Nagasaki: The History We Should Never Forget

  • This year marked the 70th anniversary of the time when two atomic bombs were dropped onto Japanese soil, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and military personnel. Much attention is paid to Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped. Hiroshima has become a beacon for peace and the disarmament of nuclear weapons across the world. Here is the peace park where the names of those killed are enshrined for all time. However, less attention is paid to the people and history of Nagasaki, where the second bomb fell days after Hiroshima was laid to waste.

    The history of Nagasaki


    Nagasaki lies on the edge of a peninsula in southern Japan which was originally of little consideration. Portuguese ships started sailing to this region of Japan in 1543 and so trade bloomed in Nagasaki. The Portuguese became an intermediary between Japan and China and trade started blossoming making Nagasaki an official city. Thanks to the trade in this area Tempura was developed and is now a staple of the Japanese diet. Through the conversion of the damiyo in the 1500’s Nagasaki became a refuge for Christians escaping punishment across Japan. Nagasaki was strongly influenced by the culture and practises of the Western world and of the rest of Asia, this can be seen in the architecture and history of the area. When industrialisation hit Japan during the Meiji Restoration Nagasaki became a place of heavy industry and home to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Nagasaki was the home of ship-building and also used as a dock and harbour for the Japanese Navy.

    World War II


    Due to the industry in Nagasaki it became a target of bombing by allied forces during World War II. Not only was Nagasaki home to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries but also the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms works, Akunoura Engine works and Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance works. Therefore Nagasaki was central to war efforts in Japan, building their ships and submarines, as well as ordnance. In the months preceding the dropping of the atomic bomb, Nagasaki was hit by over 136 US planes and over 270 tonnes of explosives. These attacks meant that the vulnerable people of Nagasaki, namely their children, were evacuated from the city to more rural areas. The previous bombings of Nagasaki had not caused much damage to their productions and so was still functional. However, Nagasaki was not the number one target of US air strikes. On the 9th of August 1945 Bockstar carrying a plutonium bomb called Fat Man left on a raid to drop the atomic bomb on Kokura. When Bockstar reached Kokura, the city was obscured from the sky by clouds and smoke thanks to a firebombing of a nearby city of the previous day. This stroke of luck for Kokura meant that Bockstar went on to their secondary target, Nagasaki. At 11:02 am Bockstar released Fat Boy which detonated above Nagasaki killing around 80,000 people.



    The restoration of Nagasaki was slow as new pacifism laws and the Nagasaki International Culture City Reconstruction Law meant that the wartime purpose of Nagasaki was to be replaced. Instead of being the centre for battleship production Nagasaki became once again a city of international trade and fishing. Some areas of Nagasaki became radically changed from how they were before that fateful day. The iconic view of a one-legged torii at Sanno Shrine was left as a reminder of the destruction. A museum was erected to remember this atrocity and to strive for peace.



    Nagasaki is a thriving port town to this day and has some very individual sites to see. Thanks to the hundreds of years of open trade, the influence of foreign cultures can be seen today on the shores of Nagasaki. Along with traditional Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, Nagasaki has a lot to offer. Thanks to the history of Nagasaki as tolerant and accepting towards Christianity, Nagasaki holds Japan’s most famous Christian church. There is also a thriving Chinatown to visit and experience, thanks to the more open trade with China. You can even visit a Shrine solely dedicated to Confucius, in a design reminiscent of Chinese architecture. The number one place to visit in Nagasaki is the eerie Gunkanjima. Once home to 5000 workers and families, Gunkanjima is now a ghost island. The original island, Hashima, was found to be rich in coal in 1810 and mining began soon after. The island not only offered industry but had schools, shops and places for worship. Mining ceased in 1974 which meant that the residents had to leave the island. Since then Gunkanjima has been a victim to nature, battered by typhoons and strong sea winds. Today you can take a boat ride around the island and even dock to explore by foot.


    Although less famous than Hiroshima, Nagasaki still suffered terribly from the effects of the plutonium bomb denoted above it. Nagasaki was rebuilt and now thrives as the port town it has been for hundreds of years, a port town hoping for peace.

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    1. Roderick Wols says:

      Great article, beautiful photographs. But didn’t you forget to mention that Nagasaki for 212 years (1641-1853) was the only city in Japan where international trade was allowed via the Chinese and via the Dutch trading Post on Dejima? And that Rangaku, Western studies, started in Nagasaki?

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