Nagasaki was the tragic target of the second atomic bomb of World War II. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, Nagasaki has played an important role in Japan’s history as well as its connection with the western world. Nagasaki was Japan’s first gateway to the West and its Asian neighbours of China and Korea.
In 1543, an off-course Chinese ship with guns and Portuguese sailors aboard, arrived which signaled the start of Nagasaki’s long period as the main connection with the West. Portuguese missionaries soon arrived, bringing Christianity and converting the local diamyo (regional lords). Portuguese trade ships quickly made Nagasaki a wealthy and culturally diverse city.
The ‘Christian Century’ (1549-1650) came to an end due to religious and political uprisings, culminating in the forbidding of contact with any foreigners and the banning of all travel outside Japan. This influential period of isolation in Japanese history, eventually ended with the removal of Imperial rule and the subsequent Meiji Restoration.
During this isolation however, the closely watched Dutch enclave on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbor was the only exception, and continued to trickle Western science and culture into Japan. When Nagasaki reopened to the West in 1859, industry took off, particularly shipbuilding, which unfortunately made it a target on 9 August 1945.
A fateful turn of events lead to the USAF’s B-29 bomber Bockscar abandoning its initial target of Kokura due to clouds and heading for its secondary target, Nagasaki. Although cloudy too, a break in the clouds ensured visibility of the Mitsubishi Arms Factory (although not the intended target of the Mitsubishi Shipyard). The bomb actually missed its target, instead the 4.5-tonne ‘Fat Man’ bomb (much more powerful than Hiroshima’s ‘Little Boy’) exploding 500m directly above the largest Catholic church in Asia; Urakami Cathedral.
Inside the peaceful Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park stands a smooth, black, square stone column marking the exact point above which the bomb exploded.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is a somber, yet informative reminder of the horrors of nuclear weapons. Although much smaller than the equivalent museum in Hiroshima (which we have visited previously) it is laid out and presented very well, with descriptions of Japan’s military aggressions prior to the war and the events that led to the world’s first plutonium atomic bomb detonation.
Photos, artifacts, informative displays and accounts of survivors ensure it is a must-see for all. We were particularly moved by a video of an Australian prisoner-of-war (POW) who survived and was recounting his story in a Japanese documentary made many years ago. 75,000 of Nagasaki’s 240,000 population were killed, including 13,000 conscripted Korean labourers and 200 allied POWs. Plus innumerous more as a result of the blast.
Up on the steep hillside above our hotel, stands the 18m high figure of the goddess Kannon, standing on the back of a huge turtle.
The small isolated Dutch trading post of Dejima was Japan’s only connection to the outside world from the mid 17th century until 1855. The Dutch were cordoned off here, and now this is an open-air museum with a collection of restaurants, bars, shops and galleries.
Visited 25th to 27th February 2014.