Kathleen E. McLaughlin / San Francisco Chronicle Foreign Service – 2005-08-11 00:12:05
NAGASAKI, Japan (August 10, 2005 ) — The physical devastation is mostly gone or covered over, and the rolling mountains that open into a wide seaport are lush again with greenery.
Still, this forgotten city remembers all too well the day 60 years ago Tuesday when the United States dropped the 4.5-ton bomb called “Fat Man.”
Nagasaki is an international city that has become a growing tourist hub in Japan. But it often plays second fiddle to Hiroshima, its unfortunate twin in atomic destruction, even though the devastation wrought here Aug. 9, 1945, was just as heart-wrenching and widespread as that touched off by the first atomic bomb three days earlier and some 200 miles northeast.
Air-raid sirens sounded and bells tolled at 11:02 a.m. Tuesday in Nagasaki as about 6,000 people gathered at the site of the bombing to remember the 40,000 to 70,000 who died instantly and 74,000 others who were horribly wounded that morning. The city added another 2,748 names to its bomb death toll this year, as the hibakusha — atomic bomb survivors — age and fade away.
Fumie Sakamoto, a junior high school student home for lunch when the bomb struck Nagasaki, spoke to the crowd with resolve and anger. “The world around me was lost in a cloud of dust,” she said, and she ran for shelter in the forest.
“People, clothes ripped and torn, with gaping chest wounds, whose hearts were exposed and could still be seen twitching; people burned so badly one could not tell front from back,” she said. “The wood was full of such people.”
Sakamoto, dressed in a deep purple kimono, her eyes and voice sharp and clear, said doctors had told her she was bound for death and not worth treating. She somehow survived over a “long and painful road.”
“Yet war still persists on this Earth and, far from abolishing nuclear arms, I have heard there are even plans to develop nuclear weapons with new capabilities,” she said. “We have devoted our lives to demanding that there never be A-bomb victims again, but why are our voices not heard?”
Nagasaki Mayor Iccho Itoh chastised the United States for continued nuclear proliferation and Japan for taking cover in America’s nuclear fold.
US Using Nuclear Arms to
Trample the Hopes of the World’s People
“The nuclear weapons states, the United States of America in particular, have ignored their international commitments and have made no change in their unyielding stance on nuclear deterrence,” Itoh said. “We strongly resent the trampling of the hopes of the world’s people.”
Japan Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi — fresh from dissolving the lower house of parliament a day earlier after losing his battle to privatize the banking arm of the nation’s postal service — spoke briefly and pledged to work toward nuclear nonproliferation. This gathering was much smaller than the one in Hiroshima, but security around Koizumi was far tighter.
Nagasaki’s anniversary ceremonies were less staid, packed more emotion and carried more vibrant color than did Hiroshima’s.
Nagasaki’s famous paper cranes have a lot to do with that. In a tradition started years ago, children from Japan and subsequently around the world make origami cranes to symbolize peace. These vibrant strands of reds, golds, purples and greens now are draped throughout the town on memorials and in the worst-hit areas.
One of those is the site of the rebuilt Urakami Cathedral, which took nearly a direct hit from the atomic bomb. Then called the grandest Catholic church in East Asia, the cathedral was blown to bits and all its clergy killed.
Mary of Nagasaki
This anniversary was very special for the cathedral; it displayed the surviving 11-inch-tall head of the original cathedral’s Virgin Mary statue, which somehow remained intact. Long hidden from public view, the head rests on an altar carved by the son of a woman killed by the bomb.
Leaders of Japan’s religious sects gathered at the Nagasaki bomb site Monday to pay homage to victims and pray for world peace. From Shinto monks in brilliant white with traditional black headdresses to robed Catholic bishops and gold-clad Buddhist monks, they made a brilliant display of color and music.
“We stand together for peace and human rights,” said a Buddhist priest name Kanzaki, who was 5 years old and living in a nearby suburb when the bomb hit.
Nestled on the country’s far southwestern edge, Nagasaki has been compared to San Francisco for its rolling hills, streetcars and broad bay, and to some European cities for its legacy of literature and poetry.
For some two centuries during Japan’s period of world isolation, it was one of few trading ports open to the outside world. As the setting for Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly,” Nagasaki feels far less wholly defined by the A-bomb than its bigger sister. Nagasaki simply didn’t need to rely on A- bomb history for economic development, said Brian Burke-Gaffney, a Canadian professor of cross-cultural studies who has lived in Nagasaki since the early 1980s.
The city also is relatively open about its wartime past. Nagasaki is still a major base of operations for Mitsubishi, a leading Japanese arms and warship producer during World War II. In fact, local museums and books point out that the bomb landed on a munitions factory, and many of the people killed in the initial blast were building weapons.
Dozens of those killed in Nagasaki were not Japanese. Many were Chinese, Dutch, Korean and other prisoners of war forced into shipbuilding and other severe labor. The bomb destroyed a wartime prison near Urakami, killing 44 international inmates in what the Nagasaki Testimonial Society describes as “the greatest single disaster in the history of penal servitude.”
So why doesn’t the world pay as much attention to this place as it does to Hiroshima? It wasn’t even the first choice to bomb, hit only after the US plane made three passes over Kuroka to the north and quit because of smoke and cloud cover.
Maybe it’s human nature. Scholar Robert Dujarric of the Japan Institute of International Affairs compared it to the moon walk.
“If you’re first, you’re famous, Neil Armstrong,” he said. “If you’re second, you’re less, Buzz Aldrin.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.