A Song for Nagasaki Paul Glynn
Foreword by Stan Arneil


 
Browse the book...

Who was Doctor Nagai?
The Manchurian War
The Hidden Christians
Conversion to Christianity
Radiologist at the Faculty of Medicine
The Pacific War
When the Sun turned Black...And the Rain turned Poison
Japan surrenders
Bedridden Nagai

Writings from Nyokodo
Prayer for World Peace


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Who was Doctor Nagai?

Doctor Takashi Nagai was a  "...Japanese atheist who became a Christian. That is not entirely new – St. Francis Xavier was baptizing Japanese 200 years before Europeans settled in Australia. However, the principal character of this book, Takashi Nagai, is an incredible man who exemplifies a characteristic of Japanese Christian history, total commitment and even martyrdom.
   Nagai was born into a medical family where the ancient Shinto faith was the mainstay. He graduated from Nagasaki Medical University with top honours in 1932, by which time scientific rationalism had destroyed his Shinto beliefs. However this was only the beginning of his quest for meaning, which progressively unfolds against fascinating vignettes of Japanese history, culture and religion."

"Paul Glynn is well qualified to write the story, having worked for 21 years in Japan. He has read Nagai’s books in the original Japanese and became friends with Nagai’s family and many survivors of the A-bomb. His book makes you think about matters of great importance to Australians today, supplying much needed information on the Japanese – our neighbours, trading partners and fellow-pilgrims into the 21st century."

"Most books on the A-bomb leave us feeling bad. Not so this one! I finished it feeling hopeful about our race. After the horrible roar of nuclear fission dies down, a song lingers on. It might have been the dirge of a man who was angry, revengeful and bitter. Instead it may be a song of reconciliation, faith, acceptance and peace – the ingredients, surely of the happiness we all seek."

[Excerpts from the foreword to the first Australian printing by Stan Arneil, ex. P.O.W., Burma/Thailand Railway.  Author of “One Man’s War”, “Black Jack” and “One Man’s Family]

More about Doctor Nagai
Chronology of his life

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The Manchurian War

"During the 1930s Nagai spent 4½ years as an Army medico in the China fighting, returning to Japan with medals for outstanding valour, and a profound conviction: the blood of bleeding soldiers and civilians is the same whether they are Japanese, Chinese or whatever. His war experiences had become an integral part of his search for God."

[... from the foreword to the first Australian printing by Stan Arneil, ex. P.O.W.]

"In January, 1933, Nagai was staggered to receive a plain official postcard calling him up for military service with the 11th Hiroshima Regiment. The Japanese generals who initiated the Manchurian campaign without consulting the elected politicians in Tokyo, assured them that victory would be swift and cheap. They were wrong; the Chinese had been humiliated enough! Their resistance sent shock waves across the Sea of Japan, reaching even the radiology rooms in Nagasaki."

"Nagai’s diary continues the story from a Manchuria acrid with cordite. (…) He describes one soldier caught by a bursting shell and rendered totally blind and deaf. Much later when the soldier regained consciousness he thought he was a captive of the Chinese and begged and begged them to finish him off. When Nagai’s unit advanced behind artillery barrages his stomach turned as they passed mangled Chinese dead, many of them old folk and infants. Most disturbing of all were the small orphans holding desperately on to the corpses of their parents, sobbing and looking dumbly into space. Was the firmament that he once thought so beautiful just a never ending void of meaninglessness?
    Formerly his vision of science and human progress had been a source of energy and optimism. Now that vision was receding like a mirage as he operated around the clock, trying to focus his bloodshot eyes on the victims of scientific warfare. His faith and confidence in the two millennia sweep of Japanese history and culture faltered, too. He had accepted Army propaganda in the Hiroshima staging camp: ‘Japan has a sacred responsibility to occupy the vacuum in Manchuria and stop the advance of inhuman Bolshevism. Japan must also liberate Asia from Western colonists and usher in the Asia Co-prosperity era’. The brutality of the Japanese Army left him deeply troubled."

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The Hidden Christians

"Nagasaki had not been an important town until 1571 when it became the chief port for the European ships that carried the new and flourishing trade between China (via Macao) and Japan. The port was part of the fief of Baron Omura, a Christian daimyo. In the past, daimyo had given tracts of land to Buddhist monks for monasteries and schools. Omura decided Nagasaki’s harbour dues would help the Jesuits run their school, churches and houses for the poor. So it became a Christian town, with schools, the bishop’s residence and a seminary that saw fifteen Japanese ordained priests before persecutions destroyed visible Catholicism."

"The first of the Tokugawa Shoguns felt deeply suspicious of Christianity, especially Catholicism. He saw missionaries accompanying the conquistadors on colonial enterprises all over the globe (…) In 1614 the Shogun, having wiped out the last remnant of resistance to his rule re-enforced the prohibition of Christianity. Large rewards were offered for information leading to the capture of priests and catechists. (…) The Tokugawa Shoguns remained in power two and a half centuries by setting up a police state and their total opposition to Christianity never slackened."

"In 1858 Japan, forced to open up to the outside world by Commodore Perry’s gunboats, signed a commercial treaty with the U.S.. Europeans soon followed and took up residence in places like Yokohama and Nagasaki. When they began to build churches the Shogun said only Europeans could enter the, Christianity was taboo for the Japanese.

"Father Petijean was told that the spacious Moriyama cattle-shed was the meeting place for the hidden Christians of Urakami. He sent a message to the “water person”, the “calendar person” and the elders. They warned him of the danger if the city officials learned of their identity so he disguised himself as a farmer and went after darkness. He celebrated Mass in the cowshed, with rice straw under his feet to cover the muck. The Japanese are a people attuned to symbols and marvelled at this first Mass being in a cowshed. The story of the dark Advent and Christmas journeys of the little family that was refused shelter by the townspeople and hunted by Herod’s soldiers, had been a favourite during the twenty-five decades of persecution. They even gave the cattle extra hay on December 25!"

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Conversion to Christianity

"He was restless though and uncertain as to the purpose of his own spiritual future, he who had been brought up in a strictly religious family. On the spur of a moment he entered the Catholic Cathedral at Nagasaki seeking a priest. He met Father Moriyama, the nephew of a famous martyr in the last persecutions in Japan in the 1870’s.
     Nagai and Moriyama found that they had much in common. Nagai asked for instructions in the Catholic faith and was baptized, married a descendant of the extraordinary “Hidden Christians” and began a happy family life." 

[... from the foreword to the first Australian printing by Stan Arneil, ex. P.O.W.]
 
"Nagai stood on the wharf trying to make up his mind. Climb the steep hill to the cathedral or go to Downtown Nagasaki for solace in the familiar places of Venus? The maid Elizabeth swung the balance for Tannhauser and the thought of Midori did it for Nagai. (…) “Shimpu-sama (Father), I am not sure what I am doing here and really have no right to be taking up your time. I have lost peace of heart. Maybe I have forfeited all right to it – I have done almost everything your catechism says is wrong. Maybe I have even committed what it calls the sin against the Holy Spirit”. It was all Nagai could do to complete the sentence for his voice and breathing had become strained. The priest said nothing but his heart went out to this tired soldier just back from the front. He took the kettle off the wood stove and made a pot of that Japanese panacea, ocha or thin green tea. Nagai drank a cup gratefully, regained his composure and, encouraged by the warmth in the priest’s eyes, told the story of his life."

"To receive baptism would wound his father and go against filial piety, the Confucian ethic he had imbibed with his mother’s milk. There were other negative aspects. For instance, some German Bible critics suggested more research was needed before we knew with certainty what Jesus taught. Or again, would it not be prudent to delay baptism until his father accepted the idea? There was also his duty in the pioneer field of Japanese radiology (…) He was now home and sat down by the low table on the tatami floor. He took up Pascal’s Pensées and had hardly read a paragraph when he came across a sentence that riveted his attention: “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition” Suddenly it became obvious – for him to delay baptism was to keep company with darkness!"

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Radiologist at the Faculty of Medicine

"It was now late spring. Nagai was on the mend but still in hospital when a messenger came from University Administration requiring a prompt answer. The visitor sat on the left because Nagai was quite deaf in his right ear. Bending closer he told Nagai that as his hearing was permanently impaired, stethoscope work would be impossible. The Administration suggested he become the assistant to Dr. Suetsugu in radiology. (…) Nagai was flabbergasted but also cornered. If he did not accept, they would withdraw the invitation to work at the university. Though he thought Suetsugu was not a little odd, he said yes, he would accept the offer.
    Some weeks later Nagai listened as the professor outlined his plans (…) “Look at the miserable rooms they’ve given me. They’ve absolutely no notion of how important radiology is going to be and we will have to grit our teeth and work at it until the fools do understand. (…) Nagai-kun, I can promise you little more than hard work, abysmal lack of appreciation from university staff or from the students!” He gave the younger man a sharp look that found its mark! “Add to that, Nagai-kun, serious risks to your health! But you’ll be a Japanese pioneer in a vital medical field.”
    Suetsugu became animated. “We will uncover new truths that last forever. Forever! If something is true, it’s eternal. If you became a politician you’d be working for very temporary things that are often false”."

After the atomic destruction Nagai "... returned to Urakami and tackled the problem of residual radiation. He had no instruments, but when he discovered live ants and then earthworms he was convinced the autumn rains had washed most of the fall-out away. The wild rumours that all life would be impossible for 70 years were wrong. Like the ants, back to work! Helped by some friends he built a small hut by leaning charred beams against the stone retaining wall of his home, and roofing it with pieces of heat-buckled tin. (…) The remnants of the university staff set about planning a new university and Nagai joined in energetically." 

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The Pacific War
 
"On Monday, December 8, 1941, Nagai and his wife rose early to attend the 6 a.m. Mass of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. He voiced his worries to her as they climbed the cathedral hill in the winter darkness, worries about the stalemate in the Washington talks between Japan’s Nomura and Secretary of State Hull. During Mass he prayed there would be no war with America, “with the same intensity of feelings I had that night in China when I was ordered to pour gasoline over the wounded.” Nagai had not been impressed when America forced Japan into a corner by cutting off her petroleum supply. (…) However, should Tojo seek a solution through war, America would pour gasoline over Japan and set the nation on fire! Nagai had no illusions about American resources and military potential. (...) Altogether there were seven Mitsubishi complexes in Nagasaki, including a big shipyard. Remembering the Chinese air-raids he thought: if war comes, Nagasaki will certainly be a target. (…) later was on the streets heading for the university when a street loud-speaker crackled out: “At dawn this morning our Imperial Forces engaged the combined forces of Britain and America…” A nearby youth cheered: “Banzai! At last, at last!” A chill numbed Nagai and with it came a terrible presentiment that these buildings around him would be destroyed! He was shaking as he stood there, little suspecting he was 200 metres from what would be immortalized as “ground zero”, the epicentre of the A-bomb."

"Japanese Ultra-Rightists and Militarists were quick to utilize all of this in aggressively promoting their simple thesis: only when Japan becomes as powerful as the West, economically and militarily, is the nation safe. The western democracies, they argued, were preparing to reduce Japan to a third-rate power like China and India. The West was now the enemy! Japanese who embraced western ideologies like Communism and Christianity were traitors to semi-divine Nippon in her hour of peril.(...)  The same bloody-mindedness would eventually lead to war with the U.S. even though the Emperor told Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo that it must be avoided at all costs. In effect, the Chrysanthemum Throne was as helpless as chrysanthemum petals in midwinter winds."

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When the Sun turned Black...And the Rain turned Poison
 
"Dr. Nagai had come out of the hospital air-raid shelter when the all-clear sounded at 10 a.m. on August 9. He doffed his steel helmet and heavy warden’s gear, glad to breathe fresh air again and see sunlight. For a moment he paused and allowed his weary eyes drink in the blood red of the oleander and canna in the hospital garden, and the dark purple of the tiled roofs below him. He looked beyond to Nagasaki Bay, framed magnificently by the summer green of Mt Inasa and the sheer white clouds that floated across the bluest of skies. So peaceful, and what a contrast to our war-torn world, he thought, and with that a saying of the ancient Chinese poet Toho came to mind: Kuni yaburete sanga ari – Though the nation be destroyed the mountains and rivers remain. But he had work to do! Regretfully dragging his eyes from nature’s ever fresh beauty he hurried back to hospital. An hour later he was seated in his office preparing a lecture."

"Moments later Sweeney and his crew saw Nagasaki right below them through a cloud break, immediately recognizing the Urakami River and the Matsuyama Sports Ground. That put them over 3 kilometres north-west of the planned drop but time had run out. Bombardier Kermit released the bomb. It was just 11 a.m. when Fat Man went plummeting down onto the city of 200,000 souls of whom more than 70,000 would die, many without a trace.(...) The cathedral was only 500 metres from where Fat Man detonated and was reduced to rubble in an instant. No one would be sure how many perished inside."

"The Plutonium 239 bomb exploded in Nagasaki with the equivalent force of 22,000 tons of conventional explosives, but with vast differences. Setting aside for the moment the A-bomb’s lethal radiation there was its intense heat which reached several million degrees centigrade at explosion point. The whole mass of the huge bomb was ionised and a fire-ball created, making the air around it luminous, emitting near-ultra-violet rays and infra-red rays and blistering roof tiles up to a kilometre from the epicentre. Exposed human skin was scorched up to 4 kilometres away. Electric light poles, trees and houses within 3.4 kilometres were charred on the surface facing the blast. The velocity of the wind that rushed out from the epicentre was 2 kilometres a second, 60 times the velocity of a major cyclone. This caused a vacuum at the epicentre and another cyclone rushed back in, picking up acres of dust, dirt, debris and smoke that darkened the writhing mushroom cloud."

"Outside the hospital the chaos was unnerving. Bodies hung upside down on stone walls and fences, heads or limbs missing. A wild-eyed mother ran by, clutching a decapitated child, and two children went dragging their father up the hill. Over the way on the roof of a burning building a man danced and sang, quite insane. A serene old couple, hand-in-hand, walked up the hill away from the roaring sea of flames below. Yet Nagai and his group could only stand there helpless, as the fires spread all over the hospital."

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Japan surrenders

"An influential group of Americans were trying to convince the White House that “unconditional surrender” had little chance of Japanese acceptance because it did not recognize the sacred position of the Emperor. Leading this group was Joseph Grew who had been the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo until the Pacific War broke out. Historian Toland writes that Grew “had a rare understanding and affection for Japan and all things Japanese”. Citing ten years’ experience in Japan and his inside view of the genesis of the war Grew insisted that the Emperor was not a war criminal and had tried to prevent the war. Most Japanese, he continued, would resist a surrender that might mean the Emperor’s trial as a war criminal, and would not co-operate with an Occupation that sanctioned such a sacrilege. (…) Their argument was rejected and the Allies broadcast the Postdam demand for unconditional surrender on July 27, 1945. Seventy-eight year old Primer Minister Suzuki was desperate for peace but peace that would protect the Emperor. On July 28 he replied to the Allies with the word “mokusatsu”, meaning “rejection”. The Japanese people accepted that decision and gritted their teeth for the hard battles when the Americans landed. The Japanese media did not carry news of the August 6 A-bombing of Hiroshima."

"Every Japanese who went as far as middle school had studied a book of essays called Tsurezure-gusa, written by Kenko, a court official turned Buddhist monk. His book has had a profound effect on subsequent Japanese culture to this day. It was written around 1330 A.D. and one of Tsurezure-gusa’s seminal sentences runs: “Only if a man accepts death calmly when his sword is broken and his arrows spent, to the end refusing surrender, does he prove he is a hero.”"

"At 11 a.m. on August 9 the Supreme Council of War sat down to discuss Postdam in view of the new development in Hiroshima. The Emperor as tradition demanded attended the meeting as a passive onlooker. Three of the six Council members were for unconditional surrender – Primer Minister Suzuki, Foreign Minister Togo and Navy Minister Admiral Yonai. The other three were adamantly against it – War Minister General Anami, army Chief General Umezu and Navy Chief Admiral Toyoda. The deadlock was hopeless and the meeting was abandoned.
    Some hours later the Emperor heard of the second A-bomb on Nagasaki and was deeply depressed. If he continued to “reign” passively, would he be guilty if his people were wiped out? He came to a lonely decision and requested that the Supreme War Council, all cabinet ministers and high imperial officials meet with him that midnight in his air-raid bunker. When they humoured him and had gathered in his bunker he announced without ado that Japan would accept Postdam’s terms. The audience was as stunned as if a 2,000 year old stone crane had suddenly spoken! Most of his listeners sobbed and some wept openly. The Emperor said he himself would broadcast this to the nation, again breaking all precedent."

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Bedridden Nagai
 
"The tired band followed Nagai and recommenced their medical rounds. However their stamina had noticeably lessened and they too were now going down with radiation symptoms – fever, a low white corpuscle count, falling hair, bleeding gums, exhaustion. On September 8, 1945, Nagai manifested severe symptoms of A-bomb sickness. His temperature went up to 40 oC and stayed there for a week. His whole body was swollen, his face like a soccer ball. The flesh around his temple wound rotted, leaving a gaping wound and bleeding began again."

"Nagai returned to live where Midori and 8,000 Christians died “so that I could contemplate the meaning of the event.” (…)  Nagai settled down in his little hut that was neither windproof, rainproof nor, as the winter soon proved, snowproof. The most recent medical opinion gave him a life expectancy of two to three years."

"Nagai, slipping in and out of coma now realized he could not move his head nor open his eyes and thought: convulsions will soon begin. He could hear the prayers and his son’s voice. That made him want to live. He heard a woman’s voice speaking reassuringly. Ah, that’s Gran. “This is water from Our Lady’s Grotto at Hongochi Monastery”, she murmured gently (…) Nurse Morita who had been pressing the broken artery suddenly faced Dr. Tomita and said: “The bleeding has stopped!” The big wound which had resisted medication, had been healed up without medical help. Nagai wrote of the experience in detail in one of his later books. (...) Nagai’s remarkable recovery occurred on October 5, by which time government medical teams were taking over and Nagai’s band could return to their own homes."

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Writings from the Nyokodo

"Nagai lost his endearing wife in the bomb and, though suffering from terminal radiation disease, he built a hut in the ashes of the “nuclear wilderness” and began writing. His books became best-sellers in demoralized Japan. People of all classes, conditions and beliefs, from the Emperor to the street urchins, began visiting this holy man who condemned no one. The finale of his short life is powerful and absorbing."

[... from the foreword to the first Australian printing by Stan Arneil, ex. P.O.W.]

More about Nyokodo and Nagai Memorial Museum

"Nagai made a concrete suggestion to his old Urakami friends who had returned: Let us put up simple shacks to live in and then spend our energies rebuilding St. Francis’ Hospital, the Sisters’ orphanage, the schools, and the wooden church beside the old cathedral. (…) A pilgrim hut has a name and Nagai called his hut Nyokodo. Do means shrine, ko means yourself and nyo means just as (…) He moved into Nyokodo in the spring of 1948, emaciated but 96 cm around the waist because of the swollen spleen. Ghandi had been much in the news at the time and the Japanese people had a profound respect and affection for him. Ghandi himself had marched to the drum beat of the semi-recluse when he farewelled his wife, family and home and went to live in a little room in New Delhi. Japanese newspapers often ran articles on the poor man in the loin-cloth who shared all he had with the poor of India. When he was assassinated in January 1948, they began to call Nagai “the Ghandi of Nyokodo”."

"He completed his book, The Bells of Nagasaki, by the anniversary pf Midori’s death, August 9, 1946. Three years later it would become a best-seller and a top box-office movie. But in 1946 no publisher was interested in it. Every major city in Japan had been bombed. Who would want to be reminded of that or of the grotesque fate of A-bomb victims? Nagai was not unduly upset by this initial reaction from publishers. He began two more books. One was a translation of Bruce Marshall’s little classic, The World, the Flesh and Father Smith. The other was the book where he most reveals himself, Horobino Mono Wo, What Does Not Pass Away, where he writes autobiographically in the third person, calling himself Ryukichi. It is a name of two ideographs, one of them the ideograph for his real name Takashi. Midori is called Haruno, which means Springtime Field."

"By the end of 1948 people all over Japan were reading Nagai. On May 25, 1949 the National Ministry gave special commendation to his book Kono Ko wo Nokoshite (Children of Nagasaki). When The Bells of Nagasaki came out as a movie the National Education Ministry recommended it for all schools and inserted sections about Nagai into syllabus text books."

Publications of Doctor Takashi Nagai
More about his books

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Prayer for World Peace

"Nagai in his anti-war writing never displayed that anti-American or anti-Western element that was to become such a contentious characteristic of many “peace-movements”. (…) He expressed grave suspicions about “angry people” in peace movements. There is a great need for peace movements, he wrote, but only if made up of people with hearts that are at peace. He warned of any peace movement that was “merely political” or ideological and not dedicated to justice, love and patient hard work. Angry shouting in the streets about peace often cloaked very unpeaceful hearts, he commented. Such writing did not endear him to everyone!
    There is nothing particularly remarkable in the foregoing but he (and Ghandi) are remarkable in promoting the Sermon on the Mount as the practical charter for world peace. If one is a Christian, he writes, one will not demand that the Communist lay down his sickle before going to make peace with him. The Christian will go weaponless and embrace the Communist, even at the risk of being pierced by that sickle. Utterly impracticable? Yes, unless you know how to pray, he replies. Not any kind of prayer though, for (…) we can pray as soon as we can speak with the loving Person who is the source of all dynamism in the universe."

Nagai "... has also been compared with Dag Hammarksjöld, second Secretary General of the United Nations who died in 1961 – both left influential writings on peace and shared a love of the abrupt and frugal evocativeness of haiku poetry. (…) Both lived and died in the maelstrom of modern life. They loved life and wrote wisely about education, science, culture, government and peace movements. However both insisted on the need to view these things through the supernatural light that comes in personal prayer. Prayer became their prism in reverse that gathers the scattered and lurid colours of human experience into the clarity and simplicity of daylight."

"For me, Nagai’s strongest appeal is that he came through such tough modern problems, and came through the stronger and more attractive for it. He himself told the mourners, at the first funeral Mass, that the coalescence of events surrounding Urakami, the A-bomb, the shattered cathedral and the Emperor’s surrender on August 15 were not chance but providential. I feel the same about the extraordinary life of Nagai – God’s Providence led him through the worst experiences of the 20th century to make him a pathfinder for others. He condensed his advice for travellers in his dying words, Inotte kudasai. Pray, please pray."

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Other books by the same author

The Smile of a Ragpicker
Hearers of Silent Music
Thank You Brother Fire
Healing Fire from Frozen Earth
Psalms: Songs for The Way Home

About Fr. Paul Glynn

Published by and available from
Marist Fathers Books,
1 Mary Street,
Hunters Hill, N.S.W. 2100, Australia

The Marist Mission Centre uses all profits from A Song from Nagasaki on medical help for the 3rd World poor.

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About the atomic bomb


Some books about the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Disaster
Scientific data of Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Disaster
The A-Bomb WWW Museum
The Nagasaki Peace Declaration
Website of the Japan-quide.com
Website of Nagasaki city and the atomic bomb
Photographic archives
Thousand Cranes Peace Network



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