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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nagasaki 60 Years After The Bomb

長崎 - 原子爆弾

Nagasaki Peace Memorial

It is 60 years to the day that Nagasaki was struck by the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan by the Allies in 1945. Around 70,000 people lost their lives as an immediate result of the devastation and a further 70,000 fell victim to subsequent radioactivity related illnesses.
In 1550 the first Portuguese ship arrived in Nagasaki Harbor. In 1571, the Japanese government opened up the port of Nagasaki to foreign trade to the Dutch and, to a lesser degree, Chinese merchants. The foreign traders were confined to tiny Dejima Island. For more than 200 years this was Japan’s only contact with the outside world. What remains of the city’s experience with outsiders can be found in Chinatown, a reconstructed Dejima, castella (pound cake) and the longer noses Nagasaki residents have supposedly been saddled with thanks to their Dutch genes.
I had the pleasure of seeing Puccini’s opera ‘Madame Butterfly’ at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan hall last Saturday. The opera being staged when it was had an extra layer of meaning, the town where Madame Butterfly is set being Nagasaki. Of any city in Japan Nagasaki was most likely to be visited by an American sailor as Nagasaki was, until Japan opened up in1869, the sole window into the country on the rest of the world. How ironic then that Japan's first gateway to the outside world and for long its most international city ended up as a target – mainly thanks to the primary planned target, the city of Kokura, being totally covered in cloud that day. A small break in the clouds over Nagasaki as the pilot was about to give up and go back to base spelt Nagasaki’s doom.
Starring the Bugarian prima donna Doina Dimitriu and a sparse but lush modern set by a prominent Japanese designer, Madame Butterfly was a heart stirring two hours of meticulously and boldly staged spectacle. Premiered in 1905, the story is about an American playboy of a sailor who marries the exquisite but poor Madam Butterfly (or ‘Cho-cho san’ – chocho meaning butterfly in Japanese) of Nagasaki. He returns to sea saying he will return and all but forgets her. Meanwhile she and their son born since his departure wait his return, she disdaining all advice to forget him, passionately believing he will return. He does eventually return, but with an American wife, to take the child. The distraught and utterly bereft Butterfly kills herself. The bay has been immortalized by the divine aria ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ sung by a longing Madame Butterfly as she scans the horizon, yet again, and again, for any sign of her beloved’s warship describing in detail how one fine day he will sail into the harbor and come up the hill.

Time has healed Nagasaki, and it is as beautiful a harbor as any in Japan, surrounded by hills and dotted with boats. The heartbreak of history is almost over as survivors of its wartime tragedy dwindle. Not only does it retain the charm of history and the beauty of its setting, as a focus of peace it reaches out in hope to the future.


Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

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