Lightning blinking and flashing, high in the autumn sky fading out


As was his habit, Takashi Nagai arose before sunrise, ate a modest breakfast, and then dressed in his kokumin fuku, his “national clothes,” the quasi-military uniform mandated as standard wear for Japanese men, particularly those engaged in public service. After hanging the canteen of water, which his wife had lovingly prepared for him, over his shoulder, he slid open the front door to his home, looked out, and took a deep breath. The rays of the sun were strong, even in the early morning; seven o’clock and already it was hot and humid: a very Nagasaki summer’s day. Even now, a line of sweat was forming on his shirt at his waist.

“It’s going to be so hot today,” he murmured in a low voice and shaking his head, as if talking to no one but himself. Then he turned to his wife. “Alright, I’m going now. I don’t know what time I’ll be back; but Midori, listen to me. If the air raid siren sounds, run away. I don’t care where. I don’t care if our house burns. I only care about you. As soon as you can, run away quickly.” Midori, already dressed in gaily-colored monpe, comfortable, loose-fitting, pants and a matching tunic that resembled pajamas more than the work clothes they were, and ready to do some gardening, simply nodded and grasped the white, Catholic rosary beads that hung around her neck. “I’ll be just fine,” she said, looking up at her husband with a smile. “Remember my Christian name is Maria, and Christ is with me. Really, I’ll be just fine. Don’t worry. Please, take care of yourself.” Takashi, a bit more pragmatic than his wife and thus, not quite as certain, simply smiled at Midori, touched her shoulder, then turned and headed for the bus station. All the while, Midori stood at the door and watched her husband until his form disappeared from view. She gave a small sigh, then turned, and walked back into the house. As he walked along the road toward the bus stop, Takashi looked around his neighborhood. Here and there, smoke drifted up from some of the houses along his way as families prepared breakfast, the aroma of cooking food riding on the hot morning breeze. He stopped for a minute and gazed at the skyline of Mt. Konpira and Urakami village in the clear, early morning sunlight. Thin clouds drifted across the pastel sky, as if rendered in the style of the old prints and paintings: a view of which he never tired.

Twenty-five minutes later, he arrived at the Nagasaki Medical College where he first checked into his small office in the Outpatient Clinic on the second floor, read his messages, and then left to teach his first class of the day as an associate professor. Shortly before eleven o’clock, he was back at his desk, just getting comfortable and preparing to sort through a stack of x-ray photographs, when he thought he heard a sound outside, somewhere in the distance. Takashi stood up, walked to the window, and peered out into the bright day. The sky was still the pastel blue of Japan, the same sky that one can see in countless prints by Hiroshige and Hokusai; but now a large, thick cloud hovered over Urakami Catholic Cathedral. He listened. There it was: a sound, which seemed to be coming from somewhere above the cloud. The noise then faded away. He listened again. Yes, there it was, a dull buzzing, which gradually grew into a low-pitched roar. “A B-29?” he wondered. “Yes, that must be it.” He had heard

them with increasing frequency during the past few weeks as they made their way north to Honshū: Ōsaka and Tokyō. He looked upward and squinted against the sun’s glare; but he couldn’t see the now familiar silhouette of the American bomber. There was only the drone of the approaching engines — growing louder — growing closer. Takashi remained by the window for another few moments, hoping to catch a glimpse of the giant plane.

At 11:02, there occurred a sudden, brilliant flash of light, white light, followed in an instant by a tremendous blast. He was violently thrown into the air amid a mass of broken wood and sharp glass shards as the window imploded. As if in a dream, a surreal scene, he drifted in slow motion through a sea of rubble; a bed, bookshelves and their contents, pieces of paper, chunks of galvanized metal, plaster, and wood danced through the air in random

motions with a brontide, that unearthly, low rumbling, thunder-like noise, caused by earthquakes, so familiar to everyone who lived in Japan, throbbing in the background. Just as suddenly, the nightmare ended and both he and the rubble fell to the floor.

Takashi was buried. His eyes were open; yet he couldn’t see, as though he were a blind person. As he lay there, beneath the wreckage, he wondered what had happened. He could feel something, as if warm water was inching, trickling down to his neck from the right side of his head; but there was no pain. Was he alive or dead? At that very instant of thought, all sound stopped, and it seemed as though time itself had also stopped. There was nothing but darkness and silence: the perfect silence of the mu world: the empty underworld of legend.

“Takashi-san! Takashi-san! Takashi-san!” He heard a voice calling to him out of the dark void. “Takashi-san! Takashi-san! Takashi-san!” He could hear it clearer now: his wife’s voice in the darkness. “Midori!” he called out — at least he thought he heard himself call out. “Run Way!” “I’m alright. I am with Christ. My name is “Maria.” “Where are you?” he called out. “Midori, where are you?” Fireworks burst across the darkness, like a chrysanthemum-burst of light; and there was his beloved Midori, standing amid the beautiful lights, dressed in a blue monpe and white blouse: the very same clothes she had worn so many years ago when they went to watch summer fireworks together for the first time. Behind her, beautiful colored flowers of light flashed and disappeared, only to reappear and disappear, again and again. A spark fell on her, but she just stood there smiling. “Midori! Watch out! Come here!” Takashi reached out for his wife, but she didn’t move. “Takashi-san. It’s so beautiful here. Do you understand? The fireworks are for the repose of the souls of those who have died. I am here, waiting for you.” Again, the fireworks flashed, and when they had disappeared, so had Midori. Takashi simply lay there, not knowing how much time had passed, if he was alive or dead, if it was day or night.

“Nagai-sensei! Nagai-sensei!” It was the voice of his assistant. He strained to regain his consciousness. He felt hands on him, human hands; and he suddenly realized he was alive and being pulled from the detritus by his assistant and others from the medical school. Reality slowly returned and he realized that he was in trouble. He knew now a vein, at his right temple, had been cut. Summoning all his faculties, he ripped his own shirt apart and fashioned a bandage to bind it. Then he stood up and set to work; there were other victims, much worse off than he was who needed his help — he was alive, and he was a doctor of medicine.

A day later, dirty, his clothes stained with soot and blood, exhausted and barely able to stand, Takashi slowly made his way home. The sun rose as usual from Mt. Konpira and gave its blessing of light to the earth; yet, there was no life left in Urakami Village to receive the benediction. With effort, he eventually reached the burnt

ruins of his home and called for his wife. There was no answer, only the terrible roar of silence. He continued to call out to her as he began digging through the destruction. It was then that his worst fears were realized. There, amid the scorched timbers, lay the charred bones of poor Midori, her melted rosary with its cross, still around her neck. He clutched the prayer beads in his hands and then slumped in grief over his dear wife’s body. No one knows for how long he remained like that, until a neighbor at last pulled him away.

Some years later, the poet Sato Hachiro would write: 召されて妻は 天国へ 別れてひとり 旅立ちぬ かたみに残る ロザリオの

鎖に白き わが涙 なぐさめ はげまし 長崎の ああ 長崎の鐘が鳴る My wife was called to Heaven by God. She left me for that world. As a memory of her, she left her rosary. My white tears on the rosary’s chain — Ah, the bells of Nagasaki ring. Comfort and encouragement for Nagasaki.

Takashi Nagai later wrote, of the bells of Nagasaki1: These are the bells that did not ring for weeks or months after the disaster. May there never be a time when they do not ring! May they ring out this message of peace until the morning of the day on which the world ends.

This year, fire flowers will blossom in the night sky over Nagasaki, again to console the victims. It is the sixtyseventh summer since the bombing of the city. Takashi Nagai, even though ill and slowly dying from leukemia, a direct result of the radiation from the bomb that fell on Nagasaki, dedicated the remainder of his life to prayer and service to the other victims. He died on May 1, 1951. Midori and Takashi’s son, Makoto, and daughter, Kayano, survived their mother and father, having been evacuated to another town.

The Bells of Nagasaki, written by Takashi Nagai in 1949, was refused publication in post-war Japan on the orders of General MacArthur and his GHQ administration until an appendix was added, which described alleged Japanese atrocities in the Philippines. This appendix was later removed.


Translated and edited by Saitō H. Additional editing by Tokugawa H

COPYRIGHT © 2012 by Aoi Tokugawa. Japanese version Copyright © 2012 by Aoi Tokugawa. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States and Japan by Shisei-Dō Publications. No part of this publication may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photo- copying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior written permission of the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

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