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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
Never let the Doctor's cherry trees die
Tomoji Kobata (male, born 1938)
Reported by Shohei Okada (male, born 1981)

photo Mr. Kobata in front of Nyokodo

photo In recent years, Mr. Kobata has served as a tour guide on Gunkanjima (Battleship Island).

There is a two-tatami mat [about 3-sq.-meter, or 33-sq.-foot]-room hut in Nagasaki's Uenomachi. This is Nyokodo, where Dr. Takashi Nagai (1908-1951), author of The Bells of Nagasaki, continued to write while he was terminally ill in bed, working tirelessly for the hibakusha.

In the autumn of 1949 a boy, who had been receiving medical treatment for tuberculosis diagnosed by Dr. Nagai, visited Nyokodo. Accompanied by a relative, the boy had come to tell the doctor of his complete recovery, asking the doctor to examine him. Because Dr. Nagai was unable to get up from his bed, he asked the boy to climb over him and show his belly, crouching on all fours. Dr. Nagai listened with his stethoscope, nodded and said, "It sounds good. It sounds good."

* * *

That boy was Mr. Tomoji Kobata, who is now 76 years old and lives in Nagasaki's Kaminoshima-machi. He was evacuated to safety shortly before the atomic bomb was dropped, but his family became victims. He is currently the director of the Nagasaki Nyoko-no-Kai society, which is dedicated to promoting Dr. Nagai's achievements. In accordance with the doctor's wishes for peace, the society continues activities such as planting second-generation seedlings from the 1,000 cherry trees he originally planted. Looking back, Mr. Kobata believes that an invisible thread connects him and Dr. Nagai.

Mr. Kobata was born in 1938, in Tomie-machi, Goto City, and was raised by adoptive parents in Nagasaki from the age of two or three. His home was in Motoomachi, which was near the schoolyard of Nagasaki Medical College, now the School of Medicine at Nagasaki University. For generations his family had been Christians and often attended Urakami Cathedral. He recalls that "the ceiling was high, and it was grand."

In the winter before entering the National Elementary School, Mr. Kobata's coughing became persistent, and he went for a medical check-up at Nagasaki Medical College Hospital. He discovered later that it was Dr. Nagai who examined him. His first impression of Dr. Nagai was "scary" because of his large build.

Mr. Kobata was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which, in those days, was considered to be incurable. He remembers that he was gently told, "If you're good, you'll get better." He was going to start at the National Elementary School in April 1945, but wasn't able to do so because of his medical treatment. When he saw Dr. Nagai again several years later, the doctor said to him: "I didn't know what to do when you cried after I told you that you couldn't go to school."

On August 1, 1945, there was an air raid over Nagasaki Medical College Hospital and other buildings near his home. Mr. Kobata heard the loud sounds of the bombing at home where he was recuperating. It was no longer safe for him to remain there, and he was evacuated to Goto. This was several days before the atomic bomb was dropped. His home was about 600 meters [660 yards, or 0.4 mile] east of the hypocenter. He said, "I would have definitely died if I had stayed there."

After the atomic bomb was dropped on August 9, he heard adults saying, "They've dropped a new type of bomb on Nagasaki." At the end of August his relative, who lived in Sakamoto-machi near the College Hospital, visited and told him: "Everything is destroyed, and no one survived." He realized then that his adoptive parents had died, and he began to cry.

After he became a middle school student, he went to see where his home once stood. "Nothing was left," he recalls. Since the location where his parents died was never found, their bones could never be found. Some stones and pieces of porcelain that were found where his home used to be were placed in their grave instead.

* * *

In January 1946, Mr. Kobata returned to Nagasaki from Goto, where he had been evacuated. He spent time in the hospital receiving medical treatment, and then moved to the dormitory of Seibo-no-Kishi Missionary School (present-day Seibo-no-Kishi High School) in Hongochi in Nagasaki where his relative, Father Takeo Kiyokawa, was the principal.

Mr. Kobata first visited Nyokodo around 1949, and continued doing so after that. Dr. Nagai had a special link with Seibo-no-Kishi Missionary School because Father Kolbe from Poland, who was the founder of Seibo-no-Kishi Monastery in Nagasaki, was a patient of his. For a short while after the war, the doctor also gave lessons at the school. He also wrote a series of articles for the Seibo-no-Kishi journal founded by Father Kolbe, and Mr. Kobata used to be sent to Nyokodo to collect the articles. Dr. Nagai was immensely delighted whenever Mr. Kobata sometimes brought him some instant coffee. Mr. Kobata recalls seeing the doctor lying in bed and drinking the coffee with a tube.

Mr. Kobata met Brother Zenon ?ebrowski, a monk from Seibo-no-Kishi, who devoted his life to helping atomic bomb orphans. As Mr. Kobata fondly remembers, "The star-shaped sweets that Brother ?ebrowski gave me were delicious."

On one of Mr. Kobata's visits to Nyokodo, Dr. Nagai said to him, while lying in bed: "I've had those cherry trees planted over there." What he was looking at in the distance was the ruins where Urakami Cathedral once stood. In those days the church used to be surrounded by rows of cherry trees and could be seen from Nyokodo, though the view is now obscured by buildings. The 1,200 cherry trees, said to be privately funded and planted by the doctor, who wanted to encourage people, were called "Nagai Cherry Trees."

Mr. Kobata remembers seeing the cherry trees in blossom in the spring, although he is not sure if the doctor was with him. He recalls that the cherry blossoms were the only things that were bright and in bloom among the debris that covered the area as far as the eye could see. "This scene left a big impression on me."

On May 5, 1951, Dr. Nagai was taken to Nagasaki Medical College Hospital, and died there that evening. Mr. Kobata, who had started middle school at Seibo-no-Kishi Missionary School in April that year, attended the doctor's funeral. However, he says that, at the time, he didn't think seriously enough about the doctor and regrets that he wasn't more understanding.

Mr. Kobata didn't give much thought to the doctor for a long time after his death, but reached a turning point about ten years ago [2004], when visiting his relative, Father Takeo Kiyokawa, the former principal of Seibo-no-Kishi Missionary School, before he died. Father Kiyokawa said to him: "Your life was saved by Dr. Nagai." This took Dr. Kobata aback; it was at that point that he felt he should follow the doctor's wishes.

So Mr. Kobata started planting the second generation of Nagai Cherry Trees. According to the records, Dr. Nagai had planted 1,200 cherry trees. However, when Mr. Kobata and the Volunteer Guides for Peace in Nagasaki investigated the trees in 2008, they discovered only around 20 trees, half of which were dying. Mr. Kobata proposed a "cherry tree replanting project" to the Nagasaki Nyoko-no-Kai society, taking a leading role as director. The three healthiest of the surviving cherry trees at the church were grafted, and from 2010, more than 200 trees have been planted in Nagasaki City, in Unnan City in Shimane Prefecture, where the doctor spent his childhood, and other areas. Mr. Kobata says, "The cherry trees are the only visual thing that will enable us to pass on Dr. Nagai's wishes to future generations. We shall never let them die."

* * *

In 1949, the "Anokora-no-Hi (Children's Memorial)" was erected on the grounds of Yamazato Elementary School in Nagasaki's Hashiguchi-machi, which is about 600 meters [656 yards, or 0.4 mile] from the hypocenter. The monument was funded by book royalties earned by Dr. Nagai and is dedicated to the approximately 1,300 children and teaching staff of Yamazato National Elementary School who lost their lives during the atomic bomb attack.

The school holds a peace memorial ceremony every November, which is the month the monument was created. At the 2011 ceremony, Mr. Kobata gave a speech and said, "I was supposed to attend this school, which was the school of my dreams." Mr. Kobata was listed as a pupil at the school, but was never allowed to walk through the gate due to his medical treatment for tuberculosis. He told the pupils of his adoptive parents being killed by the atomic bomb, and spoke about his relationship with Dr. Nagai. At the end of his speech he appealed to the students: "Study hard and carry the peace that Dr. Nagai wished for you in your hearts and minds."

One time he explained to some children visiting Nyokodo, where Dr. Nagai had lived, that the origin of the name Nyokodo was based on the notion of "loving others as you would yourself." He said he hoped that the children would remember not only the name of the hut, but also Dr. Nagai's wishes.

* * *

Mr. Kobata is currently involved in reprinting The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith, translated by Dr. Nagai and a foreign priest in 1947. As chairman of the alumni of Seibo-no-Kishi High School, Mr. Kobata is leading this project. This novel was a bestseller in Europe in around 1945.

This book was Dr. Nagai's first publication. He had already written his well-known book The Bells of Nagasaki in 1946, but it was not published until 1949 because under General Headquarters conditions, it had to be published with The Tragedy of Manila, which was compiled by GHQ to describe the atrocities of the Japanese Army. The doctor donated the royalties that he earned from The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith to Urakami Cathedral, and an organ was bought with the money. In return the church presented the doctor with Nyokodo.

By mid-April 2014, 2,000 copies of the reprinted book will be completed and sent to the students of Seibo-no-Kishi High School. Mr. Kobata feels that Dr. Nagai is not well known among the younger generation: "We shall never forget him. I hope that the reprinted books will make them aware of Dr. Nagai and his achievements."

* Originally published in Japanese in 2014 in the series "ナガサキノート [Notes from Nagasaki]," The Asahi Shimbun (Nagasaki morning edition), March 2014.