Japan – Nagasaki

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.

Streetcars outside JR Nagasaki Station

Streetcars outside JR Nagasaki Station

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.

Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park in Urakami

Atomic Bomb Hypocentre Park in Urakami

Inside the peaceful Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park stands a smooth, black, square stone column marking the exact point above which the bomb exploded.

Remains of Urakami Cathedral next to memorial monument

Remains of Urakami Cathedral next to memorial monument

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.

Paper cranes at the memorial

Paper cranes at the memorial

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.

The 'Fat Man' atomic bomb which detonated at 11:02am, 9 August 1945

The ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb which detonated at 11:02am, 9 August 1945


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.

A giant turtle-riding giant Kannon

A giant turtle-riding giant Kannon

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.DSC08144

Frame 4Nagasaki Harbour completed our visit, as we dined on some Italian pasta (albeit Japanese style), and looked across at the industry that had made Nagasaki what it was and still is today.

Nagasaki Harbour

Nagasaki Harbour

Visited 25th to 27th February 2014.


About starksepicadventure

We are Andrew and Lakshi Starks, young married couple from Melbourne, Australia. We are travelling around the world on our Starks Epic Adventure!
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