I made a short visit to Nagasaki a couple of weeks ago as one stop on a two-week cruise I made with my mother. Here are my notes.
I was happy to see Nagasaki. It had been nearly 1.5 years since last I set foot in Japan. That and the fact that I’d never visited Nagasaki made me all the more eager. Also, visiting Hiroshima had had such a deep impact on me, I anticipated another meaningful experience in Nagasaki.
Nagasaki (長崎), whose name means “Long Cape,” has a rich cultural history. It was an early trading port with the Portuguese and Chinese, and has a colorful and sometimes dark history involving Jesuit and Catholic missionaries, Christianity, and evangelism (some of which was dramatized in a 2016 film, “Silence”). Nagasaki is also the setting of Puccini’s popular opera, “Madame Butterfly.” At one time, this city was the single port open to the world from an otherwise completely closed society.
When the Meiji Restoration finally opened all Japan to outside trade and diplomatic relations in the second half of the 19th century, Nagasaki became a center for heavy industry, particularly ship building. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was one of the major builders of the Imperial Japanese Navy during WWII, which is one reason Nagasaki was placed on the list of potential targets for an atomic bomb attack. Rebuilt after the war, the city still builds ships, and was the birthplace of several of cruise ships for the company I traveled with.
Upon arrival, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that were unique about our experience here compared to other Asian ports. There was the usual long queue of people waiting for passport control and customs. But instead of standing in the morning sun, we enjoyed the shade of long, covered breezeways. We were processed quickly and courteously, such was the thoughtfulness of our Japanese hosts. Also, when we left port, a group of well-wishers stood on the dock and bade us goodbye.
My first destination was the Glover Garden and Glover Residence. Thomas Blake Glover was a Scottish merchant, and his house is an interesting mixture of Western and Japanese design and construction. Flowers, a koi pond, and statues of Puccini and Miura Tamaki (a famous Japanese opera singer who performed in “Madama Butterfly”) decorate the grounds.
We were lucky to see some flowering cherry Sakura as well. The residence and garden are located on a hill overlooking the harbor. It was not distant from the harbor, but we had to climb steps and steep narrow streets to reach our destination.
My primary goal was to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. It is about 6km north of Glover House, and, given the steepness of the hill we had climbed and the limited time we had in Nagasaki, we chose to get there by taxi. The ride took about 20 minutes and cost about 1200 yen (approx. US$12).
We entered the museum and rented audio tour devices. Similar to the audio tour guides in Hiroshima, the commentary was delivered by a native English speaker in a neutral, dispassionate tone. Such lack of modulation only made the horrific facts and figures all the more stark and gut-wrenching for the listener.
In the entrance to the museum stands a broken clock, its hands frozen at 11:02, the moment on August 9, 1945, when the second atomic bomb, nicknamed, “Fat Man,” was dropped. At the time, the population of Nagasaki was about 263,000. Between 35,000 and 40,000 people were killed instantly, and 20 neighborhoods within a 1km radius were destroyed.
The subsequent fires and winds destroyed 80% of the homes within a 2km radius. Although “Fat Boy” was more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped three days earlier on Hiroshima, Nagasaki’s uneven terrain limited the damage.
The first room was dark and filled with the rubble of collapsed concrete stairs, toppled pillars, and blackened stones. At the far end stands a replica of the destroyed Urukami Cathedral. Blackened statues of Mary and Christ stand on either side of an arch. The cathedral was only 500m away from the hypocenter and was completely destroyed. The statues in the museum are replicas, because the originals now stand at the UN headquarters in New York City.
There was a full-scale model of “Fat Boy.” As with the bomb that fell on Hiroshima, only a fraction (1kg out of 6.4kg) of the plutonium it contained achieved nuclear fission. The rest was scattered in the blast as radioactive debris. One can only imagine how much more efficient modern weapons must be and the corresponding devastating power they are capable of.
There were blackened stones, melted bottles, and other artifacts, but three items hit me the strongest. The first was the lunchbox of a 14-year-old girl. Satoko Tsutsumi was 700 meters from the hypocenter, and her lunchbox is all that was found. In it is the blackened, carbonized rice for her lunch. The only reason they knew it was hers was from the name and number on the box. I believe no other remains were found. I cannot help but wonder: Were her parents killed instantly, as well, or did they survive only to witness and experience the horror of her disappearance?
The second was a silhouette of a lookout and his ladder on a wall. 4.4 kilometers from the hypocenter, the tarpaper burned away from the wall, but the ghostly image of this man and his ladder remained. This image haunted me, reminding me of the horrors I had seen in Hiroshima, and also of an ghastly scene from Ray Bradbury’s short story, “There will come soft rains,” in which the image of family members, in the midst of their carefree day, have been burned into the wall by an atomic blast.
The third was a rosary owned by Midori Nagai. Her husband, Takashi Nagai, a Catholic physician, searched the ruins of their home, 500 meters from the hypocenter. He found only her ashes and this rosary. He described his experience in _The Bells of Nagasaki_. The bells are those of Urukami Cathedral, of which wrote:
These are the bells that did not ring for weeks or months after the disaster. May there never be a time when they do not ring! May they ring out this message of peace until the morning of the day on which the world ends.
He wrote prayers for peace, and paid to have 1,000 cherry trees planted (a few which survive today). His service earned him the affectionate title “saint of Urakami.”
As the museum tour ends, one is returned back to where it began. Thousand-crane offerings folded by children from around the country and the world are hung from strings or arranged into elaborate mosaics to beseech the world for peace and for the end of nuclear weapons.
Returning to the ship by taxi, I was struck by the contrast between the beautiful, sunny day, and the blooming flowers and cherry blossoms, versus the dark, sorrowful scenes I’d witnessed in the museum.
When we distance ourselves from the humanity of others, using facts and figures, stereotypes, caricatures, and assumptions, it is easier, I think, to accept and support war and the terrible methods and tools we have to wage it. When we learn the stories, imagine the suffering if we had been in a similar situation, and think of the countless innocent civilians and children inevitably killed in war, then, I think, we cannot accept without question the “need” for war and the “need” for these horrific weapons.