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.

New Zealand, from the top rope!

I’m often so grateful that when I first began my travel adventures the smartphone didn’t exist. I had an old school flip phone where texting was a downright marvel. Social media was a term that didn’t exist. I had my own camera (originally a very crappy one) that I used to take my shots. Essentially most, but not every travel post I’ve ever done on this blog was travel I did without a flat screen smartphone.

I wonder what beginning your travel adventures nowadays does to a young man or woman who starts out their journey, probably has a smartphone, has various social media accounts, and doesn’t carry a separate camera. I shudder to think about it. But I think the answer is this, this is from a Twitter user named Lukas Stefanko in 2018, with the caption, “The social media queue”

This is in New Zealand, and this photo makes me want to burn every smartphone and social media account on the planet. [unintelligible snickering] Yes, yes, my Guests would like me to remind you that I am in fact a degenerate, crazy, loser, blog author.

Well, New Zealand is sick of it. New Zealand has a long history of being a tourist favorite, or over favorite. There have been talks in New Zealand for years to impose some kind of tourist fee, or restrictions on visitors in certain areas because they feel so buried by the mass of humanity. But this will never happen because so much of New Zealand’s economy is tied to tourism.

But they put out this video, from the top rope, and it’s professionally shot, funny, and has a super cool message:

I like how @0:50 he gets grabby with these two actors (who are portraying total losers). But it’d be great with me if he went further, and was whacking them with a truncheon like some 1880’s drunken bobby.

Messages like this delivered with humor are awesome, @1:28 where he takes a tumble I was totally cracking up.

Anyways, have a look at the video, heed its message. Indeed, some of the best travel experiences I ever had were where I deliberately made myself never take one photo, either with my good camera, or my smartphone if I had one.

Enjoy your day!

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.