Friday, August 3, 2012

The Hill of Flowers Featured

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Cherry blossom trees (or "Sakura" in Japanese) have great meaning and significance to the people of Japan. They are known for their short but brilliant blooming period each Spring and cherry blossom viewing is a popular activity during that season.

There is one place in particular to view cherry blossoms that has special meaning where I am currently living, namely, in the Urakami district of Nagasaki City.  Urakami district is the home to Urakami Cathedral and was the hypocenter for the atomic bombing. After the bombing that led to Japan's surrender in World War II, it was thought that nothing would ever grow in Nagasaki again. Thankfully though, life will find a way, and today there are many beautiful flowers and cherry blossom trees growing there and you could never tell that such an atrocity was committed there 67 years ago.

The presence of so many cherry blossoms in Urakami is thanks to one man, Dr. Takashi Nagai, affectionately referred to as "the saint of Urakami."

Dr. Nagai was a convert to Catholicism and an assistant professor at the Nagasaki College of Medicine. He was working in the radiology department of the college when the bomb was dropped. He received a serious injury in the blast but despite that, he went to help treat the other survivors.

When Dr. Nagai returned home he found a heap of ashes in place of his house and the burnt bones of his wife within, her rosary close by. He was later found to have terminal leukemia (caused by his work in radiology) but he rebuilt a shack in the rubble of his home and continued living there in the irradiated city, treating survivors and researching atomic bomb disease. Later in his life his attention turned to restoring the city and working for world peace. He wrote many books and gained some measure of fame for his selfless spirit and his work towards advancing peace (he even received visits from Helen Keller, the emperor of Japan, and a cardinal emissary of the pope).

In 1948, Dr. Nagai was awarded a culture award by a Japanese newspaper and received a small fortune. He used the money to plant 1000 cherry blossom trees in Urakami district. He wanted to make the site of so much destruction into a "Hill of Flowers." On May 1, 1951, Dr. Nagai succumbed to his leukemia. 20,000 people attended his funeral at Urakami Cathedral. The beauty of his cherry blossoms is still enjoyed today and they are known as the "Nagai Senbonzakura" or "1,000 cherry trees of Nagai."

 

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