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Gwyn McClelland

Feb 8, 2021

Dangerous Memory in Nagasaki

Prayers, Protests and Catholic Survivor Narratives

Routledge 2019

On 9th August 1945, the US dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Of the dead, approximately 8500 were Catholic Christians, representing over sixty percent of the community. In Dangerous Memory in Nagasaki: Prayers, Protests, and Catholic Survivor Narratives (Routledge, 2019), Gwyn McClelland presents a collective biography, where nine Catholic survivors share personal and compelling stories about the aftermath of the bomb and their lives since that day. 

Examining the Catholic community’s interpretation of the A-bomb, this book not only uses memory to provide a greater understanding of the destruction of the bombing, but also links it to the past experiences of religious persecution, drawing comparisons with the ‘Secret Christian’ groups which survived in the Japanese countryside after the banning of Christianity. 

Through in-depth interviews, it emerges that the memory of the atomic bomb is viewed through the lens of a community which had experienced suffering and marginalisation for more than 400 years. Furthermore, it argues that their dangerous memory confronts Euro-American-centric narratives of the atomic bombings, whilst also challenging assumptions around a providential bomb. Dangerous Memory in Nagasaki presents the voices of Catholics, many of whom have not spoken of their losses within the framework of their faith before. As such, it will be invaluable to students and scholars of Japanese history, religion and war history.

I asked Gwyn about three questions that we could face when reflecting on the complex survivor narratives provided by the Catholic victims of the nuclear Holocaust in Japan, or more precisely, what the book refers to as the "dangerous memory in Nagasaki."   

  • Do Nagasaki Christians and their unique intercultural Mariology (i.e., Maria kannon and Maria with a keloid scar) present any issues to today's theology (especially with regard to their possible reception by the Vatican)?
  • How was John Paul II's visit to Nagasaki, which put an emphasis on human responsibility regarding war atrocities, received among the survivors who embraced the traditional interpretation of their losses as a sacrificial hansai (a burnt offering) or a part of setsuri (providence)? 
  • How can the nation of Japan (both Catholics and the rest of the country) move forward in light of the dangerous memory of Nagasaki? 

The author's responses to these questions reflected his intellectual virtue as a patient witness to the extraordinary life stories of the war victims in Nagasaki. The interview ends with a note of undying hope, the future possibility of transformative reconciliations that can move the whole country forward, while doing justice to dangerous memories.    

Gwyn McClelland holds a Master of Divinity from the University of Divinity, Melbourne, Australia and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Japanese history from Monash University. He is the winner of the 2019 John Legge prize for best thesis in Asian Studies, awarded by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA).

Takeshi Morisato is a philosopher and sometimes academic. He specializes in comparative and Japanese philosophy but he is also interested in making Japan and philosophy accessible to a wider audience.

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Takeshi Morisato

Takeshi Morisato is philosopher and sometimes academic. He is the editor of the European Journal of Japanese Philosophy. He specializes in comparative and Japanese philosophy but he is also interested in making Japan and philosophy accessible to a wider audience.

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