Survivor Trees: Nagasaki’s Sanno Shrine

June 28, 2009 at 4:00 pm 3 comments


By Jerrold
Last Call for Survivor Tree Links!
This blog is hosting the Festival of the Trees on July 1st. Please submit any related posts, articles or photos about resilient, determined or inspirational trees!

Two months after the atomic bombing, Lieutenant R.J. Battersby photographed Nagasaki. He captured a non-denominational devastation. Cathedrals and shrines were dealt identical fates. And no discrimination was given between the creations of mankind and the creations of Mother Earth.

Within a radius of one kilometer from ground zero, men and animals died almost instantaneously from the tremendous blast pressure and heat; houses and other structures were smashed, crushed and scattered; and fires broke out. The strong complex steel members of the structures of the Mitsubishi Steel Works were bent and twisted like jelly and the roofs of the reinforced concrete National Schools were crumpled and collapsed, indicating a force beyond imagination. Trees of all sizes lost their branches or were uprooted or broke off at the trunk.

U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946.

Amazingly, some structures in the first kilometer radius remained standing. Nagasaki’s Sanno Shrine, only 800 meters from the hypocenter, had three survivors.

Nagasaki Sanno Shrine
Nagasaki (Sanno Shrine boxed), October 1945 (Photograph by Lieutenant R.J. Battersby)

First, one of the shrine’s torii gates remained. Well, part of it, anyway. After the blast, the torii balanced on one leg. The other leg was flattened, amputated, with the rest of the shrine. Nearby, two 500 year old camphor trees. Like the torii, they weren’t fully in tact. Their upper portions were ripped away as were many of their branches and all of their leaves.

Nagasaki Sanno Shrine (Cropped)
The Sanno Shrine Survivors – One Legged Torii and Two Camphor Trees (Photograph by Lieutenant R.J. Battersby)

Today, all three Sanno Shinto Shrine survivors are still standing. When the neighborhood rebuilt and more modern buildings were constructed, the One-Legged Torii was preserved as a reminder of the forces that once tore through the city.


One Legged Torii (Photograph by EKSwitaj)

The two trees were once two of the largest camphor trees in the entire city. Topped by the blast, today they are only 10 meters tall. Height, however, does not equal vitality. As the tree’s leafed canopies can testify to– the trees are flourishing.


Sanno Shrine Camphor Tree (Photograph courtesy of meggomyeggo)

In 1945, the trees were symbols of hope and a new beginning. Today, they contribute to another message.

The trees recovered, and seedlings were sent far and wide by children wishing for peace. These second-generation trees are now growing healthily at schools and in towns throughout Japan. Over time, no matter what ill winds may blow, we shall never relinquish our commitment to a future that is free from nuclear weapons.

Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki, August 9, 2007

One of the second generation trees resides in the Wellington Peace Garden in New Zealand. “It is a testament to the hope that peace can triumph over war,” Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast stated in 2005.

Back in Nagasaki, the original camphor trees and the One-Legged Torii bear the scars of traumas past and stand with determination.

The creations of mankind and the creations of Mother Nature carry on.

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