Nagasaki has the unenviable place in history of being the second city subjected to the horror of an atomic bombing, which took place at 11.02am on August 9, 1945. Over 150,000 people were killed or injured and approximately one-third of the city was flattened by the ferocity of the windblast and scorching heat generated by the explosion. Today, Nagasaki along with Hiroshima stands as a reminder of an event that must never happen again and of the resilience of both nature and the human spirit. Whilst forever scarred, the city has grown from the ashes and regenerated itself.
As with Hiroshima, the city has sought to use the past to promote the message of peace to the rest of the world and in this post I want to highlight some of the symbols for peace to be found in Nagasaki. The opening photograph is a view looking out over the city from the Nagasaki Peace Park and within the park one finds a number of impressive sculptures promoting the need for peace, of which the most dominant is Seibo Kitamura’s Peace Statue at the northern end of the park.
Seibo, a local sculptor from Nagasaki Prefecture, described the statue thus:
After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horror,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the struggle for global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind.
— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)
At the southern end of the park is the Fountain of Peace, constructed in 1969 as a prayer for the souls of atomic bomb victims who perished searching for water.
A stone plaque in front of the fountain carries the following words from a poem written by a survivor – a young girl named Sachiko Yamaguchi who was nine years old at the time of the blast.
“I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was.”
In 1978 the city of Nagasaki established a Peace Symbols Zone on both sides of the park and invited donations of monuments from countries around the world. China’s donation in 1985 was the Maiden of Peace, for which the plaque reads:
“It expresses the sincere aspiration of the Chinese people for human love and the everlasting friendship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China.”
New Zealand’s donation is the more contemporary Cloak of Peace by Kingsley Baird donated in 2006, for which the plaque reads:
“The statue symbolizes consolation, protection, and solidarity. It also expresses ambivalence, reflecting conflicting interpretations of historical events.”
Nagasaki has historically had a significant Christian population and a tragedy within a tragedy occurred when the Urakami Cathedral, only 500 metres from the epicentre of the blast, was destroyed whilst a Mass was being held. The congregation attending Mass was cindered and buried, with the loss of life and property presenting a spiritual challenge to the religious community. Similar to the debate around the future of Hiroshima’s Dome building, there was a difference of opinion as to whether or not to rebuild the cathedral. In this instance, the congregation was successful in its desire to rebuild, despite the city government’s preference to preserve the site as a memorial. Rebuilding commenced in 1959, with further remodelling in 1980 to more closely align with the original French style. Today the Cathedral holds a dominant position in the Nagasaki streetscape, as can be seen below at pics 7 to 10.
Some scars from the bombing have been retained such as a fallen belfry being left where it fell (pic 9) and battered statues (pic 10) near the front of the Cathedral.
On the walk from the Peace Park to the Cathedral I came across a small museum commemorating the life of Dr. Nagai Takashi. Dr. Takashi was a radiologist who, prior to the bombing, had been diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia as a consequence of working with sub-standard equipment and given three years to live. As well as losing his wife in the bombing, he was further injured, yet continued to work tirelessly to help victims and write extensively on the subject of radiation treatment. Until his death in 1951 (aged 43), Dr. Takashi lived with his two children in Nyokodo (As Thyself Hermitage), which stands today as a symbol of Dr. Takashi’s selflessness and community spirit (refer pics 11 and 12).
A display (pic 13) from the Atomic Bomb Memorial Hall serves as a sobering reminder of the destructive nuclear arsenals that represent an ever-present danger to the ideal of peace in our times. When faced with such reality, the lessons that can be learnt from Nagasaki and Hiroshima take on an even greater importance and monuments such as People at Peace (pic 14) found in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima serve as apt reminders of what should be.
(Please click on any of the images for an enlarged view.)