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Japan's (and the world's) second (and so far last) city to be struck by an atomic bomb, namely on 9 August 1945, only three days after Hiroshima. Nagasaki may thus be second to Hiroshima, in terms of chronology and in public awareness (and conscience) of history. But it's no less tragic – in fact, in some ways Nagasaki was more tragic …
As a dark tourist you definitely shouldn't think of Nagasaki as secondary. Today's A-bomb related sights in Nagasaki are less numerous compared to Hiroshima but they're nevertheless a must. In both places the relevant museum is the top of the pick, and Nagasaki's complements Hiroshima's very well, even tops it in several respects. Together with Hiroshima, Nagasaki belongs to the world's darkest sites of them all (see lists, esp. Top-20 overall, Top-10 darkest)      

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: People associate atomic disaster first and foremost with Hiroshima, which was indeed the very first instance of such a tragedy. So it is sometimes overlooked that Nagasaki was in some sense even more tragic – and most definitely more controversial.
Even if you're prepared to accept the USA's justifications usually given for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, namely to shock Japan into quick surrender and thus avoiding an even bloodier invasion of the Japanese mainland (and at the same time sending a strategic signal to Stalin to keep the expansion of the post-WWII Soviet Union's sphere of influence at bay) ... the dropping of yet another such devastating bomb only three days after the first one is much harder to justify.
First: three days was hardly enough to give the Japanese leadership time to really comprehend what had happened in Hiroshima – what with the chaos of a war-torn country that had basically lost the war anyway, and with communication out of Hiroshima more or less completely cut off. Moreover, many argue that Japan was on the brink of surrender in any case, only looking for a somehow face-saving way out. So that even if Hiroshima was "necessary", Nagasaki certainly wasn't. Even high-ranking figureheads in the US military saw it that way, allegedly even including Eisenhower and MacArthur.
Some go much further and say Nagasaki was a blatant war crime and, even more so than Hiroshima, an act of "state terrorism" – after all, the goal was rather more psychological: to break the spirit of Japan's resistance and to spread terror (also on the part of the Soviets!), without any regard for civilian lives in the process. Militarily, both bombings were largely pointless – they were terror, making a political point by targeting not those in charge, but an innocent third party, a city's civilian population. After all, it wasn't the civilians' will that was to be broken, but that of the military leadership.
There are some who argue that Nagasaki was basically a sick "experiment" – there was this second bomb, it was of a different, more effective design, there were still potential targets and total air superiority, and so the bomb was simply used for the sake of it, just to "study" its effects, also in comparison with those at Hiroshima … This also means that the people killed in this "experiment" were thus "dehumanized".
Seen that way, Nagasaki (on top of Hiroshima) was indeed one of the worst crimes against humanity in world history. Even Leo Szilard, a major figure in the development of the the bomb in the Manhattan Project, argued that had it been Nazi Germany that had dropped the bomb, there wouldn't have been any hesitation in a) condemning it as a war crime, b) convicting those responsible at the trials at Nuremberg and c) having them hanged.
Of course, the counter-argument is that the one bomb on Hiroshima was indeed not enough to convince the Japanese leadership that they had to surrender unconditionally at once, and the second bomb was indeed needed to bring the message home. In fact, the Japanese military leadership did initially deny the significance of Hiroshima (or that it had indeed been an atomic bomb) and only after Nagasaki began to fear that the USA may have enough bombs to completely annihilate Japan. In actual fact, though, the Americans didn't. At the time there was no further bomb at all, although there were plans to deliver a couple more even as early as mid to late August.
Still, what if the Japanese had been given more time to realize what Hiroshima was, to let the warning and shock really sink in? Or what if the second bomb at least had been used only as a warning shot over uninhabited territory, just as a demonstration of strength? Would that perhaps have been enough to make them surrender? Or shouldn't there at least have been a clear warning (in time), so that the people could have got out? After Hiroshima, the cat was out of the bag anyway, as it were, so there was no more need to keep the existence of the A-bomb a secret. But who knows. In any case, it is clear that the A-bombing of Nagasaki stands as even more controversial than that of Hiroshima. And that's saying something!
All politics aside, Nagasaki was also in some ways more tragic than Hiroshima in that it wasn't even the intended target and had just been extremely unlucky. The target-list drafted in the months before had Kokura in second place after Hiroshima. So after the bombing of Hiroshima, Kokura became the primary target, with Nagasaki now the secondary one. And it was indeed Kokura that was the intended target for the second bomb that the bomber first headed for..
As with Hiroshima, which was unlucky to have been "blessed" with a fine clear summer morning on 6 August, there was a strict order by the military to drop the bomb only if visibility conditions were good. Weather forecasts for Japan had already brought the second mission forward from the 11th to the 9th of August. But when the B-29 ("Bockscar") carrying the second A-bomb, accompanied by only a single observation plane (a second one had missed the rendezvous), got near Kokura, they found the sky overcast. After circling over the target a few times, it was abandoned and the plane made a turn for Nagasaki.
Arriving there, they initially found a layer of cloud too, but then a sufficient break in the clouds appeared and so the bomb was dropped – even if about 2 miles (3 km) off the originally intended target area closer to the centre of town. So even though a larger part of the city escaped total destruction (partly protected by hills) it was still very "bad luck" for Nagasaki that it was hit at all.
And as if to add insult to injury, warning flyers in Japanese (telling of Hiroshima and urging people to get out of cities and give up fighting) were dropped over Japanese cities, including Nagasaki, apparently AFTER the 9th, i.e. after the event! Whether this was the result of botched propaganda logistics, or part of unrelated continued psychological warfare is not so clear. In any case, for the people in Nagasaki this must have felt incredibly cynical.
A few more technical and statistical details: the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was of a different design to that used on Hiroshima, namely it was a plutonium implosion type bomb, in which a small amount of the artificial element plutonium forms a subcritical core that is then compressed from all sides by a mantle of chemical explosives that, when set off, cause supercriticality in the core and thus trigger fission. This made for a very different look of the bomb, too, which was accordingly nicknamed "Fat Man". Unlike the untested design of the Hiroshima bomb, the Fat Man type was the type that was the first ever set off, namely at the "Trinity" test in New Mexico on 16 July 1945. This type was also safer to deploy and more efficient and indeed the blueprint for the first serial production nuclear weapons after WWII.
Both the Hiroshima bomb and the Nagasaki one were estimated to yield the equivalent of 20 kilotons of TNT, but the estimate was later reassessed: the Hiroshima bomb is now assumed to have had a yield of "only" 13-15 kilotons, whereas the Nagasaki bomb, detonated at 11:02 some 1500 feet (450m) above the ground, is estimated at 21 kilotons or even slightly more.
The devastation it caused on the ground was more or less of the same magnitude as that in Hiroshima, but since the Nagasaki bomb was dropped not on the city centre but on the Urakami suburb higher up in the river valley, the death toll was lower than that at Hiroshima It was still a horrific ca. 75,000 dead and at least as many injured (out of a total population at that time of ca. 240,000). An area of nearly two miles (3 km) around the hypocentre was completely destroyed. But parts of the city, further away from the hypocentre and partly sheltered by hills, escaped the inferno, including the historic southern parts of the city east of the harbour.
Also unlike Hiroshima, Nagasaki did have POWs – a branch of the Fukuoka POW camp used foreign inmates, including Australians, Dutch and also a few Britons, in the factories of the city. And many of these prisoners also became victims of the bomb.
Amongst the survivors the single most tragic but at the same time "luckiest" figure has to be Tsutomu Yamaguchi. This Nagasaki resident was on a business trip to Hiroshima when it was bombed on 6 August. He was about 2 miles (3 km) from the hypocentre at that moment. He survived, though badly injured, and made it back home to Nagasaki, where just as he was telling of his experiences three days earlier the second bomb went off, again at about 2 miles away, and again he survived. Yamaguchi, who died in January 2010 at the age of 93, was the only person officially recognized as a double hibakusha (A-bomb victim).  
What there is to see: The main dark attraction has to be the excellent Atomic Bomb Museum (with the Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims) – which is therefore given a separate entry here.
Around the museum there are several other A-bomb-related sights, in particular:
- Hypocenter Park (aka "prayer zone"). Just west of the museum down the hillside, the spot where the bomb's hypocentre was determined to have been, is marked by a black pillar set on a low mound. A stone box in front of the monument contains a list of all known victims. Around the monument seven concentric circles of white stones set in the pavement appear to emanate from the black monument in the centre – like the shock wave from the bomb's explosion.
- To the right of the hypocentre monument stands one original part of the front wall of Urakami cathedral which was largely destroyed in the blast just over 500 yards to the north-east of the centre. While the cathedral was later rebuilt (see below), this part of its original ruins was moved here to form part of the complex of monuments. To the east of this there's also a small area of ground left uncleared of the smashed bricks, roof tiles and other small pieces of rubble left after the bombing.
- Several monuments are dotted around the area between the Atomic Bomb Museum and Hypocenter Park, and a larger bronze statue of a mother holding a child, on a plinth with the inscription "1945 8.9. 11:02'" (the date and time of the bombing), stands just to the south-west of the hypocentre marker.
- The Peace Park (aka "zone of hope") around the Fountain of Peace, a short walk north of the Hypocenter Park (reached either along the narrow Shimonokawa River, then across a bridge and up some steps to enter from the eastern side of the centre of the Park – or from the bottom of the park near Matsuyama tram stop by the main road). Its main focal point is the huge Peace Statue – an imposing 33 foot (10m) bronze figure of a muscular man, half sitting, half kneeling, one arm stretched out horizontally to symbolize peace (so they say) and the other arm raised to the sky (to warn of nuclear weapons). It's an oddly un-Japanese sight of a more classical Greek or even socialist realist style. Not so few visitors describe it as downright "ugly".
Certainly interesting, if not always necessarily convincing artistically either, are the many other, smaller monuments dotted around the Park, including a series of monuments donated by specific countries, including the USA (!), China, Cuba, Portugal, etc. as well as a few countries that no longer exist as such, like the GDR and the USSR. The most striking monument, in my opinion, is the one contributed by Turkey: the silhouettes of a man and a woman holding hands, only the two figures silhouettes are "negatives" in that they are cut out of two large slabs of black stone, while only the lower arms and hands protruding out of those slabs to hold hands are "positives", i.e. also made from the black stone. It's an intriguing design …
- The remains of a wall and foundations of Urakami prison (all inmates and staff were killed in the bombing), marked by a text plaque, are also found right in the middle of the Peace Park.
- Just to the west of the Peace Park is the memorial vault for the unclaimed remains of the A-bomb victims.
All of these are within fairly easy walking distance of the museum. A bit further out are two more sites worth making your way to if you have the time:
- Urakami Cathedral – the original, the largest church in the East, was destroyed in the blast and part of the wall was later moved to the Hypocenter Park – see above – and a reconstruction of the ruined front facade is on display in the Atomic Bomb Museum. The cathedral itself was reconstructed in 1959, and remodelled in the 1980s to more closely resemble the original style. Outside, some remains from the original can be seen too, including fragments of one of the collapsed bell domes. One of the original bells survived and is still in use. To reach the cathedral proceed north of the Peace Park past the Peace Statue and then turn right to climb the hill towards the east, right again and you should see the distinctive red structure.
- The one-legged Torii gate – some 800 yards south of the Hypocenter Park and Atomic Bomb Museum, by the steps leading up to the Sanno Shrine. This used to be a regular two-legged Torii gate, damaged by the bomb's blast and deprived of one of its legs but still standing today. Behind it, in the grounds of the Sanno Shrine, giant camphor trees that were scorched by the bomb's explosion miraculously came back to life and are now revered as a natural monument of Nagasaki too
Apart from these, there are also a few other vestiges of the bombing, such as parts of damaged buildings such as the Shiroyama Elementary School, to the south of the hypocentre (past the sports centre and across Yanabashi bridge, and uphill). Or the shifted gatepost by the Medical University (up the hill to the south-east of the hypocentre, and south of Urakami Cathedral); the wall remains of a school building near Urakami Cathedral (just to the north); or the air-raid shelter of Yamasato Elementary School, with a plaque for those who perished here (north of the Peace Park). All of these are only worth seeking out if you have plenty of time, but are not quite as essential as the Museum and the Peace and Hypocenter Parks.
Location: Nagasaki lies on the west coast of Japan's southern main island Kyushu, ca. 190 miles (300km) south-west of Hiroshima and 600 miles (nearly 1000km) west of Tokyo.
Google maps locator:[32.75,129.87]
Access and costs: in the far south-west of Japan, but still fairly easy to reach; all outdoor sites are free, and the museum's admission fee is very cheap.
Details: Nagasaki is best reached by train: the Sanyo Shinkansen line (from Tokyo/Shinosaka via Hiroshima) ends at Fukuoka's Hakata station in the north of Kyushu. From there, regular rail services connect onwards to Nagasaki. Average total journey time from Hiroshima is 3½ to 4 hours. Coming from the south, e.g. from Kagoshima (see Sakurajima), first get the Kyushu Shinkansen line. Get out at Tosu, south of Hakata, and take a regular train to Nagasaki from there.
There are also domestic flights serving Nagasaki airport (e.g. from/to Tokyo or Okinawa), which however is far from the city on an artificial island to the north, adding about 45 minutes' extra journey time (by airport bus).    
As for getting around in Nagasaki: the A-bomb-related sites lie to the north of the city centre, so you need to hop on a tram to get there. It really is a bit out of sensible walking distance from the centre. But the good news is that Nagasaki's tram system is one of the easiest you could imagine and quite fun too: one of the lines to get is the blue line No. 1, from the centre e.g. Dejima or Tsukimachi. Or from further north of the centre (e.g. Kokaido-mae) you can get the red line No. 3. Both pass Nagasaki train station. Get out at Hamaguchimachi for the Atomic Bomb Museum or at Matsuyamamachi for the Peace Park. The trams are easy to use: you just hop on through the back or side doors, then on exiting the tram, through the front door, just drop 120 yen in the box by the driver's cab – it’s a flat fare for any single journey, regardless of how many stops.
The Peace Park, hypocentre and the other outdoor sites are all freely accessible. Steep slopes and many steps make wheelchair access all but impossible, though, even though the Park areas themselves are more or less flat.
Accommodation in Nagasaki covers the full range from budget to top-end hotels (and also some traditional ryokan right in the city, e.g. the "Sakamotoya"); one hotel is located directly adjacent to the dark sites: the aptly named Parkside Hotel. Staying closer to the centre is, however, nicer for the evenings.
Time required: both the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Hypocenter & Peace Parks can be done in a single day. But if you want to see the few bits slightly further out, you need to factor in extra walking time and you may want to spread it over two days. The city warrants a longer stay in any case. (A "short afternoon" as some guidebooks suggest, is certainly not enough for Nagasaki's dark sites, less so for the city in general.)
Combinations with other dark destinations: most dark tourists in Japan are likely to add Nagasaki on to a visit to Hiroshima beforehand (probably after first having arrived in Japan's capital Tokyo as a starting point, where that city's own dark sites can be taken in as well). And it does make sense in that order, not just for historical reasons.
For those who want to plough on further to the south and east of Kyushu, there's the Kamikaze Museum at Chiran, best reached from Kagoshima, where that city's Sakurajima volcano adds a dramatic backdrop and a dark(ish) destination of its own too. Further inland Mt Aso is another volcanic experience that can be very rewarding.
From Nagasaki's airport there are domestic flights to Okinawa, which after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is the third most worthwhile destination for the dark tourist in the whole of Japan.
A dark site of sorts, but demonstrably a dangerous one, that is quite near Nagasaki is Mt Unzen – another active volcano, where in 1991 over 40 scientists were killed by a pyroclastic flow (which had been seriously underestimated), including the famous French volcanologists couple Katia and Maurice Krafft.
Furthermore, you can now take boat excursions directly from Nagasaki harbour that cruise to the famed industrial ghost town island of Hashima.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: in general see Japan – Nagasaki is a fabulous city in its own right, it's not without reason that it is often regarded as the most pleasant place in the whole of Japan. This is partly due to its scenic setting in between steep hills and opening onto a narrow bay/estuary, partly it’s the cosmopolitan, multicultural feel – which has historic reasons: there were early links with Portuguese traders who established a port here in the 16th century, later Dutch, English and Chinese influence added to the influx from the outside world, which was in a small part even kept alive during Japan's isolation period. Today, this European (and Chinese) heritage is heavily marketed for Japanese domestic tourism (including several culinary specialities that have come out of these multicultural influences).
For Western tourists it's a pleasant surprise to experience a Japanese city that does not only consist of modern glass-and-concrete boxes with neon advertising, but to come across almost colonial architectural styles and narrow cobbled streets meandering up pleasant wooded parks – esp. concentrated on Glover Hill at the southern end of central Nagasaki.
Thanks to its Western, esp. catholic, influence Nagasaki is also a city of churches. Urakami cathedral is only one (the largest) of them. The most famous other one to note is old Oura Church in Glover Gardens. From the top of the Mt Inasa ropeway (cable car) there's a great view over the city and the valley. All the way to the north-east you can make out Urakami Cathedral beyond the A-bomb hypocentre – i.e. you'd be overlooking the area across which the worst of the devastation was caused by the bomb … hard to imagine, seeing the rebuilt pleasant city that Nagasaki is today.
  • Nagasaki Glover HillNagasaki Glover Hill
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 1 - hypocentreNagasaki Peace Park 1 - hypocentre
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 2 - Urakami Cathedral relicNagasaki Peace Park 2 - Urakami Cathedral relic
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 3 - Peace StatueNagasaki Peace Park 3 - Peace Statue
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 4 - monumentNagasaki Peace Park 4 - monument
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 5 - monument by the museumNagasaki Peace Park 5 - monument by the museum
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 6 - Turkish monumentNagasaki Peace Park 6 - Turkish monument
  • Nagasaki Peace Park 7 - prison foundationsNagasaki Peace Park 7 - prison foundations
  • Nagasaki Spectacles BridgeNagasaki Spectacles Bridge
  • Nagasaki wooden old Dutch quarter buildingNagasaki wooden old Dutch quarter building


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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