Out Of The Ashes Came Grace

I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture, particularly by Christians in Japan. I recently read an amazing book, which I highly recommend: A Song For Nagasaki by Paul Glynn. The book relates the true story of Taskahi Nagai, one of the pioneers in X-ray research in Japan.

Nagai was a doctor’s son, and he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps in medical practice. He chose instead to study the new field of radiology at Nagasaki University. While a student, he moved from blindly following his family’s Shinto beliefs (complete with 8,000 gods) to embracing agnosticism, still believing all the while that there was something out there.

Inspired by the writings of Blaise Pascal, Nagai chose to explore Christianity, going so far as to stay with a Catholic family in the suburb of Urakami, near the university. That family gently demonstrated the love of Christ to them, and in time, Nagai placed his faith in Jesus and married his landlords’ only daughter, Midori. His Christian faith and rock-solid marriage sustained him through a torturous stint in the Japanese army stationed in Manchuria as well as through the severe leukemia he contracted due to prolonged exposure to and inadequate protection from x-ray radiation.

In the waning days of World War II, air raids were common around Nagasaki, a strategic industrial city. Takashi and Midori Nagai sent their son and daughter to live with Midori’s mother in the mountains for safety. On August 9, 1945, the people of Nagasaki heard an air raid siren and moved to bunkers until they heard the all-clear signal. False alarm.

Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Nagasaki felt a blast unlike any felt by nearly anyone else in history — an atomic bomb. Urakami was practically ground zero. Protected by the walls of his office at the university hospital, Nagai was spared with minor injuries, but his wife at home, blocks from the impact site, was killed, rosary in hand. Their children were safe in the mountains.

Nagai grieved for his wife, for the devastation of the city he called home, but he wasn’t bitter. He poured his efforts into saving and helping heal victims, and, as the weeks and months passed, to offering spiritual counsel. Of the tens of thousands dead in Nagasaki, 8,000 were believers in Jesus Christ. (In an odd side note, the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki wiped out the largest concentration of Christians in Japan, long considered one of the most elusive mission fields.)

Nagai held an interesting view as to why Nagasaki suffered the atomic blast: he believed it was the plan of Almighty God. He believed that the city with the largest number of true believers in Him was a sacrifice to achieve Japanese surrender, and thus peace. His view was controversial when he first revealed it at the memorial service marking the one year anniversary of the bombing, but the Christian survivors came to accept the notion. Nagai became somewhat of a folk hero and an accomplished author, visited by such dignitaries as the Emperor of Japan, a papal representative, and Helen Keller. And Nagasaki became an example of how to handle disaster with an unbelievable amount of grace.

Urakami was the area of Nagasaki rebuilt the most quickly, including the homes of many Christians, the Christian school, and the majestic cathedral. A memorial to Nagai, who succumbed to leukemia in 1951, stands on the site of his home; Nagasaki also hosts a foundation dedicated to achieving peace. The Christians in Nagasaki were (and still are) a tremendous light to the people in that area of Japan.

It has been said that the two memorials to the survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan have completely different vibes to them. Hiroshima’s memorial is bitter and angry, while Nagasaki’s is peaceful, hopeful, and committed to a distinctly Christian view of forgiveness. It is the result of the actions of believers like Takashi Nagai that contributed to the uniqueness of Nagasaki’s acceptance of the fate that city suffered nearly 65 years ago.

Out of the ashes came grace…