Portuguese missionaries came to the island of Kyushu in the 16th century after Portuguese explorers found Japan and began trading. Nagasaki’s natural port was favourable to the Portuguese and the harbour village of Nagasaki was born in 1571 and quickly boomed. Fearing that the Spanish and Portuguese were about to attempt to take over, officials ordered twenty-six Catholics in Nagasaki to be crucified on 5 February, 1596.
After that event, Christianity in Japan was only somewhat tolerated until 1614, when Catholicism was banned and missionaries were ordered to leave. Trading with the Portuguese through the port of Nagasaki, however, was still permitted and the Dutch and English were also allowed to trade in Nagasaki. Chinese merchants traded here as well and a Chinese presence became strong in the town.
As Japan began closing it’s doors between 1633 and 1639 during the Tokugawa shogunate under Tokugawa Iemitsu, Nagasaki was one of the main windows to the world and was soon considered an exotic town in Japan. When Japan opened its doors again, Nagasaki became a free port in 1859 and became a city on 1 April 1889, and after Christianity was legalised became a centre for Roman Catholicism in Japan.
Nagasaki also became a centre for heavy industry, which later led to it being a target for the Allies in 1945. Today the city still has an international feel, with a small Chinatown, Catholic churches and European-style buildings. The cuisine has also benefitted from its foreign visitors, with ‘Nagasaki castella’, a sponge cake brought to the city by the Portuguese and evolved to suit local tastes making a popular souvenir. The Chinese influence is keenly felt in the dish ‘chanson’, a noodle soup, and in the sweet desserts that you can buy in Chinatown.