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‘Nagasaki: The British Experience, 1854-1945’: Loving portrait of a storied city

by

Special To The Japan Times

Nagasaki is something of an outlier in Japanese history. While the country closed itself off from external influence between the 1630s and 1853, this western port remained partially exempt, a crack through which people, ideas and products could pass. Today, the city retains its cosmopolitan attitude and atmosphere.

Nagasaki: The British Experience, 1854-1945, by Brian Burke-Gaffney.
176 pages
BRILL ACADEMIC PUBLISHERS, Nonfiction.

Brian Burke-Gaffney’s study focuses on what he calls “the British century” in Nagasaki, when Japan opened up and the city became a focal point for adventurous foreigners, among whom Brits were prominent. The study moves both chronologically and thematically through the period, examining political, economic and social interactions between the immigrant communities and locals.

Burke-Gaffney, a Canadian scholar who has lived in Nagasaki since 1982, does an exemplary job of balancing the narrative. The bulk of the tale is taken up with 1880 to 1905, when Nagasaki thrived and bustled.

His prose is imbued with an obvious love for the port and its people, and the story whips along. Personalities loom large, none more so than Thomas Glover, that whirlwind of Scottish industry who had a hand in much of the excitement and expansion during this time.

Though the book ends with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Aug. 9, 1945, the Nagasaki of today is vibrant, packed with gripping history and colorful life, and a must-visit on everyone’s itinerary. This book will more than whet the appetite for that trip.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.