong Kong, they were forced to find low-paying employment in restaurants and garment factories in Chinatown due to their limited language skills. The end of the Vietnam War brought a wave of Vietnamese refugees of Chinese descent, who put their own stamp on San Francisco’s Chinatown.



It is said that Chinatown restaurants were the birthplace of Westernized Chinese cuisine such as Chop Suey.  They also were instrumental in introducing and popularizing Dim Sum to Western and American tastes, and today its Dim Sum tea houses are a major tourist attractions.



Chinatown has served as a backdrop for several movies, television shows, plays and documentaries including The Maltese Falcon, Big Trouble in Little China, The Presidio, Flower Drum Song and The Dead Pool.

Bruce Lee was born at the San Francisco Chinese Hospital located at 845 Jackson Street in Chinatown.  His family moved back to Hong Kong when he was  three months old but he managed to return to the U.S. when he was eighteen years old, taking up residence in Chinatown for the first few months before moving to Seattle.


You can walk to Chinatown from Union Square by taking Geary, Maiden Lane or Post east one block to Grant Avenue and turning north to the Chinatown gate. If you’re coming from North Beach, just cross Columbus onto Grant and you’re there.



You can also get to Chinatown on the cable car. The California line stops at California and Grant, or you can get off the Powell line at California and walk three blocks to Grant.


Parking isn’t just scarce in Chinatown, it’s almost non-existent. The Portsmouth Square Garage on Kearny is hard to get to, you have to drive all the way around the block, often waiting in a slow-moving line, so the St. Mary’s Square Garage on California may be a better option.

Remember, there are three annual festivals that draw street-clogging crowds to Chinatown. These are the Chinese New Year,  the Autumn Moon Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival.  Chinese New Year usually takes place between late January and early February. The Autumn Moon Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival take place in September.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the most exotic-feeling parts of San Francisco. It is an interesting mix of tourist attraction and ethnic enclave and small enough to see in just a couple of hours.