|Window on Nagasaki, Japan|
To be absolutely honest, I would have to say that I was not looking forward to visiting Nagasaki. I have recognised the name all my life and it was always uttered with sadness and horror - and, sometimes, shame. How could such a thing happen? Just how does a nation - or even a city - survive such horrendous destruction? Did I even want to come face-to-face with it?
I had little choice, in the end, as it was one of the ports of call on a Tokyo to Shanghai cruise. As luck would have it, we visited on a grey and dismal day, but we discovered pockets of brightness such as these peace decorations (above) at the Atomic Bomb Museum.
My questions were not all to be answered either. Maybe I left with even more than I came. But here is just a small window - my mini-view - a peep at this city, which may help others to come to terms with the then and now of Nagasaki.
Like many other tourists to Nagasaki, on Kyushu island,we had arrived by water. The port terminal was well-staffed by a task-force of Nagasaki Port Cruise Ship Welcoming Committee workers handing out maps and answering questions.
The leaflet we were given had maps, and directions for 'how to ride the Streetcar' from the Port Teminal. These are fast and efficient, and the thirty-minute ride to the Peace Park (one of the major places which tourists want to visit) was Y120 (about A$1.50). An adult day-pass to ride any number of streetcars is Y500 or about A$6.20.
In both Hiroshuima and Nagasaki, some streetcars survived the blast and were in operation again just days later.
The Peace Park is just as its name suggests. Rather than being a gloomy place, it offers hope for a world without war and suffering, and is a potent reminder of the resilience of humanity. It is an easy two-minute walk from Matsuyama-machi Streetcar Stop.
The fountain is expecially important. Read the first sentence of the sign to understand why.
Throughout the park are memorials and sculptures donated from countries all around the world as a symbol of solidarity in seeking peace. This beautiful screen is from New Zealand. Named "Cloak of Peace (Te Korowai Rangimarie)", it is by Kingsley Baird, 2006. The plaque reads: "The statue symbolizes consolation, protection, and solidarity. It also expresses ambivalence, reflecting conflicting interpretations of historical events." There are 49 peace monuments throughout Nagasaki.
One of the most wonderful things about travel is serendipity - the unexpected discoveries - which could never have been planned. This little lady was with her family who were all also dressed in their best clothes. No, it was not a wedding, they said, but as we don't speak Japanese the real explantation was lost. It seemed to be a special day for families in Nagasaki, as we saw many parents and children dressed superbly, but none like this child.
This ten-metre Peace Statue dominates the park. The finger pointing to the sky symbolises the threat of nuclear weapons. His left hand represents eternal peace and his eyes are closed in prayer asking that the souls of the victims may find rest.
Provision is made at the base of the statue for flowers brought by visitors.
Again, water plays an important part in framing this sculpture, and it is no accident that reflection is a keynote of the message of the park.
These poignant words from the creator of the statue, Seibo Kitamura, explains the symbolism he was conveying.
While so many suffered in the nuclear blast, children were especially vulnerable and this statue epitomises that. Called"Hymn to Life" it is from the City of Pistoia, Italy, 1987. The plaque reads: "The statue, which depicts a mother holding her baby high in the air with both hands, is an expression of love and peace."
The Urakami Cathedral, in the background, was first built in 1895, destroyed by the nuclear blast, then rebuilt in 1959. It is a reminder that Nagasaki became a centre of Portuguese and Dutch influence between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki have been proposed for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Close to the Matsuyama-Machi Streetcar stop, is the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter, Nagasaki's ground zero, commemorated by a simple monolith.
The facts are these. At 11:02 am, August 9th, 1945, when the local people would have been innocently going about their daily lives, an atomic bomb exploded 500 meters above Matsuyama in Nagasaki City. Huge numbers of people were killed immediately, while others died later from illness or injury - by the end of December, some 74,000 people had died while around 75,000 more suffered from various injuries. The area within a 2.5 kilometer radius of the hypocenter was utterly devastated, and the rest of the city was left in ruins.
About a third of the city's population of 240,000 at the time was killed outright. Another third were injured. These numbing statistics are bad enough, but it is necessary to remember that thousands more died from injuries and radioactivity-induced diseases in the years and decades following the blast.
It was heartening to see that another Australian had recently visited this shrine and thought to leave something.
And here it is - the epicentre of the bomb blast. Beside it is preserved a portion of the former Urakami Cathedral, which was just 500 metres away, ironically filled with worshippers at the time. As it was almost the time of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15) and as Mass was being held on that day, it was well attended.
A layer of the ground from that moment is also exhibited at the site. Visitors can see the remains of destroyed houses: roof tiles, bricks, ceramic and pieces of glass that boiled in the 3000℃ atomic heat.
Here, too, there are a number of sculptures. Now, over seventy years after the blast, mothers bring their children and babies in strollers to this place to feed the birds in safety.
They say in Japan 'if you fold one thousand paper cranes you receive a wish'. These 'wishes' are everywhere - at the museum, at the Peace memorial, pressed into my hand as I bought a postcard. Of course I brought some home and shared them too. You can never have too many wishes for world peace.
Most visitors to Nagasaki visit the Atomic Bomb Museum. Not for the faint-hearted, there are graphic pictures and exhibits which forcefully drive home the horro and results of the event. Above, the altar of the cathedral has been recreated.
Like the paper cranes, other handwork shares the same message. This quilt is on display at the entrance to the museum.
And this is it - a receation of the bomb itself.
For centuries, Japan kept itself isolated from the rest of the world. Eras came and went in othr coun tries, kings ruled, wars were waged and traders and explorers opened up vast areas of the world. Japan, with its ancient feudal system, progressed at a different pace.
The only place with any contact with the outside world was this unassuming island at the mouth of the Urakami river. Traders were allowed to come ashore here - and here only to sell and buy. Of course this was destroyed too.
Finally, working from memory and some plans, this model of the ancient area was built, and still remains inside the recreation which is now open to the public.
Now, with a population of around 450,000, Nagasaki is relaxed and busy again. Nothing can obliterate the past, but Japanese people have courage and are looking to the future. This friendly attendant assists visitors in understanding Dejima.
You can find it next to the Dejima Streetcar stop. Open 8am to 6pm, admission is Y500.
Many exhibits from Dejima are now stored in this building, the former Dejima Protestant Seminary.
Nearby is Shinchi Chinatown, one of the top three Chinatowns in Japan, busy, noisy and smelling of dumplings and pork and fried foods. It is a two-minute walk from Tsuki-Machi Streetcar stop.
Obviously the place to come for a Chinese meal...
... or some cured meats to add to a sandwich or put together in a meal at home.
(The following information and images are from Nagasaki Official Visitor Guide, material used with permission).
Surprisingly Nagasaki's most well-known meal is Shippoku (see above, left) or Japanese fusion cuisine, a mixture of traditional Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes. This traditional, Nagasaki-style of cuisine is served on a round table and features many dishes, making use of the wealth of ingredients from Nagasaki.
This style of eating and the recipes themselves developed during the Edo period as a result of the exchange which took place between Nagasaki and other countries. Nowadays Shippoku is usually enjoyed at establishments such as ryotei, traditional Japanese restaurants.
Castella is a sweet, moist sponge cake. Based on a recipe originally introduced by Portuguese missionaries in the mid-16 century, and then developed by the people of Nagasaki, it is now a popular souvenir of Nagasaki.
Momo Castella, a peach-shaped version of Castella, is another popular Nagasaki cake. It reflects the Chinese belief that peaches brings good luck. It is just one of a range of delicious Nagasaki sweets that combine the best of Japan, the West and China.
At the mention of Nagasaki, many people immediately think of Champon. The story of the origin of Champon is that, during the Meiji period, a local Chinese restaurant made the dish with the aim of providing students from China with a filling and nutritious meal. Toaku, an ingredient unique to Nagasaki, is used in the noodles to give them a springy texture. This delicious dish also includes fried vegetables and seafood, brought together with the noodles in a rich soup. Sara Udon is another famous dish representative of Nagasaki. Diners can choose either crispy, thin noodles, or thick Champon noodles.
For a place isolated for so long, it is interesting to see how various foods arrived to the tables of Nagasaki. Because of its position as a trade portal, these foods spread from here to other parts of Japan.
The coastline of Nagasaki is long and intricate, with remote islands, coves and bays. Along with the sea current, this creates one of the best locations for fishing in Japan. The fish catch in Nagasaki is the second largest in Japan, with a wide variety of species available in each season and region, from Japanese horse mackerel, chub mackerel, and red sea bream, to grunt, squid and more. Whenever you visit, you will have the luxury of being able to eat the fresh, delicious fish of that particular season in a variety of menus including sushi, sashimi and seafood rice bowls.
Every five years, the National Japanese Beef Quality Competition, also referred to as the Wagyu Olympics, is held. The 10th such event was held in 2012 in Nagasaki, where Nagasaki Wagyu beef won the Prime Minister’s Award, earning recognition as the best Wagyu in Japan. The animals graze in mineral-rich pastures that are fed by the salty sea breeze, under the passionate dedication of the producers. This is evident in the high quality of the beef, which offers a superb balance between lean and marbled meat, allowing diners to get their fill of the beef’s intrinsically pleasant, savory taste. Nagasaki Wagyu is also characterized by its soft texture.
Oysters farmed in Nagasaki are well grown and feature full firm meat. When the season turns to fall and winter, you can enjoy delicious barbecued oysters at little huts along the coast, or oysters steamed over natural hot springs, as well as Oyster Festivals.
In Toruko Rice, a famous Western-inspired dish from Nagasaki City, pilaf rice and spaghetti are piled onto a plate along with a pork cutlet generously covered in sauce. Different shops use different ingredients and toppings, creating many different varieties.
The hills surrounding Nagaszki afford many beautiful view, none better than at night. These of course were seen from the top deck of our ship, but another stunning location is Mount Inasa (Inasayama) a 333-metre mountain in close distance to the city centre. The night views from Mount Inasa are ranked among Japan's three best night views.
And perhaps, that is the legacy of Nagasaki - the unexpected finale - that out of the holocaust, out of the terror and dislocation of the event, and the mindless stupidity of war itself - have risen new generations who value peace and beauty more intensely than many others.
Nagasaki has created tranquil corners and bright pockets of colour, and uses its own tragedy as a platform from which to crusade for peace.
OK, I didn't want to visit Nagasaki, but I am glad I did. Much of the time was tough. There were tears, and moments of incredible sadness and regret, but these were balanced by a respect for how resilient people can be, for the strength of humanity, even when almost destroyed.
Share the story of Nagasaki. Learn to make paper cranes, and share those too.
Pics: Sally & Gordon Hammond
Text: Sally Hammond
Video: ©Gordon Hammond
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