Nagasaki’s Glover Garden isn’t your typical Japanese garden. Yes, there’s the pond of carp (kai in Japanese) and trees seemingly bent against their will (to beautiful effect), but absent are the raked pebbles, mossy rocks and toro (Japanese stone lanterns). Of course, and most importantly, there are the European-style homes that pepper its grounds too.
The approach to the garden, which is set on the hills above Nagasaki Harbour, is delightful in itself, taking you up a short but fairly steep incline past sweet shops, souvenir stands and points of interest, like Oura Cathedral (just Japan’s oldest church). But few leave without feasting on the main course.
The size of a small theme park, Glover Garden is like an open-air museum that showcases the 19th century western homes of Nagasaki’s foreign residents, the most notable of whom was Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover, who helped shape modern Japan largely through shipbuilding.
Overlooking the beautiful bay, the World Heritage-listed Glover Residence (1863) is said to be the oldest Western-style building in Japan. It’s surely one of its prettiest. Inside, you’ll find original artifacts alongside a recreation of his home, complete with period European furniture, glasshouse, and even lavish mock meal. Outside, a beautiful flowerbed and greenery complement the pretty exterior, which is highlighted by a latticed, wrap-around verandah. It’s easy to trust that this was the setting and inspiration for Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, so the story goes...
But other structures within the garden are equally impressive, such as the former homes of the Ringer and Alt families, which boast comparable designs inside and out.
At the top of the Garden, the Mitsubishi Second Dock House is the most grandiose structure. A two-storey building with unobstructed views of the harbour and city, it was used as an office and rest house for visiting crews. Today, it’s still a popular resting spot for travellers, especially on the highly photogenic second storey balcony.
Back down the hill, among nooks and crannies waiting to be explored, is a leafy alfresco dining area, where you can enjoy a Japanese curry or soft serve alongside a water monument dedicated to the city’s famous Edo Period Hidden Christians. Or in the summer months, you can enjoy a cold drink in the almost Germanic beer garden setting, as the attraction remains open until 9.30pm for its spectacular illumination.
Day or night, Glover Garden arguably demands more time than any other experience in Nagasaki. Give it some, and you’ll be truly rewarded.
Traveltalk was a guest of Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). The writer stayed at the Luke Plaza Hotel.
All images Mark Harada