July 15, 2008

Nagasaki Trip - Peace Park, Baseball Tournament, Giant Buddha, Night View

After a packed first day, I decided to take it slow on Saturday morning - the hotel had a nice buffet breakfast, I took a steamy run in the park area near Dejima Wharf, and came back to catch some of the Yankees v. Blue Jays game on NHK (damn that Roy Halladay!) as well as an Alfonso Soriano retrospective. I totally forgot that he started his career here in Japan with the Hiroshima Carp.

The only thing I knew that I wanted to see today was the Peace Park and A-Bomb Museum. Unlike Hiroshima, where the Peace Park is central to the city, the Nagasaki Peace Park and Museum are to the north, a fifteen minute streetcar ride from the main downtown area. The best part of the Peace Park are the many monuments dedicated to peace that were given to Nagasaki by various countries. The centerpiece is the giant Peace Statute, made by a Nagasaki native.

The most touching place here is the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall, which is connected to the A-Bomb Museum. It is quiet, contemplative, underground place, with narrow hallways and 20 foot ceilings, skylights, and a hall of glass pillars that are illuminated at night. Water flows down various indoor waterfalls from a giant basin on the roof, a reference to the thirst of the victims of the bombing. LCD screens rotate pictures of the survivors. It is really beautifully done.

The museum itself tells the history of Nagasaki pre-bomb, shows the ruins of the disaster. As in Hiroshima, the before and after aerial shots are just impossible. In the before shot, a dense city. In the after shot, absolutely nothing. (Nagasaki was not the primary target for the bomb. Artifacts like melted bottles, a scorched clock stopped at 11:02 AM (the time the bomb hit), and remnants of buildings further drive this home. There are also testimonials, both written and video, by survivors. The testimonials, especially by those who were children at the time are chilling. It is hard to come to grips with. This was their holocaust. The final room of the museum describes the commitment to peace and disarmament and the fight of that movement against ongoing nuclear testing.

One weird thing about the museum was that it was absolutely crawling with Japanese students on class trips. And every child had a notebook and pen and was furiously copying down the facts and figures and statements from the various displays. To me, this was just the kind of place that you take in . . .

As it turns out, the Peace Park area is close to the Nagasaki Prefectural Sports Complex, a beautiful facility that includes a track, soccer fields, indoor olympic size swimming pools, and a huge baseball stadium called "The Big N." There were lots of uniformed little leaguers running around, and I could hear something going on at the stadium. When I wandered over, I found a high school baseball tournament, and (taking a page out of our Hiroshima play-book) bought a ticket. It was a sparse but loud crowd, and I picked out a great seat on the third base line. Having just finished the superlative book You Gotta Have Wa, I was well educated about the elevated status that amateur baseball enjoys in Japan and of its Mecca, the Koshien Summer Tournament. The winner of this Nagasaki tournament was to represent the region at Koshien in August. This was serious high-quality baseball.
One of the highlights of my day was an older Japanese man, named Maeda, who sidled up to me and began to chat me up. He explained that he was a former baseball coach and English teacher, but had retired and now comes to watch high school baseball every day. He was a true baseball man, and we spent a good part of the game talking about baseball in the U.S. and Japan. It was a true delight.

On my way back to the center of town, I stopped at Nagasaki Station. Based on my vast knowledge of Japanese train stations, I knew that there would be numerous food choices, as well as air-conditioning. In addition to grabbing another meal of Champon (its really good!), I decided to cool off further and rest up by taking in my first movie in Japan, "Indy Jones IV. " (I think this was also the first time I've ever gone to the movies by myself).

Refreshed, I decided to check out the nearby Site of the 26 Martyrs, up (yet) a(nother) nearby hill. Here, a bass relief plaque commemorates the crucifixion of 6 missionaries and 20 Japanese Christians (after Japan had outlawed Christianity). It is a horrible story, but the place itself was somewhat underwhelming. But . . . from the view atop the hill, I spied the second highlight of my day - a GIANT statue of a Buddhist Goddess with three young children at her feet, sitting atop a huge turtle.

It was striking and mesmerizing, and not in any guidebook I had read. I had to check it out, so I made my way over there, up winding hills and steps. (I later learned that this place was Fukusaiji Temple, and the 18 meter tall statue is the goddess Kannon astride an Astral Turtle.) Almost as cool, was the above right statue of a Buddhist monk positioned so that, if you follow his gaze, he is staring up at Kannon. It was almost 7 PM, the sun was setting, and there was no one there but me. It was my favorite spot in Nagasaki.

To round out a great day, I found out that the Nagasaki hotels run a free shuttle bus to the base of the Nagasaki Ropeway. I took it, and took the ropeway up Mount Inasa, for a great nighttime views of Nagasaki city, the bay, and the open waters.


Lisa said...

You look fabulous mikey. This alone time while traveling seemed to have been a wonderful one of a kind experience. I'm so happy to read about all your favorite parts and explorations. I really miss you a lot. Can we talk? I had that gig in the catskills tonight, made an LA contact and sang my heart out. It was great!

Pageturners said...

An extraordinary post, and beautiful photos.

If you get the time, go to see the garden of Lafcadio Hearne, an Irish writer who moved to Japan and wrote in Japanese - the film Kwaidan is based on some of his translations of traditional Japanese ghost stories.

The Kasdan Family said...

Thanks for your comment, and for the tip! It's nice to know we have a reader in Ireland!