By Christine Lim
OMURA (Japan) -- The quiet and serene castle town of Omura, located within the Nagasaki prefecture in Japan's Kyushu region, is nestled in an enchanting sea of flowers and mesmerising landscapes that will hold any visitor spellbound and enthralled.
Boasting a history that goes back 900 years, Omura, which means large village in Japanese, has its origins in the 15th century when it became one of the first ports of call for Europeans travelling to Japan following the opening of a port near Omura Bay by Sumitada Omura, Japan's first Christian daimyo (Samurai warlord).
Having been a city that was at the frontiers of European influence due to the expansion of trade and activities of Christian missionaries in the 16th century, Omura today seems largely forgotten in contrast with cities such as Kyoto, Osaka and its closest neighbour Nagasaki.
There are not many tourists in the city and even the few visitors there are usually from other parts of Japan.
After flying two hours from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, my plane touched down at Nagasaki International Airport in Omura. Many budget hotels can be found near the Omura train station, about 15 minutes by bus or taxi from the airport.
It seemed that I was the only Malaysian tourist in the city during my trip to Omura in April last year. I also realised that it is difficult for one to get around the city on their own unless they speak some Japanese.
OMURA PARK & KUSHIMA CASTLE
However, Omura has what it takes to charm visitors, one of its attractions being Omura Park that has over 2,000 cherry blossom trees and 300,000 iris flower plants. In fact, this park is one of the top 100 cherry blossom viewing destinations in Japan.
On a hilltop in the park lies the ruins of Kushima castle which was constructed in 1599 by the powerful Omura clan. The castle was destroyed during the Meiji revolution in 1871 and what remains today are its unique sloping stone structures.
The Omura sushi, that originated during the 15th century as a symbol of victory of the battles fought by the Omura clan, can be found at some of the food stalls along the path leading up to the castle ruins.
This sushi is different from other types of sushi in Japan, with its colourful layered strips of omelette, mushroom, vinegar, carrot and other ingredients.
Whilst enjoying the exotic taste of the Omura sushi, one can also view the picturesque Omura Bay near the Kushima castle.
Across the Omura Bay is the Nagasaki airport, the first airport in the world to be built on reclaimed land on the sea.
THE COURAGEOUS TENSHO BOYS
Not far from Nagasaki Airport is an interesting monument dedicated to four young emissaries from the 'Tensho Embassy' who were commissioned to travel to Europe in 1582 to learn about European music and technology and to explore the unknown world in different parts of Europe including Rome (Italy) and Spain, as well as the Portuguese colonies in Goa and Cochin in India and Macau. The four boys were then aged between 12 and 14.
However, upon their return to Japan after their eight-year voyage, the courageous boys met with a tragic end as they were either banished from Japan or died as martyrs in Nagasaki during the Tokugawa shogunate when Christianity and western influences were banned.
In a secluded area on the top of the hills of Arase-machi in Omura is the Omura Sumitada Historic Park where one can discover the life of the Samurai warlord who shaped the history of this ancient city.
His private residence was located on this site but today, only the garden, moss and stones remain as the house has been demolished. Sumitada had stayed in that house after he surrendered his power due to pressure from a rival warlord.
When Sumitada died in 1587, Omura's Christian community, numbering about 60,000, faced severe persecution.
KOTOHIRA SKYPARK PARAGLIDERS
Omura's majestic scenery can also be "explored" via paragliding at the Kotohira skypark located on the summit of Mount Kotohira.
Rising at an altitude of 330 metres above sea level, the Kotohira Skypark, about a 20-minute drive from Omura train station, offers a magnificent view of the entire Omura city and Omura Bay.
Since it was springtime when I visited Omura, some 200 cherry blossom trees in the skypark were in full bloom. Set against Mount Tara in the background, the view of the colourful blossoms was amazing indeed.
Cathy Garrott, who is originally from Virginia in the United States and came to Omura 38 years ago as a Christian missionary, described the skypark as a perfect spot for daredevils and thrill-seekers who would not hesitate to risk their lives to glide through the steep and treacherous slopes of Mount Kotohira.
Garrott, who was my guide during my one-week trip to Omura, said the paragliders would usually land on the vast plains below Mount Kotohiradake, situated near the Omura interchange of the Nagasaki Expressway.
"The park attracts many people including children who can play at the 99.9-metre roller slider. The park also attracts foreigners and visitors from other parts of Japan as its cherry blossom flowers are unique and recognised as Japan’s natural treasure,” she said.
'HOME OF NEW LIFE'
Garrott came to Omura with her husband Jackson M. Garrott, an English language lecturer, to set up the Shinsei No Sato church in Omura.
Garrot, 72, said she and her husband have been welcoming visitors from Taiwan, Hong Kong, US and other parts of Japan who show up at their church.
“Some of them learnt about the church, which literally means 'Home of New Life', through its website,” she said.
Garrott had worked at a private library in Nagasaki city after coming to Omura. She and her husband are now dedicating their lives to serving the church ministry.
“Over the years, foreigners have also been coming to this church regularly, so the (prayer) services have become bilingual," she said.
Garrott also does community work by teaching children English and conducting cooking classes.
“The Shinsei No Sato church was built on the vision of making the city of Omura the foremost Christian city in Japan, in line with the vision of the first Christian daimyo Sumitada Omura,” she added.
Edited by Rema Nambiar
Malaysia National News Agency
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