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Reflections on My Visit to Nagasaki—a City of Peace and Culture

I’m not sure why I hesitated about traveling to Nagasaki when my mother and husband first discussed traveling to the city as part of our first trip together to Kyushu, Japan. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of wanting to know firsthand the horrors of nuclear bombs, and the long-lasting effects of nuclear war, but I’m very glad I decided to make the trip.

What I found was an uber-peaceful, cultural and modern city nestled on beautiful rolling hills overlooking a large bay, with electric street level trolleys that reminded me of San Francisco, with a fascinating multi-ethnic history. It was a port of entry for many cultures and races since the 16th century. With many cultures, it offered special cuisines that reflected the hybrid nature of its European and Asian heritage, and we sampled many tasty soups including Nagasaki champon, and the popular castella, a European-influenced cake.

My husband, mother, and I stayed right near the Oura Catholic Church and Glover Gardens in the historic downtown area. Different sects of missionaries had entered Kyushu from its southernmost tip and began spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ. Starting in the late 16th century and continuing for over 100 years, there was an ongoing violent persecution of Christians by the Japanese warlords, who feared their growing presence in Southern Japan. Those suspected of being Christians had to pledge their allegiance to the government by stomping on a coin with the effigy of Jesus Christ, a practice known as fumie, otherwise face death. Others continued their practice of their faith in secret. However, the Oura Church built in 1837, dedicated to 26 Japanese martyrs, reminds visitors of the perseverance of the Christian faith.

Peace Statue at the Nagasaki Peace Park. (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Kamii)

The main purpose of our visit was to see the Nagasaki Peace Park’s memorial and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The epicenter is a simple outdoor arena with a single sculpture that commemorates the center of the explosion. An oversized large bronze sculpture of Poseidon, symbolizing strength and compassion, stands near the epicenter of the bomb that dropped on August 9, 1945. Upon entering the museum, I noticed a petition asking visitors to declare their support of banning nuclear weapons, which bore signatures from all over the world.

The museum educates visitors about the events leading up to the bomb, how the bomb was detonated and specifically where, the actual stories of those who experienced the bomb first-hand and/or survived it. While truly horrible, it’s something that I would encourage all visitors to Japan to visit. The exhibits went into some detail about how people perished and in what locations they were exposed to the greatest amount of heat, which erupted into fires. I had no idea that there were so many ethnicities living in the city—Chinese, Koreans, different Europeans—held as prisoners or else migrants to this country, probably for work. These people were never accounted for in the official death tolls. Their bodies were not buried properly either. It was a very eye-opening fact about the multi-racial composition of the city and learning that foreigners or other races made up a portion of the “dead.”

We next visited the historical Megane stone bridge (resembling eyeglasses because of its reflection onto water), then to the Sofukuji Zen temple built in 1629 located in the Chinese quarter of the city, built for the Chinese who resettled from Fujian province. It survived the atomic bomb thanks to its higher elevation and distance from the epicenter. Our next stop was the city’s Cultural Museum, which is an outstanding landmark that talks about the longstanding history of the region. It was a visual experience with lots of films, exhibits, and reconstructions, and I’m so glad I experienced it!

To complete our visit, we rode the Ropeway from sea level to the observation point on Mount Inasa (333 meters), where you have a spectacular night time view of the city. After seeing the bay during daylight and at night with the gleaming city lights, I can see why people admire the city for its beauty.

I learned that Nagasaki is a city of peace and healing, as well as physical beauty and with a deep historic culture. It’s a city that no visitor to Japan and any student of history should miss.


© 2016 Carolyn Kamii

atomic bomb christians Japan nagasaki Nagasaki Peace Park travel World War II