I always knew that visiting Nagasaki would be a profound experience. What I wasn’t expecting was how thoroughly I would fall in love with that city. It is a beautiful place with a horrific history, and while my time there was filled with a rollercoaster of emotions, it was an incredible experience. There is so much I could say about the simple beauty of the Peace Park or the peace statue. The straightforward and informative Atomic Bomb Museum, and the beautifully sparse hypocentre monument. But the place that hit the hardest was the memorial museum to Dr. Takashi Nagai, otherwise known as the Saint of Urakami.
Dr. Takashi Nagai was a Catholic doctor working in Nagasaki at the time of the atomic bombing on August 9th, 1945. He was already suffering from leukaemia as a result of his work in radiology during the war without sufficient protections. The bombing killed his wife, leaving him a single father to his two children, and he himself was severely injured. Despite this, he dedicated himself to helping the victims of the bombing, all while his health continued to deteriorate. By 1946, he was completely bedridden.
He wasn’t, however, undeterred. From his bed, Dr. Takashi Nagai continued to write, ultimately writing over a dozen books and countless essays. Through his writing he advocated for peace, denounced war, and left behind an important record of the impact of the atomic bombing on his city. Several of his books became bestsellers, and some were later made into movies.
Dr. Takashi Nagai died on May 1st, 1951 at the age of 43. His funeral was attended by 20,000 people, and the city of Nagasaki observed a minute of silence in his honour. Today, his former home is now a memorial museum, dedicated to telling his story, as well as the story of Nagasaki. I spent a lot of time in this museum, reading about his life and the work he did as a peace activist. Incredibly, he was not just a writer. He was also a painter, and the image above is one of his pieces depicting the remains of Nagasaki Cathedral after the bombing. It was a beautiful image that sits among the testimonies of an speakable horror, and discovering it was an experience I will not soon forget.
Wherever you are, Dr. Nagai, I hope you have found peace. And I hope we all heed your warnings and never again return to the use of nuclear weapons.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!