Nagasaki is an interesting place.
With its coastline, mountain scenery, volumes of impressive statues, temples, parks and museums, it is undoubtedly a great place to spend a day.
However, spending time on nights out with other westerners and even Japanese people, it is clear that Nagasaki is the Japanese equivalent of the English westcountry, or the American Deep South. Here, even other Japanese are foreigners. Nagasaki is a local town for local people, and I believed it. On top of everyone telling me, I really felt like a stranger here when I boarded buses and trains.
Nobody was openly hostile or anything, this is still Japan after all. People are helpful and polite everywhere. Here, though, it felt a little forced. I could never imagine living here.
That said, spending a day starting at one end of the city and walking to the other, there was plenty to see and enjoy.
The Chinese museum and shrine was full of fascinating information about the country just a short flight from where I am (which I regularly had to explain to people back home is not the same country as Japan). Seeing the subtle differences between this Chinese example of a Buddhist temple and the Japanese ones, with their strange amalgamated religions, was fascinating.
Near there was the Hollander Hill, a strange road of crossbred Western and Japanese buildings from the very beginnings of international relations. Just over the road was the Peace Museum, a slightly cynical gift shop of stuff from around the world situated where people get off the ferry.
Continuing along, past lovely waterfront views and multitudes of shopping malls, I came to the meat and potatoes of Nagasaki’s tourism, the Atomic Bomb museum and Peace Park.
After Hiroshima’s similar, though subtle and understated, examples, Nagasaki’s felt like it was laying on the drama much thicker.
On the basement levels, entire remains of buildings and structures have been moved or recreated on a virtual bombed street. I put on 3D glasses to be given a virtual tour of the hypocentre after the blast.
Where Hiroshima had dedicated one green island to a museum and park, Nagasaki has left ruins and signage and statues all over town. Where Hiroshima feels like a place dedicated to a mission of peace and moving forward positively from its tragic past, Nagasaki feels accusatory and obsessed. Where Hiroshima seemed to be prospering and leaving history behind, Nagasaki felt bitter and stunted by it.
I can’t tell anyone how to deal with past trauma, let alone a whole city and culture. I feel rage and sorrow and fear regarding atomic weapons and humanity’s continued insane construction of them, and I’m not close to having a real familial connection with their use. That said, the impression I got from spending time in both places and from all the locals I spoke to is that Hiroshima is a much healthier town in 2018 than Nagasaki is.
Finally, I came to Urakami Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in Asia, which I had to photograph if only for my grandmother’s sake. I made it a goal to return here Sunday and experience the Japanese version of Mass.
Then Saturday night happened.