Japan from the inside out

The ninth of August in Nagasaki

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 9, 2007

NAGASAKI IS A CHARMING AND ATTRACTIVE CITY. I’ve been there several times over the past 20 years—one of my brothers-in-law lives in the bedroom community of Isahaya. With a population of 447,000, it has all the appeal of an urban area without the disadvantages of a crowded metropolis. If San Francisco could be described as convex because of its sharply rising hills in the districts downtown, then Nagasaki could be described as concave, because it lies at the bottom of a basin-like area. Regardless of the direction of the curves, both cities have steep hillsides that can make it difficult to maintain one’s balance when walking.


Tourists love Nagasaki. There are several sites providing excellent views overlooking the city, particularly from Glover Garden and another that is accessible by ropeway up the side of a mountain. As in some San Francisco neighborhoods, parts of the city have an ambience that makes one think the date is 1927 instead of 2007. Both have a Chinatown district, though Nagasaki’s is much smaller. (And the food isn’t quite as good.) Decades-old streetcars are still used for public transportation on cobblestone streets downtown. The authorities are in the process of restoring Dejima, a former artificial island built during the Edo period that was once the only place in Japan where foreigners could legally reside and was Japan’s sole connection to the West for trade and cultural exchange. (It’s no longer an island—Nagasaki Harbor was later rebuilt and Dejima was then connected to the city by landfill.) If my wife suggested we move to Nagasaki—and she just might—I’d immediately agree.

As pleasant and appealing as it is today, however, you wouldn’t have wanted to be there 62 years ago on August 9, particularly at 11:02 a.m., when the second atomic bomb fell.

What was it like to be in Nagasaki that day? The Nagasaki Broadcasting Co., or NBC, (a small regional TV and radio network), has placed translated excerpts of interviews with survivors on their website. Here’s just a sample.

“…we made our way through the ruins to the site of our house, only to find a man from the neighborhood, Mr. Matsumoto, lying dead at a gateway. His eyeballs were hanging out, and his tongue was stretching from his mouth. His presence here indicated that we had found the approximate location of our house. In front of the entrance we found a corpse under the broken remains of a cart. When we turned the corpse over, we recognized the face of our sister, which alone had escaped the flash of heat. Her body was so thoroughly burned that her black flesh crumbled at the slightest touch…”


“As my own wounds were on my head, from the face to the neck, and upper body, I had many layers of bandages that had to be changed over and over. The pain I had when they would peel off two or three layers was so great that I couldn’t think straight. By the time they came to wrapping on the new bandages, I had lost all my strength and felt like an empty shell. For about two hours I would be screaming because it was so painful, and then it would be time for another treatment. This was repeated over and over again. The gauze had been soaked in Lybanol and when it dried it would shrink up, forcing the burnt flesh up through the holes in the mesh.
“The treatment from the nurses at the naval hospital was rough. They would grab the edge of the gauze with tweezers and rip it right off, causing so much pain that I cried out, ‘Just kill me!’ over and over. Just hearing the call ‘Treatment!’ was enough to start some of the patients crying. If there were some way that experience could be replayed, exactly as it was and without hiding anything, I would really like everyone to see what it was like.”


“As time passed my burned flesh began to rot and fall away. I was lying on my front, so the flesh fell down at my sides and piled up there. Every day they had to come time and time again to clean that up. I think I suffered a lot more of this loss of flesh than the others. When you get a serious wound like the one I had, you would usually expect insects to gather. But at the worst stage, not even flies would come near me. My body smelled of burns and rot. Even now I can still recall that smell; it is always in the back of my mind. Every day I called out in pain and agony for someone to kill me…”

Whether you want to ban the bomb or think the type of weapon used isn’t the problem…whether you think the decision to drop the bomb was entirely justified or driven by racism…if you’re one of those people who thinks Japan didn’t learn anything from the war…and especially if you’re from China and South Korea…

You owe it to yourself to read these stories.

5 Responses to “The ninth of August in Nagasaki”

  1. Garrett said

    Uhm. . .
    62 years ago.

    Since you have it down to the minute and all, 62 wouldn’t seem excessively precise.

  2. […] On the 62nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many bloggers found themselves this week reflecting on the history of how World War Two came to a close, on the way that this history is viewed and taught within their own country, and on the connections between this history and current events. In the United States, a new uncensored HBO documentary, which features testimonial from survivors of the bombing (hibakusha), promises to re-open debate on the motivations for use of the atomic bomb; the anniversary was the topic of discussion in other English-language media shows in as well. Meanwhile, in Japan, the Nagasaki Broadcasting Company has posted translated interviews with survivors of the atomic bombing, interviews which, as one blogger has noted, everyone owes itself to themself to read. […]

  3. […] 広島・長崎への原爆投下から62周年のこの日、第二次世界大戦がどのように終わりをむかえたかという歴史と、この歴史が自身の国でどのように見られ教えられているのか、そしてこの歴史と現在のできごととのつながりについて、今週、多くのブロガーが考えをめぐらせた。アメリカでは、被爆者の体験談を集めた検閲がされていない新しいHBOのドキュメンタリーによって、原爆を使用した動機ついての議論が再び起きそうだ。他の英語メディアの番組でも、記念日についてのトピックが取り上げられたl。一方、日本では、長崎放送が原爆の生存者とのインタビューを翻訳したものを掲載している。このインタビューについて、あるブロガーは、 すべての人が読むべきだと書いている。 […]

  4. We stumbled over here coming from a different web address and thought I may as well check things out.

    I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to going over your web page for a second time.

  5. AFB said

    RIP Ampontan

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