Friday, March 07, 2008

This past weekend I ventured off the island of Okinawa and went to Nagasaki-city. Ask anyone and the name Nagasaki immediately invokes the thoughts of atomic bomb, destruction, and WWII. I went to Nagasaki exactly for those reasons--to connect the abstract images in my head of what those words represent with the reality of the now thriving city and the relics of its damaged past. I got to do that and more. I learned that Nagasaki acted as a very important port city that for over 300 years was the only "window" to Japan open to foreign traders. The influences left by the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, English and others can be seen and eaten throughout the city. The most popular present to bring back from Nagasaki is castella, a Portuguese sponge cake that is quite delicious, actually. For more interesting facts about European contact with the city of Nagasaki, which also includes the history of the Christian influence on the Japanese as well, check out this wiki article.
My first day in the city was devoted almost entirely to learning about the destruction caused by the atomic bomb when it was dropped on the city at 11:02am on August 9th, 1945. To have heard so much about the atomic bombs and the destruction they have caused, and to finally stand at the epicenter was a really moving experience for me. I took my time walking around the grounds surrounding the epicenter, reading all the markers, looking at all the statues. All the photos are on the fotki site and some contain further information about what i saw and what the statues represent.
Next I went to the Atomic bomb museum, which I found to be really informative and nicely organized. By the end of my visit though, I was emotionally exhausted, I think, because I skimmed through the last exhibition which showed the history of atomic bomb development, the testing done by countries around the world, and the movement that is in many instances lead by the Japanese to completely rid the world of this type of weaponry. I did stop to listen to the video interviews of ex-Soviet citizens who worked at the atomic test site near the city of Semipalatinsk. The Soviet Government the vast steppes of Kazakhstan to conduct its tests and thousands of people have suffered either from direct or indirect exposure to the radioactive materials released during the testing from 1949 to 1989. Similar video interviews from England, France, USA, and China also testified to the lengths to which governments go to assert their superiority to their friends and enemies. It's all incredibly disgusting and depressing, and I spent a bit of time walking around the neighborhood to clear my head before visiting the quiet space of the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.
The rest of the time in Nagasaki, I did a lot of walking and saw buildings built during before the Meiji Era, and Catholic churches, and Dutch slopes, and many many Chinese temples. I also spent a couple of nights walking around the Shianbashi area, which is the "entertainment" center of Nagasaki but both nights I found that I couldn't wait to leave the area as soon as I got there. I have been to many of these districts in several Japanese and Okinawan cities and I still don't understand the appeal. It felt slimy to me but there were tourists and couples everywhere seemingly enjoying walking around and looking at "snack bar" ladies and their touts standing in front of dark establishments with innocent sounding English names. I know it's not meant to be prostitution and I know that Japan has a long history of city quarters where geishas entertained, not far from Shiambashi, in fact is Nagasaki's historic "red light" district, but it still felt strange being there. Yet Nagasaki, outside of that area, and a big shopping mall near Deijima warf, doesn't seem to offer much in a way of evening entertainment. I did go to see a movie one night, which ended up being "Jumper" 'cause it was the only one playing after 9pm. It wasn't a terrible movie, mostly entertaining, but thoughtless and with a very thin plot.
But I've digressed. What I did want to mention about Nagasaki was that I encountered a lot of kindness from strangers in the way of help when i was lost, or though i was lost. The hosts at my hostel were also incredibly nice and helpful and if you plan on traveling to Nagasaki, I'd recommend Akari hostel. It's cheap and very centrally located.

So to recap--I am glad i went to Nagasaki and saw first hand the destruction caused by the atomic bomb and also learned a little bit about its pre-war history and met some really nice people and ate some really really good ramen!

This weekend is graduation. The 3rd and last one for me at Ogimi JHS. I met the kids graduating this Sunday when they were half way through their 1st grade, and I have gotten to know them pretty well. I've watched them grow as individuals but I also feel like I don't know them at all because there has always been the language barrier to prevent full understanding. But I think we have done well and I hope they have learned something from me, because they have taught me quite a bit.

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