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Japan: Tale of Two Cities

6 minute read

Among all the landmarks of history, from Wittenberg or Waterloo to Lexington or West Berlin, none have burned more deeply into 20th century consciences than Hiroshima. With every U.S. or Soviet nuclear explosion, ban-the-Bomb demonstrators the world over chant the name of the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb. Hiroshima is visited by 2,000,000 tourists a year; its chilling museum of atomic horrors has been massively and masochistically documented in endless magazine and newspaper articles, TV features and movies. Seventeen years after the first atomic blast, the world has seemingly forgotten about the only other A-bomb ever used in warfare. It burst over Nagasaki at two minutes past eleven on the humid morning of Aug. 9, 1945.

Past v. Present. The second Abomb, code-named Fat Man, was a 20-kiloton plutonium weapon even more devastating than the crude uranium device that leveled Hiroshima Aug. 6. Lobbed through a hole in the heavy clouds that blanketed Nagasaki that day, it burst 1,850 ft. above the city with a mighty blue and yellow fireball and five successive shock waves that prompted a ten-year-old’s description: “I thought an airplane must have crashed into the sun.”

Falling three miles wide of its target, the vast Mitsubishi shipyard complex, the bomb obliterated one-third of the city, including 18,409 houses, two war plants, six hospitals, a prison, two schools, a church, and an asylum for the blind and dumb. Of the city’s 210,000 wartime inhabitants, it killed 38,000, wounded 21,000 others. Among the dead were 40% of Nagasaki’s Christian population, which for centuries has been the biggest of any Japanese city; its Oura and Urakami Roman Catholic churches, respectively the oldest and biggest in Japan, were also hit (both have since been rebuilt). Though Communist propaganda has placed Hiroshima’s death toll as high as 250,000, a survey released last week by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission estimated that the first A-bomb claimed 68,000 lives.

Nagasaki and Hiroshima have long since risen from their ruins and boast broad, Western-style boulevards, handsome parks, shining new industrial plants. Yet despite their shared nightmare, in outlook and atmosphere there are hardly two more dissimilar cities in Japan. Hiroshima today is grimly obsessed by that long-ago mushroom cloud; Nagasaki lives resolutely in the present. Though in fact U.S. fire bombs took more lives more painfully in Tokyo than the combined death toll of both A-bombs, Hiroshima has made an industry of its fate—even to naming bars and restaurants after the Bomb. Comparing Hiroshima with other war-devastated cities, a U.S. casualty commission official noted: “This is the only city in the world that advertises its past misery.”

Shaddock & Loquats. Nagasaki, by contrast, has few reminders of Aug. 9 beyond a one-floor museum, a green marble shaft marking the epicenter of the blast, and a Peace Park dominated by an eloquent 32-ft. statue of a squatting figure that eternally lifts one arm to the sky, extends the other in forgiveness. Unlike Hiroshima, which is only 430 miles from Tokyo, Nagasaki takes about 24 hours to reach by train, and has never been invaded by antinuclear demonstrators. By last week, while Hiroshima staged noisy ban-the-Bomb rallies, Nagasaki had not witnessed a single demonstration against U.S. nuclear tests over Christmas Island. Explains Hiroshi Wakiyama, a businessman who in 1960 quit as chairman of Nagasaki’s small chapter of Gensuikyo, Japan’s antinuclear council: “We don’t want to go around bragging about being victims of the atomic bomb. It is not compatible with the character of Nagasaki.”

A tranquil, beautiful seaport perched in a natural amphitheater overlooking the East China Sea, Nagasaki (pop. 380,000) prefers to be known as Japan’s most cosmopolitan city. Its tourist bureau seldom steers visitors to atomic landmarks, celebrates instead the city’s lantern-lit nightclubs and restaurants (specialties: sugared shaddock, peeled loquats), its 17th century Dutch colony and the Nipponese-Gothic mansion, built on a hilltop by a British tycoon in 1850, that Nagasaki fondly identifies as the “original home” of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

The Mitsubishi shipyard, which in wartime turned out Japan’s super-dreadnoughts Yamato and Musashi, is now the world’s largest, and last week was busily expanding in order to build the biggest supertankers (150,000 tons) ever launched. Bustling Nagasaki, reports TIME Correspondent Don Connery, views atom-haunted Hiroshima with wry condescension and a touch of envy. Dr. Soichiro Yokota, director of the city’s Atomic Bomb Hospital, sniffs that Hiroshima “is better at propaganda than we are,” adding with a smile: “It’s also true that Nagasaki is like the man who flew the Atlantic after Lindbergh. Who ever heard of him?”

Oppressive Aftermath. In fact. Nagasakians point out with relish, few Westerners had ever heard of Hiroshima before 1945, whereas their city has been known to missionaries, traders and sailors since 1549, when Jesuit Missionary St. Francis Xavier landed near by for a two-year stay in Japan. For 2½ centuries, Nagasaki was Japan’s only gateway to the Western world. Long before 1853, when U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay and ended Japan’s era of seclusion, European traders had introduced Nagasaki’s citizens to Western literature, science and business methods.

For many thousands in both cities, the A-bomb’s most oppressive aftermath is the fear, honed by Japan’s press, that they or their children may yet suffer unforeseen ill effects from radiation exposure. As a constant reminder. 112,000 survivors who were within 1.86 miles of the center of the blasts in both cities carry green health cards assuring them of free medical attention for any ailment whatever. Nonetheless, after 15 years of meticulously sifting case histories, a 1,000-man, U.S.Japanese casualty commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has found no evidence that either city has a higher rate of deformed births, leukemia or other radiation-linked diseases than any other community in Japan.

Nagasaki’s citizens seem to be less fearful of “atom sickness” than their fellow survivors in Hiroshima. They are also markedly gayer and more relaxed. The city’s longtime mayor, Tsutomu Tagawa, whose home was destroyed by the Bomb, says his people feel “no bitterness” toward the U.S., shrugs: “If Japan had had the same type of weapon, it would have used it.” Today the main difference between the two cities is that Hiroshima has remained a stark symbol of man’s inhumanity to man; Nagasaki is a monument to forgiveness.

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