NAGASAKI, Japan — Cicadas hum furiously from the branches of a grove of cherry trees in a small, simple park that marks The Spot. About 1,800 feet overhead, on a hot morning like this one 44 summers ago, history visited Nagasaki with a horrific flash and a boom.
The decades have passed, but Nagasaki still struggles to remember, to forget and to get on with life.
Hypocenter Park is characteristic of the city's ambivalence about its past. A casual visitor might stroll the length of it without noticing a sleek, black monolith at Ground Zero, or see a nearby corner littered with an odd assortment of nuclear junk. Signs identify the debris: a warped water tank from Keiho Middle School, a mangled I-beam from Mitsubishi Steel Works, a ruined wall from Urakami Catholic Cathedral.
The tale is familiar. Three days after the first atomic weapon was detonated over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped a second nuclear device, a 22-kiloton plutonium bomb irreverently named "Fat Man," on Nagasaki, taking more than 70,000 lives and hastening Japan's surrender in World War II.
But the story of the atomic legacy left to the city of Nagasaki is more difficult to grasp. Compared to Hiroshima, where twice as many people were killed, Nagasaki's martyrdom is pensive and melancholy. Hiroshima has for years boldly promoted itself as an international peace capital, and in the process spawned what might be called "nuclear tourism," drawing more than 100,000 foreign visitors each year to its sprawling, elaborate Peace Memorial Park and museum complex.
Nagasaki has followed suit, but somewhat reluctantly and on a smaller scale. Japan's foremost Christian city, by dint of its association with Portuguese traders and Roman Catholic missionaries in the late 16th Century, it has been far less strident in its anti-nuclear appeal. People in this city like to cite the aphorism: "Hiroshima in anger, Nagasaki in prayer."
Indeed, while Hiroshima is in the midst of a highly publicized campaign to raise $1.5 million in donations to repair and maintain its signature "atomic dome" ruins, Nagasaki is tearing down what remains of the scattered public school buildings that survived the blast. Ostensibly, this is for safety reasons, but many of the city's 450,000 citizens would seemingly just as soon let go of the burden of history.
"Except for a few old people who survived it, nobody in Nagasaki really cares about the atomic bomb," said Tokio Kankeko, 40, proprietor of a coffeehouse near the city's Chinatown district. "People want to forget."
Favors the Wrecking Ball
Hirotake Ejima, 47, a local salaried worker, said he considers the bomb a vital part of history but still favors the wrecking ball for the old school buildings identified with the bombing.
"There's no denying what happened, but we should move forward with life," Ejima said. "We're all for peace, but if you cling to the past, it's only going to deepen the wounds."
For some, however, the wounds never will heal. Kazuko Nagase, 51, was 7 when she was stunned by a burst of yellow light and saw her wooden house come tumbling down on top of her. She escaped serious injury and was spared the searing burns that disfigured many \o7 hibakusha\f7 , or atomic bomb victims. But she has suffered from kidney ailments and other symptoms of radiation sickness. Acute exhaustion has made it impossible for her to work.
"Today's fatigue carries through until tomorrow, no matter how well I sleep at night," said Nagase, a tiny, stooped women with bow legs who for the last 14 years has lived in a special home for \o7 hibakusha \f7 run by an order of Catholic nuns. "I think of the atomic bomb every day. If that hadn't happened, I wouldn't be living like this. I've been waiting more than 40 years to get back to normal again."
Distressed Over Plans
Nagase is distressed that city officials are considering demolition of the elementary school she attended before the bombing, whose crumpled shell of reinforced concrete was repaired after the war and made serviceable.
"If they take it down now, we'll lose an important thread," Nagase said. "There won't be anything to teach the children about the bomb. I hope they'll keep it, at least until I die."
Altogether, more than 300,000 people are believed to have lived through the conflagration and radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though thousands are dying each year. The survivors' vivid accounts of death, chaos and panic dominate remembrances each August, when Japan goes through a ritual of re-examining the ghosts of World War II.
As the victims' wounds are symbolically reopened, appeals for global disarmament are renewed. The country's splintered--and extremely politicized--peace movement moves into high gear at this time every year, with rival conferences and incessant resolutions.
Complaints from Foreigners