12 April 2021
After a few days in Nagasaki, it was clear that this is a vibrant city with a rich and interesting past. But there is of course one event that truly put Nagasaki on the map, that we simply couldn’t skip over.
On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945.
These events caused utter destruction, took tens of thousands of lives, and had devastating consequences that changed lives and nations. There is no doubt in my mind that this should never have happened, but it did, and so we must bear witness, learn from it, and ensure that it never happens again.
In the Urakami neighborhood of northern Nagasaki there are a number of bomb-related sights to see, including the Atomic Bomb Museum, a memorial hall, and the Peace Park. We started with the museum, which I recommend doing, since it gives context to the more symbolic sights and the verdant park provides a nice place to decompress afterward.
Previously, I’d visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and while that museum is excellent, it is huge and can be information-heavy at times. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is not as big by comparison, but it is still incredibly impactful. Both museums focus on the human cost of the bombings, with lots of artifacts displaying evidence of damage. Each are accompanied by the traumatic and sometimes grisly tales of the victims and survivors.
The museum opens with a punch to the gut. The first thing you see upon entering is a clock reading 11:02, that stopped at the moment of impact. In the background, a soundtrack of an ominous ticking sound plays. You round the corner into the next room, which has been designed to recreate the destruction of nearby Urakami Cathedral, complete with actual artifacts from that post-apocalyptic scene like a bent water tower and pieces of collapsed stairs. Along with its message of peace and that this should be the final dropping of an atomic bomb to ever occur, I got the feeling that the museum was asking “Why Nagasaki? Why do this to us?”
As I went through the exhibits and learned more about that day, and the repercussions afterward, I was struck by how premeditated the bombing was. It takes a lot of effort to build and drop an atomic bomb; it wasn’t a whim or sudden decision. The western front had been over for months at this point, but still the US went through with it and asserted their dominance. In addition, Japan didn’t take their warnings seriously, although it was pretty much over for them by this point. After, it was definitely over, with horrifying consequences.
Next to the museum is the lovely and reverent Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The hall is simple, located underground beneath a calm infinity pool, where you are encouraged to walk and calm yourself before going down the stairs to enter the vast hall, which you do from the back. Slowly, you step forward, walking between 12 pillars towards the registry of the names of the bomb victims, a tower of paper enshrined behind glass. It’s a quiet place, provoking thoughts and prayers. Off to one side, also enclosed in glass, are the paper cranes folded by Barack Obama when he visited Hiroshima in 2016.
After, we wandered around the Hypocenter Park and Peace Park. As you could imagine, the Hypocenter Park, while lovely, is a bit chilling, as it contains a marble cenotaph marking the hypocenter of the bomb. Nearby is a section from Urakami Cathedral, with clear signs of damage from the bomb scarring its surface.
Up the hill, the Peace Park has a number of statues symbolizing peace which have been gifted from different countries and groups around the world. At the end of it stands the iconic, 10 meter tall Peace Statue, created by local artist Seibo Kitamura and unveiled in 1955 when the park opened. This statue depicts a robust, god-like man, his eyes closed in prayer for the victims, his hand outstretched to help the survivors. It was an impressive and rather hopeful note to end on after such an emotionally exhausting day.
By this time, it was the afternoon, and a soft rain started to fall. It was time to leave Nagasaki and return to Tokyo. I didn’t know it at that time, but my whole life was about to change. Two weeks later, my boyfriend suddenly left Japan, and I decided to leave as well. For good.
I still have countless stories about Japan, and will probably continue to tell them for years to come, but I wanted to get out a few more travel tales while I’m still here. I will return to the US in late August, and I’m sure I’ll have some riveting adventures to share about moving in the meantime!
Safe and Happy Travels,