Nagasaki, Japan

Nagasaki was also bombed at the end of WWII, killing 70,000 people at the time and, according to local records, as many again since then. Again we were able to attend the commemoration ceremony (9 August) as well as accidentally getting caught up in the attendant anti nuke protest.

A stunning number of paper cranes were folded for the commemoration by groups and individuals. From the tiny delicate cranes from semi-translucent paper that must surely have been folded by watchrepairmen and lacemakers to the strings of cranes made from old newspaper, it must have been millions of rainbow coloured paper cranes that adorned the shrines, memorial statues, museum entrance and memorial hall. Our youth hostel asked their summer guests to fold cranes so that they too could contribute 1,000 cranes to the ceremony.

The museum here is slightly different in focus to Hiroshima. The atmospheric first room creates an eery entrance, filled with ruins from local buildings and a replica of the part of the church wall that remained standing a few metres from the site of the museum, but in general the museum is more focused on the political and the international aspects of nuclear weapon proliferation as well as the scientific aspects of radiation’s impact on the human body.

In the memorial hall, surrounded by water features, visitors are invited to pray for those who died and to leave messages of peace which are held for ten years. The archives contain video footage of survivor testimonies and peace initiatives of local groups and institutions are also highlighted.

Nagasaki is also interesting for its history of contact with the world outside Japan. While Japan was, for a long time, very closed to outside influences, Nagasaki has been home to 16th century Christian missionaries, later martyrs crucified or boiled to death in the nearby hot springs; foreign merchants – Chinese, Portuguese and Dutch; and Japan’s tiny gateway to Western knowledge, and customs: Dejima; and still today to “fusion” food, historic Western-style houses and a lovely harbour for a glimpse of the Japan sea.

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