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Nagasaki: One Square Mile of Japan

Like Hiroshima, Nagasaki is known around the world as one of the two cities destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II.

It happened just after 11:00 on 9 August 1945. The blast killed 40,000 people instantly. Another 34,000 died before the year ended.

Many more suffered and died from illnesses caused by exposure to radiation. The city's people feared no plants or grass would grow for decades.

But Nagasaki came back to life much more quickly than expected, and its history and culture are rich and colourful.

Trading gateway

It is a port city on the southern island of Kyushu. Nagasaki's outlook has been coloured by its position; the city is closer to the Korean peninsula or the Chinese city of Shanghai than it is to the Japanese capital, Tokyo.

Ever since the 16th century, the city was Japan's front door for foreign trade.

First, there were the Chinese from the neighbouring Qing Dynasty, then the Portuguese who came to preach Christianity.

Authorities soon banned the religion as they feared a possible invasion by the European power.

But even during the two centuries in which foreign diplomacy was banned, Dejima in Nagasaki remained open as the single port of direct trade between Japan and the Western world - mainly the Dutch.

As a result, within the one square mile, there is not only Japan's oldest Chinatown but also well-preserved Western-style mansions and a clutch of churches.

Image caption Nagasaki was Japan's window to the world

To me, the city also has personal history. This is my grandfather's home town and where my beloved grandmother is buried.

I also find Nagasaki to be one of the most multi-cultural and religious cities in Japan.

The Lantern Festival which celebrates Chinese New Year is treated by locals as the festival of Nagasaki.

Locals join members of the Chinese community for major events such as the city's Emperor Parade.

At the main stage at the city's Minami Park, there are messages - written in both Japanese and Chinese - to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami which struck the northeast of Japan a year ago.

'Collective consciousness'

With ongoing political issues between the two nations often straining relationships, the close ties between Nagasaki's Chinese community and the local population is particularly noticeable.

"People say if you live in Nagasaki for three generations, you're from here - wherever your ancestors are from," says Masatsugu Chin, who is a fourth-generation Chinese resident.

Mr Chin's great-grandfather came here 120 years ago and opened a Chinese restaurant called Shikairo. His signature noodle dish champon became one of the distinctive regional cuisines of Nagasaki.

"I think people of Nagasaki have a collective consciousness almost in their DNA, an attitude of tolerance, diversity, cooperation with foreigners," says historian Brian Burke-Gaffney who has lived here for 30 years.

"It definitely continues as a kind of a residue in the city."

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