Monday, September 24, 2007

September 15th: A Trip to Nagasaki; Day 1 - Peace Park

How sensible of us was it, we wondered, to have chosen Nagasaki for our late summer holiday, right in the middle of the typhoon season. Nagasaki is famous for its rain and Kyushu, the island on which Nagasaki is located, is often hit by typhoons in September as they head up from the South Pacific. Just a few days before our trip we heard that a typhoon was indeed brewing and it looked as if we would be rushed headlong into the eye of the storm...

However, we pressed ahead and when we arrived in Nagasaki, the sky was overcast but there was no sign of an immanent typhoon, so after a lunch stop at which one of our holiday objectives was achieved - namely, to eat Nagasaki Champon (see pic, above) - we set off by tram for our second objective: Nagasaki Peace Park in Urakami Valley, the northern district of Nagasaki that was hit by the second atom bomb on August 9th, 1945.

Seventy percent of the victims of the bomb were women, children and senior citizens. Some refugees from the atom bombing of Hiroshima on the 6th August arrived in Nagasaki just in time to be bombed again. So it goes.

It was hot work walking through the park on a humid late summer's day with the cloud cover gradually breaking up. The park stretches up the valley floor with grassy expanses framed by trees and tree-lined walks that lead to the hypocentre, which is marked by an austere black three-sided granite column. Nearby are part of the remains of Urakami Cathedral. The cathedral itself is located a few hundred yards from the hypocentre. It was totally destroyed, and some of its remains were moved to the immediate vicinity of the hypocentre.



From the hypocentre we climbed the steps up to the highest part of the park. At the southern end of the plateau there is a fountain that commemorates the terrible thirst which many felt on that day.

From there an avenue flanked by sculptures donated from various countries led the eye, and the legs, northwards towards the chief monument of the park. Notable among the works on either side of the path was the "Monument of People's Friendship" from that most people-friendly of ex-nations, the no-longer actually-existing German Democratic Republic, famous for its friendliness towards its own people (unless they wanted to leave or go on strike or set up political parties and so forth)...


Fountain at the south end of the avenue at Peace Park, Nagasaki (above). Monument of People's Friendship (right).

A plaque attached to the base of the fountain is a quotation from one survivor's testimony:
"I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was."

The avenue leads to one of the finest modern statues in Japan, the powerful 10-metre-tall Peace Statue created by sculptor Seibou Kitamura.



Peace Statue, by Seibou Kitamura

The statue's right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons while the left hand extends in a gesture of peace. The mild face, which one Japanese visitor observed was "like a foreigner's face" (although to me it appeared characteristic of a certain type of Japanese face), apparently symbolises "divine grace" while its eyes are closed in prayer for the repose of the bomb victims' souls. The folded right leg and extended left leg signify both passive and active aspects of peace-making. The black marble vault beneath the statue contains the names of the Nagasaki a-bomb victims and those who died of a-bomb related causes in subsequent years.

By now we were in need of some refreshment and there just so happened to be a tourist shop selling lots of natty trinkets as well as various flavours of ice-cream and various sorts of liquid refreshment, and complete with some trestle tables and sun brollies outside. I ought not to omit mention of the Hello Kitty dispensing machines that Little E was keen to try. She was well pleased with her "Mari-chan" pussy cat rattle. So it goes. Life goes on. The cool beer was very good. While we were relaxing there a group of young couples strolled by a couple of times and the slogan on one lad's t-shirt happened to catch my eye:


NO
WEAL
WITHOUT
WOE


Next we visited Urakami Cathedral, which was totally destroyed by the a-bomb and eventually rebuilt in the red-brick Romanesque style of the original. Set up outside the church are several statues from the original church that survived the bombing, though not without surface damage - the statues are covered with what we supposed were scorch marks and a patina of lighter coloured blotches.

On our way back towards the tram stop we were caught in a sudden downpour and sought shelter beneath a shop awning until a kind taxi-driver turned his car around and came back to pick us up.

It stopped raining just a few minutes later, but still, it was pleasant to sit in air-conditioned comfort while the driver gave Mrs H the lowdown on Nagasaki until we arrived at our final destination of the day,
Nagasaki Hotel Seifu, perched at the top of one of the hills that dominates Nagasaki harbour.

The window of our room afforded us a fine view of Nagasaki harbour, and so did the balcony of the outdoor spa down on the third floor.



Nagasaki at Night, viewed from the window of Room 1001, Hotel Seifu.

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