August 10, 2008

The End of the Line

I arrived close to midnight at my destination and found that it was litterally at the end of the train line. To proceed any farther would result in being very wet.

Ambling across the street, I jumped up on the streetcar stand to get my bearings via its map and found I was less than 300m from one of the places I wanted to visit. With this happy news, I decided to forgo the streetcar and instead look for a hotel in the immediate area. There was a hotel less than a block away and its prices were reasonable indeed. However I decided to echew the place with the pay by the hour option in favor of a slightly more expensive hotel down the street.

The next morning was a glorious, sunny, August day just as it had been 63 years ago, when for an awful instant the bright sky became thousands of times brighter and  hell came to to the town of Nagasaki.

The second and hopefully last city destroyed by an atomic blast, Nagasaki seems sometimes to be forgotten. It is very out of the way at the end of a paenensula on the tip of Kyushu. However this is a powerful place, in some ways more moving and in some wasys more significant than Hiroshima.

I was there for the ceremonies at 11:02 and had wandered the museums in the preceding hours. I had accumulated at this point a drink, a bag with all the museum spam and all the flyers that had been handed to me by everyone from the red brigade asshats to naturally when a lady asked me where I was from, and I answered, I was suddenly surrounded by people who wanted to take a picture of the fat ass white boy with all manner of brochures falling all over the place....

I was asked to really...they wanted one representative from each country present to sing a little short 4 second song for peace and place their countries flag in the display. I did, and as I left I got interviewed by an American freelance journalist who wanted to see what a fellow American thought of this whole thing., and as there seemed to be a near dearth of Americans hecame to me....he left suitably appalled


 No doubt there would be no ceremony for these people if this major shipyard and munitions producing city had been destroyed with more conventional weapons. Indeed, it seems odd that the people who died in the non-nuclear fires that leveled Osaka and Tokyo are not memorialized with the same fervor that the late inhabitants of these two cities are. It is bitterly ironic that no such annual outcry is heard for the citizens of Manilla, Wake or...Nanking (where the death toll was higher than Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined....and was perpetrated with bayonettes) However, these people did die quite cruel deaths and whatever memorials might be denied others are not their concern. They deserve to be remembered.

 The sad fact is that the use of these terrible weapons was likely the least terrible of a set of truly wretched options the allies had at the end of WW2. The only card that didn't involve mass death was in Japanese hands, and they chose not to play that card until after this, about their last major industrial city, was imolated. Thus the suffering in this city was what finally tipped the balance and ended a horrible war, one that had been raging since 1931. The deaths of these people were, therefore, unusual in that conflict. They were not yet more mileposts on the long grim path of that horrid war, but the end of the line for that terrible chapter in history.  

There is not much to say about the effects the bomb had on the people here. That has been well documented, but the displays here, the artifacts, and the dwindling number of first person accounts have a power that no words can convey. I strongly encourage anybody who can to visit this place....or Hiroshima which is much more accessable.

In these days when proliferation issues are quite real and many who covet these weapons consider them anything but a last resort, it is very important to remind ourselves of what happened so many years ago to ordinary people in a midsized town going about there buisness when hell came down upon them.

The scars still to the memorial is this remnant of an early church. Nagasaki was where Japan made contact with the west and some of the oldest churches in the far east were here. Check out the base of the church...being locally built, it has Japanese style gargoyles.

Another church, built in the 1800s, is represented by this fallen bell tower...

One interesting thing about the Nagasaki memorial as opposed to its more famous sister city, is that there are plaques like this...

There is also this....a memorial to the Allied POWs who were killed here on that day.

Nagasaki was a very large POW camp. The POWs ( about half from the UK) were used as slave labor in the shipyard. The bomb went off close to the prison camp and the shockwave devastated the shipyard.

Nearly 70% of the casualties aside from POWs were women and children. This was not some sinister plot, but a byproduct of the fact that a huge number of men had been conscripted and of those that were left many were either inside at the time, working on expanding air raid shelters under ground or at a big civil defense meeting in a bunker...ironically going over a report from Hiroshima to gain lessons from that recent calamity.  

The actual memorial is a masterpiece of gently falling water. No pictures can do it justice.

The grounds outside include this ravine paved with stones.

Many of these have an odd sheen, they were glazed by the blast. When you walk down this stream you are walking on trinitite amongst other things.

 Not all of the memorials are as sublime, I was unable to get a photo of the official peace statue due to a dais being erected over it....and I found Fabio the Peace God to be unbecoming of the solemnity of the ocassion....

...but that is in keeping with the spirit of the town because Nagasaki is a really interesting and neat place to visit!

Beyond the reach of the bullet train at the far tip of a peninsula, Nagasaki would not seem likely to be a happening place, but it was once the gateway to Japan through which every foreinger had to pass.

I was suprised to find that there was still 6-8 blocks worth of Chinatown near the old Chinese enclave the Chinese govt. still maintains a consulate does Portugal.

Because of the many steep and high hills, several historic sites were shielded from the flash and blast of the bomb. There is the old Dutch settlement, several old temples and some very historic churches (most of whoes structures have been rebuilt). The city is a very important port, shipbuilding and industrial center and an iportant fishing town. It is as lively as one might expect but it also has something of a small town feel to it.

The streetcars are a nice touch.

The city isn`really spread out enough for a regular rail system but it IS very hilly and this is a neat compromise built on the remains of the pre WW2 system. These are not true cable cars and so dont climb the really steep hills...but they weave between them and prevent one from having to go up and down multiple times.

As I desperately need the excersize, for the most part, I walked. The city is surprisingly small.

The brands are different from farther north and I did not see a single US restraunt chain represented (though there is a Starbucks at the station). The differences just between here and KitaKyushu in this regard were striking.

 I discovered this pedestrian unfriendly place where I ate lunch.  It has a broad menu that includes really good seafood ramen and fresh gyoza. I gather from its fixtures that it is probably a chain, but I`ve never seen any others.

In addition to its many picturesque churches, Nagasaki is the home of the grave of the 26 Martyrs....Portugese and Japanese priests who were crucified on this spot when Christianity was outlawed during the Tokugawa era.

Shadowed from the blast and flash of the bomb, This Chinese Ming Era temple was built to exacting specifications by a Chinese priest and is one of the few inact examples of this type of building anywhere in the world.  This bright red temple is the home of Japans oldest zen sect.

 (Temple pic is not one of the horribly sun dazzled and out of focus ones I took ...this was nicked from the Nagasaki tourism website)

I also noted that the steep hills and gullies lead to some insane parking concepts.

The ravine the cars are parked over is about 8 feet deep over running water. The shop in the background is called Sea Ivory...I thought it might be a scrimshaw place...but it seems to sell....whale meat. I'm not positive but the packets of mysterious meat with the smiling whale on them and the fact that they REALLY didn't want to talk to a westerner with a camera made me suspicious.

Walking back to the station I saw a sign for the "Nagasaki Rope Bridge"...I figgured that I' know....look at the rope bridge. The sign pointed in here.... up the stairs I went.

 Lots of stairs...

Special added bonus stairs that led to a.....


I see...or rather I didn't.

But wait there was this stone path going right through the schoolyard that leads to....

More stairs, but these seem to lead to stairs that went to stairs that looked like thay might be going somewhere.

Eventuly I came to a purification basin, and figgured I should avail myself of it..

...and I then proceded...up the stairs.

Where I saw this...which I did not understand.... the top of more stairs...

Prayer houses?

At any rate they have wooden handwritten prayers on them.

Some more solemn than others...

...and then the path winded around and down more stairs until it arrived at a temple and a wall with this on it...

For all your zen contemplation needs...a recognition chart for Japanese navy vessels and aircraft...

Keep in mind I was looking for a rope bridge.

I noted at this point that the small temple complex I had arrived in had, far off to one side, a building with a glass door and a vending machine. I walked over there and saw the words Nagasaki Rope Bridge.


But wait...the bridge is a lie....or at least a mistranslation....

There is no rope bridge...its a sky car!

And it goes to the top of mount Inasa.

From where you have a 360 degree view of the city, the ocean and the surrounding countryside.

One thing that is striking is how suddenly the countryside goes from city to dense jungle and boonie.

If I were not utterly broke I'd have stayed in Nagasaki a day or two more. I saw only a tenth of the sights and never went near the beach or countryside.  The place is extremely pleasant and not crowded at all.  It is very out of the way from Tokyo but it is surely worth it.  

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 12:43 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 The Ringer Hut is indeed part of a chain, one that extends its way all the way to San Jose, California, where I've eaten.  According to Wikipaedia, it's specialized in Nagasaki-regional dishes.

Posted by: Civilis at Mon Aug 11 17:01:19 2008 (8bcdP)

2 That memorial/apology to the Korean victims of the war is extraordinary. Good for them. Thanks for blogging your trip like this. It's great fun to follow along.

Posted by: Griffin at Tue Aug 12 08:21:43 2008 (gn5r2)

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