The first port of call on our cruise on Quantum of the Seas from Shanghai was Nagasaki, Japan, and we were there on August 10 – the day after the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on this quiet town which effectively ended the Second World War.
No 1 Son has always been interested in military history and has visited Auschwitz and the battlefields of France and Belgium with his dad, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii with me. Not out of a morbid curiosity but out of a desire to understand what happened. It’s important, I think, that we face up to awful events and learn from them, which is why we both wanted to visit Nagasaki.
Our taxi driver from the port was cheerful and spoke very good English; he told us that he supports Manchester City and hopes to visit England some day, because he paints and wants to visit the Tate. It was a beautiful, peaceful sunny day, and while we were driving the events of August 1945 seemed a world away. But the fact is that an estimated 70,000 people lost their lives in Nagasaki, either killed by the plutonium bomb known as the ‘Fat Man’ or by its terrible after effects.
The remains of the Urakami Cathedral are a stark and obvious reminder of the devastation caused by the bomb. But everywhere we looked there were origami garlands, many comprising cranes, which are symbols of peace – but also, the Japanese believe that if you can make 1,000 origami cranes you achieve immortality.
At ‘Ground Zero’ – Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first places where this term was used – there are several memorials and statues. We were there at the same time as schoolchildren laying wreaths and paying their respects by chanting in unison. Even though we couldn’t understand what they were saying it was incredibly moving watching and listening to them.
The Atomic Bomb Museum is extremely well thought out, with a recreation of Urakami Cathedral, footage from the event and powerful photographs of Nagasaki before and after the attack, household objects and coins and bits of metal showing the extent of the damage and of course, testimonials from those who survived and images of the horrendous injuries suffered by so many. The museum is quite controversial because even though it’s called the ‘Atomic Bomb’ museum, it’s really a peace museum; as you walk through you are encouraged to think about the horrors of war, and nuclear war and the use of nuclear weapons in particular. In our opinion it is one of the best museums in the world. If only all world leaders could visit. (It didn’t feel right to take photos of the origami garlands or inside the museum.)
As this was No 1 Son’s first visit to Japan and he’s a bit obsessed with Japanese culture (I have no idea what this little dog is supposed to be) we decided to carry on exploring. But it was far too hot to carry on walking along the streets so we dived into the giant mall, where we found a fabulous bakery (the Japanese LOVE their pastries, and they’re always beautifully presented).
After a picnic lunch, overwhelmed by the heat, we made our way back to the ship. Along the way we passed shops and restaurants and saw schoolchildren and families and trams; just a normal monday in Nagasaki. A reminder that a city and its people can and do recover from an unthinkable tragedy, even though no one will ever forget.