The port town of Nagasaki is famous for two reasons. During the period of isolation when Japan cut itself off from the world it was the only port where foreign traders were allowed to land and interact with Japan, this is where it gets its name as the japanese gateway to the rest of the world. The other, sadly more well-known reason is that Nagasaki is the last place on earth where a nuclear bomb was used in war.
In planning our visit I was more intrigued by the first proposition. Rosanna’s mum Lesley had gifted me the excellent book “Shogun” a while back which talks at length about the Portuguese and Dutch influence in Japanese history that was focussed around Nagasaki. The portuguese arrived first, but were very keen on evangelising the catholic faith and when the Shogunate banned Christianity a new trading partner was required to maintain the supply of Chinese silk (without having to deal directly the with the Chinese). In stepped the protestant, pro-commerce Dutch. We visited the “Dutch Slope”, an area full of western style residences near the dock where westerners were permitted to live. Indeed all foreigners were referred to as ‘dutch’ for a time by the Japanese.
However I also wanted to visit the Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Museum and other sites that are relevant to the nuclear bomb. The peace park was nice, containing lots of statues and sculptures donated by other nations in the name of peace. The museum wasn’t nice. I am glad I went, and I would urge anyone else to go, but it is a horrible experience. After reading the Nth account of a parent desperately searching the wreckage of the city for their children, their hair and skin falling off as they clambered over the ruins, I was confronted by charred clothing and an image of the corpse it was removed from. I am ashamed to say I could not read all the exhibits in that museum and skipped to the section about what has been done since to prevent this occurring again. The fervent desire of the people of Nagasaki that they be the last people to experience this is incredible. The site of the hypocenter, 500m below where the bomb detonated, is marked by a black obelisk – if this atrocity had occurred in the european theatre the image of this place would be known to all, as it is I realised that so much of what I was seeing was new to me. It should not be the case.
I also wanted to see a Torii gate near the harbour which survived the bombing, according to the 2013 film The Wolverine. It turns out that this gate was constructed on location in Canada and is a complete fabrication. However it was inspired by the one-legged Torii, a gate with just one pillar remaining. There is something so impactful about a this individual pillar, still standing but forever incomplete.
On our final evening in Nagasaki we caught the cable car to the summit of Mount Inasa to see Nagasaki’s latest claim to fame. It has recently been named as one of the worlds three greatest nighttime cityscapes. The way the buildings line the river as it snakes inland from the port has been likened to the milky way. It really is an incredible view and it was the perfect way to say goodbye to the small but incredibly significant coastal town.
Full pictures from our trip to Nagasaki can be seen here: