Tag - atom bomb

Nagasaki Final Part: Giant Tortoises & Samauri

Arising from slumber in Jenni’s house, we had the morning to freely explore the city. Taking to the streets we stumbled upon a shrine, as well as a giant silver man riding on the back of a tortoise…

The shrine eerily and beautiful empty, riding up the side of one of Nagasaki’s many hills, it offered sprawling views over an eclectic mix of building styles across the surrounding area as well as sanctum of piece and space in an otherwise busy city.

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Passing some children feeding a cat on a hot tin roof, we were hot on the heels of the silver man. Looming higher than anything around it, bizarre and sparkling, it had to be investigated further. Despite appearances, it was not a Pokémon centre, and rather turned out to be a more modern shrine come place of worship, though once again eerily quiet on a Sunday morning.

Regrettably, this was not a Pokemon centre

Strolling down towards the city centre, Racheal and I took on the mission of locating bread, cheese and wine for lunch – gastronomical sophistication for a sophisticated city! After seeming promise whilst hunting for omiyage (food based presents for our work colleagues) we had to admit defeat, leaving with only bread and wine.

Meeting up with Naomi, she assured us she knew a cheese shop, and in no time at all, there we were, sat by the bay, listening to the water fountains in the park, sipping red wine and smushing brie on bread. Naturally, this tranquility couldn’t last.

No sooner had we finished our lunch, than some young Japanese children took it upon themselves to entertain us with questions, throwing water at us and playing chase. Never have I seen so many twenty-somethings frantically running away from a pack of 8 year old Japanese kids.

With the sun slowly lowering in the sky, we meandered around the bay, finding a festival… thing happening, so we drew up seats, grabbed a beer and watched the Taiko performance.

It’s important to keep cool in warm environments

Tonight’s plan was to hit up the ropeway, view Nagasaki from on high, and check out the onsen on the hillside.

Clearly things were never going to go that smoothly.

Getting to the trainstation, we managed to figure out where from and which bus to get to the ropeway, buy and tickets and board – little did we know one of group was terrified of heights!

The view from the top was spectacular, with one side pure darkness as it looked out to see, whilst the other was hills of rolling lights, with dark veins of the meandering estuary.

Nightscape of Nagasaki

Nightscape of Nagasaki

Upon leaving, we discovered the excellent onsen we were to visit… was on another hill entirely! Thankfully there was a free shuttle bus… however, it was back at the station, a good 30minute stroll away.

My desire for the onsen was starting to wane, however, the group preserved, and we arrived at this delightfully upmarket onsen on a Nagasaki hillside. SO naturally I stripped naked in front of my new friend, and climbed into a small wood bath with him, whilst overlooking Nagasaki on high – my first such onsen experience.

Real Life Samauri

Monday morning we awake to glorious sunshine, tied up Jenni’s apartment and went to take in a final tour of Nagasaki.

Down the road we came across the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture, and had a fun morning exploring its exhibitions, for part of which we were requested to walk around barefoot – always novel in a public place!

What a lovely veranda

What a lovely veranda

Part of the museum consisted of a reconstruction of the Nagasaki’s Magistrates Office. Much larger than my apartment, the traditionally built wooden buildings consisted of large rooms, tatami floors and paper covered sliding doors – so Japanese! Yet most exciting of all was the re-enactment of smuggler trials held by volunteers in full costume – I didn’t understand a jiffy, but we took an awesome photo with a faux-samauri!

I’m not convinced his hairstyle is for real…

 

Nagasaki Part 2: Around the Bay

Venturing away from the museum, we rode into town. With Nagasaki sprawling out over the hills surrounding a river mouth, this took a deceptively long time. Existing somewhere between an American style grid system, with a number of European style buildings lining the streets and a few curved main road, it was delightfully dissimilar to the grid based Oita city – presumable this mashup is the result of Portuguese influence in the 16th and 19th Century.

Couch Surfing

First port of call was to find our lodgings for the night, gratefully provided by Jenni, whom I’d been fortunate enough to meet at Pre-Departure Orientation back in Blighty and whom was away for the weekend and was happy to leave her house to us.

Once settle in, it was off to explore the sites. Heading down to Meganebashi we were to meet tour guide for the weekend Naomi for a personalised tour of Nagasaki.

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Meganebashi, or Spectacles Bridge was built by a monk way back in 1634, and is so called due to the reflection of the arches in the water creating the look of spectacles. Sat around eating weird local ice cream flavour, it was a delightful way to catchup up with a Nagasaki friend.

Lead through the meandering streets and alleys of Nagasaki, the European influence on Nagasaki was most evident, and it felt strangely similar to the near European-ness of Nairobi – familiar, yet unquestionably foreign (maybe all the hiragana and kanji perhaps?)

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Meeting up with Charlotte, another delightfully British JET, we worked our way up to Glover house, purched upon a hill top overlooking the entirety of the Nagasaki Bay area, which at the sunset hour we were approaching was incredibily beautiful, and the place made more beautiful by the addition of beers in a beautiful garden area.

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Dining in Faux French restaurant Garcon Ken (un nom tres francais…) we headed out onto the streets of Nagasaki, weaving between host bars promoters and prostitute to find that Nagasaki appeared to lack somewhat in nightlife, unless you were willing to pay  ¥4000 cover on the door of a somewhat questionable club.

Ultimately we settled upon THE WORLD’S SMALLEST BAR. A single room, comprising of a single rom of people standing and perching against the bar, casually shuffling down the row as others left, and providing drinks space for little more than 15 squashed people – though the Umeshu was delicious!

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Nagasaki Part 1: Musings from the Museum

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.