Nagasaki’s Light and Shadow

Nagasaki has been a doorway to Japan since the arrival of Christian missionaries in the sixteenth century, and was the only place open to Western trade during the Edo period (1603–1868). In 1945, it gained an unwelcome fame when it became the second city to suffer an atomic bombing. This special feature examines the historic city.

Saint Francis Xavier and the Roots of Christianity in Japan

Arriving in Japan in 1549, Jesuit priest Francis Xavier played a key role in the early spread of Christianity in the country. His missionary work included preaching in Hirado in the northwest of present-day Nagasaki Prefecture, where Christianity took root most firmly and “hidden Christians” preserved the faith during centuries of prohibition. Today Hirado is home to numerous historic churches, testifying to the enduring influence of Spanish and Portuguese missionaries.

The Bells of Nagasaki Ring OnHarano Jōji

In the morning of August 9, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded in the sky 500 meters above Urakami Cathedral, which had stood in an area of Nagasaki occupied by Christian believers ever since the seventeenth century. Several dozen priests and worshippers who had been praying in the cathedral were killed instantaneously, and the building itself was destroyed. The explosion took the lives of many people in the nearby Nagasaki Medical College as well. For Nagai Takashi, who was working as a doctor in the college hospital and suffered radiation exposure and severe injuries in the bombing, it was the beginning of a struggle to record the tragedy for posterity.

A Glimpse of Nagasaki: 70 Years After the Atomic BombHarano Jōji

For centuries the port city of Nagasaki was a window for foreign trade, visited by ships from China, Korea, and countries as far away as Europe. At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, 374 years after the first Portuguese trader landed at its port, an atomic bomb detonated over the city, spreading death and destruction. Together with Hiroshima, Nagasaki stands as a “legacy of tragedy” and an invocation of peace.

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