I have just gotten back from the Nagasaki Peace Tour, an extremely competitive field trip by the AP House Staff. Over 200 applied; only 38 survived. I was one of the lucky ones. They told us we were fighting for justice, but it was a lie. They told us we were protecting our countrymen… lies, all lies. THEY TOOK ME LEG.

Okay, okay, sorry. No more unsavory war veteran jokes. In all seriousness, this trip was very enlightening and an excellent experience. We went to Nagasaki by bus. For those unfamiliar with Japan’s geography, have a map:

Takes about four hours to get to Nagasaki from Beppu by bus. I mostly listened to music and took pictures of the surrounding countryside. When we arrived, we checked into the Chisun Grand Hotel, a really nice hotel in the heart of Nagasaki:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have two words for you: REAL. BED. <3.

Now then. The actual trip itself led us first to the Peace Museum, located about 150 meters away from Ground Zero itself. A short history lesson: Nagasaki was the second (and to date, last) city decimated by a nuclear weapon. The weapon’s nickname was Fat Man. It contained 8 kg of plutonium and had the destructive force of 120 tons of TNT. Take a good, long look at this:

Got it memorized? Don’t cheat. Really look at it, and hold it in your head.

Okay. Is it in your mind? Good. Look at this, now:

After visiting the museum and seeing pictures like these, among others, we were brought to both Ground Zero itself and to the Nagasaki Peace Park and given guided tours of each by the son of a survivor of the bombing. Here is the Ground Zero memorial:

It’s a simple black monument, centered directly over the exact place where the bomb exploded over six decades ago. This obelisk is directly in front of the Atomic Bomb Museum, which contains many examples of the damage caused by the bomb. Within the first 500 meters of this spot, the death rate of unprotected citizens was 100% (the flames carbonized human flesh in literally milliseconds; I will spare you the pictures). Those who did not die on the day of the bombing, who were exposed directly or even indirectly in many cases, died soon afterwards of an ‘unknown sickness,’ which is now known to have been radiation poisoning.

The Peace Park is another testament to the lives lost during the war, and not just from the atomic bomb. This park celebrates the importance of peace in all matters, not only nuclear war. It features thirteen statues, twelve of which are from Eurpoean countries and America and one of which is from China. The most famous, of course, is this one:

The one from China is perhaps the most beautiful, in my opinion, though. It says on the back, “Peace” in Chinese, which ironically is the same as in Japanese except for the characters being switched. “Peace” in Japanese is “平和” or “hey-wah.”

The reason there is a fence is because the statue was actually vandalized when it was still new (this is back in the eighties). Of course, Japan apologized profusely to China and then took steps. And when Japan takes steps… well. The statue now has 24-hour security lights, four different cameras, motion sensors, a wrought-iron fence, and three foot thick hedges with sharp pointy things in them all around it. You ain’t getting in there. 😛

After the Peace Park, we went to the famous church. It was also destroyed in the blast, and in fact, one of the original bell towers’ tops is still embedded in the earth 35 meters from the church (blown there at 280 m/s). The bell was blasted from the dome and more or less melted. Here is what remains of the tower:

The other side of this structure is the dome, almost unrecognizable because it is so deeply buried in the earth. This was our last stop before we ate lunch (at Chinatown [it’s a real place, I promise you]) and took our walking tour of Nagasaki. Er. Fair warning. When a Japanese person says “Let’s walk around Nagasaki” they MEAN “Let’s walk around the ENTIRE BLOODY CITY and wander up random hills for six hours and go alllll the way to the top of the mountain to look at creepy giant fish.” But it was still fun. Have a few pictures of Glover Garden, the Japanese equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg:

When we got done sightseeing, we attended a special lecture given by Hirose-sensei, an English teacher who survived the atomic bombing. He was only 15 years old at the time, working in an office in Mitsubishi’s factory. He was only two kilometers from the hypocenter (Ground Zero) at the moment of the bombing, 11:02 on August 9th, 1945. He told us his story.

After this, we all had dinner at the Nagasaki Dejima Wharf Restaurant:

I ate sashimi. And liiiived. I REPEAT: I ATE SASHIMI AND LIVED. The dish you see in the picture contains many different kinds, and the round pearl-like things are the specialty–eel eggs. A bit squishy. I’m not a big fan of thesquid, as it was extraordinarily chewy, but I do like octopus. Nagasaki is gorgeous at night, and is ranked as one of Japan’s top night-scapes.This is not a picture I took, as I was not in Glover Gardens at night, but it is just one example:

This would have been taken from the balcony of the house in front of this koi pond. Almost… ethereal, in a sense.

After we returned to the hotel, we crashed for about seven hours and then were awake again and ready to go help the high school students on their 10,000 Signatures Campaign.

The sign says “High School Students 10,000 Signatures Campaign” and refers to the year-long goal (every year since 1997) of getting 10,000 or more signatures and sending them to the UN. Each year, delegates from this group hand-deliver their petition to the UN, and each year, they have met their goal of 10,000 or more signatures. At this particular campaign, we got 382 signatures in two hours. Oh, and a news special. Yaaay being on TV shouting at people in Japanese. You may not think that 382 is a large number: I didn’t at first. But think of this. There are 52 weeks in a year. Fifty two times three hundred is fifteen thousand six hundred. Quite an impressive number.

Then, we were released from all duties, events, et cetera and given time to explore the station’s department store. I went and bought castella (カステラ) for a souvenir for my friend and some other souvenirs too. Castella is a Nagasaki specialty cake, sold just about everywhere in the city. It’s basically a cake that tastes, astonishingly, like a sugar cookie. It’s a tad bit difficult to describe. Of course it comes in sixteen different flavors, but I like the classic one.

After we had our precious thirty-five minutes of free time to shop, we all walked back to the hotel and boarded our charter bus:

And, now, I am back on top of the mountain. Sadness.

I do believe in the message that was being sent. At no point was America debased or blamed or insulted… nor was any other country that participated in World War II. No, the message here was not to hate or to point fingers; but to learn from past mistakes and to grow more wise because of them. We must all work together to create a peaceful world–a safe world. It won’t be easy. But we can do it. I have to believe this. Call me an optimistic fool if you like.

There is a tradition in Japan, and I shall end my extremely long post with it. If you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wish will be granted. In the museum and indeed all over the memorial sites, there are many strings of paper cranes. A hundred thousand cranes, a hundred wishes, all for peace. I will leave you with this last image.

Advertisements