|Chinatown, near our hotel.|
|Next time we'll just order one to split.|
Most Americans probably know Nagasaki best for being one of the two cities that were hit with an atomic bomb by the U.S. military in World War II, but Nagasaki also has an extensive Christian history. Nagasaki was one of the first ports through which Christian missionaries came to Japan, and it is home to some of the most famous churches and cathedrals in the country.
|Ōura Catholic Church, considered the oldest standing church in Japan.|
However, as a center of Christian activity in Japan, it also is the site of some of the saddest and cruelest episodes during the government's nearly-300-year ban on Christianity from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Likely the most famous of these incidents is the 1597 crucifixion of the so-called "Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan." 14 Japanese men, six missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits, and three Japanese boys (the youngest was 12) who were publicly executed by order of feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. We visited the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum, which made for an emotional few hours. The stories of these martyrs--their sermons of forgiveness from their crosses, their persistence in singing praises to God even in the midst of their agony--were incredibly moving.
|Monument to the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan. Below the statues is a|
portion of Mark 8:34: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny
themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
The sobering afternoon continued with a visit to the Peace Park, remembering the victims of the atomic bomb, and Urakami Cathedral, which was only 500 meters from the center of the blast and whose toppled belfry remains on the hillside where it fell on August 9, 1945. We walked and talked and reflected all the way back to the station for dinner before getting on the train back to Kumamoto. It hadn't necessarily been a fun trip, but it was certainly one worth taking.
|Urakami Cathedral, rebuilt.|
|The old belfry, unmoved since 1945.|
|Peace Statue at the north end of the Peace Park.|
|Nagasaki at night.|
A week later, I met up with Caroline and a couple of her friends visiting from the States in Hiroshima, a city that's also probably best known in America for having been hit with an atomic bomb by the U.S. in World War II--and its Peace Park and memorials were a must-stop for us, as well. Though it wasn't necessarily a hotbed of Christianity in the old days like Nagasaki, it certainly has its own unique history and culture. One of its best-known places is the island of Miyajima. Most people probably don't know the name of Miyajima, but it's home of Itsukushima Shrine, which I'll wager most people will recognize when they see it.
|The torī of Itsukushima Shrine|
To make the day extra-special, we all rented kimono at a shop near the ferry port and toured the island in what Japan would consider our Sunday best. We were stopped and asked to be photographed more times than I can count! Fortunately there were a few kind folks touring the island that took our picture with our cameras, as well.
After landing back at the port and changing back into our regular clothes, we walked around the Peace Park for a while, mostly just reflecting as we took it all in.
|Night view of Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb Dome (currently under renovation).|
We grabbed dinner at the station before finally boarding the Shinkansen bound for Kumamoto, where Caroline's friends hung out with us for a few more days. It was good to hang out with Americans from the homeland again! I've forgotten how new and wonderful things in Japan can be.
|Back in Kumamoto! Karaoke for New Year's Eve.|
Before I knew it, the fun was over and it was time to head back to school to prepare for the final three months. We also welcomed three new J-3s to Kumamoto in January. They'll start teaching at Luther and KyuGaku in April. And I have some packing to do...
|Kumamoto J-3s. Back row: me, Morgan, Brent, Caroline, Zach (new).|
Front row: Hannah (new), Dean (new).
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."
Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)