Day 17 - Site of Atomic Bomb - Very sobering day

Trip Start Feb 04, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2012

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Flag of Japan  , Nagasaki,
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 17

February 21, 2012 Nagasaki

From the navigator:  After leaving the Japanese island of Takoboko our our starboard side, Diamond Princess entered the Nagasaki harbour limits...passing under the Megami Ohashi birdge before berthing alongside our designated berth at the Matsugae Wharf.  Leaving Nagasaki the same evening, we follow the same route back under the bridge and leave the islands of Takaboko, Shiro-ga, and Matsu on the port side before disembarking our local Japanese pilot at the pilot boarding ground.  The Diamond Princess then sets sail on a northerly course towards South Korea and the port of Busan.

Best day ever on the trip!

Nagasaki is considered the birthplace of Japanese civilization, located on Kyushu Island. It has benefited from Korean and Chinese influences.  It was a very sleepy fishing village when Japan sealed itself off from the rest of the world, but Nagasaki became the one place where foreigners were allowed contact with the country.  Eventually this city evolved into the most westernized of Japan's cities, where Christianity and European culture had a profound influence.  Later it became an important center for commercial and cultural interaction.

There are several hundred islands that make up Japan, but altogether they make up the size of California. 

These are some facts to set the scene, but facts don’t pull at the emotional level of a culture and its people.  Today our hearts were heavy as we delved into the stories of the bombing of Nagasaki, which marked the end of World War II.  Our first visit of the day took us to the Peace Memorial Park.  We traveled across the Megami Ohashi Bridge and had a view of the Mistubishi shipyard, where actually the Diamond Princess was built.  More on that later. 

Upon entering the Peace Memorial Park, one comes upon a very large Peace Sculpture of a figure with one hand pointing to heaven, and the other in a horizontal pose, showing the earth and the gesture of peace.  Many other sculptures lined the brick pathways, mostly which were given by different countries to commemorate what happened and as signs of working for peace by all countries of the world.  Strings of folded paper cranes, also symbols of peace, are strung or laying on sculptures.

Before recounting anymore of our experience, it is important to remember what happened in Nagasaki.  It is one of the two nuclear detonations that occurred during World War II.  On the morning of August 9, three days after the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, the B-29 BOCKSCAR, commanded by Major Charles Sweeney, arrived over the Japanese city of Kokura to drop the second atomic bomb named "Fatman".  Kokura was obscured by haze and clouds and so the fateful decision was made to head to the secondary target:  Nagasaki.  Dangerously low on fuel and able to make only one bomb run over the city, the crew of BOCKSCAR initially found Nagasaki obscured by clouds.  As fate would have it, a small opening appeared allowing the bomb to be dropped.  At 11:02 a.m. “Fatman”, with the explosive force of 21,000 tons of TNT, exploded approximately 1600 feet above Nagasaki’s industrial Urakami Valley. 

Approximately 40,000 Japanese died instantly while tens of thousands suffered injuries.  There were 240,000 Japanese living in Nagasaki on August 9, and by the end of 1945 almost 150,000 had been killed, died of injuries, or been seriously injured.  In addition, the city suffered tremendous damage from the blast, even though the bomb had missed its intended target area closer to the harbor.  The destruction of Nagasaki, along with Russia’s entry into the war on the same day, shocked the Japanese leaders into a series of deliberations, which led to the end of the war. 

I must note here that the details of this story I took from a Princess Port Guide, so not my own words.

But in my own words I will write about my personal experience of this day.  Near the Peace Memorial Park is the Nagasaki A-bomb Museum, which chronicles the events leading to the bombing and the event itself. Few survivors remain but some of them are telling their stories, which a visitor to the museum is able to listen to on DVD, now nearly 67 years after the horrendous bombing.  Hearing victims share their personal experiences of horror and loss moved both Peter and I to tears.  Graphic pictures of people’s burned bodies and screaming children helped us begin to understand the horrible suffering and loss that the people of Nagasaki went through.  Here and there an individual may have survived, even though badly burned – but were left without any family.  People’s skin literally melted off bodies.  Many were buried under rubble and died there.  In the museum are many items which show the intense heat of the bomb.  Some of the clothing items on display were partially gone. 

Near the museum is the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter, a black monolith marking Ground Zero.  Standing directly below where the bomb was dropped from the plane, was indeed sobering and heart wrenching.  A small plaque on the site indicates that more than 155,000 people have died as a result of the bombing, but our guide explained that the number keeps changing, because there are still people dying from the effects of the bomb’s radiation.  Silence at this reposeful site offered each of us an opportunity to consider the magnitude of that fateful event.   I have to admit my deep regret that it was my own country that caused this massive devastation. 

Our guide explained that the people of Japan are forgetful people, and they do not bear a grudge against the United States.  I learned something of the idea of forgiveness as he shared that piece of information.  For a nation of people who suffered so profusely, I can hardly imagine how even people of faith didn’t doubt there was a God.  Yet they have moved past that black mark in history to now being a lovely, friendly, caring people

In the same area a small portion of the Urakami Cathedral was reconstructed at this park.  The church was rebuilt but part of the bombed church that was still standing, now is part of the museum yard.  We also did pass by the new Cathedral, and the Tori gate, which stands only on one leg of support. 

We continued to Dejima Island and toured the Dejima Museum, which chronicles how the unique Dutch-Japanese trading system worked for two centuries.  The Dutch were the only outside people allowed to trade in Japan. 

Our lunch was held in a Crowne Plaza hotel, and was something to behold.  Dinner was a fixed menu, and absolutely 100% authentic Japanese food.  The tables were all set when we entered the dining room, and Peter counted nine different bowls and small plates of food at each setting.  Included were two kinds of raw fish, a pork meal, vegetable and shrimp tempura, pickled radish and other ground, pickled vegetables.  We ate with chopsticks, drank green tea, and finished the meal with pineapple and apple. 

Following our lunch, we walked to Glover Gardens, the site of seven historic buildings, including the home of Glover’s residence, the first wooden Western-style house in all of Japan.  We negotiated many steps to get to the top of the hill, where spectacular views of Nagasaki really delighted us.  Even with winter temperatures (roughly in the 50s right now), it was a thrill to see various views of the harbor, and even our own ship, sitting so majestically at the pier. 

A sail away show at the pier featured a band of 40 playing many tunes.  A sail away show in the Princess theater was fabulous.  It featured two of the top Japanese opera singers performing segments of Madame Butterfly.   Beautiful!  The ships’ captain was presented gifts from the city of Nagasaki by the city’s mayor, including big bouquets of fresh flowers.

One last thing about Nagasaki and its relationship to the Diamond Princess.  Earlier I mentioned that our ship was built in the Nagasaki shipyards.  The people of the city thus consider the Diamond Princess “theirs” and Nagasaki is the ship’s home.  Our ship was built over a period of three years, and people watched its birth.  So our welcome to Nagasaki was quite touching, and even more so was the ship’s departure.  People lined up on the pier to wave, and in addition, as we slipped under the Maegemems Bridge, people waved to us below them; in fact, the bridge was built with the Diamond Princess in mind, so it could arrive and leave the city under that bridge.  There are eight Diamond Princess cruises in and out of Nagasaki this year and ours was the first.  Honestly, it was very touching to hear all this and experience the hospitality firsthand.

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