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Nagasaki: Message for the Future

Aug. 9, 2016

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. It was the second atomic bombing in history, coming 3 days after the first in Hiroshima.

Urakami Cathedral is located about 500 meters from ground zero. It's now rebuilt, but the cathedral was completely destroyed in the attack. It's one of the many places where people lost their lives on this day 71 years ago.

The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki contained plutonium. It was 1.3 times more destructive than the uranium bomb used on Hiroshima.

The initial target for the second atomic bombing was the city of Kokura. But the town was covered by clouds. So the pilot instead headed toward the secondary target, Nagasaki, 150 kilometers away.

At 11:02 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, the bomb was released. When it detonated, a fireball was generated that raised temperatures to 4,000 degrees Celsius.

The blast, and radiation, killed more than 70,000 people by the end of that year alone. Many survivors went on to develop leukemia or cancer due to radiation exposure. Some of them are still suffering from symptoms now, 71 years after the bombing.

Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama paid an historic visit to Hiroshima, where he offered flowers at a memorial. He was the first sitting US president to visit the atomic-bombed city. But a visit to Nagasaki was not on Obama's itinerary.

How has the city dealt with the legacy of the atomic bombing? And what kind of message does it want to convey to the world?

A statue stood along the outer wall of the Urakami Cathedral at the time of the atomic bombing. It's now charred, and the neck is broken. It's just one example of the power of the blast and heat from the bomb.

The bombing killed an estimated 8,500 of the church's 12,000 followers. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1959 and it's now one of the largest Catholic churches in Japan.

Every Aug. 9 at night, Catholics carry torches and march from the cathedral to the Peace Park in remembrance of the victims. People near the cathedral are preparing for the event.

Since this morning, people in the city and elsewhere have been praying for peace. Every Aug. 9, beginning early in the morning, survivors and the families of those who died offer prayers for the victims. People in Nagasaki and around Japan share their hopes for peace.

People began to gather at the Urakami Cathedral early in the morning to attend mass and pray. That included people who survived the atomic bombing 71 years ago.

Throughout the city, people spent much of the day in prayer.

"I can never sleep well in August. I think my life was spared so that I could pray for the victims," said one 85-year-old survivor.

"I came here early in the morning with my kids to pray for the victims. I want my children to remember what happened on this day," said a 39-year-old mother who came with her children.

Later, a memorial service was held at Nagasaki Peace Park. About 5,600 people gathered there, including atomic bomb survivors whose average age is now over 80.

The number of atomic-bomb survivors is dwindling with the passage of time. The names of those who die each year are added to a list kept in a stone vault. This year more than 3,000 names were included, bringing the number of victims to over 172,000.

The atomic bomb exploded at 11:02 a.m., 71 years ago.

Tomihisa Taue, Nagasaki's mayor, urged world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"I appeal to the leaders of states which possess nuclear weapons and other countries, and to the people of the world: please come to visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Find out for yourselves what happened to the people beneath the mushroom cloud. Knowing the facts becomes the starting point for thinking about a future free of nuclear weapons," Taue said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed his words.

"I will seek the cooperation of all countries...whether they have nuclear weapons or not, and will ask the leaders of the world as well as young people to comprehend the tragic consequences of using them. I will do all I can for the goal of "a world without nuclear weapons," Abe said.

People in Nagasaki spent the day in reflection and in prayer.


Yoshiro Yamawaki, a survivor of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, joins Sho Beppu in front of Urakami Cathedral.

Beppu: Yamawaki was 11-years old when the atomic bomb was dropped. He has spent much of his life sharing his experiences through storytelling. He'll describe what he saw 71 years ago, and his massage to the world. Could you tell us what the city was like immediately after the dropping of the atomic bomb?

Yamawaki: Right after the bomb was dropped, I looked over beyond the harbor and I saw that the whole city was surrounded in white clouds of dust. I couldn't see anything, and I realized that a large part of the city must have been destroyed.

Well I didn't know, but my father didn't come back home the next day so myself and my two brothers went to seek him. Actually, I was walking toward ground zero with my brothers, so along the way I saw a lot of wreckage and among that dead bodies. I saw electricity poles and trees were scorched and charred. So we had to walk past many of these things and I found that the factory where my father worked was totally destroyed. There was nobody there alive. And that's when me and my brothers cremated my father's remains. So we collected wood together with the people who had come along, and we put our father's body there and cremated him. However, the next day when we visited we found that his body was not cremated totally. Only parts of his body were cremated. We thought that we could pick up his skull at least, and we found that the skull actually collapsed and his brains actually washed out from that skull.

Beppu: Did you tell your mother how your father had passed away?

Yamawaki: My mother was actually a stepmother, so this was a secret the three brothers. We never told her how we cremated our father's body.

Beppu: You've been telling your story to people not only in Japan but to those outside the country as well. Do you notice any differences in their reactions?

Yamawaki: I found out that their questions after telling my story are very direct and very unique. They ask me if I'm married, if I had children without any disabilities, very unique questions I would often get. And also reaction after my storytelling is very strong. Some people will hug me. Some people will put their foreheads against mine and tell me that they understand my feelings. So that's quite a different reaction from my Japanese audiences.

Beppu: In May this year, Barack Obama became the first sitting US President to visit Hiroshima. What are your thoughts on his visit?

Yamawaki: Well I thought his speech, the content was quite general. There wasn't much that touched the heart of the survivors. I understand that he went to the Peace Memorial Museum and also met with A-bomb survivors. I was hoping he would call upon the leaders of nuclear-power nations and also to leaders of other countries to send out a strong message to abolish nuclear weapons.

Beppu: Finally Mr. Yamawaki, you only started to learn English when you were 60 years old. You did so because you wanted to get your message to people around the world. Would you please share your message in English?

Yamawaki: I want people to know, more than anything, how inhumane atomic weapons are. Unlike conventional bombs, nuclear weapons emit massive amounts of radiation. That has affected many survivors for a long, long time. Even now people are still suffering from diseases, such as leukemia and cancer that are thought to have been caused by radiation. I want people to come to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, to see the tragedy with their own eyes, and to understand the horror of nuclear weapons.


Unfading Images of Horror

Today, we can still bear witness to some of the horrors Yamawaki saw over 70 years ago, thanks in part to the work of one Japanese cameraman.

He captured over 100 images of the aftermath of the Nagasaki atomic bombing. This year, new information emerged about one of his most well-known pictures.

Yosuke Yamahata was an army cameraman during World War 2. After the Nagasaki bombing, he was ordered to the city to record the damage.

He began shooting photos of Nagasaki after he arrived on the morning of Aug. 10 -- the day after the attack. He captured images of people who had been at ground zero when the bomb hit.

The area was completely destroyed. A train was flattened, and the bodies of its passengers were blown away.

A girl in one of his photos lost her family and stood staring in a daze.

"It was like hell. There were very few survivors. People's eyes were exposed to radiation. Their bodies burned. People were holding on to walking sticks, wandering around the city, waiting for rescue," Yamahata wrote.

One of the photos became particularly famous -- the image of a boy who died near ground zero. The photo has become an icon symbolizing the horrors of nuclear weapons, but for over 70 years the identity of the boy was unknown.

In 1995, the then mayor of Nagasaki Iccho Ito showed the picture at the International Court of Justice.

"The leaders of the nuclear powers should take a look at the photograph. They should face the reality that nuclear weapons bring," Ito said.

In June, 2 women who live in Nagasaki said they recognized the boy in the photo as their 13-year-old brother, Shoji Tanisaki. They had been searching for him ever since the day of the attack.

Tanisaki lived at a boarding house near ground zero. He had taken an exam at school on the day of the bombing, and those were his last known whereabouts.

"We went to exhibitions all the time, desperately hoping to find my brother somewhere. We looked through every photo very carefully," said Miyoko Nishikawa, Tanisaki’s sister.

They had known about the photo before, but they'd never seen it in a large size. When they saw a blown-up version, they noticed that he resembled their brother.

"I thought I was finally able to meet my brother," said Kei Yamaguchi, Tanisaki’s other sister

This year, a forensic expert analyzed the contours of the boy's face and the shape of his eyes, and concluded the boy is highly likely Tanisaki.

His sisters say they are talking to the photo every day.

"We're relieved. We finally have some closure. My brother is no longer here. He died. We have been able to put it to an end," Nishikawa said.

How did Yamahata feel when he took the photo of the boy? He rarely spoke of his experiences in Nagasaki in public up until he died in 1966.

At the end of his assignment to record the destruction in Nagasaki on Aug. 10, Yamahata visited an aid station about 3.6 kilometers from ground zero. There, he captured the photo of a baby clinging to the mother for survival.

Images like these are reminders of the stark reality of nuclear weapons for future generations.

"Human memory tends to become erroneous or uncritical of things due to changes to the environment and changes to our daily lives. But the cold hard facts which the camera calmly reports have not been altered to this day," Yamahata wrote. "This photographic record forever speaks of the time without changing the facts."


Spirit of Coexistence

We now take a look at Nagasaki and its message to the world. As the second city to suffer an atomic bombing, some say that Nagasaki is often hidden in the shadow of Hiroshima.

But when we look back at its unique place in Japanese history, we find it makes its citizen's message of peace all the more important.

People in Nagasaki enjoy the Nagasaki-Kunchi festival, which has continued for nearly 400 years. The performances contain elements of different cultures, including those from Portugal, the Netherlands and China. It's a reflection of the international heritage that runs through the city.

In the 16th century, the port of Nagasaki opened up to trade with Portugal and it became one of the first places in Japan for Christianity to spread.

When the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity and trade with foreign countries from the 17th through 19th centuries, Nagasaki was the only port allowed to continue trading with the Dutch and Chinese.

Brian Burke-Gaffney is a Canadian who has lived in Nagasaki for more than 3 decades. He studies the city's history of international exchange, which he says has greatly impacted Nagasaki's cultural climate.

"Nagasaki is the only city in Japan that has such a long history of relations with foreign countries," Burke-Gaffney said. "And because of that, a very unusual eclectic or a sort of mixture culture was born in Nagasaki."

Nagasaki continued to prosper as a trading port even after Japan opened its doors to the world in the late 19th century.

In 1914, the Urakami Cathedral was built. Many Christians in Nagasaki had secretly kept their faith for the more than 200 years that the religion was banned.

Meanwhile people from neighboring China and the Korean Peninsula continued to come to the city.

"When you meet people from Nagasaki you have the sense that they have an international viewpoint and not, not drawing a line between the Japanese and foreigners," Burke-Gaffney said. "I really think that has roots in Nagasaki's past as place for foreigners and Japanese gathered together."

But when World War 2 began, Nagasaki's role as a naval port grew larger.

It had a shipyard that built naval battleships. This is said to be one of the reasons the United States chose Nagasaki as a target for the atomic bomb.

"The people of Nagasaki, I think during the war, they were just as sad as foreigners about the events of the war. I think everyone was sort of waiting for clouds to pass and that the time of peace and mutual cooperation would return," Burke-Gaffney said.

But in 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Around 8,500 members of the Urakami Cathedral's congregation were estimated to have been killed.

The victims included nearly 10,000 people from the Korean Peninsula in the city. Some Chinese and Dutch POWs also lost their lives.

After the war, when the people of Nagasaki started on the long road to rebuilding, the then mayor decided to make their city's motto "International Culture City."

Christians who survived the war also helped with the recovery and one of them was Takashi Nagai, a doctor who was badly injured in the attack. He devoted his life to helping others, but later succumbed to leukemia.

Before his death, Nagai became an advocate of peace, and wrote a number of books from his sickbed.

"Love your enemies. Love, love and love until there is no hate left in their minds," he wrote. "Atomic bombing ends in Nagasaki, period. Peace starts from Nagasaki."

In 1982, for the first time an atomic bombing survivor gave a speech at the United Nations. The speaker, Senji Yamaguchi, was from Nagasaki.

"Honorable representatives, please look at my face and hands. Please take a close look. We must not allow people in the world and children to be born to die and suffer from nuclear weapons as we A-bomb sufferers did. Not even one!" Yamaguchi said. “No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki, no more war, no more hibakusha!”

The appeals for peace from Nagasaki survivors continue to reverberate to this day. The people of Nagasaki continue to connect with the world and seek a peaceful coexistence between cultures, as they have for centuries.


Professor Brian Burke-Gaffney joins anchor Sho Beppu in front of Urakami Cathedral.

Beppu: Professor, as you said in the report, Nagasaki has a long history of ties with foreign countries. But it was a target of an atomic bomb. How ironic do you think this is?

Burke-Gaffney: The atomic bombing of Nagasaki is probably the greatest irony of the 20th century. Nagasaki, of course, was not the original target. It had industrial facilities but at the same time it was the most international, the most cosmopolitan city in Japan at the time. At the time of the international conduct there were 13 different nationalities represented with consulates in Nagasaki. And on top of that, the atomic bomb exploded over the largest Christian community in Japan. So the ironies are countless. But at the same time, I think the events of the atomic bomb gave Nagasaki a very special mission.

Beppu: Professor, you've translated numerous writings by atomic-bombing survivors, and documents. Do you feel there is a perception gap between people in Japan and abroad?

Burke-Gaffney: Well I think everyone is horrified by the events of the aomic bombing and the experience of the atomic bomb survivors. But probably, Japanese people tend to concentrate on the experience of the atomic bombs and just look at the horror of the atomic bombings, whereas foreigners would probably, as horrified as they are by this information, they would tend to ask questions about the events leading up to the atomic bombing, about the context of World War 2. So I think it's important, it will be important in the future to reconcile these two different views in discussing nuclear disarmament and peace.

Beppu: Earlier you said that the tragedy 71 years ago, the atomic-bombing -- has given the people in Nagasaki a special mission. What is that?

Burke-Gaffney: I think Nagasaki's mission is 2-fold. Like Hiroshima, Nagasaki has a responsibility to convey the historical facts of the atomic bombing. But at the same time, because of Nagasaki's long history of contact with foreign cultures, and over the years its ability to overcome differences of language and religion, etcetera, I think Nagasaki is able to present an example of peaceful cohabitation, of peaceful coexistence of different cultures, which I think will be very important to discussing peace in the future.

Beppu: We're now joined by Tatsujiro Suzuki. He heads Nagasaki University's Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, or RECNA. We've been talking about the message of peace from Nagasaki. For you, what is this?

Suzuki: The unique message from Nagasaki is "Let Nagasaki be the last." At the Pugwash meeting in Nagasaki last November, a Nagasaki Declaration was issued with this message at the top. It's our sincere wish that nuclear weapons will not be used again anywhere in the world. I hoped that President Obama would include this message at Hiroshima as it means that the US and any other nuclear weapons countries will never use such inhuman weapon.

Beppu: You've been studying ways to abolish nuclear arms. How do you propose achieving that goal?

Suzuki: RECNA made a comprehensive proposal for peace and security of Northeast Asia, including establishment if Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. (NEA-NWFZ). If we establish such kind of a zone in northeast Asia, Japan no longer need nuclear deterrence.

Beppu: Seeing the current situation in this part of the world, how can we achieve a nuclear-free zone?

Suzuki: I totally agree with you that it's a very difficult situation right now. But that doesn't mean we have to give up. That's exactly why we have to start initiatives for confidence-building in the region. If it's difficult for the government to take the initiative, it is our citizens' role to start such initiatives. We call this "Nagasaki Process."


Beppu: Hiroshima was the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb and Nagasaki the second. That's a fact.

But, the stories of the survivors remind us that Nagasaki should be the last place ever to experience a nuclear attack. There should be no third place.

That's why Nagasaki's message of peace is important, and that's why the survivors hope that the message spreads around the world.

The history of Nagasaki offers hope that this is possible. Nagasaki is a city where exchanges between different cultures and religions have taken place for many centuries.

The nuclear attack couldn't oppress the city's spirit of openness. I'm Sho Beppu from Nagasaki.