Going Dutch . . . without leaving AsiaIt was like a strange fairy tale, and one that only Japan could dream up.
Huis Ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park in Nagasaki, resembles a 17th-century Dutch village. Windmills spin, canals meander by Dutch Renaissance buildings. Teddy bears, cheese, chocolates and handmade clogs painted with tulips are stuffed into shops lining the cobblestone streets. It was more Dutch than Holland itself ― except everyone was speaking Japanese.
Huis Ten Bosch, or “house in the woods,” was built in Nagasaki’s outer Omura bay area in 1639. The city was Japan’s sole gateway for foreigners until the 1850s. At that time, the Dutch ships were the only vessels allowed in the city’s trading port.
Getting to the Netherlands was easy. The flight from Incheon to Nagasaki took less than an hour. The trip was so short that the flight attendants barely had enough time to serve lunch. The line at immigration was long, so long, in fact, that getting through it took as much time as the flight itself. Outside the arrival gate, an information desk with an English-speaking helper gave me directions to Nagasaki City. Just outside the airport’s arrival terminal, limousine buses were waiting, and for 800 yen ($6.75) they whisked passengers on another one-hour ride to Nagasaki railroad station on the Japanese Railroad line.
Japan Survival Tip No. 1: Nagasaki Station is a landmark, located in the city center with streetcar stops and a shopping mall, but a sign saying “Nagasaki Station” was nowhere to be found. Look for “Nagasaki Eki-Mae.”
On a hill across from the station stood the Nagasaki City Hotel. The nine-story business hotel was easy enough to find with the map from a tour agent in Seoul. Maps are also available at the Nagasaki Tourism Board office located on the upper level of the bus terminal across from the rail station.
The room was amazingly clean ― it came with almost all amenities, such as hair dryer, refrigerator, green-tea maker, TV, alarm and phone. The air-conditioned room had two single-size beds and a small couch, and the bathroom had a bathtub and a shower. Including the full Japanese-style breakfast, the room costs 5,000 yen per person on walk-in. Booking through a Seoul tour agent affords a lower price.
Trains to the Huis Ten Bosch depart from the Nagasaki Station nearly every hour. A round-trip ticket costs 2,500 yen. The train Sea Side Liner takes you on a picturesque ride to the Dutch theme park. During the 70- minute ride, mountains, trees, farmland and small houses slip by, suddenly replaced by a beautiful seaside.
An admission ticket with a full-day pass for the Dutch theme park costs 4,800 yen at the door. Seoul travel agencies sell tickets for 3,200 yen.
On entering the park, your eyes become fixed on a bank of large windmills, but in a flash the teddy bear museum grabs your interest, with a display of products from around the world. From the entrance, visitors can travel to the attraction of their choice, using the buses (free with the one-day pass), renting a bicycle or riding in a replica of classic European taxi. Canals run through every corner of the theme park and boat rides along these meandering waterways afford great views of the entire theme park.
Do not expect a thrilling roller-coaster ride in this theme park. Most attractions are indoors, including the 15- to 30-minute shows. The shows are all in Japanese, but most of the action is easy to understand, making rental of the 200 yen translation system unnecessary.
One must-see is “Mysterious Escher,” a 3-D movie about the Dutch artist M.C. Escher, famous for his renderings of spatial illusions. Horizon Adventure and Great Voyage Theater are rides that take passengers into a theatrical setting resembling a large boat. Once inside, thunderstorms rage, bringing fog, lightning, waves, torrential rains and gale-force winds.
Flight of Wonder is a good ride to go on with children, taking you on a journey through the black night sky to rescue a princess. Kanko Maru, the full-size, fully operational replica of a 19th century warship, is a pleasure for adults. Tourists can take part in a voyage around Omura Bay, folding sails and tying knots.
A Dutch Renaissance castle in the center of the park houses a glass museum. European glass crafts are lorded over by a 3.5-meter (11-foot) high colored crystal chandelier.
At the northern tip of the park stands a replica of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands’ official residence, a baroque style structure featuring a beautiful ornamented garden. The garden’s layout was designed by the 18th-century French landscape designer, Daniel Marot, though it was never built at the original residence. Neatly landscaped trees stand amid the sounds of a gurgling fountain in the center of the garden. A wooded maze challenges garden-goers and a rose garden in front of the palace’s facade tempts the eyes as well as the nose. The quick 15-minute tour of the three-story palace was worth the time for the vibrant colors of the mural room.
An auction house graces the theme park’s harbor. Bells ring loudly to attract bidders; tourists can buy souvenirs at the auction at discounted prices. Different from an ordinary auction, the price of a good goes down 100 yen on every call. Which means the item goes to the first person who accepts the bid price; otherwise, the place would just be giving out gifts left and right. The process was so simple that many non-Japanese speaking bidders were able to buy souvenirs at a discount. Plus, it is fun to watch the frenetic process, which elicts lots of giggling from the crowd.
If you enjoy playing golf, flying in a balloon or making pottery, the theme park will not disappoint. The theme park has an information booth near the entrance and a guide map is available there. Grab a timetable of daily events, which includes a nightly fireworks display, street parades and a water-skiing exhibition.
Dining at the park is another form of entertainment. International food abounds ― Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Dutch, French, German, Italian and American. Smokey Taste, a small cafeteria and steak house, offers delicious Japanese-style pork cutlet with curry rice for 800 yen. By reservation only, Imari offers kaiseki cuisine, a traditional multi-course Japanese meal: 50,000 yen per person.
The theme park contains four luxurious European-style hotels, but they are relatively expensive compared with lodgings outside the resort. Lodging in a Nagasaki hotel and having a day-trip to the resort is recommended to enjoy a more thrifty weekend getaway.
In addition to the Dutch resort, Nagasaki offers other exotic cultural activities. The port city with a long history of foreign settlement has two areas of interest ― Chinatown and Dutch Village.
Nagasaki’s Chinatown is reachable by local streetcar (Lines No. 1 and 5). It is more of a village than a town when compared with similar towns in New York and San Francisco, and all the businesses located there are restaurants. But they serve delicious food, and are inexpensive. Nagasaki’s specialty is chanpon, ― a large bowl of chewy noodles set in a thick broth of seafood and chicken with meatballs and topped with vegetables.
If tourists want to forgo the theme park, but still want a little clash in their sightseeing, an actual Dutch establishment in Nagasaki could be the ticket. The first Dutch ship arrived in Nagasaki in 1600, and other European explorers followed suit. In 1639, however, all foreigners other than the Dutch and Chinese were expelled from the port city, and the Dutch trading post on Dejima, a small harbor island, became Japan’s only port for international trade until 1859.
Getting off the street car at the Higashiyamate stop, the Dutch influence shine through. The Dutch Slope, or Oranada Zaka in Japanese, is a steep paved slope with old stone facades covered with ivy. Historical residences are numbered outside their gates, and visitors are welcomed to take a look. One of the buildings is a tea house; another, a hospital.
The city has two large shopping malls. Hamanomachi shopping arcade offers a large selection of gifts, from a box of sweet castella cakes to the traditional Japanese kimono. The shopping plaza at the Nagasaki Station offers more trendy goods, and its supermarket in the basement sells authentic Japanese food, snacks and ingredients.
Returning home was painful; Nagasaki was such an attractive place, with such interesting things to do. Plus, with the money saved by not having to go all the way to Europe, I was able to snatch up a handful of “real” Dutch souvenirs ― all at auction prices, of course.
by Ser Myo-ja
The three-day excursion package to Nagasaki costs 320,000 won ($271) at Tourbaksa, a Korean travel agency that specializes in getaways to Japan (www.tourbaksa.co.kr). The package includes round-trip airfare between Incheon and Nagasaki, two nights at Nagasaki City Hotel, or a similar-level business hotel. Breakfast is included. Tourist visas are required for travel to Japan.