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Nagasaki's Holiday Lights Look Back to the Future

Photos by Ari Beser The escalator leading to Glover Gardens is electrified with holiday lights.

Nagasaki, Japan – The winter season is fast approaching in Japan, and for the country famous for its futuristic appeal, no expense seems to have been spared to illuminate the nation with mind-bending holiday lights.

Many the world over know Japan as a country on the forefront of technology. Bullet trains speed through the country at over 200 mph, vending machines sell anything from Coca-Cola to fresh produce, and convenient capsule hotels host late-working businessmen and curious tourists alike. But did you know that one of Japan's earliest pioneers of modernization was a Nagasaki-residing Scottish entrepreneur named Thomas B. Glover?

Glover, whose Nagasaki home and Gardens were deemed world heritage sites in the summer of 2015, moved here in 1859 after Japan ended its notorious period of isolation by opening for business with the world. Until that point, Nagasaki was the only port city where foreign commerce was allowed.

When Emperor Meiji took power, and the shogunate was disbanded, Nagasaki as a port city fell out of vogue in favor of Yokohama, which was closer to Tokyo. Glover had banked on Nagasaki remaining the center of trade, so at the risk of losing out on his invested interests he helped bring Western technology to Nagasaki, and eventually to Japan.

Glover opened the first modern coal mine on Takashima island in Nagasaki Harbor, he imported steam engine technology that enabled Mitsubishi to open Japan's first modern shipyard, and he helped modernise the fishing industry. He also opened the first brewery that still operates today, under the name Kirin Brewing Company.

The view of Nagasaki Harbor from Glover Gardens.

Perhaps it was Glover's love of technology that makes his home and gardens one of the most exciting places to visit during holiday illuminations. Each winter Japan is transformed by dazzling light displays that illuminate the country. In a city that was largely reconstructed after the atomic bomb was dropped in World War II, Glover's original home and gardens still stand as they did during his lifetime, protected from the blast by the mountains for which Nagasaki is famous. In the winter months the gardens are radiantly illuminated, and in in one section of the gardens the lights glow to the music of the Puccini Opera Madame Butterfly, which is set in Nagasaki.

Art Garden at Huis Ten Bosch is one of many light displays at Japan's third most popular theme park.

Nagasaki Prefecture is also home to the Dutch-themed amusement park, Huis Ten Bosch, which is thought widely to have the best illumination in Japan boasting an array of 13 million led bulbs. Huis Ten Bosch is the third most popular theme park in the country. Designed to look like a miniature Amsterdam, the park is so decked out in multicolored lights that it overwhelms the senses wherever you look.

Dinosaur Robot forgoes his normal bellhop attire for Christmas apparel as he checks in guests at the Henn na Hotel.

Huis Ten Bosch is also the home for the world's first robot-powered hotel. The Henn na Hotel, or Weird Hotel in Japanese, is staffed almost entirely by robots.

The front desk is staffed by a human-like female Japanese-speaking robot and a robotic male dinosaur that speaks English. A minuscule concierge robot is programmed to answer a long list of questions, another checks coats, while a robotic luggage-caddy will escort you to your room, which you may access with face-recognition rather than a key.

More of a theme park than a place of repose, the hotel is more of a novelty than a practical experience. The owner of Henna na Hotel, Hideo Sawada, is, however, serious about his plan to bring robotics to hotels. He opened the Henn na Hotel in the summer of 2015 as a prototype, but plans on expanding its model to the rest of Japan and abroad.

Thomas B. Glover may have been a pioneer of modernization in Nagasaki, but without him Japanese culture on a whole has taken off into the future, and it isn't looking back.

Ari M. Beser is the grandson of Lt. Jacob Beser, the only U.S. serviceman aboard both bomb-carrying B-29s. He is traveling through Japan with the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship to report on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. Using photo essays, videos, and articles, Beser will give voice to people directly affected by nuclear technology today, as well as work with Japanese and Americans to encourage a message of reconciliation and nuclear disarmament. His new book, “The Nuclear Family,” focuses on the American and Japanese perspectives of the atomic bombings. Follow him on Twitter @Aribeser, and Instagram @AriBeser and @HibakushaTNF.

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