THE BELLS OF NAGASAKI
Nagasaki rhymes with tragedy, horror and destruction. It is one of the two cities in the world that have known what a nuclear holocaust is about. As one can expect, the recollection of the event is vivid in the minds of Nagasaki’s inhabitants. Twice, I was there on August 9, when thousands of little candles lighten up throughout the streets and when memorials are held for remembering the victims and praying for world peace. I spent in toal a little more than four months in Nagasaki. Strangely enough, this experience was not only about tragedy, it was also about silence, life, hope and renewal. From now on, Nagasaki for me does not rhyme only with death, but also with resurrection.
On the hills of Nagasaki there are thousands of houses which seem to rush down towards the sea or to climb up towards the top of the mountains. Most of these houses have a garden, and people tend them carefully, striving to preserve an atmosphere of secret and freshness even in the midst of the burning and sultry summer. On the top of the hills, which you access through numberless stone stairs, forests protect dark shrines. The trees sometimes open up, they make space for a modest monument that recalls how victims of the atomic bomb proceeded towards the adjacent hills in order to die closer from the blue sky.
In Nagasaki, I discovered a man whom might well be called the soul of the city. Dr Takashi Nagai (永井醫師) had been meditating on the meaning of suffering for most of his life. After he graduated from medical school he became a specialist in radiology. X-ray machines were brand new technology in Japan in 1932. The country had a very high rate of tuberculosis, so Dr Nagai knew that chest x-rays could save many lives. He also knew that it was dangerous technology, and that he could die if he was exposed to too much radiation. He went ahead with his experiments anyway. During the war, he went to China as a doctor, and he was tormented by his knowledge that this war was unjust and so cruel. He decided that it was his job to take care of anyone who was wounded, whether Japanese or Chinese. Back in Japan in 1941 he continued to work on x-ray technology, and ultimately discovered that he had leukemia. Shortly after that, the A-bomb fell on Nagasaki, killing 70,000 of the 200,000 residents of the city. Nagai organized the relief work, working around the clock for more than two days. When he finally went back to his own house he found the charred body of his wife and collected her bones for burial.
Nagai still lived for six year after the bomb fell, taking care of his two children, although, after three years his health was so bad that he had to lie down all day long. In the same time, he wrote twenty books, poems, calligraphy… The most famous of his works is called “The Bells of Nagasaki”, a scientific explanation of nuclear radiation, an account of the event of August 1945 and a profession of faith in love and life. He spoke about the need for Japanese people to recognize their own sins and the suffering they inflicted to other nations. He also spoke about the need for the survivors to forgive, not to take revenge, to become peacemakers so that such experience might never be repeated, the need to build new communities and to believe in the everlasting strength of life.
This experience has determined the style of the modest paintings I present here. Using almost exclusively ink, they speak about the underlying presence of tragedy in human life. But they speak at the same time of the peace and strength of mind that we attain when we start to really believe that love is stronger than death and when we act accordingly. The eye of the artist is able to perceive the ray of hope in the heart of darkness, and, in his works, the artist makes this awakening happen to anyone who is willing to share in his vision.