Paper Birds: Nagasaki

An Italian tourist we met on the boat ride to Gunkanjima in Nagasaki asked, “I came here for the bomb, but do you know how far away from here that happened? I haven’t seen anything about it.” Having just arrived a few hours before, at that point I had no sufficient answer to his question. Admittedly, I can’t say that I came to Nagasaki with the Peace Park or the Atomic Bomb Museum particularly in mind. But after visiting the peace monuments, I can see why people, who prior to their stay knew of Nagasaki only from its wartime past, would be surprised by the lack of publicity.

This is not to say that Hiroshima, which was the first and arguably more famous target of an atomic bomb, advertises its Peace Park to bring in tourists. Because industry in Hiroshima was never restored to a semblance of its prewar prominence, tourism is more important to the city’s revenues than ever before. To that end, JR West (a regional wing of Japan’s largest national train company) and its subsidiary travel agencies plaster pictures of scenic island destination Miyajima – a short train ride and ferry away from the first hypocenter – in advertisements on its rail cars. But even in spite of local reluctance to use the bomb as a source of revenue, during my stay in Hiroshima I could pick up any number of tourist pamphlets and find the scenery of the Peace Park and the stories of the Children’s Museum shown in detail. Visitors to the museum are even given a postcard upon exiting and completing a survey on their experience. Signs indicating the direction of the park for tourists were even posted several kilometers away from the entrances. Not to mention that many smaller memorials with chains of paper cranes and water bottles were displayed throughout the city center.


Why and how is the presentation of this shared history different in Nagasaki? Without delving into the discussion of why Hiroshima is more often the focus of discourse centered on nuclear weapons (esp. in film and literature), I think part of the answer lies in the fact that Nagasaki has a longer and more international popular history. In other words, the bomb is not as singular a point in time as it is for Hiroshima. The Nagasaki museum, peace park, and memorial occupy a fairly compact space centered around the hypocenter of the bomb – marked by a black marble pillar, cenotaph, and the remaining wall of the destroyed Urakami Cathedral. Sculptures donated by representatives from about 20 countries line the path leading up to the iconic Peace Statue. The donating countries include both belligerents and neutral parties of the war. Perhaps for Nagasaki, because it has always been looking westward, the bomb is viewed more as part of an international history rather than a uniquely Japanese history. No posters could be seen in the area in support of the anti-nuclear power campaign in force throughout the country (in Kyoto as well). For these two cities the tragedy may be the same, but the dialogue is different.


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