On Tuesday I took an early morning train to Nagasaki from Fukuoka -- a two hour trip on the Komome Limited Express -- with only the vaguest plan, other than to explore the roots of western trade with Japan. The Portuguese got things rolling in the late 1500s but some 60 years later trade had become a Dutch monopoly when the Tokugawa Shogunate closed the country to foreigners, save for a tightly controlled portal on an artificial Island about 125 by 80 meters. Between these dates it would appear the Jesuits insinuated themselves sufficiently well in Nagasaki to effect the conversion of a number of important Daimyos, and for a time, Nagasaki came under their (the Jesuit's) administration. Apparently, they left with the Portuguese as the Japanese became ever more leery of foreign influence. Christianity remains, however. One of the churches in Nagasaki is a designated National Treasure, and another, once the largest in East Asia, was destroyed in the atomic blast of 1945.
The small crescent-shaped Island of Dejima (pronounced deh she muh, no accent) became a high-rent prison for the un-trusted but irresistible Dutch traders. The "sea gate" at one end had two portals -- one for imports, the other for exports, and the ever-guarded "land gate" at the center of the concave curve, restricted the ingress of Japanese and egress of the Dutch. Talk about Island fever....
The Thousand Autumns of Jakob DeGroet is a recent and engaging historical fiction about life in Dejima, and provided the impetus for my visit. I am confused by my memory of the details of the book, and their inconsistency with the history of the enclave as I now know it (a most superficial knowledge, to be sure). In any case, it was a good enough read to motivate me to visit Nagasaki.
The tourist information desk at the train station provided an English language map, and happily the majority of the points of interest are strung along a trolley line that runs along the backbone of the city. It wasn't Dejima that drew my first attentions when I arrived, though. I found myself drawn to the Atom Bomb Museum, and of course, to stand at the point that some 26,000 days ago was the embodiment of hell on earth.
I am happy to leave to others the parsing of morality in the events that led to the bombing and the results. The calculus of irony prevails. Nagasaki was a secondary target, clouds and haze having obscured (and saved) Kokura, the first choice. Kyoto was taken off the short list due to religious reasons (talk about irony!). Existing bomb shelters in Nagasaki would have averted many of the casualties, but people had become blase about air raids. The blast destroyed the largest church in East Asia. Survivors were sometimes shunned and ridiculed by their own citizenry, and many took their own lives for it. The entries go on and on and on, but the litany (for me) gives rise more to numbness than grief. The exhibits don't... cannot... bring home the enormity of the event, nor does this ungraspable cataclysm give purchase to the larger context that spawned it. For me, the crux of the experience was seeing the exuberance of school kids at the museum on a field trip. When will we ever learn? The answer is pretty evident, museums notwithstanding.
A broken bell from the Urakami Cathedral, destroyed in the blast.
Ring them bells / for all of us who are left (Dylan)