He was a hero! Days after the destructive atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Dr. Nagai went looking for his missing wife. He found her, dead. Then he went looking for other victims and tried to help them. He himself contracted leukaemia and died in 1951…
Nagasaki is now a bustling port city in the far west of the island of Kyushu in Japan. It has about 500,000 inhabitants and has a lot to offer tourists. It is just a pity that many travellers skip Nagasaki and visit Hiroshima to learn all about the story of the atomic bombs. But Nagasaki is more impressive and has some special stories to tell.
What is the story of the hero of this introduction? Was it at all necessary to throw two atomic bombs on Japan? Read all about some special places with an impressive story in Nagasaki…
Nagasaki and the atomic bomb route
- The story of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki – A brief history
- Sights of the atomic bomb route – 7 sites and their story
- 1. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and National Peace Memoriall Hall
- 2. Hypocentre – The place where the atomic bomb exploded
- 3. The Peace Park – Commemoration of the victims
- 4. Takashi Nagai Memorial Museum – Tribute to a hero
- 5. Urakami Cathedral – Once the largest church in Asia
- 6. Shiroyama Elementary School Museum – The part that is still standing
- 7. Yamazato Primary School – Museum and bunkers
- Practical information for your visit
The story of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki – A brief history
On August 9th 1945 an American B-29 bomber called Bockscar flies to the city of Kokura to drop a second atomic bomb on Japan. It was 3 days after the first plutonium bomb hit Hiroshima and still the government of the country had not surrendered. But it is cloudy and the orders are clear; only drop it in clear sight.
The crew led by Charles Sweeney decides to fly on to the alternative target: Nagasaki. On board, next to the crew, is the plutonium bomb Fat Man. Bigger, more powerful and more destructive than Little Boy on Hiroshima. But also above Nagasaki it is cloudy and visibility is cloudy. And yet, just after 11 o’clock in the morning, the crew releases the bomb.
At 11.02 a.m. Fat Man explodes above a sparsely populated suburb of Nagasaki. Approximately 40,000 people perished immediately; this would later rise to more than 70,000 people. Considerably less than in Hiroshima (direct deaths 140,000), but the suffering is clear. Buildings have been destroyed to rubble and people crushed to ashes. On 14 August 1945 Emperor Hirohito decides to capitulate. The war in Asia is over.
Was it really necessary, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
For a long time, historians have thought that the atomic bomb was mainly used to force a definitive surrender from the Japanese. In the end, that is how it turned out. The then President of the United States Truman (1884-1972) wanted to end the war as soon as possible. And the Battle of Okinawa was still fresh in the memory of the Americans. The Japanese dug themselves into this Japanese island, costing many American lives. And that was exactly what Truman wanted to prevent. But perhaps it was also an important means of impressing the Russians of America’s strength. And indeed, Stalin was impressed by the atomic bomb. Eventually, with the help of spying and scientists, Russia succeeded in producing a devastating bomb in 1949….
But that opinions differ as to whether or not the bomb should be used proves the later President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. His view was that Japan was losing anyway and it would have been a matter of time before they threw in the towel.
Sights – 7 sites and their story
Now that you know the story of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, it is time to visit this crash site. However, there is absolutely no more talk of a crash site, because within 10 years Nagasaki was rebuilt. And what remains are a number of historical sites…
1. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and National Peace Memorial Hall
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is impressive. Here you will find many photos and objects that were taken and found after the explosion of the bomb. It also tells the whole story from its origin to the fall of the bomb and what happened in the years after. It can be compared to the museum in Hiroshima, only less crowded. However, at the time I was there, large groups of school children just came in. And then the friendly Japanese hospitality comes up: “Sorry for the inconvenience, do you mind”. No problem at all!
The museum also has a National Peace Memorial Hall in memory. And there I see the children paying an impressive tribute to the victims of this disaster: through singing and deep bowing.
2. Hypocentre Nagasaki: the place where the atomic bomb exploded…
500 metres above this site, the second atomic bomb exploded at 11.02 a.m. on 5 August 1945. Within a radius of 2 kilometres, almost everything was destroyed and more than 70.000 people died during and the time after the explosion. A black monolith now stands here and is part of the Nagasaki Peace Park.
3. A tour of the Nagasaki Peace Park
This park was built just after the second atomic tree to commemorate all the victims who died. In the peace park you will find a sculpture park where various countries, including the Netherlands, could donate a peace symbol.
4. Takashi Nagai Memorial Museum: Museum of a local hero
Nagai Takashi (1908-1951) was a doctor specialising in radiology. In June 1945 he was diagnosed with leukaemia and had only 3 years to live. On 11 August he discovered that his house had been completely destroyed and his wife had not survived the bomb. He devoted the rest of his life to helping victims and writing books. The museum itself is quite small, but quite interesting because Nagai Takashi is seen as a local hero. In the library upstairs it is possible to watch a video.
5. Urakami Cathedral, once the largest church in Asia
This cathedral was built in 1895, after the Catholic faith had not been banned for a long time. Because this church was only 500 metres away from the impact of the atomic bomb, there was almost nothing left of this cathedral. A number of statues standing outside did survive. In 1958 the Urakami Cathedral was rebuilt, larger than its predecessor.
6. Shiroyama Elementary School
At the time of the atomic bomb, 1400 of the 1550 pupils of the Shiroyama Elementary School died. The only thing that remains now is a small part of the remaining school building which houses a small museum. Nowadays a new school building is located here and at the entrance there is a statue where every child makes a bow upon arrival. There are also more statues on the schoolyard in memory of the 1400 victims. It is allowed to go around the school.
7. Yamazato Primary School – Museum and bunkers
Practical information about your visit
If you would like to visit Nagasaki, don’t skip the sights mentioned above. The epicentre where the atomic bomb fell is located about 2 kilometres north of the city’s main railway station, JR Nagasaki Station. Within half an hour you can walk north (compass!) where you can find these historical sites. It is also possible to take tram 1 & 3 and get off at the Atomic Bomb Museum.
If you ever plan to visit these places or have already visited them, feel free to leave a message below with your findings and any tips and comments you may have.