Nagasaki, Pleasant City with Tragic History

[PART III]

 

January 2017

 

I have always wanted to visit Nagasaki ever since I learnt in school about the horrific twin atomic bombings of 1945. After visiting Hiroshima (twice, and wrote about it HERE), my desire to visit Nagasaki reached an all-time high.

 

Now as I step out of the 787 train (Dreamliner train?) at Nagasaki Station, my ambition is almost fulfilled.

 

What greets me is a modern, quiet city, and I have an instant liking to it.

 

The cavernous Nagasaki Station is a sight to behold — it does not appear to be a train station at all. The actual station is tucked to the right.

 

Opposite the station there’s a network of pedestrian crossings across the main street (with no escalators, which is a bit of a damper), and it looks like a lovely town. 

 

I glance to the left and see the 333-metre Mt Inasa, with its communication towers and a park. It is said that the night view from here of Nagasaki is among the top three in Japan. I’d believe that.

 

In front of the train station there’s a major tram and bus halt, and commuters arrive and leave like clockwork.

 

We decide to do lunch first, and being a busy time of the day, we have to wait for a table to be free.

 

We duly register at the door and are number three in the queue … not bad.

 

Grilled fish for me, and the usual suspects. One thing about this meal is it offers a myriad of tastes, from the main course itself to the condiments accompanying it. And of course the miso soup and tea to top it up.

 

After the quick lunch, we hastily make our way back to the station to catch a local train heading north. We have a lot of walking to do today.

 

Just 20 minutes later, we are at the Nagasaki Peace Park, staring at the huge Peace Statue with its interesting pose.

 

The Peace Statue’s plaque explains it all. In Hiroshima they have Flame of Peace instead.

 

Visitors can’t just resist doing the unique pose.

 

We can’t either!  😛

 

The Peace Statue faces the Fountain of Peace, about 180 metres to the south in the Peace Park, with Mount Inasa in the background. Hiroshima also has a similar fountain.

 

The path linking the statue and the fountain is dotted with statues, contributed by various nations, all promoting peace and friendship.

 

Nearby there’s information about the horror that befell this beautiful city at exactly 11.02am on Thursday, 9th August 1945. That’s just 3 days after Hiroshima had received the same fate, 300 kilometres to the northeast.

 

The extent of the damage inflicted is graphically shown. The death toll and damage were not as severe as in Hiroshima since Nagasaki is mountainous which limited the impact of the blast. Hiroshima on the other hand is on a flat delta and bore the full brunt of the mid-air nuke explosion.

 

There’s also a poignant spot — the remnant of a prison that was blasted into oblivion on that fateful morning.

 

We leave the Peace Park and head for the hypocentre.

 

The hypocentre, or the exact location the atomic bomb exploded, is marked by a black pillar. The actual detonation happened at 500 metres in the sky above the pillar. This height is chosen to cause maximum damage to the ground.

 

Here’s how it looked like after the bomb had done its terrible deed. Note that there were 3 major schools around the hypocentre — all the poor kids died instantaneously.

 

I spot a arrow pointing downwards and I clamber down a staircase to find the original level of the ground before the blast. It is like in a trench, and grass above me is the current ground level. The additional ‘ground’ is actually debris from the catastrophic explosion itself.

 

Behind the protective glass, I peer at the debris left intact, and see bits of bottles, metal fragments, building material and of course earth — such a great destructive force unleashed by the ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb!

 

We walk over to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, but unfortunately no photography is allowed. I must say it’s a very good museum, on par with its Hiroshima counterpart (where photography is allowed, oddly enough). However attached to the museum is this beautiful memorial to the victims.

 

There’s a serene hall with tall pillars and glasses, and at the end, a slender shelf holding records of all the 74,000 people who perished in the blast. This is a place for prayers to the victims, and for contemplation of the horrors of nuclear weapons.

 

One of the very last acts of President Barack Obama before he left office is this letter, dated 16th December 2016, displayed in the lobby of the museum.

 

The weather is getting very cold with occasional flurries of snow, so we catch a tram to return to our hotel near the train station. The visit to the memorials of the second ever A-bomb to be used on civilians has been as meaningful and traumatic as our visit to Hiroshima.

 

Back at the train station and I see that Nagasaki is expecting its own shinkansen service in 2022. At the moment the Kyushu shinkansen line between Fukuoka and Kagoshima totally skips Nagasaki, which is located on the extreme west coast of the island, a bit out of the way.

 

The sun is setting, and being winter, it’s early in the day. People are still at work and the streets are calm.

 

After a night with light snow, I make my way in the cold morning to the port of Nagasaki to spot ships and see the famous Mitsubishi shipyard across the harbour. This major shipyard was key in the industrialisation efforts of the Meiji period in the late 19th century — the old part of it is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

 

Here there’s also the Oura Catholic Church, said to be the oldest church in Japan, built in 1865, Gothic style. Centuries ago, Nagasaki was one of the first ports to be visited by foreigners — St Francis Xavier arrived here from Malacca in the mid-16th century, to become the first Christian preacher. In front of the church, there’s the western-style (old) Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building.

 

Suddenly I’m caught in a blizzard, which puts an end to my morning adventure.

 

I find shelter under a tree, but the snow is getting heavier. 

 

When I eventually arrive back at the train station, Mt Inasa is already white with fresh snow. But we are in a hurry with no time to go up the mountain to enjoy the view.

 

Yes, we have a train to catch, and soon we are back at the station to continue with our journey to Fukuoka. Nagasaki and of course Hiroshima, are famous in history for the wrong reason. If you have the opportunity, do visit both places, to appreciate how horrific wars are, nuclear ones immensely more so.

 

> NEXT: FUKUOKA

 

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