My Nagasaki journey 2011

Jim Stoffels

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It had been a longstanding dream of mine to visit Nagasaki and participate in events around the anniversary of the atomic bombing, and in August 2011, I fulfilled that dream. This report of my journey is a combination of travelog and history. The history is background to understanding some of the images I’ll show.

I begin with this map of my destination. [1] Japan is a string of islands that stretch for 2,000 miles from the northwest to the southeast. Tokyo is approximately in the middle. Fukushima, where the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors, is 150 miles north of Tokyo. Nagasaki, which is an important port, is 1,000 miles southeast of Tokyo on the island of Kyushu.

I left Pasco the afternoon of Wednesday, August 3, and 27-1/2 hours later I arrived at the Nagasaki airport. [2] I was met at the airport by Yoko Ida, who is a professor of international law at Nagasaki University. This photo of her with her sun umbrella reminds me of Mary Poppins. [3]

Yoko made all the arrangements for my visit. I was put in touch with her through Br. Senji Kanaeda, a Japanese Buddhist monk from Bainbridge Island [4], who had been coming to Richland since 2005 to do interfaith prayer walks for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

At this point, I have to relate some history of Nagasaki, which is the center of Catholicism in Japan. Christianity was introduced to Nagasaki in 1550, when St. Francis Xavier [5 - painting by Rubens] and other Spanish Jesuit missionaries began work on the island of Kyushu. At the time, Japan was under the control of about 250 local military rulers, the shoguns. The missionaries were granted freedom to preach and establish small churches in exchange for the profits to be gained from trade with the western world, and Catholicism spread quickly through the whole country.

But toward the end of the century, a military ruler by the name of Toyotomi Hideyoshi arose, who wanted to consolidate power in a unified Japan. [6] He felt threatened by the strong influence of the missionaries and ordered them to leave Japan in 1587. Ten years later, the first storm of persecution began when 26 Catholics — 6 missionaries and 20 lay people, including 3 altar boys, were arrested, tortured and marched to Nagasaki. There, on February 5, 1597, they were crucified on a hill overlooking the city. The martyrs, the Jesuit missionary Paul Miki and his companions, were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862. A shrine honoring them is the second most important monument in Nagasaki after the Peace Park.

After lunch, Yoko and I walked up the steep hill to the shrine of the 26 Catholic martyrs. [7] Here’s a closeup showing some of the crosses of crucifixion. [8] The adjacent church of St. Philip is named after one of the martyrs. [9] It has a unique architecture with two steeples inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s famous Holy Family Basilica in Barcelona. [10]

Then we got a taxi to get me checked into the visitors’ hostel on the Nagasaki University campus. [11] [12] The hostel was a large, old two-story house that was completely renovated a year earlier to provide 13 small rooms with private baths. [13] After two days in the same clothes, exhausted and sweating from the heat and humidity, what I wanted to do most is brush my teeth, take a shower and go to bed.

The next day, Saturday, August 6, was the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. I woke up to the sound of numerous cicadas hidden in the trees — a constant, loud buzzing that continued all day, every day I was there. I had the morning to relax until Yoko arrived at one o’clock, and we took a bus to a streetcar station, where I signed a petition for the abolition of nuclear weapons that was presented by a group of high school students.

Here are some general views of Nagasaki and the harbor. [14] [15] [16] Nagasaki is in a valley between mountains covered with dense forest. It has a population of about 425,000 (2017).

After a streetcar ride, we took an elevator that rises at a 45-degree angle to the top of a 300-foot hill and arrived at Glover Garden — the house and grounds of Thomas Glover, a 19th-century British merchant whose estate has been converted into a park. One of the first things we saw was a young couple dressed in 19th-century costumes. [17]

This is a historic fountain in Glover Garden. [18] [19] This sign explains the symbolism of the fountain. [20] Basically, the triangular structure represents an altar and the stones at the sides represent candles. The falling water symbolizes the suffering and salvation of the Christians under persecution.

This statue in the park is of Tamaki Miura, [22] a famous Japanese soprano of the early 20th century, dressed for her role as Madame Butterfly in Puccini’s opera. Nagasaki is the location of that opera — a tragic love story in which the other main character is an American naval officer.

Which brings us back to the history of Japan. In 1614, a new expulsion order was issued, and within one year, all Catholic churches and missionary centers were destroyed. A long campaign of exile, imprisonment and torture to stamp out Christianity began in earnest. Japan then retreated into a state of isolation from the outside world for two centuries, until 1853-54 when Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy [23] induced Nagasaki to reopen its harbor to foreign trade.

Ten years later, in 1863, two French missionary priests landed in Nagasaki and had a small wooden church built by a Japanese master carpenter, who had built the residence of John Glover. In 1865, a group of people came to the church and revealed to one of the missionaries, Father Bernard Petitjean, that they were descendants of the persecuted 17th-century Catholics who had passed their faith on for two centuries in secret, despite the lack of priests. It turned out that there were more than 15,000 such Catholics on the island of Kyushu. Although a new outbreak of persecution began two years later, religious freedom was granted tentatively in 1873 and permanently in 1889. In that changed atmosphere, Pope Leo XIII established the Japanese hierarchy in 1891, and Nagasaki became a diocese.

By that time, the missionaries had replaced the wooden church with a much larger one, the Oura Catholic Church. Our next sightseeing stop was this church built of white stuccoed brick, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows imported from France. [24] It was the first Nagasaki cathedral, is the oldest church in Japan, and has been designated a National Treasure. [25] It now serves as a museum, having been replaced in 1925 by an even larger Romanesque-style building of stone and red brick.

After a relaxing dinner, Yoko and I went our separate ways by bus. By that time, I had learned how to get around on the public transportation with the help of a tourist’s map and reached the hostel after dark.

On Sunday, August 7, I had an appointment at ten o’clock in the morning to meet with Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Takami [26], which had been arranged in advance by Yoko. I had e-mailed her a wish list of things I wanted to do, and that was one item I really didn’t expect to happen. The most amazing thing to me was that the archbishop spent 3-1/2 hours with us! We visited in his residence for more than an hour. Then he led us on a walking tour to a small museum devoted to the life and work of Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor who converted to Christianity and married a young Catholic woman named Midori. This is their wedding photo. [27] In the atomic bombing, their house was destroyed with Midori in it.

At his first opportunity, Dr. Nagai walked to the site of their home and recovered his wife’s charred bones from the wreckage, along with a melted blob that had been her rosary. He worked tirelessly to treat bomb victims with terrible wounds and radiation sickness, even though he himself already had leukemia from occupational exposure to x-rays and eventually collapsed as his own health declined.

This little house was built for him and his two surviving children (of four). [28] A view of the interior. [29] Here he is bedridden with his son Makoto and daughter Kayano. [30] Archbishop Takami shared with me that his father was a friend of Dr. Nagai and was one of the people who built the little house.

Although confined to his bed, Dr. Nagai became an inspiring writer of ten books, a poet, a painter, and a passionate advocate for peace and nuclear disarmament. When he died six years later, his funeral was attended by 20,000 people.

Hiroshima was called the angry A-bombed city, while Nagasaki was called the penitent A-bombed city. The difference was due to the strong Catholic culture of Nagasaki and especially to the work and writings of Dr. Nagai. He saw the death and suffering from the atomic bomb as an act of atonement for the sins of Japan in starting and carrying out the war. This is a painting he did showing his wife Midori rising up to heaven on the mushroom cloud. [31]

A little more history before the next stop on our tour: The primary target of the B-29 that carried the plutonium atomic bomb [32], code named “Fat Man,” was Kokura. The crew was directed to do a visual bombing, but when they reached the city, it was shrouded in smoke from a nearby city that was bombed the day before. They headed to their secondary target, Nagasaki, and it was shrouded in clouds. They were preparing to do the bombing by radar when the clouds opened enough to reveal the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which was the largest church in the Orient at the time, with 12,000 parishioners. With that visual target, the bomb was released. It took some 30 years to build the cathedral and not that many seconds to destroy it.

These photographs, taken by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, show Nagasaki before and after the bombing. [33] The atomic bombs were dropped by parachute and exploded 1,500 feet above the ground to maximize the damage from the blast. The cathedral and its ruins are in the upper, right-hand corner of the photograph. The distance from hypocenter of the explosion to the cathedral is 3/10 mile (550 meters). A Japanese Army photographer, Yosuke Yamahata, walked through Nagasaki the day after the bombing recording the destruction. [34]

This is a painting by Dr. Nagai of the ruins of the red brick cathedral. [35] Notice the statue at the top. It marks the only remnant of the cathedral still standing at ground zero. And a photograph of the cathedral in ruins. [36] The three statues above the door were recovered for use later.

The rebuilt cathedral was the next stop on our tour. This is a 1945 photo of one of the belfry’s. [37] Here it is today [38] and with the rebuilt cathedral in the background. [39] More photos of the cathedral. [40] [41] Here are the recovered statues above the door. [42] There are also recovered statues at the base of each bell tower. [43] [44] You can see the difference between the statues that were shielded from the intense heat of the initial explosion and those that were blackened by the heat rays. [45]

Inside the cathedral, there is a side chapel that has the recovered head of a statue of the Virgin Mary above the altar. [46] It almost brought tears to my eyes when I saw the blackened eye sockets. [47] I didn’t take the last two photos because photography isn’t allowed inside the cathedral. I found them online.

Here is Yoko and me outside. [48] I call her my “guardian angel” — the first one I’ve had that’s Buddhist.

Archbishop Takami then took us to lunch at his favorite, tiny Italian restaurant nearby, where he once took the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to Japan. The three of us sat at one of only two tables in the restaurant. [49] In addition, there were about eight stools at a counter. After lunch, I went back to the hostel to take a nap and then attended evening Mass at St. Philip Church next to the shrine of the martyrs.

The next morning, Monday, August 8, I gave a speech at a conference session of the Nagasaki Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin). An interpreter was arranged for my speech to an all-Japanese audience. Afterward, the interpreter took me to lunch, and then I went back to the hostel for my afternoon nap.

That night, I attended an Interfaith Prayer Service at ground zero, [50] the point over which the atomic bomb exploded. There were many different faiths represented from all over Japan, some in garb and headgear I had never seen before — even an actual whirling dervish. If you can see the fuschia beanie in the photo — front row, left of the center aisle — that’s the archbishop.

A black granite altar and obelisk mark the spot above which the atomic bomb exploded. On the right is the only standing remnant of the destroyed cathedral. Another view of the service [51] and the altar and obelisk. [52] There was a large choir that sang beautifully, accompanied by an organ. There were thousands of lanterns on the ground [53] and thousands of paper cranes strung together. [54] And here is that remnant of the cathedral with the statue at the top. [55]

Tuesday, August 9, was the 66th anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bombing. My main reason for visiting Nagasaki was to attend the ceremony in the Peace Park, which begins at 11:02 a.m., the time the bomb exploded. However, Yoko advised me not to attend that ceremony because there would be too many people and it would be too hot. Instead, I attended a 10:00 a.m. ceremony at ground zero, where various groups of people, including students, brought offerings of flowers and paper cranes in memory of the dead. Here it is in the daytime, [56] along with that last standing remnant of the cathedral. [57]

The best part for me came after the ceremony, when I visited small peace groups stationed around the plaza and got to meet people on an individual basis. I took this photo because the children were so darling. [58] It also shows Yoko with a woman who heads a group she belongs to that is working to preserve Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, the pacifist article imposed by the United States after the war that says Japan shall not have armed forces. Yoko had arranged for me to speak there for a few minutes. What I did was read a prayer for ground zero I had written the night before, while Yoko interpreted for me.

This is a group of Buddhist monks and a couple nuns from all over Japan, drumming and chanting for universal peace. [59] They belong to the Nipponzan Myohoji order, whose entire ministry is having prayer walks all over the world for peace and abolition of nuclear weapons. Br. Senji Kanaeda, who is of that order, had notified the monk in Nagasaki, Br. Bunkyo Miyata, that I was coming, and I got to meet him. He spoke more English than I spoke Japanese.

Another group was promoting the simple world peace prayer: “May peace prevail on Earth.” [60] They had the flags of every country in the world and invited people to wave one of the flags as they went through the alphabetical list of countries and recited the prayer in Japanese and English.

I was standing at the edge of the group observing, when a very friendly woman came over and struck up a conversation. That’s how I met another Yoko, Yoko Hidaka, 64 years old. We sat on a bench and told each other about ourselves. Her husband was a hibakusha, an A-bomb survivor, and died the year before at age 81. She taught the Japanese art of flower arranging and was taking voice training. She wanted to sing a song for me but couldn’t remember the name. She did remember the words, and I immediately knew the name of the song. As I sat there listening, it was magical to have this Buddhist lady singing to me, in a beautiful soprano voice, “Amazing Grace.” When she finished, I asked if we could sing it together, and so we did.

Then this dear lady, nine years younger than me, began to mother me. She told me to hold my shoulders back, and then she took me by the hand and led me to the front of the group for me to wave the Star Spangled Banner while they all recited the prayer: “May peace prevail on Earth. May peace prevail in the United States.” [61]

They asked me to say a few words, so I did. Here is a photo of the group. [62]

When I finished, Yoko bought us ice cream cones, and we visited some more while enjoying them. [63] She said she would write to me at the New Year, and I said I would write to her at Christmas.

Next, I visited with Taturo Hamada, who had a display of photographs he took of the bombed cathedral. [64] He didn’t look old enough to me for having done that, but he sure had the photographs. [65] He also had a cloth banner on the ground and bowls of poster paint to paint peace messages on it. He asked me to paint a message, [66] so among all the messages in Japanese, I did one in English. [67] Then he had me write my name by it.

These photos with me in them were taken by a man I didn’t know was following me around. When he came up to me and introduced himself, Katsumi Matsuzaki, he asked for my e-mail address and said he would send them to me. So, I got 21 photographs from Nagasaki before I even got mine off my camera.

Everywhere I went, the people were so happy to have someone come from America to visit Nagasaki.

After lunch and a short nap at a nearby mall, I visited the Atomic Bomb Museum. The first exhibit was a wall clock recovered from a ruined house that was stopped at 11:02, the time of the A-bomb explosion. [68] Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any photographs in the museum because the battery in my camera was dead. I had bought my first digital camera specifically for the trip and wasn’t familiar enough with using it to keep tabs on the battery.

I finished going through the museum around 6:00 p.m. Archbishop Takami had told me he was going to celebrate Mass at 8:00 that night, and there would be a torchlight procession at 7:00 p.m. from the Peace Park to the cathedral. I wanted very much to attend both events but I was totally exhausted. The heat combined with the high humidity just sapped my energy. So, I got a taxi and called it a day. I used taxis there more than I ever had before. Yoko Ida had given me a little note in Japanese so taxi drivers would know where to take me.

Wednesday, August 10, was my last day in Nagasaki, and I hadn’t even been to the Peace Park yet. So, I took a streetcar there and, with the battery in my camera recharged, spent the morning taking photos. This is the peace fountain there, looking toward the entrance to the park. [69] The fountain is in the shape of two wings, as a symbol for moving on in life. This view is looking into the park, with the monumental peace statue in the background. [70] This is a closer view with thousands of folded paper cranes. [71] There are other smaller statues in the Peace Park donated by many countries around the world.

This is the peace statue and a white tarp that was set up on poles to protect the people from the sun during the ceremony on August 9. [72] This is the peace statue and a work crew. [73] The uplifted right arm and hand of the statue symbolize a warning against the danger of nuclear weapons, and the outstretched left arm and hand symbolize peace in a world without nuclear weapons.

And this is my “I was there” shot. [74]

In the afternoon, I met Yoko at the bus station. We visited a couple hours in the lobby of Nagasaki’s best hotel nearby. Then I retrieved my suitcase and took the bus to the airport.

I left Nagasaki at 9:00 p.m. for Tokyo and Los Angeles, where I spent the night in a Travelodge by the airport. I arrived back in Pasco the next day, Thursday, August 11, at 3:00 p.m., the same time I left eight days earlier.

In summary, my Nagasaki journey was both fabulous and exhausting.

I’d like to add a local footnote. In 1985, the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing, the Catholic mayor of Nagasaki, Hitoshi Motoshima, sent as a gift to the City of Richland this model of the “Bell of Peace” [75] — the Angelus bell from the destroyed cathedral. The bell was recovered from the ruins on December 24, 1945, and rung on Christmas and every day thereafter to console the survivors of the bombing. It is now in the reconstructed cathedral.

Our “Bell of Peace” model is kept in a display case in the Richland Public Library and is used each August 9 during our Atomic Cities Peace Memorial ceremony, which is held in the relative cool of the evening. This is a photo of the 2015 ceremony. [76] In accordance with the Memorial’s theme of reconciliation, our small “Bell of Peace” is rung for those who died on both sides of the war — for the Americans who died at Pearl Harbor as well as for the Japanese who died in Nagasaki.

I conclude my fond and sobering memories of Nagasaki with this quote: [77]