“Inori no Nagasaki”?

Exploring Christian Themes in the Construction of Nagasaki as a Hibakusha City

Daniel Clausen, Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies [About | Email]

Volume 22, Issue 1 (Discussion Paper 1 in 2022). First published in ejcjs on 17 April 2022.


Histories and journalism on anti-nuclear activism in Hiroshima and Nagasaki frequently distinguish the two cities through the descriptions “ikari no Hiroshima” (anger of Hiroshima) and “inori no Nagasaki” (prayer of Nagasaki). The implication is that Hiroshima’s peace activism has been characterised by passionate activism and anger, while Nagasaki’s activism has been characterised by calls for contemplation and prayer. Each year the mayor of Nagasaki gives an official Peace Declaration on the anniversary of the atomic bomb blast. These Peace Declarations serve as authoritative moral discourse on nuclear abolition and help inform Nagasaki’s understanding of its own identity. However, there are still open questions regarding the degree to which Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations actually reflect this common understanding of “inori no Nagasaki.” Do Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations actively employ Christian and religious themes in their condemnations of nuclear weapons? This essay examines Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations to determine how often Nagasaki uses Christian themes.

Keywords: Inori no Nagasaki; Ikari no Hiroshima; Peace Declaration; Peace Discourse; Christian Peace Discourse.


Pain, suffering, and victimhood have long been essential elements of group memory, identity, and collective action. Painful events are also used as a form of moral authority to speak on issues and to make calls for action. And yet, even though commemoration and testimonials of painful events are a necessary part of group identity, there is also a sense in which words fail to describe the meaning of these events (Treat, 1995, p. 27). The events of August 6 and August 9, 1945 left deep scars on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the world. As a result of the two nuclear bomb blasts, the characters of both cities and their relationship to the world were forever changed. Not surprisingly, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become devoted to peace and anti-nuclear activism. Each year, on the anniversary of the bombings, the mayors of both cities speak out against nuclear weapons and the horror of nuclear war.

However, even though both cities share the distinction of being “hibakusha cities,” their activism has been characterised by important differences. It has become commonplace to describe the difference between the character of the two cities in terms of “ikari” (anger) in the case of Hiroshima and “inori” (prayer) in the case of Nagasaki. As the first city decimated by the bomb, Hiroshima would become the leader on issues of anti-nuclear activism. As the second city hit by the bomb, but also as the place in Japan most noted for its Christian population, Nagasaki’s response has been described as restrained. The term “inori” implies that Nagasaki has both been more forgiving of the bombing and that its interpretation of the event is filtered through a Christian lens.

There is an open question, however, as to what degree Nagasaki’s peace discourse actively uses Christian elements. A prior study (Matsuura et al, 2015) has demonstrated that Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations actively employ the words “peace” (heiwa), “lasting peace” (kōkyū heiwa), and other terms associated with nuclear weapons and peace. However, the study did not analyse the speeches for Christian references. Though these references may be slight, they are nonetheless worthy of exploring.

Reconstructing “Inori no Nagasaki

In the early postwar period, even basic knowledge of what had happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was obstructed by the censorship of the American occupation. Between 1945 and 1952, information about the scope of the damage and tales of human suffering were highly restricted within Japan (Dower, 1995, p. 275-283; Dower, 1999). Thus, the world’s conceptions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were often defined by the types of reports and literature that made it through the cracks of American censorship.

For this reason, the perception of Nagasaki as a place of prayer and forgiveness is often based heavily on one popular account that was published toward the end of the censorship regime and the subsequent fame of its author. In January 1949, Doctor Takashi Nagai’s famous work, The Bells of Nagasaki [Nagasaki no Kane] was allowed to be printed on the condition that an appendix also be added with an account of Japan’s invasion of Manila; an estimated 100,000 copies were sold in the first year (Dower, 1999, p. 414-415; Dower, 1995, p. 286; Otsuki, 2016a, p 77-89). In a scene where Doctor Nagai and his friend, a demobilised soldier, are engaged in a debate, Nagai says: “The atomic bomb falling on Nagasaki was a great act of Divine Providence. It was a grace from God. Nagasaki must give thanks to God” (Nagai 1984 [1949]: 106). Dr. Nagai’s writing, which framed the bomb as a divine gift, along with Nagasaki’s seemingly political passivity relative to Hiroshima, led many to equate Nagasaki with “inori” (prayer) and peaceful forgiveness.

In some sense, however, this interpretation also originates from the location of the bomb blast. The bomb had exploded almost directly over Urakami Cathedral. The Catholic residents who were living near the church were the first to perish. This has led to a special connection between the bomb blast and the resident Catholic community. In the first mass commemorating the falling of the bomb, Doctor Nagai told his audience:

Is there not a profound relationship between the destruction of Nagasaki and the end of the war? Nagasaki, the only holy place in all Japan—was it not chosen as a victim, a pure lamb, to be slaughtered and burned on the altar of sacrifice to expiate the sins committed by humanity in the Second World War?” (Nagai 1984 [1949]: 107–108).

Doctor Nagai’s interpretation of the destruction of Nagasaki is a controversial one. And yet, public officials such as former Mayor of Nagasaki Motoshima Hitoshi have defended Doctor Nagai, arguing that his interpretation of the atomic bomb blast should be understood in the context of the persecution Christians had suffered in Nagasaki and the religious freedom they enjoyed following the end of the war (Nagasaki Shinbun, August 4, 2000; Miyamoto, 2005, p. 142; Otsuki, 2016a, p. 106). While it is debatable that Doctor Nagai’s interpretation represents the mainstream view in Nagasaki, Miyamoto (2005) has found similar sentiments in the works of other Nagasaki writers as well as spirited defenses of Doctor Nagai’s interpretation from Urakami residents. In addition, John Treat finds that the sentiment that the falling of the bomb on Urakami Cathedral was an act of divine providence “represents a powerful undercurrent in Nagasaki atomic-bomb literature” (1995, p. 309).

Otsuki (2016a, 2016b) argues that beneath the unity of “inori no Nagasaki” were major divisions in the effect of the bomb and its interpretation. This division was partly geographical and partly religious, as the Catholic residents and Buraku residents who lived in Urakami were the most severely impacted. The “inori” moniker and subsequent linkages between the bombing and sacrifice/martyrdom perhaps can be attributed to several turns of fate: the location of the bomb blast and the concentration of Christians in the area, the persecution and/or second-class citizenship of Christians during the war, the celebrity of Doctor Nagai and his account, and Nagasaki’s subsequent efforts to brand itself as an “international Christian city” (Otsuki, 2016a, p. 97-98, p. 110-145). These trends perhaps obscure a much more varied reaction to the bombing, especially at and around the time of the event.

Beyond the influence of Doctor Nagai, the concept of Nagasaki as a place of “prayer” is reinforced by a perceived silence on the part of Nagasaki hibakusha and the less privileged position Nagasaki holds in relation to Hiroshima. As John Treat (1995) writes, “There exists in the historiography of the nuclear age a hierarchy—Hiroshima and then, only sometimes, Nagasaki” (p. 301). In comparison to the production of literature by Hiroshima writers, whether commemorative activities, poetry, testimonials, or fiction, Nagasaki’s production seems to pale in comparison (Treat, 1995, p. 302; Yoneyama, 1999, p. 61).

The myth of a “silent” Nagasaki, or a Nagasaki that is content to be overshadowed by Hiroshima, however, does not reflect the contributions Nagasaki politicians have made to anti-nuclear activism. In particular, it ignores the activism of former Mayor Motoshima Hitoshi, including his role in the establishment of the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace, his role in the Mayors for Peace organisation, the confrontational nature of some of his Peace Declarations, along with his controversial statements about the Emperor’s wartime responsibility (Miyazaki, 2021, p. 1221-1222). The activism of Mayor Motoshima discredits the idea of a “silent” or “passive” Nagasaki.

Moreover, as Loh (2012, para. 14) points out, one reason Nagasaki lags behind Hiroshima in the quantity of officially supported activities can be attributed to the relative sizes of the two cities. As a city more than twice the size of Nagasaki, Hiroshima has had more revenues at its disposal and a larger population to produce civic activism, write novels and poetry, and engage in testimonial activities.

Analysis of Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations

This study examines official “Peace Declarations” (heiwa sengen) from Nagasaki between 1948 and 2021. These speeches were collected from the Nagasaki city website. While the main focus of this paper is Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations, Hiroshima’s Peace Declarations were also analysed in order to provide a useful contrast for Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations.

The author has found one prior study that utilises content analysis on Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations. The study was conducted by Matsuura, Sato, and Kawanou (2015) and analyses the most frequent words found in the Peace Declarations. The analysis found that the most common words were: nuclear weapons (kakuheiki) (447 times), world (sekai) (419 times), peace (heiwa) (376 times), Nagasaki (293 times) (Matsuura et al, 2015, p. 80).

Given that the Peace Declarations of Nagasaki have already been subject to a thorough content analysis, the author was free to focus on a much narrower subset of language related to Christian themes.

The author looked for any instances of “inori” characterised as:

  1. References to term “prayer” (inori, kinen) (祈り、祈念) 
  2. References to “martyr” (jyunkyosha) (殉教者)

As well as:

  1. References to “anger” (ikari) (怒り)

The results of the analysis are as follows.


As expected, the terms “prayer” and “martyr” featured more prominently in Nagasaki’s speeches than in Hiroshima’s. Though the term “anger” featured more in Nagasaki’s speeches, the term was fairly marginal in the speeches of both cities.

A closer comparison of the speeches of the Nagasaki mayors demonstrates that most were fairly consistent about making at least one reference to prayer in every speech. This reference usually came at either the beginning of the speech or at the end.

Examining the chart above, we can see that three mayors—Morotani Yoshitake, Motoshima Hitoshi, and Itoh Iccho—from a period of 1967-2006 (2009 if you count references by Mayor Taue) used the term prayer (inori, kinen) at least once in each of their Peace Declarations. We can also see that references to martyrs (jyunkyosha) were mostly concentrated in Mayor Morotani’s speeches and that Mayor Motoshima used the term a few times. References to anger  (ikari) on the other hand only occurred a few times in the speeches of Mayors Morotani, Motoshima, and Itoh.

However, since his 2010 speech there has been no reference to prayer whatsoever in the speeches of Mayor Tomihisa Taue. Why have references to prayer suddenly dropped out of the speeches of the mayor? Unfortunately, this question remains a mystery.


The inori/ikari dichotomy is a simplification, useful perhaps, that should serve only as the beginning of our understanding of the relationship of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the existence of nuclear weapons. Indeed, scholarship on hibakusha literature, hibakusha testimony, and the commemorative practices of cities has effectively shown how there is no singular interpretation of the events (Yoneyama, 1999; Miyamoto, 2011; Treat, 1995).

Prior to the tragic events of August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki’s Christians had a long history of persecution and suffering. One might even add that this suffering could sometimes be defined in terms of martyrdom. Prior authors (Treat, 1995, p. 304) have pointed out the special role of martyrs and martyrdom in Nagasaki’s interpretation of the atomic bombing. This observation is confirmed by the references to martyrs in the Peace Declarations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this study has found that neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations were particularly categorised by “anger” (ikari). Possibly “anger” was the wrong term to begin with. Perhaps the better term was always activism. In terms of the concept of “prayer” (inori) in Nagasaki’s peace discourse, this study has confirmed the importance of the concept but also revealed a puzzle. Why has a term that was once so consistently used in Nagasaki’s Peace Declarations suddenly disappeared?


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About the Author

Daniel Clausen is a full-time special lecturer at Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies. His research has been published in Asian Politics and Policy, e-International Relations, and East Asia Forum, among other publications. His teaching experience includes over seven years of experience as a TESOL instructor. He has also written several novels and short story collections. You can learn more about his work on his Amazon page here or on his Goodreads page here.

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