Nagasaki – Peace Park

On March 10th, 1945, 279 B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers conducted the most devastating conventional bombing raid in human history.  Their target was Tokyo.  The new tactics they employed had been tested but never implemented on such a large scale.

High altitude precision bombing over Japan had proved difficult compared to Europe due to high altitude winds over Japan.  The US Army Air Forces decided to switch tactics, primarily at the behest of Curtis LeMay, although the ideas were not entirely his own.

The tactic of large formations of B-29s conducting high altitude precision bombing using high explosive bombs was completely altered.  The attacks would happen at night.  The B-29s would attack as a swarm, with each bomber flying individually without formation.  The attacks would be conducted from very low altitudes to ensure accuracy and to confound Japanese anti-aircraft defense.  Finally, the B-29s would use incendiary bombs instead of high explosive bombs.

The target was Tokyo itself, its people, and the largely wooden based construction of Japanese homes and small businesses.   Some bombers carried a small number of high explosive bombs which were the first out of the bay.  The idea being to crack open the roofs of structures using high explosives so the follow on incendiary bombs would fall within.

LeMay took extreme risks in the plan.  To increase bomb load, all defensive guns on the B-29s were removed except for the tail gun.  A lack of defensive formation meant each B-29 would be highly vulnerable to Japanese night fighters without mutual defensive support from other B-29s.  Nevertheless, LeMay decided to proceed with the new tactics.

The raid succeeded on a scale few could have imagined.  The Japanese were completely taken off guard by the new tactics.  No Japanese night fighters were able to engage a single B-29.  Japanese anti-aircraft guns did manage to down 14 B-29s with the loss of 96 Americans.  But generally, Japanese anti-aircraft fire was ineffective as the gunners were not prepared for a low altitude attack and the low altitude run of the B-29s rendered Japanese radar mostly blind.

The attack started a firestorm throughout Tokyo with a ferocity previously seen in places like Hamburg.  However, the wooden base of Japanese construction made the consequences even stronger.  An estimated 100,000 Japanese died in one night, almost all of them civilians.

Until the end of the war, the USAAF would continue to employ the nighttime, low altitude, incendiary attacks across all of Japan.  And yet, by August 1945 even after five months of firestorm bombing Japan was no closer to surrender.  As World War II would demonstrate, no amount of conventional strategic bombing would ever bring an Axis country to surrender.

In Germany, it had taken a complete conquest via ground forces.  American plans were in place for a ground invasion of Japan to start on Kyushu which estimates claimed would cost millions of lives.  And so the decision was made to try and short circuit such a scenario.  The Soviet Union would enter the war, and America would employ atomic weapons in a last attempt to force Japan’s surrender without a ground invasion.

On August 6th, 1945 the first atomic weapon was dropped on Hiroshima with perhaps over 100,000 Japanese killed.  And yet, Japan still did not surrender.  President Truman did announce to the public and to Japan what had been done.  A single plane, with a single bomb, had done what had previously taken hundreds of bombers.

Japan’s leadership was well aware of what had happened, but refused to surrender anyways.  The same concept, that the Japanese people could endure anything, and Japan could fight on remained inside their minds.  It must be acknowledged that by this point most of the Japanese senior leadership were certifiably insane.  It is akin to Hitler’s last moments, where he ordered divisions to attack, that no longer existed.

And so the decision was made to use a second atomic weapon, this time on Nagasaki.  For the most part, Nagasaki had avoided conventional bombing throughout the war due to its difficulty as a target.  But with an atomic weapon accuracy and raid tactics were essentially irrelevant.

On August 9th, 1945, once again, a single B-29, with a single bomb.  At 11:01 in the morning a plutonium core weapon detonated about 2,000 feet above Nagasaki (the airburst setting allowing for the blast wave to not be absorbed by the ground).  Approximately 80,000 people died.

The devastation is clear to see, before and after:

Hirohito, finally, seeing the inevitable, and perhaps making one of the braver decisions of his life (there was no guarantee that the militarists would not simply assassinate him and fight on) decided to surrender.  When he spoke via radio to the Japanese people it was the first time they’d ever heard his voice.

Nagasaki Peace Park began in 1955 and has a museum and hall adjoining it.  It’s hard to explain what it was like to visit the place as an American man in my early twenties.  Nuclear war on such scale, such horror, is difficult to comprehend when you haven’t seen it or know personally anybody who did.

I don’t really have any conclusions to draw here.  I could probably write a super long post on the morals of strategic bombing done by both sides during the war.  Or the ethical decision to use atomic weapons to avoid a horrific ground invasion.  But others far wiser than I have written legions of books on these topics.

As to the rest of this post, it’s just about the photos I took while there, and a few words from the Japanese themselves.

ground zero or otherwise known as the hypocenter

some of the ruins were left on purpose inside the park

inside the museum

    After experiencing that nightmarish war,

    that blood-curdling carnage,

    that unendurable horror,

    Who could walk away without praying for peace?

    This statue was created as a signpost in the

    struggle for global harmony.

    Standing ten meters tall,

    it conveys the profundity of knowledge and

    the beauty of health and virility.

    The right hand points to the atomic bomb,

    the left hand points to peace,

    and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.

    Transcending the barriers of race

    and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,

    it is a symbol of the greatest determination

    ever known in the history of Nagasaki

    and the highest hope of all mankind.

    — Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1955)

Nagasaki – reborn

In going through the few photos I have of Nagasaki, the other major bunch are of the hypocenter or peace park. That post will be a long one on history, with a lot of the photos from the park and my thoughts on the museum. However, today is just one shot. I came across this photo and I was shocked I had it. This is at the hypocenter. I had to go back and look it up, I was in Nagasaki in April of 2004. So this is Nagasaki in the Spring, 59 years after a nuclear weapon exploded right above this location. I’ll leave any conclusions and thoughts to you.

Nagasaki – Confucius Shrine

Not sure why I ended up at this Shrine, it’s not entirely popular but I’ve got pictures of it so I guess I went there for a reason. I guess?

Constructed in 1893 by Nagasaki’s Chinese residents the place has 72 statues of Confucius. It’s a reminder that Nagasaki was always the ancient gateway into Japan.

Note the differences in architecture from Japanese shrines from some of my previous posts.

Osaka – Shitennō-ji

I just didn’t take as many photos back then, I guess. Go to a temple, take only two shots? I’ve talked about how this can be a good thing. But when I don’t remember all that much about the visit, I guess it can also be a bad thing.

About an hour’s walk from Sumiyoshi-taisha is Shitennō-ji, another very old temple with a long history. It’s beyond my memory, but this is an excellent summary.

Shitennō-ji is said to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan but sadly all the buildings date from a 1960’s rebuild. Still worth a short visit.

Osaka – Sumiyoshi Taisha

If you’re in Osaka, you kind of just have to. Osaka’s most famous shrine, seat of all Japan’s Sumiyoshi shrines, and the subject of many legends, Sumiyoshi Taisha is said to have been originally built in 211. Founded by Empress Jingu it’s a shrine to the sea, dedicated to the Sumiyoshi Sanjin or the sea’s three gods. Back then, the shrine was right against the sea itself whereas today it’s somewhat inland.

The appropriately, galactically famous Sorihashi Bridge, one of the most beautiful and quintessential of Japan’s taiko bashi or drum bridges. This is one of my most favorite shots of all time, it was done with my old bad camera, and has its flaws but I still dig it.

The shrine’s west entrance, looking from west to east, with the gate up front, and the bridge in the background.

One of the rarest things I ever saw in Japan, a legit memorial for World War II. The shrine being dedicated to the sea, this of course makes sense. This was tucked away in a corner area and I kind of stumbled into it. I sadly don’t read Japanese in any form anymore, but this is a heavy cruiser. I don’t know the ship name or class, but the painting is an older version of the ship, I think, since the heavy cruiser has only two forward turrets instead of the later installed three.

The secondary temple.

If I’ve got my bearings right, this is the north side of the trio of the three main sanctuary structures. I always love the candid shots I get of just ordinary people happening along their daily lives, unaware or uncaring that this weird dude is taking very serious (bad amateur) photography.

Ōsaka-jō – and why building expensive castles usually doesn’t work

So you want to build a castle. You’re a powerful man but you have a boss. And his castle is awesome. So you want to build one that’s even better than his. So your tower is taller, you throw some gold leaf on there, and you probably think you’ve done an awesome thing.

Problem is, your boss dies, and you’re left hanging with this big, huge, expensive castle while your enemy instead has a massive killing machine of a mobile field army. Oh, and sorry, fixed defenses are generally of only limited value during a long running military conflict. Just ask China how well the Great Wall was at keeping out those dastardly Mongols.

Ōsaka-jō was built from 1583-1597 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who wanted to mirror the digs of his boss (at the time, everybody’s boss) in Oda Nobunaga. But then Oda died. And soon the son in Toyotomi Hideyori gets Ōsaka-jō.

Then one day in 1600 this ordinary, average, nondescript guy named Tokugawa Ieyasu wins arguably one of the devastating and decisive battles in military history at Sekigahara. Toyotomi loses badly, but it takes Tokugawa until 1615 to acquire enough balance of power to finally settle the score. Tokugawa’s army of several hundred thousand men overpowers Ōsaka-jō, burns it to the ground, Toyotomi dies by his own hand, and Japan’s history is essentially written for the next two hundred years.

Tokugawa rebuilds the castle, because of course. In the subsequent centuries it does what a lot of wooden buildings do throughout history, it burns repeatedly. Gets rebuilt. Then burns again. Then the castle is rebuilt with public contributions. Then during the Boshin War it’s taken and burned again. Then it’s rebuilt, but this time as an arsenal. And so the the Americans carpet bomb the place into oblivion in August 1945.

Only in the late 1990’s is the castle itself restored. But in typical Japanese fashion, it’s done in concrete and not wood. Every time, it still gives me a lack of understanding chuckle at the lack of authenticity and reverence the Japanese have for historical sites and buildings. Nothing quite like the calm, religious experience of a glorious temple, when you can buy hello kitty right inside the door from one of my merchant stalls.

This was a neat visit, it’s cool to look at and the ground themselves are beautiful more as a garden or a park. The tower is interesting, but it feels stale and not real. Probably because it’s concrete and not real. It’s not one of my favorite Japan locations, by far, but it’s worth a short trip if you’re in town.

And also, if you have a Bond style villain demi-god level of power in your future somewhere, don’t build a castle or a god-like evil lair. Building expensive castles usually doesn’t work, see Ōsaka-jō. Or Bond will blow up your lair. Focus on mobile field armies or goons instead.

ordinary average gentlemen escapes from evil claw via jetcopter, supermodel in tow

The interesting thing is despite what you read in the news I’m going by the assumption that Carlos Ghosn escaped from the evil claw death room with relative ease.

– Oh, his home was under surveillance?  I love Japan, but the Japanese have a reputation for a stoic, detail oriented nature that is often unearned and comically missing: see Fukushima, the incessant problems with the Tokyo Olympic building projects, and Death Stranding.  Ghosn’s home wasn’t likely under anything approaching the level of surveillance he’d have received in Mr Takashima’s subterranean volcano fortress.  Ghosn probably just slipped out the back while the cop was asleep or watching the Giants destroy the Tigers, again.

– He certainly didn’t escape in a music case.  For you see, what he did is his mercenary handlers drove him to an airport in the dark.  Then they went to the civil aviation terminal side and boarded a private jet.  For those who are unaware, civil aviation security and immigration checks are a flat joke compared to what folks go through in the steerage terminal.  Ghosn may or may not have been required to present a passport and undergo a minor security check.  My guess is he did neither, at least in any serious manner, and then they took off.  They didn’t even have to break one guard’s neck, so boring.

– So now our hero is in the air, and on his way to Lebanon via Turkey.  He flies from Osaka to Istanbul.  Turkey is easy, so easy, Ghosn just paid them all off in gold doubloons.  Next.

– And finally to Lebanon where he’s well known to the elite and without an extradition treaty.  Japan can’t touch him there.  Game over.  Takashima screams at his giant video board and slams his claw down atop a mostly full brandy glass, shattering it into numerous pieces.  Kitty squeals.

Hey man, I’d run too.  Japan has a Stazi-like 99% conviction rate for federal charges.  A man got a fairer trial in Nazi Germany.

But hey, isn’t the USA’s federal conviction rate also 99%?  Why how interesting that you ask, because yes, yes it is.  Damn, maybe we all better move to Lebanon while we still can.

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Takashima:  “I’ll get you next time Ghosn!  NEXXXT TIME!  [pets kitty]

Japan – Niigata: when my camera was terrible

Today’s smartphone cameras have become so capable it’s hard to remember that carrying a camera was once a conscious choice. Once upon a time I had a camera in my pocket that was five times the size of a smartphone and it was complete garbage. Times have changed, have you noticed?

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On this blog, we are very, very slowly making our way through my past travels. Lots of Japan to go. Wanted to do a complete, worthwhile post on Niigata, but can’t. Nearly every one of my shots from that trip are absolute, grainy, garbage.

Most of that was me. I’m not the expert photographer I am now (cue laugh track including laughing by drunken hyenas). But also, at the time my camera was pathetic. I don’t even have it anymore, or remember what it was.

Here are the only shots worth posting. Enjoy. Who gardens better than the Japanese? Not me. Not you.

Uh, Niigata’s great. Go.

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Kamakura – Engaku-ji

Lost amidst the fervent nationalism that’s now the norm in the Western Pacific is how longstanding and deep the ties are between peoples.  From 1274 to 1281 the Mongols, alongside their Chinese and Korean vassals, conducted a series of invasions against Japan.  All failed for a variety of reasons, not least of which was a series of typhoons and the emergence of what would become the samurai warrior class.

In 1282 to commemorate the victories, honor the dead on all sides, and to push forward Zen Buddhism in Japan, the then shōgun Hōjō Tokimune ordered the construction of Engaku-ji.  He enlisted the help of a Chinese monk in Mugaku Sogen.  Zen became a huge part of the ruling culture’s psyche and was integral in the emergence of the samurai and what they were.

In the sense, Hōjō got exactly what he’d wanted.  He’s buried there.  And while the days of the Kamakura Shōgunate long passed it remained a key feature in Japanese Buddhism throughout history.  It’s a must see if you’re anywhere near Kamakura and it couldn’t be easier to get to via JR East’s Yokosuka Line which essentially drops you right at the temple entrance.

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The Sanmon, two story main gate, looking from it’s back towards the entrance.  As is typical for just about any ancient Japanese structure, fire constantly requires rebuilding.  The current version was reconstructed in 1785.

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Now walking up from the front of the Sanmon.

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Engaku-ji is still a functioning temple.  I didn’t get too close but there were folks practicing archery.  Note the target in the distance.

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Note the guy on the right with a typical Japanese longbow, as tall as a man (he is kneeling).  Despite the reputation of the katana, I suspect the real killers on most Japanese battlefields were the archers.

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I love the contrast in light on this shot.

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Find the fishy.

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The monk’s quarters.

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The Great Bell, Ogane, cast in 1301.  The largest temple bell in the wider Tokyo area.

Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

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If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

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Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

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Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

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A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

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