A Peace Studies Tour of Nagasaki
On the morning of August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, Japan, life went on as normal — at least as normal as expected during war time. Housewives picked vegetables from their gardens; laundry was hung; children went to school with their lunch boxes; rosaries were prayed at the cathedral. Then the clock struck 11:02 a.m. and in one instant, at least 72,000 people disappeared and most of the city was destroyed. What happened after the atomic bomb exploded is beyond words. People who narrowly escaped death realized that the nightmare had only just begun.
The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, and the Peace Park were born out of the collective yearning to communicate what it’s like to live through a nuclear explosion so that hopefully, these horrific experience will never be repeated. Sakue Shimohira, who survived the bombing of Nagasaki, said, “I think the basic idea of peace is to have some understanding of others’ pain.” It is in this spirit that we started our journey at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
The entrance fee is ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for students and school children. For a small additional fee of ¥154, you can borrow an audio guide which provides additional explanations for 35 points of interest throughout the museum. Each bit lasts from 30 seconds to one minute. Voice guidance is available in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish. Our 5-year-old daughter was able to immerse herself in the museum experience even though she couldn't read the text descriptions. We highly recommend getting this audio guide for kids. You will need at least 40 minutes to an hour to walk through all exhibits.
Gruesome artifacts of the bombing transform into pieces of intense emotional power in the museum: A wall clock eternally frozen at 11:02. Six glass bottles melted at the top and stuck together. Twisted legs of a water tower. Rosary beads clumped together. A school girl’s lunch box with her name and class number written on the bottom, rice inside charred by the fires after the bombing. Eerie silhouettes of people and ordinary objects like ladders and laundry remain on walls that were exposed directly to the flash of the heat bomb. A dark chamber littered with rubble gives visitors a feel of what it was like to walk through the ruins of an atomic wasteland.
A wall of historical photos provide thorough explanation on the political events leading up to the bombing. The wall ends where a life-size model of “Fat Man,” the bomb dropped in Nagasaki, stands. A 3D geographical model of Nagasaki with monitor screens from the ceiling presents an engaging audio-visual explanation of how the bomb resulted in fireball, heat rays, fires and radiation.
The next sections show the rescue and relief operations, long-term damages to the health of survivors, and appeals of the survivors. Here are some of the most tragic poems and stories I have ever read. The last section details the history of nuclear weapon development, current information on nuclear weapon stockpiles and tests, and the anti-nuclear movements around the world.
A tour of the museum may be a bit overwhelming for some visitors. If you would like to pay tribute, mourn the victims of the bombing, and offer prayers for peace, the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims is the best facility. Entrance is free. You will need at least 30 minutes to proceed along the suggested Route for Remembrance. The tour begins on the B1 Floor with an exhibition of moving passages selected from memoirs of survivors (in Japanese only). The path leads to the lot where you can view a 3D film of what Nagasaki looked like in the aftermath of the bombing. Proceed to B2 Floor and through the library where you can search through memoirs, testimonials, names and portraits of the victims on the computers provided. The path leads to an anteroom to prepare to enter the Remembrance Hall. In this dark anteroom, a basin of water flows gently and serves as a symbolic offering to the victims who, burned through to their insides, died crying out desperately for water. Throughout the memorial hall, water flows in corners and on walls for this same reason.
At the heart of the memorial hall is the Remembrance Hall, magnificent in its simplicity. Twelve illuminated glass pillars line the aisle and open up to the sky. At the end is a registry shelf holding volumes with the names of the victims of the atomic bombing. Visitors may leave paper cranes and flowers on a low table in front of the shelf. The memorial hall has received thousands of paper cranes from all over the world.
Cap this peace studies tour of Nagasaki with a stroll through Peace Park. Just a short walk from the museum is the hypocenter or ground zero of the bombing, marked by a cenotaph and steps in concentric circles, symbolizing how the fearsome effects of the explosion radiated out. To the right of the hypocenter stands the scorched relic of a section of the original wall of the Urakami Cathedral, once renowned for being the largest Roman-style church in the Far East, that remained after the bombing. It was moved there to serve as a reminder of the devastating blast. While the Peace Statue is the most famous monument, the park has been gifted with numerous peace monuments from various countries around the world.
The most scenic way to get to the museum, memorial hall and the nearby parks is by streetcar. From JR Nagasaki Station, take a Route 1 or Route 3 streetcar bound for Akasako and get off at Hamaguchi-machi stop (#20 on the streetcar map). The museum and memorial hall are about a five minute walk from there. Regular opening hours are from 8:30 to 17:30, with last admission at 17:00. From May to August, extended opening hours are from 8:30 to 18:30, with last admission at 18:00. The memorial hall has special hours around the anniversary of the bombing — from August 7-9, the memorial hall is open from 8:30 to 20:00. Both the museum and the memorial hall are closed from December 29-31.
Address: 7-8 Hirano-machi, Nagasaki 852-8117
Museum telephone number: 095-844-1231.
Memorial hall telephone number: 095-814-0055