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The second atomic city – Nagasaki

Thu 25 Jul – day 75  Having retrieved my luggage from the coin locker I went to the Nagasaki tourist information office which was located in the railway station complex.  The staff were very helpful (as always) and gave me lots of leaflets and a map, all in English, so this meant that I would not have to lug the heavy Lonely Planet guide around.

It was a short walk to my hotel which was yet another of the Toyoko Inn chain.  I had to cross the main road running through the city, 4 lanes in each direction, but it was easy on the green light.  Check in was quickly done and up to my room, then straight back down again as the air-con was not working.  After 3 attempts over a period of 2 hours to get the system up and running, this included the lady duty manager changing all the sensors, I was given another room.  This was a double (no extra charge), but on the smoking floor, however there was no smell of stale tobacco when I entered the room – great.  The temperature in the previous room was 35° C, so too hot even to sit in.  I had a shower and got settled in and then did admin until quite late, so it was after 23:00hrs when I went to bed.


Fri 26 Jul – day 76  I was in no hurry to get up this morning, so I just dozed before making a move.  Shower, dress, then down to reception; it was too late for the rice-ball breakfast which I would have given a miss anyway so I went on-line to check my e-mails and update people as to where I was.

While I was working on the computer the entire (female) hotel cleaning staff came into the reception area and lined up before the leader said (in Japanese) that they were going to do their duties so that the guests would enjoy their stay.  They then all bowed before going off to clean all the rooms.  I can’t imagine that ever happening in the UK.

On my way to the station where I was going to catch the tram heading towards the Peace Park I saw a hairdressers / barbers shop, so as I needed a trim I went in but had to make an appointment.  With 45 minutes to wait I went back to the hotel, collected all the bits and pieces that I didn’t need, found the post office and dispatched another parcel home.

In the hairdressers / barbers shop no one spoke English, so a few hand actions to show that I wanted a very short all-over trim, which was exactly what I got.  A very severe No 1 which should last until I got home; I will however need to keep my head covered in order to stop my scalp getting sunburnt.

At the station I bought some sandwiches and a pastry for lunch, then caught the northbound tram up to the Peace Memorial Park.  Like all the city centre transport it was a flat rate fare, so having dropped the correct change in the box at the front by the driver I alighted, crossed the road and then crossed back again as I had seen a sign that said rugby pitch.

There were a number of sports facilities near the main baseball stadium, one being a running track built by the Americans in 1945 during their occupation and still in use today – it was called the Atomic Track!!  Across the road was the swimming, Olympic size of course, and a grass area that had a football pitch marked out on, but it was obviously used as a rugby pitch as the posts were neatly stacked by the fence.

So curiosity satisfied it was back across the tram tracks and road, then follow the signs to the Peace Memorial Park – everywhere was well signposted with the names of the various locations in both Japanese and English and the distance in kilometres.

In Nagasaki the various parts of the memorials to the A bomb attack were separated over a distance of about 3km, unlike Hiroshima where they are all in one place.  This was because the area where the bomb was dropped was in a valley which had quite steep sides and so there was not a lot of flat land.

It was an uphill walk so I wrapped my towel around my neck to soak up the perspiration, because I was dripping.  There was low cloud which covered the hill tops and this included where the top cable-car station was located; this was disappointing as all the guidebooks said that the best view of the city was to be had from there.

Up again to the Peace Memorial Park, but thankfully there were escalators up the side of a very steep hill and although one side was out of action while it was undergoing maintenance, the working side went up.  At the top was a fountain with the water sprays in the shape of a dove’s wing; by the side of the path were lots of statutes, some very weird looking, then I reached the remains of the city prison.  This was the nearest official building to the Hypo-Centre and all the inmates and guards perished when the prison was completely destroyed; the foundations and part of the outer wall remain and the park was created around them.

The Bell Tower had lots of bottles of water around its base as this was something that the survivors desperately wanted but could not obtain; people place the bottles here to placate the spirits of the deceased.

There were lots of Japanese tourists with their guides jabbering away into microphones, so their loudspeakers ensured that there was not a lot of peace and quiet in the Peace Park,

The Peace Statute is a giant 9.7 meter high, 10 tonne bronze man with his right hand pointing upwards to the threat of an atomic bomb, with his extended left hand symbolising peace and his eyes closed, as in prayer, to remember the souls of the dead.  The statute was erected ten years after the attack and the area around it was being prepared with the construction of a stage / platform for the annual peace ceremony on 9 Aug.  There are usually rowdy anti-nuclear demonstrations as well as the respectful official ceremony.

There was a large souvenir shop just outside the Peace Memorial Park and so I brought a lot more postcards.

I then headed off towards the Urakami Cathedral and was able to get a decent picture from a vantage point before walking down the steep hill where my knees began to ache.  This was a back street residential area, so very quiet with very little traffic.  I passed a number of channelled waterways and was surprised to see a lot of rubbish either in the water or on the banks.

After walking through a small children’s playground I was confronted by the Chinese consulate building which was bigger than most embassies.  Up the steep slope to the cathedral and as everything here is built up the valley sides you are always ascending or descending; all the walking may burn of the calories, but it meant that I had to drink lots of fluids to compensate for the perspiration.

As Nagasaki was one of the first places in Japan that foreigners were allowed to settle, Christianity took root and the city and its surrounding area were and still are the centre of the countries Christian community.  Once the largest church in Asia, the Roman Catholic cathedral took three decades to complete and three seconds to destroy.

The second atomic bomb should have been dropped by the USAAF B29 Bockscar on Kokura, an industrial city in northern Kyushu, but poor visibility meant that the intended target could not be identified, so the plane set course for Nagasaki, its secondary target.  Cloud again obscured the target, but a chance break in the cloud cover sealed the city’s fate.  The bomb was intended for the Nagasaki shipyard, but instead exploded over the Urakami district at 11:02hrs and it has been estimated that over 70000 (out of a population of 240000) were either killed instantly or died before the end of 1945.

A service was underway in the Cathedral and everyone was instantly killed by the fireball.  Some of the remains have been preserved; part of a wall has been moved to Hypocenter Park, while part of the belfry was preserved at the place where it had been blown down by the blast of A-bomb.  The wooden statue of Virgin Mary had been set up on the altar, but only the head was found in the debris.  Some parts of it were burnt and the eyes were empty because the heat of A-bomb had melted the glass eyes.  It is known as “Bombed Virgin Mary”.  In 2005 a small chapel was built near the cathedral, and the “Bombed Virgin Mary” has been enshrined inside it.

A smaller cathedral was rebuilt on the foundations of the original building and was completed in 1959.  Although the cathedral was consecrated at the time, the congregation did not accept that the process had been completed until Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in 1981 and held a mass.


After my visit to the cathedral I strolled down the hill and stopped at a convenience store to buy a small tub of ice-cream, delicious on such a hot day.  As I carried on down the hill there were many man-hole covers, all with symbols indicating the company that was responsible for whatever was under the cover.  The noise increased as I reached the bottom of the hill as this was the valley bottom and along which ran the main road and railway.

At the Hypo-Centre which was directly under where the A-Bomb exploded a smooth, black stone column had been erected as a memorial; there were two other memorials, one of a mother holding her dead child and the other to the children that died and this was complete with paper cranes.  In addition a section of the original cathedral wall had been re-erected here.  This was a small was quite noisy place, unlike the peace and tranquillity of the park in Hiroshima.

The Atomic Bomb Museum was up the hill, but thankfully there were lifts as I was feeling exhausted in the heat.  The exhibits here and especially the pictures were a lot more graphic than in the Hiroshima museum and all the more disturbing because of it; the last photo in the exhibition was take by an American newsman covering the occupation and shows a ten year old boy with his dead younger brother in a pouch on his back standing before a human funeral pyre.  This cracked me up and I had to find a quiet spot and have a weep.

The final display is about the threat of nuclear proliferation and a screen showed the expansion of nuclear powers, the increase in the atomic arsenal and gave the date and time of ever nuclear explosion from the attack on Hiroshima until the present day.  I was amazed to find out that the UK carried out its last test on 26 Nov 1991, so less than 23 years ago.

I walked down to the tram stop and took the tram right back to my hotel as my legs were beginning to cramp up.  After a shower, drinking nearly two litres of orange squash and a short sleep I felt much better so went out for dinner at the restaurant floor of the department store by the station where I had a very good Japanese version of an Indian curry washed down with three large glasses of the local beer.

And then back to bed.


Sat 27 Jul – day 77  I was up fairly early as I wanted to go to “Battleship Island” an industrial heritage site visited by Michael Palin during his trip around the Pacific.  The first stop was the Tourist Information office at the station where I brought an all-day tram pass before heading down to the water front.  Having just missed the morning departure, I purchased a ticket for the afternoon trip and then decided to have a walk around the local vicinity.

Chatting to the lady in the excursion ticket office (she spoke pretty good English) I was told that as this was the last weekend in July, the annual Festival of the Sea was being held.  I had missed the first part when Buddhist and Shinto priests held ceremonies by the harbour to bless the water and all those who work on and around it, however the Dragon Boat races were in full swing.  There were many different categories so that everyone could have a go and I watched as the crews boarded before going off to race.  It was an out and back course in the harbour with each leg being a kilometre long and when the starter sounded the horn the six teams in each race set off like at a tremendous pace.  With all the paddles going in time to the drum, it was like the galley scene in Ben-Hur.

When the teams arrived back after each race they had been completely soaked with spray and looked absolutely exhausted.  There were crowds of people watching even though the event was being televised, while the judges and VIPs had their own tent by the start / finish line.  Each crew had their own gazebo and these were treated just like people houses as everyone took their footwear off before stepping on to the mat, even if this was just a tarpaulin on the ground.  Where families had laid a blanket on the grass on which to sit while they ate, everyone also observed the correct etiquette and removed their shoes before sitting down.

The area where all the tents and spectators were located was actually the Nagasaki cruise ship berth and inside the terminal were photographs of all the vessels that had been moored here; these included the P&O ships Arcadia and Aurora.

Having taken lots of pictures I headed passed the original HSBC building which is now the city museum and back to the tram stop.  I travelled on the tram the two stops to the end of the line from where I walked through the streets before taking the inclined lift up the very steep hill to Glover Garden.  This is where the European merchants lived from the mid 1800’s onwards and their former homes have been reassembled in this hillside garden.  The area where foreigners could live was delineated by stone markers

This area of Nagasaki escaped the worst of the nuclear explosion as it was about 2½ km from the Hypo-Centre and had hills between it and ground zero.

The garden was named after Thomas Glover a Scottish merchant who moved to Nagasaki in 1859 and married a Japanese lady.  He built Japan’s first railway and helped establish the shipbuilding industry as well as creating the Japan Brewery Company, a predecessor of today’s Kirin Brewery.  An effigy of the Kirin, a mythical creature that sports a bushy moustache and adorns cans and bottles of Kirin beer looked remarkably similar to the pictures of Thomas Glover.





The structure at the top of the hill was the Mitsubishi No 2 Dock Building where unmarried ships officers would reside between voyages.  In front of the building was a fish pond which huge carp in it.  From the edge of the terrace were the signal gun was situated the views of the harbour were tremendous, even if the hilltops were still shrouded in mist.






The whole site is now an Area of Cultural Importance and registered on the national database.  I was glad that I came in at the top entrance as I could walk down the hill following the wheelchair route so there is less pressure on my knees.

The Walker House was filled with 18th and 19th century artefacts donated by the family; below this was a modern water feature and then the Glover House which would not have looked out of place in Surrey in the late 1800’s.  At the bottom of the hill was the Ȭura Catholic Church which was the oldest Christian church in the country having been dedicated in 1865; it was dedicated to the 26 Japanese Christians who were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597 for refusing to recant their Christian faith.  It was more of a museum than a church and charged admission.

I then strolled back to the water front, stopping on the way to buy some lunch, which included a small tub of the wonderful ice-cream.  As it was blisteringly hot and extremely humid, I sat in the shade outside the tour boat offices to consume my food and drink.

Having collected my boarding pass and guide (in English) I made sure that I was at the front of the queue to board the boat so that I could get an outside upper deck seat.  Having achieved my aim I then sat and watched all the other seats be filled up before someone came and sat next to me – I am passed caring now.






We set off passed the shipyards where container and warships were being built.  The large crane was built in Scotland, shipped over in parts and then constructed in the dockyard; it is virtually identical to the one that still exists on the River Clyde.  It was just my luck that as I set sail the mist covering the hill tops lifted so I could now see the top cable car station.  Having gone under the bridge we were now in the outer harbour where Mitsubishi had created one of the world’s largest dry docks by simply filling in an area between two islands.  Here they build ULCC and other fuel carrying vessels; there were three LNG vessels being worked on and I am glad that I will never have to sail on one of these floating bombs.  The company logos on the giant cranes were the size of tennis courts.


I saw a couple of churches built with white marble as we passed the outer islands and once we had left the shelter of the land the ride got a little bumpy as the Captain tried to steer a course that missed the largest of the incoming waves.

It took 1½ hours to reach Hashima Island and we had to wait before disembarking as another ship was picking up its passengers that had completed their visit.  The island was the top of a coal mine and a concrete sea wall plus buildings to house the workers as well as processing the coal were constructed.  People lived on the island from 1887 until 1974 and this was not only the miners but their families if they were married.  Facilities included housing, a school, shops, cinema and a swimming pool.  As petrol replaced coal as the principle source of energy, the mine became uneconomic to run and closed in 1974 and the island was off-limits to the public until 2009.

Disembarkation was a bit tricky as the boat was moving quite dramatically on occasions, both horizontally and vertically in the heavy swell.  The crew were a bit uncoordinated at times as the shore staff grabbed your arms to pull you forward while the ship staff were still holding people back.  Once everyone was ashore we set off, however one lady was obviously suffering from the journey and having been sick lay down in the approach tunnel to try and recover.

The tour was around the industrial end of the island and a boardwalk had been created to provide a safe surface on which to walk amongst all the debris.  Three main viewing sites had been built and at each the guide gave a commentary in Japanese with no translation, however the guide that I had been given shown all the relevant points and had a description in English of each location.

The view from the first stopping point was down the length of the island towards the accommodation blocks gave us the first indication of how much dereliction had happened since coal production had finished.  The forces of nature were apparent when we were shown a thick concrete wall that had been toppled by a typhoon.  In the 49 years since the island was abandoned, buildings had been blasted by the elements and you had to wonder how long it would be before the structures collapsed completely.  At the final stopping point an elderly Japanese couple insisted on having their photo taken with me and I was happy to oblige.

The island served as the inspiration for the lair of Raoul Silva in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall, but despite all the hype in the island advertising, other than shots from the air no actual filming took place on the island.  One section was recreated at Pinewood Studios and the rest was done by CGI.

Once the tour was over I did a fast walk back to the landing jetty so that I could again secure a seat outside on the upper deck – successful once again.  Once everyone was back onboard and that took some doing as the waves had increased, the ship went around to the far side of the island so that people could take pictures of the bits that we had not seen so far.  The concrete sea wall was a massive structure and must have taken much time and effort to construct.  The various accommodation blocks buildings were crumbling in the face of the onslaught from the weather and it was hard to believe that at one stage over 5000 people lived on this small island.  It must have been a very strange existence, battered by the elements and with no chance of leaving, even for a few hours.

Our course taken by the Captain back to the inner harbour took the boat passed a suction dredger that was used to keep the deep warm channel at sufficient depth to allow the ULCC ships access to the port, then near the smaller shipyards where there was a large floating crane moored up.  The sight of a fishing boat high and dry in a floating dry dock was a strange spectacle.

Although the Dragon Boat races had finished for the day, there were still lots of people around the tented area and once the boat had docked there was a mad scramble to disembark, so I just waited until the hordes had left.

I then boarded a tram and headed for Chinatown; during Japan’s long period of isolation the movements of the Chinese traders were supposed to be as restricted as those of the Dutch, but in reality they were relatively free.  There was still a thriving Chinese community which was visited by people from far and wide.  The entrance gate was guarded by dragons and the main street was home to many restaurants which showed their wares with plastic displays of the food on offer.  Chinese symbols were everywhere, on the manhole covers to the fountains.





Following my walk through Chinatown I took another tram to visit the Nagasaki River which was originally gave traders access to the city from the harbour.  It is now a very quite pedestrian precinct where people stroll or just sit and read.  The water course had a number of small dams which had created a series of shallow pools between the bridges and I could see that carp had been allowed to proliferate in the pools.




I then strolled through one of the main shopping areas where I heard the noise and then saw the Pachinko arcade; a Pachinko machine was like a vertical pinball machine and in the arcades there were literally hundreds of machines all with a person sat in front of them and the noise was deafening as the small metal balls were fired into the machine.  Six young ladies all dressed in traditional costume giggled when they saw me, but were happy to let me take their photograph – kimonos and IPhones whatever next.  I asked them why they were dressed up and they said that they were going to the ‘Festival’; it appeared that there was going to be a fireworks display later in the evening and that was where they were heading.   They told me that when ladies go out to an event they tended to wear traditional costume and that it takes ages to get ready as they have to be just so.

I also saw a couple in kimonos and the men’s was very plain while the ladies was elaborate; in a shop window there was a display of kimonos for all the family.

So it was back to the hotel for a shower and change before heading back to the harbour.  As you would have expected the whole area was packed with the waterfront bars and restaurants full to overflowing.

It would appear that the massive firework display attracted the vast majority of the city’s population, many of whom turn up in traditional costume.  The fireworks display lasted well over 15 minutes and it would have been great to have been able to watch it from the top cable car station, but there was just no time to get there.

I finished off the evening with yet another excellent Japanese Indian curry and it was then off to bed as I had a long day of travelling ahead of me tomorrow.

This was the end of week 11 of the trip.