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  • Writer's pictureDonna Zabel

Sobering Similarities--Visiting Nagasaki on September 11

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Being in Nagasaki on September 11 was a coincidence of scheduling. Still, knowing I would spend the day visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park in Nagasaki lent an extra bit of unsettling atmosphere to an already uncomfortably hot and humid day.

Americans know September 11, 2001 as the date we were attacked and thousands died. Japanese know August 9, 1945 when a plutonium bomb was dropped on the unsuspecting citizens of Nagasaki and tens of thousands died. Nagasaki wasn’t even the initial target—bad weather forced deviation from Kokura, an industrial complex. Instead, this city of rolling hills was leveled. The force of the blast obliterated everything within two and a half miles, leaving no partial ruins as there are in Hiroshima. What the initial blast did not destroy, the resulting fires did. 75,000 were immediately killed, an equal number injured, many later dying from the effects of radiation exposure.

Ground Zero is marked by a small, almost nondescript black pillar. The area is flanked by the two important sites—the Peace Park and the museum. A path through the Peace Park is dotted with monuments and sculptures from many countries, centered by a towering statue of a seated godlike man. His right arm stretches to the sky symbolizing the threat of nuclear weapons, his left out to the side symbolizing peace. Symbols of Eastern and Western art and religion are included throughout the statue.

The Atomic Bomb Museum is not a museum to war—the war is implicit. Obviously without the war there would not have been an bomb. Instead the museum describes in disturbing details the effects of the bomb on citizens. The photos and video clips seem endless, room after room. There is a detailed explanation of how a plutonium bomb is created, and how it explodes with such force. The last area is a long room with a historical timeline tracing the developments of science and technology beginning with early experiments and correlated with a chart of above and below ground nuclear tests.

Strikingly absent is any reference to war, to aggression by any country. The message is clear—this must never happen again. Not to anyone, regardless of ideology or politics.

On this very warm Wednesday the museum was filled with both tourists and many school children scribbling away in notebooks, perhaps on a field trip or school assignment. I wondered what lessons they were taking home from the troubling and disturbing exhibits.

The weather outside was miserably hot and uncomfortable, making our tram rides back seem much longer than they were. We returned to refreshing ice cream and an air-conditioned cruise ship cabin. There was nothing to return to in 1945 Nagasaki.


· Trams are the easiest way to get around. Buy a pass for convenience.

· If arriving by ship, try to allow a little time to explore the Glover Garden area next to the port. You might even find the vendor selling delicious home-made ice cream from his pushcart.

· Visiting the Peace Park and Museum takes time. Allow several hours to see everything.

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