Nagasaki, Japan. What do those words mean to you? Destruction? Nuclear devastation? Wasteland? During my boomer childhood, schoolbooks taught about the powers of the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to end World War II. In the Cold War aftermath, I remember elementary school emergency drills where I crouched against the cold, concrete walls in the hallway, one arm across my eyes, the other protecting my head as if that was any safeguard against a nuclear blast that would destroy everything for eons. Or so I was taught.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t given Nagasaki much thought through the years, or kept up with the community’s recovery. When I read that Nagasaki would be a port on our Vancouver to Singapore itinerary with Regent Seven Seas Mariner, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get off the ship. Right or wrong, my country dropped an atomic bomb on the city. I still equated it to a wasteland. Why would I want to visit? And why would the citizens welcome Americans?
On the morning that we sailed into the Nagasaki harbor, a green, mountainous landscape appeared in my balcony window. Stepping outside, I looked for signs of devastation ― a denuded forest ― land that had not come back to life ― I didn’t see any.
Soon, Alan and I were riding on a bus through a bustling harbor area on a Regent excursion to the Peace Park, followed by a visit to the Atomic Museum. In the park, a giant statue pointed to a bomb falling from the sky with one arm, while pointing to the earth with the other. Origami crane flags, symbols of peace, hung in a kiosk. Sidewalks were lined with statues inscribed with words of solace and wishes for peace, gifts from countries throughout the world. The scene ended at a dove-shaped fountain.
At the Atomic Museum, winding ramps led downstairs into the actual display. It felt as if we were descending into the very bowels of the earth or was it really hell? In a darkened room, sirens wailed and residents reached out from smoking rubble. All that was missing was the stench of death.
Other galleries contained photos and personal items recovered from the debris. Japanese, Americans and other nationalities, stood shoulder to shoulder observing the lessons of history.
When the tour ended, our guide offered to lead those of us who were interested across the street to the obelisk that marked ground zero. Tourists took turns standing in front of the granite column smiling for the camera but I couldn’t do it. How could I smile in front of a place that marked such devastation?
I’m glad I got off the ship for our excursion to Nagasaki Peace Park to discover a city that is alive and well with citizens who were polite and welcoming.