Blog City

Nagasaki

The Atomic Bomb

Then and Now Photos

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The air raid shelters at Yamazato Primary School today. The colourful collections of origami on the right are present at all the atomic bomb memorials. A nearby plaque included a quote from a 26-year-old teacher named Hideyuki Hayashi who had sought refuge in this hole when the bomb went off. Later I found <a href="https://www.global-peace.go.jp/en/picture/detail_152_2.html">the rest of his harrowing account</a>. "An air raid siren had sounded early in the morning on August 9. After about an hour it was taken off. It had already been decided that the teachers wouldnt go into school that day. Instead, after the air raid alert was lifted, all the teachers would dig air raid shelters. "The male teachers went to work with their pickaxes. By 11 o'clock we had finished digging the hole. Then the female teachers formed a line and started carrying away the earth we'd dug out. When the digging work was done I climbed about halfway up the cliff face to measure its height. Then all of a sudden an explosion rang out. I wasn't expecting that because the all clear siren had sounded. By that time I was used to the sound of explosions, and wouldnt go into an air raid shelter if I heard one go off. Instead I'd look up into the sky to see where the bombs were coming from. "On that one occasion however I had a real sense I was in danger. I had never had that feeling before. I dashed into that air raid shelter we'd just dug up. Two of the female teachers were amazed I was diving into the shelter and they followed me in. "The next instant there was a tremendous sound like a series of thunderclaps. Immediately afterwards came a brutally hot blast wind, unlike anything I'd ever experienced. The two women behind me wailed out in terror and the three of us crushed into the back of the air raid shelter. "We waited there for what felt like an eternity, but it was probably only three or four minutes. Then we went back outside. The sight that met our eyes was absolutely unbelievable."

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akami Cathedral's belfry cast down by the blast. It has been left in place.

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The ruins of Urakami Cathedral from the front.

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This dorm, used to house foreign medical students studying at the university, was the only building to survive the blast that remains in use today. It was difficult to find, tucked away in a corner of the rebuilt university's grounds, yet the blackened concrete walls offer grim testimony to the events of that day. Some 800 doctors, medical staff and students were killed. The hospital and medical facilities were largely obliterated, which made caring for the thousands of wounded effectively impossible. In the immediate aftermath the doctors that survived would have had to treat all sorts of injuries: appalling burns, internal organs ruptured by the shockwave, shattered bones from flying debris, glass lacerations that cut people's skin to ribbons, the list goes on. Soon they'd discover there was another insidious threat: radiation poisoning.

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The difference a day makes. The first photo was taken on August 8, 1945. The second photo on August 10. Nagasaki has been wiped from the earth. When conducting analysis of the atomic bombings after the war, the Americans used the term 'Ground Zero' for the first time to describe the epicenter of the blast. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the original Ground Zero.

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Highway 34 running through the middle of town.

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This children's playground was once the site of the Mitsubishi steel and armaments works. Industrial lathes withstood the shockwave but their operators were turned to ash.

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The entrance gate to Nagasaki Medical College. Though shielded from the blast by a hill, the shockwave still managed to crack the stone pillar on the right and move it several inches, where it has remained. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion tens of thousands suffered from hideous injuries. Under normal circumstances Nagasaki was comparatively well prepared to deal with a mass casualty event: the city hosted advanced medical facilities at the Nagasaki Medical College and its accompanying hospital. There were hundreds of doctors and medical students at the college that day. Tragically, both buildings were only around 700 metres from the hypocenter. I walked through the quiet campus. Here and there a plaque indicated so many scores of people had died in this or that place. My tranquil surroundings under a crisp winter sun were difficult to reconcile with these appalling casualty figures. Could this have actually happened here?

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A local landowner put up a plaque to show the famous torii shrine that survived the blast once stood here. If you look carefully you can see a bridge spanning a small stream in the 1945 photo that has been paved over today. The white fencing on the left in the 2013 photo shows the stream's route today.

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The new buildings constructed to replace the old at Nagasaki Medical College are hidden behind trees. Though the original concrete buildings survived the initial blast, they were soon gutted by flames. All of the city's water towers were knocked down in the shockwave, depriving the survivors of any means to fight the growing conflagrations. They could only watch helplessly as these buildings, and the invaluable medical supplies within, were consumed.

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Urakami Cathedral has been rebuilt today a few metres back from its original position. You can just see the belfry peeking out from behind the new building on the left of the recent photo. At the start of the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s, Japan opened its doors to the world and freedom of religion was restored. A French missionary arrived in Japan after the ban was lifted and was shocked to find that, despite centuries of banishments and persecutions, Christianity had secretly flourished: almost all the villagers in Nagasaki were 'kakure kirishitan' or 'hidden Christians'. For appearances sake they had presented themselves as Buddhists or Shintoists but in secret they passed their Christian faith on from generation to generation. When the survival and perseverance of this long forgotten branch of Christianity became known, it was celebrated as a miracle by Christians around the world. Now that the long-awaited religious revival had arrived the villagers decided to build a soaring neo-Romanesque style church, the Urakami Cathedral. The effort began in 1875 and was only completed fifty years later. In 1945 Nagasaki still had the largest Christian population in Japan. At 11 am on August 9 the church was packed with worshippers, holding mass in the run-up to the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. The church was only 500 metres from the hypocenter. The two-foot thick brick walls did not withstand the blast. Nobody inside the church survived. Those who didn't burn were crushed beneath the crumbling spires. Of the Church's 12,000 strong congregation, 8,500 would die.

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