August of 1945, a dark month of human history. For, humankind has tasted the worst it can get this month if he uses his knowledge in the wrong way. Two cities were wiped out, from the face of the earth, during three days in a matter of seconds. Some might argue that it was a necessary evil that ended the war, which had caused destruction and would have destroyed even more if it had continued. But for residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was hell unleashed upon them so that others would survive. 

A terrible price paid for playing a vital role in a war! Hiroshima was a substantial military base, while Nagasaki was an important port and major shipbuilding centre. The two significant vertebrae in the spine of Japan during the second world war. 

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The ruins of Nagasaki (aftermath of the atomic bomb)_©

The ‘Little Boy’ bomb that caused the annihilation of Hiroshima on August 6 was an experiment to test the weapon’s power and a demonstration to threaten Japan into surrender. According to many historians, the bomb ‘Fat Man’, on the other hand, was more of a statement of USA power and a move to confirm a supreme chair in politics of the post-world war world. This bomb that loose hell upon Nagasaki, on August 9 of 1945, was originally planned for the city of Kokura, a major base of the Japanese arsenal. 

Due to the obstruction in view by smoke and cloud, the location of the Kokura was hard to determine. Hence Nagasaki, less significant than Kokura, yet vital enough as a secondary alternative, was chosen as a target.

Nagasaki without the atom bomb

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The harbor at Nagasaki, Japan (after the destruction by the atomic bomb)._©
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The harbor at Nagasaki, Japan, c. 1920. A Christian church can be seen in the foreground. _©

Nagasaki was an important base during world war two since it was a port as well as home to the industries like ships, military equipment, war material, etc. But even before that, Nagasaki played a significant role in Japanese history. Nagasaki was the second oldest and one of the largest ports in Japan. After 1850, it became a major port on the map of the world. The reason for that was, Nagasaki was the only port that remained open (partially) for trade when the rest of Japan was closed to the western world during the 16th to 19th century. As a result, it became a window through which information about western technology and science entered Japan. 

Architectural style before atomic blast

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A street in Nagasaki, Japan, c. 1940._©

Most of the houses and structures were built in traditional Japanese-style architecture with wood for small businesses. Since the city had grown without any city plan, the residential buildings were constructed adjacent to the factory buildings. This worked against the city. After the atomic blast, most of the houses within the blast radius burned down.

Western influence

As a result of being the only link to the western world for almost 300 years, Nagasaki has a great collection of colonial architecture mostly influenced by Dutch and some Portuguese styles.

Some of the examples are preserved till today. 

1. Dejima

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Dejima is a colonial complex. The building is in Japanese style with Dutch touches on some of the architectural elements like balustrade. The old international club and seminary are in Dutch colonial style. The only access point for foreigners back in the days, since the other parts of the island were closed for foreigners.

2. Urakami Cathedral 

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Urakami Cathedral (after atomic bomb destruction) _©

It was originally built in 1895 in Neo-Romanesque style. Most of the cathedral was destroyed in the atomic bombing in 1945 and was reconstructed in 1959. 

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Urakami Cathedral (today) _©

3. Glover House 

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Glover house _©

Glover house is the oldest surviving western-style building in Japan. It was constructed in 1863 in Japanese style with western architectural elements like columns, arched lattices, french doors, etc. 

The terrain of the Nagasaki

It might come as a surprise to some that so many of these heritage sites are still intact despite the atomic bomb. Due to the unique shape of the city, only a part of the city was destroyed. And destruction was devastating but less than Hiroshima. The mountain surrounding the city serves as a buffer that contains the radiation and limits it from spreading. 

Revival of Nagasaki 

The restoration of Nagasaki was slower than Hiroshima. Due to financial difficulties and lack of infrastructure and workers for medical and other essential facilities, the restoration did not start until 1946. Since most of the structures in the blast radius burned down, new buildings were constructed. The civilian factories replaced the industrial buildings. By 1950, the cities were returned to their original size (sizes before the bombing). Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki have their own construction laws. But the construction law of Nagasaki was based on reviving the city to its former name of the ‘gateway to the western japan’.

As a result, even though Nagasaki developed as a site of the ‘atomic bomb tourism’, it has also restored heritage that remained after the bombing and preserved that was out of the radius of destruction to show the glorious history of this city.

Nagasaki today

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The ruins of Nagasaki Medical College after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, three days later_©

Nagasaki is a prefectural capital. Nagasaki has fully recovered since the atomic bomb tragedy. Now it is the largest city in Nagasaki prefecture. It has regained its position as an important port in Japan.

The ruins of the Shiroyama National School in Nagasaki, and the same road today._©

Today, Nagasaki has flourished in more than one way. Although the city of Nagasaki preserves and portrays the glimpse of destruction from an atomic bomb, It is not just a tragic victim of the atomic bomb anymore. It is more than that. It is a hub of different architectural styles from pre-world war II  Japan. It is an open book about a revived japan—an example of rising from ashes while embracing history!


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Gargi is an Architect by degree and a tinker by heart. As a recent graduate, she is yet to find out what alley of architecture she would like to explore further in her life. Writing is a tool for her to analyze and discuss her exploration.

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