Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall, surrounds
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Tasteful, to the point, and a very powerful experience
In our visit to Nagasaki's atomic bomb memorials, monuments and museums it was this, the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, that we visited first. Whether or not this is the correct oder of things, we are not sure, but the memorial hall got us off to the most moving of starts.
The Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall is part of a group of buildings that included the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, north of current downtown Nagasaki and a few hundred meters from the point of the August 9, 1945 atomic bombing impact.
Not to be confused with the Nagasaki City Peace Hall (the large, red-brick, church-like structure nearby), the memorial sits underground with the entrance from ground level being a gap in a circle of trees. These trees encircle a large water feature fitted with 70,000 tiny lights that switch on after dark to represent the initial 70,000 victims of the bomb blast. Water remains a theme throughout the memorial experience, you can always here its trickle, a stark reminder of how desperately Nagasaki residents were for drinking water after the bomb blast.
From the ground level water feature, steps lead down into the facility and in front of an information desk. To the right is a small reference library. There doesn't seem to be much here for the non-Japanese speaker. However, this visitor was with a Japanese travel partner and in the library a member of the memorial's volunteer staff called us over and asked if we wouldn't mind having them explain to us a few things. We all sat together and the volunteer then proceeded to read aloud personal accounts of those who survived the bombing. I struggled to keep up with the Japanese but for the most part knew what was being read out. The Japanese partner was in tears.
Another member of staff then guided us to the memorial itself (Remembrance Hall), gave us a kindly explanation, and then left us to contemplate where we were, which is going to be hard to explain. It's a rectangular space, which almost looks post-modern in design. Running down the center of the space are 12 pillars (6 either side of you) at the end of which is an encased set of shelves. On those shelves sit special containers carrying the names of the victims of Nagasaki's atomic bombing. These include the 'hibakusha' (those people exposed to the radiation), and the weight that this set of shelves bears gets heavier each year as more names are added. As you look at the shelves, you're also looking towards the point of impact a few hundred meters away. The space is quiet but for that sound of trickling water. Although everything here, design wise, is very simple, standing in that space is tremendously moving.
Just across the way, in the Remembrance Hall Anteroom, you can see scrolling images (photographs) of the the Nagasaki atomic bomb victims.
Back towards the reception, at the Peace Information Corner, visitors can leave messages, make paper cranes (and see those that Barack Obama during his visit), and pick up information cards about organisation working in support of victims' families, hibakusha and those who would seek an anti-nuclear world.
At the time of visiting we were about the only people in The Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall (maybe the museum next door is where most people head to). Lucky for us then, for in the quiet and calm this was the most moving experience out of all of Nagasaki's atomic bomb memorials, monuments and museums.
As moving as it is, there's not a great deal to see here, so visitors will likely need no more than one hour. That said, it comes highly recommended. No, 'recommended' doesn't seem right - a duty of sorts.
Hours: May to Aug - 8:30 - 18:30 / Sept to April - 8:30 - 17:30 (at the time of writing)
Access: The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is a 15-min walk from JR Urakami Station and a 5-min walk from Hamaguchi-machi streetcar stop
*NB - According to The Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall literature, wheelchairs and baby strollers are available free of charge. Inquire at the information desk.
Visitors can access the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum directly from the memorial via a tricky to find set of stairs.
The Peace Statue and Hypocenter Park
A set of stairs (outside) takes visitors down from the memorial and museum, across the narrow river and into the Hypocenter Park, which as the name might suggest marks the point from which the atomic bomb exploded, some 500 m in the skies above.
First up is the Hypocenter Park. For what should be such a profound place, it's actually in a bit of a shabby state, typically the mind you might associate with a park that teenagers come to to drink alcopops and smoke cigarettes. Still, take some time to contemplate at the Hypocenter Monolith at the western end of the park. This points directly up to the point of the blast.
Head out onto the main street to the south of the park, take a right and it's a short walk to another green space containing the much photographed 'The Peace Statue' which sits, uninterrupted in front of an open space with benches around the edges. Much like the stature itself, this park / space sends out mixed signals - Are we supposed to be sombre? Is it OK to mimic the pose of the statue? ("Yes.", seems to be the answer in most cases.) Is this a place to kick back and chill? Maybe it's all of these things an more. Anyway, at the time of visiting there was a professional photographer on standby for your photos in front of the statue, which probably speaks volumes.