At 11:02 a.m., August 9, 1945, 500 meters removed from the surface of the land, a fire erupted in the sky above Nagasaki. 73,884 people passed through that light into death. 18,409 homes were wholly consumed by the fire. 6.7 million square meters of land became at once eerily flat, and the wind whipped the ash about the grey plain. What trees remained were bent and bare.

Because much of the housing in Japanese society was constructed of wood, one might have assumed, at first, that the storm of ash was merely the smoke of the fires of the burning field that Nagasaki had become; but one had not far to walk before one stumbled upon, perhaps, a child, laying on the ground with her hands on her throat, and no longer consisting of flesh and bone, but rather a ghost, and reduced entirely to an ash that some merciful wind would soon carry away. This sort of dead held its form until some living being stumbled upon it and listened to its pain, and only then would it submit to the wind and pass into the next world, with its burning, indignant question.

Some ghosts were more stubborn than others, and they would remain long after that sad wind had tugged away and scattered their ashes. Singed into the land and into the rock were the standing images of these obstinate dead, who would not disappear as they were told, so that their dark features glowered with an unbecoming permanence, scarring the earth. Or perhaps these were only the shadows of those quick-gone dead, and forgotten for haste.

For days, weeks, months, and years, people continued to die. One conservative end figure places the estimate around 200,000. Children were born malformed, "genetic problems" were rampant, and many people became infertile. Nagasaki had been the site of two arms factories, a steel works, a torpedo factory, the "massive" Mitsubishi shipyards, and it had been the home of tens of thousands of children.

"A bright light filled the plane," wrote Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. "We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud...boiling up, mushrooming." For a moment, no one spoke. Then everyone was talking. "Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!" exclaimed the co-pilot, Robert Lewis, pounding on Tibbets's shoulder. Lewis said he could taste atomic fission; it tasted like lead. Then he turned away to write in his journal. "My God," he asked himself, "what have we done?"

Nagasaki was bombed 3 days later.


Nagasaki (lit. "Cape Long") is a rather small prefecture on the island of Kyushu in western Japan, with a population of 1.6 million spread across the Nishisonogi Peninsula, Shimabara Peninsula, and Kitamatsuura Peninsula. Its two largest cities are Nagasaki (430,000) and Sasebo (245,000), the latter of which is a major overseas base of the United States Navy.

The city of Nagasaki is well isolated from the rest of Japan, lying on a peninsula of a peninsula that juts out from the west coast of Kyushu. For most of Japanese history, Nagasaki was a hole in the wall fishing village that supplied the daimyo of the Hizen fief with his sushi.

Then came a certain fellow named Francis Xavier, and an influx of trade between Japan and the Catholic world. The daimyo of Hizen, Omura Sumitada, decided to make Nagasaki the official port for Kyushu's trade with Portugal in 1571, figuring that its isolation from the rest of the country would help keep the Christians at bay.

What actually happened was that Nagasaki morphed from a sleepy little fishing town to a sprawling Catholic enclave, and the de facto headquarters of the Church in Japan. In 1587, Christianity was officially banned, but the Christians didn't leave as quickly as many of Japan's leaders had hoped. The last stand of Catholicism in Japan came in 1638, when a rebellion of Christians in Shimabara came to a bloody halt in the form of 30,000 executions. Japan was subsequently closed to the public, and its foreign trade was confined to a tiny island in Nagasaki Bay called Deshima, where ships from the Netherlands were allowed to dock in limited numbers. The bakufu of the Tokugawa family appointed governors to rule the city independently of the daimyo of Hizen in Karatsu.

During the next 200 years of the Edo period, Nagasaki was Japan's window on the world. From the Dutch, the Japanese kept somewhat up to date on medicine, artillery, and certain other fields that became collectively known as "Dutch studies." At the same time, Dutch sailors recorded their views of Japan, which slowly trickled back to the West and caught the attention of readers across Europe and America. The most famous of these early Japanologists was Philip Franz von Siebold, who founded the Narutaki Juku school.

After Japan was forcibly re-opened in 1853, Nagasaki again became a major international port, largely because of its proximity to Shanghai and other European ports in East Asia. Christianity was reborn there with the influx of European and American traders, and the Russian navy's Pacific fleet began migrating to Nagasaki during the winter, when Vladivostok became inaccessible. Eventually, however, ships began docking at Yokohama, Kobe, and Fukuoka more often than they docked at Nagasaki: by the turn of the century, Nagasaki was primarily a shipbuilding city.

The factories of Nagasaki made many warships until August 9, 1945, and continue to make many ships of peace today.

Nagasaki's biggest tourist draw, besides the eternal gloom of being the second victim of nuclear war, is its cathedrals and Western-style mansions and dockhouses, many of which were rebuilt after being vaporized by the bomb. The 1600's-vintage Sofukuji temple is also a popular destination.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.