Remembrance of things past

Memorial of the Martyrs
Photos by Mary King

Mary King discovers that Nagasaki, Japan’s old portal to the West and target of the second atomic bomb, has more than one face.

Japan' San Francisco has something to whet everybody's appetite from the hubbub of its small Chinatown and the homes of Nagasaki's pioneering Meiji-era European residents to the city's darker hours. The atomic bomb that killed an estimated 75,000 of the city's 240,000 people in the closing days of World War II is commemorated throughout the city at the "One-legged Torii" Peace Park, at a smaller park sited directly under the epicenter, and at the A-bomb museum.

In memoriam
Fukusai-ji, or Nagasaki Kannon Universal Temple, may not be listed as an architectural or cultural gem, but it's certainly unique and worth a visit. The temple building is in the form of a huge turtle carrying an 18m-tall statue of Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) on its back. The original temple built in 1628 was a national treasure destroyed by the A-bomb blast. The temple that stands today was built in 1979 and is dedicated to the souls of all war dead and A-bomb victims. It also contains several fascinating displays, such as the replica of Foucault's pendulum (a device that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth on its tilted axis) suspended in the temple's basement-only St Petersburg and Paris have larger examples of the phenomenon. Commemorating those who perished in the war, the Altar to the Fallen Soldiers features a huge trench helmet made of iron from the sunken warship Mutsu. Under this symbol of the fallen warriors lie the remains of 16,500 soldiers, with a panoply of their belongings collected from the battlefields of Burma, the Philippines and various small islands of the South Seas.

At another war monument, the Altar to the A-bomb Victims, you will come across a globe nearly cracked in two: This is the memorial tombstone for the bomb's victims. The crack opens in the direction from which the blast came and symbolizes the threat of planetary extermination by nuclear bombs. As at the Altar to the Fallen Soldiers, the remains and belongings of many of the city's A-bomb victims lie buried under the globe. In one corner of the room is a further exhibition of articles recovered from foreign battlefields. Some items, such as canteens, bear the names of their former owners, and the temple invites those who are entitled to do so to claim them. The Bell for the Repose of the Departed Souls tolls seven times every day at 11:02am, each peal symbolizing a prayer for the repose of 10,000 victims of the bomb that turned Nagasaki into an inferno at that very minute on Aug 9, 1945.

Oura Church

Going Dutch
Sadly, the old Dutch trading enclave of Dejima is long gone, having been swallowed up by new buildings and land reclamation to the point where it is now well inland. From the mid-17th century until 1855, this small, isolated community was Japan's only contact with the Western world. Today, a small museum near the old site of Dejima has exhibits on what life was like for the Dutch and other foreigners who lived on the island during that most difficult of periods. In this area you find the gently inclined flagstone streets known as Dutch slopes, or "Oranda-zaka" - at that time the people of Nagasaki referred to all Europeans as Hollanders-which were once lined with wooden Dutch houses. Just a short stroll from here you come to Glover Garden, where some of the homes of the city's European community during the Meiji Era have been reassembled.

Shaded by large trees and offering a panorama of the city, Glover Garden boasts Japan's oldest Western-style building, designated an Important Cultural Asset. Glover House was built in 1863 by Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant who was the most renowned member of Nagasaki's expatriate community. Glover, known for his prodigious energy, dabbled in several fields during his time in Japan. As an arms importer, he played an important part in the Meiji Restoration. He also built the first railway line in Japan, and even helped establish the first modern shipyard, progenitor of modern Nagasaki's Mitsubishi shipyard. At the top of the park you will find the Mitsubishi No. 2 Dock building, originally erected in 1896 at the Mitsubishi shipyard where it served as a temporary residence for ships' crews.

The one-legged Torii is a relic from the bombing

Although Glover House is the centerpiece of the garden compound, two other buildings within the grounds, Ringer House and Alt House, are worth stopping by. Each has been designated an Important Cultural Asset, and lie alongside the principal mansion. Ringer House, built in 1865, commemorates its founder, British merchant Frederick Ringer, whose family occupied the house for decades. Another British merchant, William Alt, built the house that bears his name, an intriguing example of the earliest union between Western and Japanese architectural styles.

You exit the garden through the Nagasaki Museum of Traditional Performing Arts, which displays the colorful furnishings and floats used during the Kunchi Festival. This celebration, dating back more than 340 years, is one of the city's annual highlights, featuring Chinese-influenced dragon dances and parades in the precinct of Suwa Shrine. Visitors interested in learning more about the deep bonds between China and Nagasaki should drop by Koshi-byo, reputed to be the only Confucian shrine beyond China's shores to have been built by Chinese hands. Even today, the land on which this shrine stands is regarded as Chinese territory.

Getting there
JAL (tel: 0120-255931), ANA (tel: 03-5435-0333) and JAS (tel: 03-5457-5566) have daily flights from Haneda Airport to Nagasaki. For further information contact Nagasaki City Tourist Information (tel: 0958-23-3631).

389: God speed
The mother of all Shinto temples, Ise Grand Shrine
385: Hattoji
Highland hamlet
380: Nagasaki
Remembrance of things past
378: Kawagoe
From modern Tokyo to "Little Edo"
376: Tottori
Tottori's stunning landscapes
375: Kyushu
Bed and bath under the volcano
373: Ryogoku
Land of the giants
372: Osaka
Universal Studios Japan
371: Osaka
Amerika-mura: Osaka's funky town
369: Mie
Mikimoto Pearl Island
368: Takarazuka
Hyogo-ken's all women theater group
365: Kawasaki
Kawasaki's annual fertility festival
364: Aomori
A day on Fear Mountain
362: Nagano
Chill out snowboarding
361: Asuka
One foot in the grave
356: Yamanashi
Hakushu's hidden treasures
355: Waseda Tram Trip
A streetcar named...
352/3: Aomori
Jesus in Japan
351: Kumamoto
Under the volcano in Kyushu
350: Sado Island
Explore the forgotten charms of Shukunegi