Takashi Nagai (永井 隆Nagai Takashi, February 3, 1908, Matsue – May 1, 1951, Nagasaki) was a physician specializing in radiology, a convert to Roman Catholicism, and a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. His subsequent life of prayer and service earned him the affectionate title “saint of Urakami” and has subsequently been honoured with the title of Servant of God, the first step towards the Roman Catholic sainthood.
Dr. Takashi is best known for his efforts in helping the victims of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, despite his very serious injuries and the loss of his wife to the bomb, and for his plea to the world that it move on with the utilization of atomic energy for the progress of civilization so that the victims of the bombings may rest in peace. In the “Atomic-bomb rescue and relieve report” of October 1945 he has stated: “Everything was finished. Our mother land was defeated. Our university had collapsed and classrooms were reduced to ashes. We, one by one, were wounded and fell. The houses we lived in were burned down, the clothes we wore were blown up, and our families were either dead or injured. What are we going to say? We only wish to repeat this tragedy with the human race. We should use the principle of the atomic atom (sic). Go forward in the research of atomic energy contributing to the progress of civilization. A misfortune will be then transformed to a good fortune. The world civilization will change with the utilization of atomic energy. If a new and fortunate world can be made, the souls of so many victims will rest in peace.”
In April 1928, he joined the Nagasaki Medical College. The reason he chose the college is unclear, due to the fact that neither did Nagai explain it clearly to his parents, siblings, friends or classmates nor did he write anything about it. However, according to the accounts of Hajime Nagai, his younger brother, while Nagai’s classmates rumored that Nagai would go to Tokyo University, Nagai said that he wanted to go to Nagasaki, because he could become a professor there. It is also said that Nagai used to be fascinated with the exotic attractions of Nagasaki.
It was during these studies that he embarked upon the spiritual journey that would eventually lead him from atheism to Catholicism. The college was located 500 meters from Urakami Cathedral, but Nagai had faith only in man, patriotic values, science and culture . He belonged to the branch of Araragi, a group of tanka (short poems) found by Mokichi Saito and the university basketball team (he measured 1.71 m and weighed 70 kg).
In 1930, a letter from his father had informed him that his mother was seriously ill: having become a victim to brain haemorrhage, she was conscious but was unable to speak. He went to her bedside. She looked intensely into his eyes and died soon after (March 29) . Takashi remained upset and believed in the existence of the soul; his mother remained present in his mind. One of his professors spoke about the philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal, quoting a sentence from the Pensées: “Man is only a reed, the weakest thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed.” He began then to read the Pensées and ponderate on human life and existence. Gradually, he changed, becoming more sensitive. In his third year of medical school, he was surprised by the stiff attitude of the professors at the bedsides of their patients.
During 1931, he constantly read Blaise Pascal and wondered about Christian Life and prayer. He became interested in Christianity while boarding with the Moriyama family, who for seven generations had been the hereditary leaders of a group of Kakure Kirishitans in Urakami. Sadakichi Moriyama lived with his wife and daughter, Midori, who was a primary school teacher in a nearby city. Takashi learned that the construction of the cathedral was financed by the poor Christian farmers and fishermen.
In 1932, he passed his examinations. He was supposed to deliver an address at a graduation ceremony, but 5 days before the ceremony, he became intoxicated with alcohol in a farewell party held at a Chinese restaurant ”Tsutenkaku” and had returned completely soaked with water from the rain. He slept without drying himself. The next morning, Nagai contracted a disease of the right ear (signs of meningitis), which made him depressed and made him partially deaf. He could not practice medicine and agreed to turn to radiology research. At the time, as he was aware, safety standards were poorly understood, leading to a high casualty rate from radiation exposure among practitioners of the field.
In the evening of December 24, Sadakichi Moriyama invited him to participate in a midnight Mass. In the packed cathedral, Takashi was impressed by the people in prayer, their singing, their faith and the sermon. He would later say: “I felt somebody close to me whom I did not still know.” The next night, Midori was struck down by an acute appendicitis. Takashi made a quick diagnosis, telephoned the surgeon at the hospital and took Midori there on his back through the snowy weather. The operation had been successful; Midori survived.
In January 1933, Takashi began his military service. Before leaving for the campaign of Manchukuo, he did his training in Hiroshima during which a package was sent to him: it was Midori offering him gloves, socks and a Catholic catechism. During this period in Manchuria, Takashi cared for the wounded and the sanitary service. He was strongly shaken in his faith in Japanese culture when had seen for himself the exactions of the Japanese soldiers and their brutality towards the Chinese civilian population. On his return, he continued his reading of the Catholic catechism, the Bible, and the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, and met a priest, Father Matsusaburo Moriyama, the first son of Jinzaburo Moritya who was deported to Tsuwano (Shimane Prefecture) for his faith with many other Christian villagers in Urakami by the Meiji Government from the 1860s to the 1870s (Urakami Yoban Kuzure). Midori continued to pray for him. Eventually, his progress took a decisive turn when he thought attentively about Blaise Pascal’s words: “There is enough light for those who wish only to see, and enough darkness for those who have an opposite mood.”
On June 9, 1934, he received baptism in the Catholic faith and chose the Christian first name, Paul. Thus he joined the Catholic community, among whom the life of the Japanese saint Paul Miki strongly marked him. Then he asked Midori’s hand in marriage and she accepted. In August 1934, a Wednesday, at 7 a.m., during the usual first mass in the cathedral of Urakami, the wedding of Maria Midori Moriyama and Paul Takashi Nagai was celebrated in the presence of the priest and of two witnesses. Of their union were born four children: a boy, Makoto (April 3, 1935 – April 4, 2001) and three daughters, Ikuko (July 7, 1937 – 1939), Sasano who died shortly after her birth and Kayano (August 18, 1941 – February 2, 2008).
Takashi received the sacrament of confirmation in December 1934. Midori was president of the association of the women of the Urakami district. Takashi became a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVDP), discovered its founder, Frédéric Ozanam, and his writings, and visited his patients and the poor, to whom he brought assistance, comfort and food.
From 1931 to 1936, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe resided in a suburb of Nagasaki, where he started a monastery. Takashi met him several times.
The day after the birth of his first daughter Ikuko, the war between Japan and China broke out with no declaration. Takashi was mobilized as surgeon in the service of the 5th division. He suffered from the harsh winter in China but also in view of the distress of all victims of this war, civilians and soldiers, Chinese and Japanese, caring for the wounded and thinking about justice and peace. On 4 February 1939, he received news of the death of his father and that of his daughter Ikuko by mail. He remained in China until 1940. On his return, he continued his studies at the college.
He returned to the district of Urakami (the epicenter of the bomb) on October 15, 1945. He had a small hut built from pieces of his old house. He remained there with his two surviving children (Makoto and Kayano), his mother-in-law and two other relatives. This hut measured a little more than six tatami. In 1947, the local Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVDP) built a simple two-tatami teahouse-like structure for him. Nagai named it “Nyokodo” (如己堂, Nyoko-dō to, literally “As-Yourself Hall”, after Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He styled it as a hermitage and spent his remaining years in prayer and contemplation.
For six months, he observed mourning for Midori and let his beard and hair grow. On November 23, 1945, a mass was celebrated, in front of the ruins of the cathedral, for the victims of the bomb. Takashi gave a speech filled with faith, comparing the victims to a sacred offering to obtain peace. In the following years, Nagai resumed teaching and also began to write a number of books. The first of these, The Bells of Nagasaki, was completed by the first anniversary of the bombing. Although he failed to find a publisher at first, eventually it became a best-seller and the basis for a top box-office movie in Japan. In July 1946, he collapsed on the station platform. Now disabled, he was henceforth confined to bed.
In 1948, he used 50,000 yen paid by “Kyushu Times” to plant 1,000 three-year-old cherry trees in the district of Urakami to transform this devastated land into a “Hill of Flowers”. Even though some have been replaced, these cherry trees are still called “Nagai Senbonzakura” (1,000 cherry trees of Nagai) and their flowers decorate the houses of Urakami in spring. By 2010, the numbers of these cherry trees have reduced to only about 20 due to aging and other causes.
On December 3, 1949, he was made freeman of the city of Nagasaki. He received a visit from Helen Keller in October, 1948. He was also visited, in 1949, by Emperor Hirohito and by Cardinal Gilroy, emissary of the Pope.
On May 1, 1951, he asked to be transported to the college hospital so that the medical students could observe the last moments of a man preparing to die from leukemia. He prolonged the day of hospitalization to wait for the statue of Our Lady, a gift from the Italian Catholic Medical Association.
Until the evening, his condition seemed stable. However, around 9:40pm, Nagai complained of dizziness and become unconscious. After two injections of cardiotonics, he regained his consciousness and prayed “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, into your hands, I entrust my soul.” Then he took the cross from the hand of his son Makoto, who rushed into the room, and shortly after he shouted the words “Please pray!” Nagai breathed his last: it was 9:50 pm.He died at the age of 43. On the following day, his body underwent an autopsy at the hospital according to his will. His spleen had swelled to 3,410g (normal weight: 94g) and his liver weighed 5,035g (normal weight: 1,400g).
On May 3, his funeral Mass was said by Bishop Paul Aijirō Yamaguchi in front of the cathedral. On May 14, an official ceremony took place in memory of Doctor Nagai. About 20,000 persons attended. The city of Nagasaki observed one minute of silence while the bells of all the religious buildings rang. His remains were interred in the Sakamoto international cemetery.