Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Kyushu, Japan: Castles, a Kamikaze Museum, and Volcanoes


From Nagasaki, we traveled east, first through the Shimabara Peninsula, which includes the Unzen-Amakusa National Park and the quaint little port city of Shimabara.  From there, we took a ferry across the narrow bay to Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures and drove all the way down to the city of Minamikyushu to see the Chiran Peace Museum for the "Special Attack Corps," also known as the kamikazi pilots of World War Two. On the way back to Nagasaki airport, we stopped briefly in Kagoshima City for a glimpse of the active volcano (Sakurajima) that sits right off the coast and dominates the city's skyline, and then headed up to Aso National Park, home of Japan's most active volcano and some beautiful meadow-covered mountains.

Shimabara Peninsula

The primary draw of the Peninsula, is the Unzen-Amakusa National Park, home of Mount Unzen, an active volcano, which last erupted rather violently in 1991, creating a pyroclastic flow that killed 43 people.  In 1792, the collapse of one its lava domes created a tsunami that killed an estimated 15,000 people.  The area also includes many onsens (hot springs) of the type you want to sit in, as well as  jigokus, which you do not want to sit in as they are essentially boiling hot.  In fact, one jigoku in the Unzen park area was used to execute 26 Christians back in the late 1500s.  The Peninsula is closely connected to early Christianity in Japan, including a revolt in the late 1500s.  The castle in the pleasant city of Shimabara included a very interesting history of Christianity in the area, as well as some pretty cool displays of samurai armor and weapons.  

View from the road headed up to Unzen.

Homes buried by the mud flow caused by the eruption of Mount Unzen in 1991.

Reconstructed castle over Shimabara.
The moat and stone walls are original and were constructed in the 1600s.

The castle keep.
Grounds of the castle.
The castle contained a very impressive museum.  A number of displays were devoted to the Christian history of the Shimabara Peninsula.

Shimabara town and castle with Mt Unzen in the background.
A Virgin Mary disguised as a Buddha.  Such was the life of a Japanese Christian in the 1500-1600s.

Depiction of the castle under siege during the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s.

Samurai armor.

And weapons.
Shimabara is also known for its Samurai Street, a narrow street flanked by a number of traditional homes that once belong to Japan's warrior class.

An original Samurai house.

Shimabara and Unzen from the ferry.
Chiran Peace Museum

That's the English name.  The full name of the place was the Chiran Peace Museum to the "Special Attack Corps." You might know the Special Attack Corps better as the kamikazi pilots of World War Two.  We drove four hours through the countryside of Kyushu to visit this museum and are very glad we did. It was well worth the trip.  Nice ride through the mountains to get there and a worthy destination.  Being kinda far out of the way, we expected it to be rather empty.  Instead, it was packed with visitors, probably because we were there on the same day (14 August) that Prime Minister Abe was giving his WW2 commemoration speech.  Fascinating museum filled with tributes to the 1,036 kamikazi pilots who died during the Battle of Okinawa.  More than 400 of these men flew out of the former Chiran airbase, the grounds of which now include the museum.  Besides the photos, memorabilia, and personal accounts of the pilots, the museum included vintage aircraft (including a Nakajima Ki-84 "Hayate,", a Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien," a Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa," and a late-model Type Zero "Hei") and other Japanese military equipment.  One grizzled old veteran was giving a lecture to a large audience while we were there.  It was too bad I could not understand him.  There was little English, but we were given headphones with English language capability, and a few of the displays included English language versions.  The individual stories of the pilots, particularly their last letters to family, friends, and loved ones were touching and certainly illustrated that no matter the country, the soldiers, sailors, and airmen all face the same fears.  Unfortunately, just like at the Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo, we were not allowed to take photographs of the museum, just the grounds. An interesting contrast to the story of the A-bomb at Nagasaki where photos were encouraged.

Statue of a tokko pilot.
Remnants of a Zero fighter brought up in 1980 from a harbor where it crashed during the war.

Reconstructed building representing the barracks where the pilots would spend their final evening before going off to fight the American fleet off Okinawa.
According to the museum literature, the ladies who came in the morning after the pilots left on their missions said the pillows would be wet with the tears of the pilots.
Shrine to the pilots.

The museum grounds also included gardens and additional shrines to the tokko pilots.

The only photo inside the museum I was allowed to take before an attendant told me "no photos!"  It is a depiction of a kamikazi pilot being rescued from his burning aircraft by six heavenly maidens.  They are taking him to "a safe destination in the sky, Heaven."  Propaganda at its finest. 


Memorable for its great food and the imposing active volcano that sits right off the coast line.


On the way back towards the Nagasaki airport and our plane ride home, we headed into the mountains for a look at the Aso volcano, Japan's most active, which is part of a beautiful national park.  Aso is so active that it erupted less than a month after we were there. Check out the video here.  While there is a lift that takes people up to the rim of the volcano, it was closed because of recent activity, so we had to look at it from afar.  Besides the volcano, we were impressed by the meadow-covered mountains and the expansive views.


Rim of Aso from about a 1,000 feet below.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kyushu, Japan: Nagasaki and the "Fat Man" Atomic Bomb

Our last regional trip during our stay here in Korea ended up being a short visit to Kyushu, one of Japan's main islands, and home to the second victim of the dropping of the atomic bomb, the city of Nagasaki.  While Nagasaki was the focus of our trip, we also took time to see the cities of Shimabara and Kagoshima, the national parks of Unzen and Aso, and a very unique museum and memorial to Japan's kamikazi pilots of World War Two in the village of Chiran waaaay down in the south of the island. To get to all those places in a span of five days, we drove, and I can tell you that the drive was worth it, even if it did require driving on the wrong side of the road.  Kyushu is a lovely island of rugged and thickly forested mountains, steamy volcanoes, and picturesque rice paddies and tea farms.  The cities have a provincial feel, the people were welcoming in that very formal Japanese way, and of course, it being Japan, the food was great.

Now, the Nagasaki and atomic bomb part.  It was a sobering experience to see the Japanese perspective on an event that many Americans believe was necessary to end World War Two.  Perhaps what the museum represented--the awesome firepower the US of A can rain on another country from the perspective of that country--is something every American should see and reflect upon.  That's about all I will say about it.  The history is well-known and the photos speak for themselves.  Suffice to say that the 9 August 1945 dropping of "Fat Man" on Nagasaki, an event that by Japanese accounts killed over 70,000 people either instantly or shortly thereafter, a large portion of whom were women and children, and obliterated much of the city, is seared into the city's memory.  The commemorations of the attack are centered near the epicenter (now called the "hypocenter" for reasons that are unclear to me) of the blast and consist of an impressive museum, a memorial hall, and a park filled with monuments to peace and the victims.  We were allowed to take all the photos we wished, contrasting sharply with not being allowed to take any photos in the museum honoring kamikazi pilots we were to visit a few days later.

Nagasaki before its obliteration.  Note the church in the left center.  It was one of, if not the largest church in Japan. The city had a substantial Christian population and because of its history as a port of entry, probably the most western influence of any city in Japan.

Upon entering the museum, there is a montage of TV screens running photos and videos of the destruction.  They were a rather stark and eye-opening way to start the tour.

A replica wall of the destroyed church.  It being the just a few days after the 70th anniversary of the attack, the museum was crowded.

Displays such as these adorned the walls of the museum.  This one laid out the American decision making behind the attack on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Major General Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, figured prominently in this particular display.

Photos of the bomb's mushroom cloud and the effects of its awesome power.  The photos on the far left and right show Nagasaki before and after the 9 August attack.

"Fat Man," the plutonium-based bombed dropped on the city, and the B-29 bomber "Bockscar" that carried it.

This was an interesting interactive display that showed the effects of the bomb--the flash, fires, wind, and radiation--and the impact of the city's geography.  The hills and mountains surrounding the city limited the destruction largely to the central valley, even though the bomb was more powerful than the one uranium-based bomb ("Little Boy") dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, which killed between 90,000 and 150,000.

A life-sized mock-up of "Fat Man." 
It held the equivalent of 21 tons of TNT.
And an explanation as to how it worked.
The photo in the background of this display shows a neighborhood located about 800 meters from the hypocenter of the blast left as rubble. 
The area around the hypocenter of the blast.   The bomb exploded about 1,650 feet above the city.

Various artifacts were displayed about the museum demonstrating the effects of the bomb's blast--the heat in particular.
Bones of a hand fused to glass.
Part of a victim's skull remains on the inner surface of this helmet found not far from the center of the blast.
Bodies.   Near the epicenter of the blast, the heat instantly carbonized human bodies and vaporized their internal fluids.  Burns were fatal up to 1.2 kilometers away.  
More displays showing the effects of the heat and fires.

This display discussed the numbers of non-Japanese victims killed by the attack, including over 13,000 Koreans, plus about 650 Chinese, 200 or so British, Dutch, and Australians.
The museum also included a section on the lead up to the war between Japan and the US.
And a section on the number and danger of nuclear weapons in today's world.
This particular display tried to illustrate the number of nuclear tests by location around the world since the 1940s.
Places where nuclear weapons are produced.
The weapons to deliver them.
Origami displays were scattered about following the 70th anniversary of the attack.  As far as we could tell, outside of a few Europeans, we were the only Americans there.  I detected no animosity amongst the hundreds of Japanese visitors.
Adjacent to the museum was the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.  Lots of testimonies, photos of victims, poems, and places for reflection.
This portion is called Remembrance Hall.
In the back of the Hall is a listing of all the victims of the bombing, including those who died afterwards due to injuries inflicted by the bomb and exposure to radiation.  According to the displays in the hall, the number is now over 160,000.

1945 and 2015.  A remarkable recovery.  This view is from the top of the museum and looks out over the area where the bomb exploded.
Outside the museum and in the area of the hypocenter, there is a park and a number of monuments like this one.
Some with heartfelt testimonials.
This placard goes to the monument in the previous photo.
The hypocenter.
Hypocenter in 1945.