Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nagasaki (長崎)

On my second day in Japan, Erik and I took a train from Fukuoka to Nagasaki. It was the first of many train rides. That morning, I had a chocolate croissant for breakfast, also the first of many chocolate croissants. There is an extremely popular croissant shop in Fukuoka Station called Il Forgno del Mignon. The croissants are small, chewy, and cheap. I prefer my croissants flaky, but these were still good, and I could eat a dozen, maybe. Anyway, after we arrived in Nagasaki and had okonomiyaki for lunch, our first stop was the Nagasaki Peace Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

The peace park was filled with sculptures that symbolized peace, donated from countries around the world. I suspect that the one pictured to the right is actually Japan's own sculpture, since this was the one where offerings of flowers, water, paper cranes, and other artistic items had been left.

It was, fittingly, a calm and peaceful day. Erik remarked how strange it was that there were almost no other tourists; a very quiet Thursday afternoon. Fittingly, the only other tourists we saw were a group of deaf Japanese people.

The centerpiece of the park is the Peace Statue, a giant 10-meter sculpture of a deific male figure who holds one hand pointed up toward the heavens as a gesture of peace and the other pointed toward the site of the atomic bomb's hypocenter. Nearly seventy years ago, the hill on which this park now stands, and the entirety of the city around it, was turned to ash and rubble in the blink of an eye because of war. Today, this giant sits peaceful to remind us never to do such a thing again.

I particularly enjoyed seeing two shrines on either side of the Peace Statue that were filled with thousands of paper cranes in all colors of the rainbow. When I was in ninth grade, Mrs. Johnson taught us John Hersey's Hiroshima and the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. Ever since then, I have entertained the small habit of folding any scrap of paper I have no other use for into a paper crane. My desk will be littered with them by the year's end. I don't know if I've yet folded one thousand, but I'll get there eventually. In the meantime, seeing tens of thousands of cranes at the park (and many more later at the museum) was a nice reminder that tens of thousands of people around the world have been inspired in the same way.
Thousands of cranes at the Nagasaki Peace Park. The Japanese reads "Freedom Nagasaki, we are all one/together".
We then proceeded to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. It is a well-crafted museum with one main exhibit that chronicles the event of the bombing from a comprehensive historical perspective. It begins with a time of events preceding and during the Second World War, explains the mechanics of the bomb and spares no expense depicting its horrific and far-reaching effects, then concludes with a "looking-forward" exhibit that focuses on (seemingly floundering) efforts to curtail the use of weapons of mass destruction internationally ever since the end of the war. I was grounded by the displays: remnants of clothing, photos of charred corpses, twisted steel, bones of a hand fused to a rock, a child's lunchbox with the rice inside reduced to soot. The personal testimonies were also heartbreaking. One that caught my eye was the account of a Korean man present during the attack.

I was surprised to learn that Japanese were not the only victims of the bombings. There were over ten thousand Koreans living in Nagasaki at the time, as well as thousands of Chinese laborers, Taiwanese students, and other foreigners (no Americans, though). According to the account of one Li Ki-Sang, the Korean victims of the bomb were discriminated against by the Japanese, as they were refused medical attention and had no way to get help or return home. He says,
"... There was a sudden, brilliant flash of light. I thought I was about to die. But before I had a chance to throw myself onto the tracks I lost consciousness... [When I later awoke in a primary school-turned-hospital,] I heard cries in Korean coming from the neighboring classroom. When I went into that room I found 50 or 60 of my fellow Koreans lying naked and burned like lumps of flesh and groaning in pain. Then when I shouted, 'What's the matter with all of you?' in Korean, they crawled toward me crying and begging for help. It seems that they were young men brought from Korea by force to work in Japan. They could not speak Japanese. They had been exposed to the atomic bomb explosion while engaged in construction work outside the arms factory... The more I heard from them the more a feeling of anger over the situation and affection for my countrymen welled up inside me."
I, for one, was most surprised that an account like this was even in the museum. (It was translated from Korean into Japanese and English, presumably, but the account itself was not given in Korean in the display.) But it, along with everything else, was an important and sobering reminder that acts of war and violence inevitably have much farther-reaching consequences than anyone can imagine at the time such fatal decisions are made. 11:02am, August 9th, 1945. A break in the clouds, a terrible decision, and generations of fallout.
The Peace Statue in Nagasaki (from behind).

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