The Harrowing Beauty of Nagasaki: Ghosts of the Atom Bomb
THE WEATHER was fair and cold upon arrival at Fukuoka International Airport. But the last days were hot and humid, and the nights were cool and dry. It wasn’t much of a surprise; after all, Japan was at the cusp of summer and it is significantly hotter in Kyushu island than the northern parts of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Unlike my previous visit to Osaka, we didn’t get the chance to see the cherry blossom this time, but we were just in time for the emerald greening of the flora, particularly, the wisteria flowers of Kawachi Fuji-en Garden of Kokura, Kitakyushu City. We checked in at an AirBnB apartment very near Hakata station, and tired from the flight, we bought bento boxes at a nearby Family Mart, Japan’s convenience store pride!
After a four-day travel around Kyushu—Fukuoka, Kitakyushu, Dazaifu, Nanzoin and Kokura – Nagasaki was our final stop – and nothing prepared me for the things I would see.
GOING TO NAGASAKI
We got out of our apartment as early as 6 a.m. because our trip to Nagasaki would take about two hours on the train.
There are three types of trains in Japan: express, regular, and the shinkansen (bullet trains). Regular trains stop at every station between terminals and are the most used by commuters and city dwellers. Express trains are inter-city lines that only stop at designated stations between the cities, like the Kagoshima line between Fukuoka and Nagasaki. Bullet trains are inter-provincial lines that even run up through the main islands of Japan!
Time is an obsession for typical Japanese, and every minute counts. This was the common problem of first-time goers to Japan, who have to rely on signage, timetables, and hand gestures to get around anywhere. The Japanese are very, very friendly and cheery, but they’re not the type to get out of their way just to strike a conversation with anyone, especially with a gaijin (foreigner). It’s chaos in train stations if you’re not Japanese; luckily, there are many concierges as well, who also know a bit of conversational English.
From street food to restaurants, to public transportation and public restrooms, everything is just better in Japan, but you could get lost, or diverted very easily. But as long as you have your smartphone or tablet with internet access to Google Maps, you’re sure to get there flawlessly. I did not put my faith on Google Maps completely before, after all, how can a bunch of people pinpoint and map out every transport, schedule, road, street, bus lines online? Also, it’s highly impractical to rely on a machine with 50-50 accuracy.
But, as it turned out, the same bunch did as such, and it saved our entire trip. Google Maps has become extremely accurate and extremely reliable; in fact, it can pinpoint your EXACT location on the map and even the direction you’re facing! Imagine that. The ‘how to get there’ function isn’t any less impressive either; it does give you very viable solutions on how to get from point A to point B.
What also helped is Japan’s impeccable and remarkable urban planning and development; you could also navigate using only the streets and how they are plotted out as your guide. With that said, it was a miracle how my tablet and a bit of logical thinking helped our trip push through.
GROUND ZERO AND EXHIBITS SO PAINFUL TO LOOK AT
In Nagasaki, the first on our list was the Atomic Bomb Ground Zero Memorial located at Nagasaki Park. Ground Zero gave an uneasy and eerie feeling—just imagine, standing on the same spot where the atomic bomb detonated 70 years prior, where individuals were either vaporized or severely burnt by the intensity of the heat. I learned that the effect of the atom bomb was like another sun appearing 500 meters above Nagasaki for one minute. It is that bad.
But the park was not as horrific and heart-wrenching as the exhibits at the nearby Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The park is all peaceful and calm, with a variety of birds and animals flocking on and about—it’s as if, finally, war had been smothered, and peace had triumphed. But the best part of the park was the group of Japanese kindergarteners passing through the park! I wish you were there!
The heavy feeling wasn’t over. We then went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, but not before passing through a creek which I learned, many died in during the atom blast, enough to ‘dam’ the creek with their corpses. As it happened, severely burnt victims of the atom blast went to the creek for water but died doing so.
We arrived at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum at noon, the entrance fee was 300 yen, or roughly 150 PHP. The museum is modern and contained many relics and accounts of the atomic blast. Burned, tattered clothes of victims, broken glass, pictures, even bandages of the burnt victims of the atomic blast – after viewing all of these and more, it became too much for me to handle.
The final nail was reading the accounts of the victims, it was very graphic, describing the pain and sensation of burning in the most elaborate way: through poetry. I wasn’t the only one teary-eyed; many Japanese women and children were also viewing and were also crying.
Finally, I cried after seeing an image of a Japanese Jesuit priest’s rosary, which, I learned, melted through the hands of the same priest from the blast whilst he was praying for the end of the war. The priest survived the blast, but died later on from leukemia.
It was very emotional for everyone, and that was the wonder of the museum, its ability to connect with all types of people regardless of their background. I was sure that every British, Chinese and Indonesian who was there were emotionally stressed as I was.
The best feeling was probably stepping out of the museum and seeing how peaceful and progressive Nagasaki is now—far from its horrific demise 70 years ago. Now, the city enjoys economic prosperity because of its strategic location as an international port in the south of Japan, which function can be likened to that of Davao City of the Philippines.
Nagasaki should be one of the places to visit when visiting Kyushu; not only does it offer the atom bomb museums and memorials, it’s also one of the best seafood centers of the country, particularly at the Dejima wharf seafood front. So if you’re looking for one of the best sashimi after an emotional rollercoaster, Nagasaki is the place to be. It’s also easy to travel to from Fukuoka.
Nagasaki was the port of entry of Japan to the outside world during the infancy of its new government in the 1860s. That explains the many churches in Nagasaki, as well as a large concentration of foreigners, even when the bombs fell. Our very first saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, was martyred and buried in Nagasaki. We realized this too late and wanted to see where he was buried but we had no more time as it was just a day trip for us.
But more than being a city, Nagasaki has become a symbol for peace.