My brother Ian and I agreed that Nagasaki was on our list of things to do. Friday I was free to spend the whole day out touring with Ian, so we made plans to take the train south along the western edge of Kyushu and see the famous city.
We were up early (Ian assisted by vestiges of jet lag), but we lagged in preparations because it was raining pretty hard outside. We went across the parking lot to the Harbor View Club for breakfast, but the rain continued. After some discussion, we agreed that rain or no, today was the best day to see Nagasaki.
Boy howdy, did it rain! We stopped first at the NEX (Navy Exchange) to buy umbrellas (I think I own six umbrellas now, since I kept getting caught without one). We slogged through the downpour to the train station. We bought tickets and climbed aboard absolutely soaked through.
The small train went slowly to Nagasaki. After an hour and a half we had arrived, and the weather had improved dramatically by the time we arrived. What a relief. Ian proved resourceful, and while I was still trying to think through how we should begin getting around, he found information on how to get an inexpensive day pass for the streetcars. We found maps of the city in English at the Information shop where we purchased the pass.
First stop was the atomic bomb museum. I was eager to compare this one to the one I had seen in Hiroshima. (Please see my blog post from my first visit to Hiroshima Peace Park.) Many people had told me they preferred the Nagasaki peace park/ museum complex. It is less polished than the one in Hiroshima, and for some that makes it more real.
I found myself less distraught at the complex in Nagasaki. Perhaps because I was with my brother and made an effort not to let myself get too emotional, whereas in Hiroshima I was with Tara, and we are comfortable crying together.
What struck me the most in Nagasaki was seeing how much of their Christian community had been destroyed. Of course, Nagasaki was a wonderfully diverse city at that time, and contained worshippers of multiple faiths, but before this summer I would never have guessed how many Catholics were there. I wonder how many Americans knew about this after the bomb: we hadn’t vaporized alien beings, but Christians, and sacred Catholic churches and artifacts. This realization was consistent with the little bit of Japanese history I learned this summer when I read Shusaku Endo’s compelling book, Silence, about Jesuit priests that snuck into Japan in the 17th century to minister to the faithful who had to worship in secret under penalty of death if discovered.
Information board at the museum:
The Urakami district of Nagasaki was the site of Christian missionary work from the latter part of the 16th century. The people of Urakami suffered persecution constantly from 1587 when Christianity was outlawed until 1873 when the ban was finally lifted. Over the course of 20 years, these faithful people built a church, laying one brick upon another. Their labors were rewarded in 1914 with the completion of the grandest church in East Asia. The church’s twin 26 meter high spires were completed in 1925. But the explosion of the atomic bomb blew the spires down and reduced the church to a hollow shell of rubble.
Another very compelling sight was the famous image of the man and ladder “burned” into the side of a building at the instant of the deathly bright flash of the bomb burst, and also the image similarly captured by vines on a wall. These things make it very real: the tragedy, the instantaneous destruction, the power of the bomb.
There are other things to see on location, so after the museum, we toured the Yataro Noguchi Art Museum. Works in the small museum were primarily by the named artist, but we found paintings by other artists that impressed us more than the impressionistic paintings of Noguchi.
Then we walked through the Nagasaki Museum of History and Folklore.
Finally we found the entrance to the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The hall is underground, and the entrance is through a water sculpture that creates a reflecting pond on the surface. Water only about an inch deep covers 70,000 tiny fiber optic lights representing the 73,884 deaths attributed to the atomic bomb and the nuclear fallout.
The underground peace memorial hall was cool, modern, peaceful. It is built for prayer and reflection and remembrance. Architect Akira Kuryu did an excellent job of creating the right kind of mood down there. In the main hall atrium, there are 12 lit green pillars that soar upwards to a skylight. At one end of the row of pillars is an equally tall column holding shelves with cards, each card containing the written name of a victim. There is a book for people to write in, on a table that also holds dedications. These often consisted of folded paper cranes for peace. The paper cranes are found all over the site here in Nagasaki, as well as in Hiroshima.
Our wanderings led us up and out of the complex after that, and we wandered back into the city to look for more sights to see and hopefully some food, as well. Sadly, we did not realize that the bomb hypocenter was very close to us, though hidden behind trees. Thus we did not make our way to that final sobering memorial.