Nagasaki is the capital and the largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Nagasaki was founded by the Portuguese in the second half of the 16th century on the site of a small fishing village, formerly part of Nishisonogi District. It became a center of Portuguese and other European peoples' influence in the 16th through 19th centuries, and the Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki have been proposed for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Part of Nagasaki was home to a major Imperial Japanese Navy base during the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War.

During World War II, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Nagasaki the second and, to date, last city in the world to experience a nuclear attack.

As the first port to be opened to foreigners and the trade they brought with them in the 16th century, Nagasaki was Japan's original window to the world. Even when the nation decided it didn't like what it saw and closed itself off for the next 200 years, Nagasaki remained open. The nation's feudal overlords kept the foreigners at bay until the latter half of the 1800s, at which point Nagasaki's role as Japan's premier trading port gave way to Yokohama.

Nagasaki is where Christianity took off in Japan. It was first introduced by Portuguese traders who were soon followed by Jesuit missionary Francisco de Xavier in the 16th century. But the Tokugawa Shogunate banned the religion in the first half of the 1600s. Adherents were often persecuted and forced to worship in secret--resulting in some exclusively Japanese practices.

Today, about 130 churches - constituting about 10 percent of all Christian churches in Japan - all with their own congregations, can be found in Nagasaki prefecture, even on the remotest of islands. Built in a wide variety of architectural styles, they have proved durable tourist attractions, even for those with little interest in religion. Among the most famous are the Oura Tenshudo and Urakami Tenshudo (Tenshudo means Catholic church). Both are of historical importance and, as such, are favorite stops on the tourist trail.

The Oura Catholic Church was established in 1864 in the district in Nagasaki assigned to foreigners and is the oldest church in Japan today. It is also the only Western-style building in Japan designated by the government as a national treasure until 2009 when the neo-Baroque Akasaka Palace was designated a national treasure. Fate was not so kind to the Urakami Cathedral, founded in 1914, the year World War I began. It was destroyed in the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Although the church was rebuilt in 1959, a charred head of a statue of the Virgin Mary was retrieved from the ashes of the original cathedral and is displayed as a reminder of the tragedy.

In addition to the exotic ambience of Nagasaki, local food and sweets - infused with the cultures of Portugal and China - are delicious and not to be missed.