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Takashi Nagai (永井隆 Nagai Takashi, February 3, 1908 Matsue – May 1, 1951, Nagasaki) was a physician specializing in radiology, a convert to Catholicism, and a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. His subsequent life of prayer and service earned him the affectionate title "saint of Urakami".



Takashi Nagai came from a family of doctors. His father, Noboru Nagai, was trained in Western medicine; his paternal grandfather, Fumitaka Nagai, was a practitioner of traditional herbal medicine.

He became interested in Christianity while attending the Nagasaki Medical University and boarding with the Moriyama family, who for seven generations had been the hereditary leaders of a group of Kakure Kirishitans in Urakami. After graduation, Nagai was inducted into military service for the Manchukou campaign, during which their daughter, Midori Moriyama, sent him a care package containing a Catholic catechism. He converted to Catholicism and married Midori in 1934.

Nagai had begun his pioneering work in radiology in 1932 and resumed it after returning to Nagasaki. At the time, safety standards were poorly understood, leading to a high casualty rate from radiation exposure among practitioners of the field. During the summer of 1945, a few months before the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, he was diagnosed with leukemia and a life expectancy of two to three years.

At the time of the atomic bombing on August 9th, 1945, Dr. Nagai was working in the radiology department of Nagasaki University hospital. He received a serious injury that severed his right temporal artery, but joined the rest of the surviving medical staff in dedicating themselves to treating the atomic bomb victims, and later wrote a 100-page medical report about his observations.

His wife, who had sent their two children to stay with her mother in the countryside but remained in Nagasaki to support her husband's work, was found in a pile of ashes, her rosary nearby, in the ruins of their house. Nagai collapsed from radiation sickness on September 8, 1945, and remained at the point of death for a month. Afterward, he built a small hut from the pieces of his old house, and continued to live there with his two children, his mother-in-law, and two other relatives.

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.

A slightly larger six-tatami hut was built for him in 1947 by a carpenter related to the Moriyama family. When the local Society of Saint Vincent de Paul offered to build him another house, he asked them to slightly enlarge the existing hut to accommodate his brother and his brother's family, and to build a simple two-tatami teahouse-like structure for himself. He styled the smaller hut as a hermitage, naming it Nyoko-dō after Jesus' words "Love your neighbor as yourself", and spent his remaining years in prayer and contemplation there.

By the time of his death in 1951, he had left behind a voluminous output of essays, memoirs, drawings and calligraphy on various themes including God, war, death, medicine, and orphanhood. These enjoyed a large readership during the American Occupation of Japan (1945-1952) as spiritual chronicles of the atomic bomb experience.


Nagai's books have been translated into numerous languages, including Chinese, Korean, French, and German. There are only two of his works currently available in English: We of Nagasaki, a compilation of atomic-bomb victim testimonies edited by Nagai, and The Bells of Nagasaki (trans. William Johnston). His works were recently republished in new Japanese editions by Paulist Press, which reveal the breadth and depth of his oeuvre. He was not an un-nuanced pacifist. He says in Leaving These Children Behind, "Whatever people may say, the war compelled me to undertake hardships along with all the rest of the people. ... I gladly bore them for my country's sake." Much of Nagai's writing is, in fact, a spiritual diary: Christian reflections on the experience (or, just as often, imagined future experience) of himself and the people around him, especially his children, in the aftermath of the war. His intensely personal meditations are often addressed to his children or to God, and he works out his own spiritual issues on the page as he writes in a visceral and uncensored prose.

Partial Bibliography

  • The Bells of Nagasaki (長崎の鐘 Nagasaki no Kane), August 1946.
  • "Records of the Atomic Wasteland" (原子野録音 "Genshino Rokuon"), a series in the Japanese journal Knights of Mary (聖母の騎士 Seibo no Kishi), 1947–1951.
  • For That Which Passeth Not Away (亡びぬものを Horobinu Mono O), 1948.
  • The Rosary Chain (ロザリオの鎖 Rozario no Kazari), 1948.
  • Leaving These Children Behind (この子を残して Kono Ko o Nokoshite), 1948.
  • The River of Life (生命の河 Seimei no Kawa), 1948.
  • The Flower-Blooming Hill (花咲く丘 Hana Saku Oka), 1949.
  • My Precious Child (いとし子よ Itoshi Ko Yo), 1949.
  • Otometōge (乙女峠), 1951.
  • Nyokodō Essays (如己堂随筆 Nyokodō Zuihitsu), 1957.
  • Village Doctor (村医 Son-i), 1978.
  • Tower of Peace (平和塔 Heiwa no Tō), 1979.
  • "Flowers of Nagasaki" (長崎の花 "Nagasaki no Hana"), a series in the Daily Tokyo Times, 1950.

Dates of publication do not reflect the order in which the works were written; some were published posthumously, and all have been subsequently re-compiled for the Paulist editions.

  • Glynn, Paul. A Song for Nagasaki. The Catholic Book Club, 1988.

External links

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