And so the long weekend had finally arrived and it was time to make the pilgrimage to Nagasaki, the area of the second and to date, last, nuclear attack in the world.
A night in Nakatsu
Finishing school on Friday afternoon led to a flurry of activity – buying petrol, withdrawing cash and then I was on my way! Wind in my hair, Radio 1 on the stereo (thank goodness for Japanese 4G omnipotence!) breezing down the expressway to Nakatsu and to Rachael’s place to spend the night and to go onto Nagasaki.
Soon the journey passed into dusk – terrifyingly beautiful as the sun threw down orange light over the forested mountains of Japan, and I raced along single-lane freeway. Approaching Nakatsu I was amazed to see such a sprawling urban mass, having drawn the conclusion that Nakatsu was this rural retreat devoid of modern convenience and entertainment. Driving down the main strip, lit up like the outskirts of Vegas (well at least in my imaginingss) I realised this was a far cry from the cosy, towny feel of Mie, and began to realise the isolation of Nakatsu was not so much the lack of urbanisation, but from its distance from Oita City and other JETs that made it hard to live there.
Arriving at the station, I was quickly greeted by a glowing Rachael, who had just cycled back from school directly to the station. Bumping into one of her students I was amazed at just how naturally she could speak with the student, who would not only understand and reply in turn, but also in full sentences!
Securing the car in a lot that constituted no more than a scrubby square with cables pegged to the ground denoting the spaces, I was ushered into Rachael’s house. A narrow, long, but cosy affair, with a 60’s-film like vibe, which was severely lacking any space to prepare food.
Shortly we were downstairs, dining in the restaurant below the flats with fellow JETs Mark and Casey, chomping down sticks of meat, plates of beans and beer. Mark leaving early to go to Osaka, the three musketeers continued their foray into drunken territory, heading out to a shots bar that made a wonder Whiskey with Whiskey mixer, and continued our journey on to a karaoke bar.
The Road to Nagasaki
Not so bright and not so early, Rachael and your kind narrator began their voyage yonder, driving through the wide reaching plains of Nakatsu, circumferenced by mountainside in the distance, a delightful foray of tunes dancing on the rushing winds. Oh brothers, how we laughed and sang our way through the 3 hour journey. River Pheonix, with her pitiful engine, oft held up our fellow motorists as she slowed down whilst attempting to traverse each and every hill. And when they had opportunity to pass by us, no greater glee could be found than in overtaking them on downward slopes.
Later we found ourselves in Nagasaki, a long, thin, stretched-out city that clings to the sides of a river mouth into the mainland, and begins long before you are even close to open water. It’s at this far end of the city the atomic bomb was dropped, and so appropriately placed is the Atomic Bomb museum.
Pleased with ourselves for navigating 216km journey without hiccough, we crampedly (new word!) made our way into the exhibition.
The Atomic Bomb Museum
Having visited the Genocide museum in Kagali, Rwanda, I thought I had a sense of harrowing events, and extent of how humans can dehumanise each other and perform atrocious acts.
Yet that was not what I took away from the exhibition. The genocide was acts of human against humans in a direct, violent and vulgar way. The attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was calculated, planned and detached, and in which I found myself more able to understand the American viewpoint than I had in Rwanda.
One of the feelings I got was just how normal a day it was when one of the most world-defining moments occurred, with its metaphorical as well as physical shockwaves that created damage and repercussions beyond the initial damage. The individual stories told through objects, interviews and the usage of ‘how many metres from the epicentre’ each story was told from gave a far more ‘point of view’ experience of the destruction, without the geopolitical distance created in textbooks, and made the event so much more relatable and harrowing. Much like the video below;
And much like the video, it gave a sense of the ongoing morbidity of after-events. A single story stood out the most for me, of an individual who watched as those around him died of radiation sickness, noticing that the rate at which people showed symptoms was linked to their distance from the epicentre; effectively death marching at a progressive and steady rate up the hills of Nagasaki, and taking the lives of those the initial blast had missed, his panic as those dying around him got closer and closer to the distance he had been from the epicentre.
Coming out of the exhibition, the feelings I had developed were not so clear-cut as my thoughts on the genocide in Rwanda.
I was left struggling with the internal conflict between the sheer scale of destruction and the sickening after effects and repercussions of atomic warfare. Left struggling under the weight of empathy, sadness and fear for the fragility of my own existence and how little control of our circumstances we really have.
Yet through an historical and personal lens, I can’t help but see the positive benefits from the action. How through the dropping of two atomic bombs majorly contributed to the end of the Second World War and lead to the world of today, from which I personally benefit massively. Yet these ‘positives’ were not to be known at the time, and due to the USA’s action we can make no reasonable judgement on how the future from 1945 onwards would have panned out – no doubt that on a global scale, both substantially better and worse futures could be argued.
With these mixed feelings, what can I draw from the exhibition and take away with me? I think most notably is the humility, honesty and humanity in which the Japanese deal with both events, and how on the whole, there appears to be little hatred, resentment or radicalisation into Anti-Western feelings that one might expect and say they could rightly feel. Whilst Japan doesn’t forget its past, it has and is continuing to open itself up to a global future, free from the destructive desire of retribution – something I’m not sure parts of Europe or American could attest to had roles been reversed.
Please click here for the sunnier part of my Nagasaki trip.