Thursday, August 6, 2009

"The Bells of Nagasaki"

I planned to finish reading this book on August 9, for the book starts on August 9, 1945--but I finished reading it today, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Dr. Nagai gives a first-hand account of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, where he was a doctor on duty at the nearby Nagasaki University Medical School.

Dr. Nagai (1908-51) was a Christian and a member of the Urakami Catholic Church--the largest church in East Asia--that was destroyed by the bomb. One of the most striking parts of the book is his "Funeral Address for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb." In one amazing paragraph in that address Dr. Nagai asks, rhetorically,
"Is there not a profound relationship between the destruction of Nagasaki and the end of the war? Nagasaki, the only holy place in all Japan--was it not chosen as a victim, a pure lamb, to be slaughtered and burned on the altar of sacrifice to expiate the sins committed by humanity in the Second World War?" (p. 107).
Dr. Nagai completed his book in August 1946, just a year after the bombing, but it was not published until 1949. The book was translated by William Johnston, an Irish Catholic missionary to Japan, and published in English in 1984. Father Johnston (b. 1936) also wrote a very insightful introduction to the book. Several years earlier he translated Shusaku Endo's powerful book Silence, and he has also written several books on mysticism.


  1. Nagasaki needs to be visited in person with a dispassionate friend from the area. I did so with my future wife, expecting a blatant political statement. What I found was a thriving port city, with a monument displaying only the facts - the naval war industry, the destruction, even the spiritual history - and a remembrance of the innocents. Simple, complete, and compelling.

  2. The Bells of Nagasaki is one of the books I read during my year at Seinan...I read it after I went to Nagasaki... For me Nagasaki was a religious experience. It is a holy place and one can feel it just by walking around the site of ground zero. I wandered into the Urakami Cathedral late one afternoon. I was the only one in the building. A sense of the profound presents of God came over me. I will never forget that moment.