Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fukuoka in Five - To Nagasaki with the JR Northern Kyushu Pass

Even if we just had five days in Fukuoka, we decided to venture out of the city for a day to visit Nagasaki -- a place we had always wanted to see.  While the shinkansen or bullet train does not 
ply the Fukuoka-Nagasaki route, the rapid train Kamome Express would take us there in just a 
little over two hours.

For this trip, we travelled using a JR Rail Pass which is available from the JR Ticket Office at 
the JR Hakata Station.   JR sells regional passes which are particularly useful and of good value, specially if you are staying within just one area.   

For Kyushu,  JR  sells two types of passes -- there is the JR Kyushu Pass which 
covers the entire island and then there is the Northern Kyushu Pass which covers Kumamoto, 
Nagasaki, Oita, Beppu, Aso -- all of which are prime tourist destinations.   We actually planned 
to go to Kumamoto too but because of extensive work due to the earthquake, we put that trip off 
for the next visit. 

A single roundtrip ticket to Nagasaki would have cost 10,400 yen per person.  The JR Northern 
Kyushu Pass cost only 8,400 yen for three days -- ride all you can on  JR trains within the 
designated areas.    The pass also allows for 10 free reserved seats, which you would pay extra 
for  if you were buying individual tickets.  The pass is very good value for money!

We were taking the 7:17 a.m. train to Nagasaki so the first thing we needed to do when we got 
to Hakata Station was to buy our breakfast to eat on the train.  Jay headed to a local bakery ...

And I headed straight for the kiosk that sells ekiben or eki bento.  These are specially packed 
meals  meant to be eaten on the train. I bought the ichiban bento or the most popular selling meal.

Breakfasts bought, we headed to the tracks to catch the train.  Pass holders do not go through 
the automatic turnstiles but through a special gate clearly marked on one side.

It's easy to take the train anywhere in Japan -- there are english signs to keep you from getting lost ... even before you've left.

Once the train arrived, we checked the lighted sign on the side to see if we were indeed getting on the right car.

The interiors of the Kamome Express were a bit dated but the train was spotlessly clean 
(this is Japan after all).  The seats were comfortable with lots of leg room and there was even 
a compartment above for your belongings.  The Kamome Express is certainly a lot better than 
most budget airlines!

As Jay peels off the plastic wrap from his (sad looking) ham sandwich, I couldn't resist asking him ...

Doesn't he think my ekiben looks much more appetising and delicious? 

It's a two hour train ride so I settle down in my window seat and watch the countryside go by.  Planting season seems to have begun and fields have been neatly ploughed.  I normally think 
of Japan as a highly industrialised nation but in truth,  it's just about as much of an agricultural country as well. 

The scenery changed from farms to seaside as the train passed through the coastline linking 
Fukuoka to Nagasaki.  It had been drizzling when we left and I hoped the rain would stop when 
we arrived at our destination. 

Touchdown Nagasaki!  

For today's visit, I chose to get a Tours by Locals guide -- this global travel company has english speaking tour guides in over 130 countries.   I always try to book with them when I travel.  Nothing like having a local give you a real sense of the place you are visiting.  The rain had stopped when 
Miyuki Ogawa, our guide for the day met us at the station.

Nagasaki City  itself is small, with less than half a million people according to Miyuki san. There
is no subway network but there is something that's even more photogenic and just as efficient --- 
a throwback-to-the-old-days tram system.  These trams are the easiest and certainly the cheapest
(just a flat fare of 120 yen) ways to get around.   We took a tram to our first stop -- to Urakami,
north of the city.

Nagasaki was the site of the second atomic bomb dropped in August 1945.  
Heiwa Koen or Peace Park commemorates this event but more importantly the park aims to 
promote peace.   It is a popular destination for both foreign and domestic visitors.  Don't be scared 
off by the stairs -- there is an escalator right beside it that will take you up and back down to street level again.

As you enter the park you are greeted by this fountain where the water shoots out to form what looks like angel wings or as I see it,  two hands in prayer.

The park was built on the site of a former prison,  a few hundred meters away from the actual hypocenter.  These  remnants of the prison's stone walls are all that was left after the blast.

We came upon several local volunteers some of whom were quite elderly.   Could they be hibakusha 
or survivors of the blast?  I was too shy to ask but we did stop to sign their petitions to completely abolish nuclear weapons.  

The focal point of Peace Park is this very large bronze statue,  done by a local sculptor named 
Seibo Kitamura.  Miyuki san told us that the hand raised upwards is pointing to the sky,  where the atomic bomb came from. The hand extended sideways is supposed to symbolise peace. 
In my mind though, the hand extended sideways shows the extent of destruction from that which  came from the sky. 
It is quite powerful and I feel my throat constricting from the different emotions that 
I am suddenly subjected to.  There are no negative vibes that I can feel but I do sense a  strong 
and potent force while I am in the park.

We stopped for a while to watch this group of high school students with their teachers. 

The children were here to offer their senbazuru at this structure that looks like two hands praying.  Senbazuru are 1,000 paper cranes, folded origami style and strung together to form a colourful garland.  Traditionally, these paper cranes are seen as symbols of love and hope.  Legend goes 
that if you make senbazuru, your wish will be granted.   

We walked away from the Peace Park and headed down to the Nagasaki Hypocenter Park
A memorial stands on the centre along with a surviving pillar from the Urakami Catholic 
Cathedral which was located very near this site.  
On the monument is an ever changing number which reflects how many people in Nagasaki 
have died since the day the bomb exploded.   When it happened in 1945,  74,000 people 
immediately perished.  The number is now at 168,767 and will continue to go up as more 
survivors from that time pass away.   
While the mood is somber and reflective,  the presence of trees around the memorial somehow
revives the spirit.  Miyuki san said that hundreds of sakura or cherry blossom trees surround the 
park  and during spring, many people come to enjoy the flowers.  
Beauty can come from destruction after all.  


A short walk around and under the cherry trees led us to the steps leading up to the Nagasaki 
Atomic Bomb Museum.  I had reservations about entering.   I already had very strong emotions 
about what happened here,  I  was not sure I could handle seeing graphic and vivid images.   
But in the end, I finally decided to go inside.

The Museum has a circular design and you descend a winding ramp where the years are marked on the wall.  In this way, you are not immediately subjected to a barrage of what happened here,  but
seem to go back in time,  thus perhaps preparing yourself as you slowly walk down towards the
main exhibit.

The first thing I saw when I reached the exhibit hall was this wall clock that survived the blast.  
The hands are stopped at 11:02, the exact time when the bomb exploded over Nagasaki.  
Everyday,  at 11:02 a.m. a special song for peace is played throughout the Museum.  We were lucky 
to be there at that precise time so we heard the simple but lovely melody.  Music does soothe the 
soul,  helping dispel disturbing feelings. 

The exhibit starts off with a mural of images of Nagasaki before the war.   A collage of heartrending photos show the "ordinariness" of Nagasaki -- houses on the hillside, the Urakami Cathedral and even a photo of little children after their confirmation at the cathedral.  


The next section of the exhibit shows what happened after 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945. 
There are  distressing photos of victims and survivors and poignant examples of what "survived" 
like this rosary and cross that were found in the ruins of Urakami Cathedral.  
Aside from the atomic bomb, Nagasaki would be of special interest to Filipino Catholics as this 
was where the first Filipino saint,  San Lorenzo Ruiz was martyred.  
Nagasaki was also the centre for Catholicism and Christianity in Japan in the 16th century.  
I am sorry we were not able to visit the church and  San Lorenzo Ruiz' statue at the 26 Martyrs Memorial but we will definitely come back to Nagasaki to see that. 

I joined a group of schoolchildren standing in front of the  replica of the actual bomb.   
Painted bright yellow with a black stripe around the middle -- it looked  almost innocuous,  
like Charlie Brown's shirt.   Code named "Fat Man",  (Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima), 
this bomb was made of plutonium, an even more destructive element than the uranium used in 
"Little Boy".   

After being exposed to the horrors and yes the pointlessness and sheer stupidity of wars and the 
men that wage them -- the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum ends on a more positive note.  
The third part of the exhibit is devoted to the efforts currently being done worldwide to forever 
stop and abolish  nuclear weapons.  There is a map showing where all the "declared" nuclear 
weapons are located around the world.  
A Nobel Prize won in 1995 by the group fighting for the abolition of nuclear weapons has been donated to Nagasaki and the hibakusha and is displayed in the museum. 

While I had read books and watched movies and documentaries about the awfulness of 
what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima,  I was still unprepared for the haunting experience 
of actually seeing the scraps, the bits and pieces, the fragments of thousands of lives shattered 
forever on that day.  
However despite seeing the painful photos and souvenirs of the past,  at the end of my visit, 
I found myself still moved but now,  also quite uplifted. 
Before I arrived, I wondered if Nagasaki would be a place with a lingering sadness and
resentment in its heart. 
What I found instead was a city that was vibrant,  hopeful and looking forward to the future. 
I wish that these garlands of senbazuru may work their magic so that Nagasaki's and our wish 
for a nuclear weapons free world will finally be fulfilled.


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