Japan // Kyushu //

The Atomic Bomb Museum and around

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One enters the Atomic Bomb Museum (長崎原爆資料館) via a symbolic, spiralling descent. Views of prewar Nagasaki then lead abruptly into a darkened room full of twisted iron girders, blackened masonry and videos constantly scrolling through horrific photos of the dead and dying. It’s strong stuff, occasionally too much for some, but the most moving exhibits are always those single fragments of an individual life – a charred lunchbox, twisted pair of glasses or the chilling shadow of a man etched on wooden planks.

The purpose of the museum isn’t only to shock, and the displays are packed with information, much of it in English, tracing the history of atomic weapons, the effects of the bomb and the heroic efforts of ill-equipped emergency teams who had little idea what they were facing. There’s a fascinating video library of interviews with survivors, including some of the foreigners present in Nagasaki at the time; figures vary, but probably more than 12,000 of these were killed in the blast, mostly Korean forced-labour working in the Mitsubishi shipyards, as well as Dutch, Australian and British prisoners of war. The museum then broadens out to examine the whole issue of nuclear weapons and ends with a depressing video about the arms race and test ban treaties.

Just outside the museum is Hypocentre Park, where an austere black pillar marks the exact spot where the bomb exploded 500m above the ground. The neighbouring Peace Memorial Hall, also buried underground, is another place for quiet reflection, its centrepiece a remembrance hall where the names of victims are recorded in 141 volumes.