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  • Writer's pictureOlivier

Japan: The One-Legged Torii in Nagasaki, Remain of the Atomic Bomb

Updated: Mar 9

Japan sadly bears numerous traces and remains of World War II, particularly in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In August 1945, the first atomic bombs in the history of humanity were dropped on these cities, resulting in more than 250,000 direct and indirect casualties. Causing indescribable damage for several kilometers around, these two bombs wiped Hiroshima and Nagasaki off the map in an instant.

Japan: The One-Legged Torii in Nagasaki, a Remain of the Atomic Bomb

All buildings collapsed, were blown away, and turned to ashes, except for a few. They were preserved as witnesses to these events.

Therefore, I wanted to photograph some of them to give my own respectful vision on this past. This includes the Hiroshima Dome, the "One-Legged Torii" in Nagasaki, and the Kaiten Training Center located in Kawatana, on the island of Kyushu as well.

Photography and the Duty of Discretion

Photographing places laden with a painful past can raise certain questions, as I've mentioned in previous articles. Can one allow themselves some aesthetically valuable images of a building or object meant to commemorate one of the most tragic events in history? On the other hand, should we forsake our cherished aesthetic values to capture the scene as closely as possible to its reality, following the great tradition of documentary photography? I must say that I have never found the right answer to these questions.

I believe that every photographer instinctively expresses his emotions in images in an honest and profound manner, just as he received them through his observation. And there is nothing inappropriate or disrespectful about expressing oneself in this way.

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What is the "One-Legged Torii" in Nagasaki

The One-Legged Torii is named so because it now stands with only one pillar remaining. This monument belongs to the Sanno-Jinja (Sanno Shrine), which is located approximately 1 kilometer from the epicenter of the bomb blast. Made of granite, it is one of the few objects that withstood the devastating blast on August 9, 1945.

The blast caused the collapse of the left pillar of the Torii, taking half of the upper beam with it and causing a 30-degree rotation of the remaining part. Debris was ejected several meters away. Additionally, two major trees at the Sanno Shrine also survived the effects of the bomb. New branches eventually sprouted from their entirely burned trunks.

During the city's reconstruction, the local government decided to preserve the half-Torii as a memory of this past, and one of the two trees was designated a "National Monument". The city was rebuilt all around it without touching the Torii. It is perfectly maintained in place, just like the scattered debris.

How to Photograph the One-Legged Torii in Nagasaki

The particularly dense and urban context of this part of the city makes photography quite challenging. The Torii is located at the top of a steep staircase in close proximity to residential buildings. Just like with the Hiroshima Dome, it is advisable to photograph it at night. Not only does the lighting enhance the dramatic aspect of the scene, but it's also the only time when the buildings in the background are least visible.

The staircase leading to the Torii is undoubtedly the best spot to photograph it. You have multiple low-angle perspectives that can enhance the Torii more than it appears in reality. However, you'll have to work with tight compositions. The constructed background allows little creative room and clearance.

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Getting to Sanno-Jinja Shrine

This Torii is not easy to find. Unlike other well-signposted commemorative sites, the One-Legged Torii in Nagasaki is not as prominently marked. It is located not far from the Nagasaki University Hospital and about 2 km from Nagasaki Station. You can easily reach it on foot or by tram, getting off at either the Kawaguchimachi or Iwakawamachi stops.

Tips: If you are staying in Nagasaki (which I highly recommend, as this city is extraordinary), take the opportunity to visit the "Koshibyo Confucius Shrine and Historical Museum of China."

The Final Word

From the perspective of a photographer, the One-Legged Torii of Sanno Shrine in Hiroshima emerges as a profound emblem of endurance and transformation. This solitary pillar, standing resiliently despite the forces that sought to bring it down, speaks volumes about the indomitable spirit of the human soul and the inherent strength found in acceptance and adaptation.

It captures the essence of moving forward while acknowledging the past, embodying a balance between remembrance and renewal. As photographers, we frame this symbol within the context of its environment, illustrating the story of resilience that resonates deeply with the human experience.

Through our lenses, the One-Legged Torii becomes a powerful narrative of hope, illustrating that from the remnants of devastation, a new vision of peace can be envisioned and nurtured.

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