I bought the book at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception a week ago Sunday on my way back from Divine Liturgy (my church is across the street from the Basilica). I had seen the book a number of times in the Basilica bookstore but had resisted the urge to buy it even though it was silently calling my name. Well, I finally gave in and bought it, after all I know very little about Christianity in Japan, have always been interested in Japanese culture, am fascinated by WWII history (particularly Europe), and had not read a Catholic or Christian conversion story since studying realign at university. So it was about time to break out of my general genre of literature. And I was not disappointed, to tell the truth I couldn’t put the book down!
A Song for Nagasaki tells the life story of Takashi Nagai (Nagai Takashi) from childhood to death, his conversion from atheism to Catholicism, life as a medical student and research in radiology, his experiences in WWII Japan and in the Japanese army. The book does an amazing job of highlighting Japanese culture and how Buddhism and Japanese culture have influenced Catholicism in Japan. The book also places heavy emphasis on Japanese Catholic history and the history of Japan in the years leading up to and during WWII including the nuances of Japan’s political situation. To be honest I have learned more about WWII Japan than I have reading any other book concerning Japan and WWII. For instance I learned that Japan was under a military dictatorship and not really being ruled by the Emperor during WWII and that Japan occupied other Asian countries to drive out or prevent Western colonization before it reached Japan. It’s also why Japan’s rulers feared Christianity for nearly four centuries.
The book also poses two items for thought: the compatibility of Catholicism and science and how far will science and human actions (war) go when not kept in check by ethics (in this case Catholic ethics)? In the case of the compatibility of Catholicism and science, Dr. Nagai proved that both are compatible, namely in that science allows humans to better understand the world that God created. In Nagai’s case the study of science is what lead him to the Catholic Church (and the writings of a well known French scientist). It also allowed him to grow in closeness with God. As for human actions, science and ethics, well human actions and science need to be kept in check by ethics. When human actions and science are not kept in check by ethics horrible actions happen like creating and exploding A-bombs over Japan and further development in other atomic bombs like the H-bomb (that was created and tested during the Korean War). One should also put Nazi scientific research into this category as well. If science and human actions are not kept in check by ethics then science will be used for the wrong reasons. This is why humans cannot rely on science and scientific thought alone. This is where religion can be used in preventing human atrocities by keeping scientific though and research in check. The reality is that if scientific research is not limited in some way by ethics, then all scientific research will be used as a way to further scientific knowledge including nuclear energy bombs and Nazi research into race and ethnicity to help create a pure Arain race. Well a known how that ended with the Holocaust, and the killing of the elderly, sick, and infirm.
I highly recommend the book especially for those interested in or studying Japanese culture, studying WWII history, in the process of converting or want to learn more about Catholicism, and for those who are both religious and science oriented. I also see the book as being a potential interfaith read as well seeing how the book ties Japanese culture, Buddhism, Shinto, atheism, science, and religion into one book.