Takashi Paolo Nagai

Takashi and Midori's "flowering hillside"

Paris, Munich, Oxford, Madrid, Vienna, Tokyo, Santiago de Chile... An increasing number of meetings and exhibitions. The story of the two Japanese newlyweds has touched thousands of people. What is it about them that is so interesting to us today?
Paola Marenco and Gabriele Di Comite*

The Rimini Meeting, 2019: 30,000 visitors leave the exhibition "Takashi Paolo Nagai, announcement from Nagasaki" moved (moved only by what touches our lives in surprising ways!). While the exhibition was being dismantled, a line of people led by word of mouth was still waiting to visit it. A few months later, the pandemic came. Those who had booked the exhibition asked us to make it available online, to learn how to recover hope from those who have experienced it even in an atomic desert.
It is the same poignant question that continues to be asked years later amid the upheaval of wars, floods, but also in schools, in struggling hospitals, not least in prisons. These facts prompted, in 2021, three of the curators of the exhibition to take up this cry, to the point of approaching the Archbishop of Nagasaki to propose that he begin the process of canonization of this Japanese Christian doctor who in life had faced illness, but also the death of his beloved wife (during the atomic attack on Nagasaki), with unwavering faith. His unexpected enthusiastic response–"Finally someone has asked me! But Midori too!”– led to the establishment of the Friends of Takashi and Midori Nagai Committee (www.amicinagai.com) recognized as a canonical actor by the diocese of Nagasaki.

Gabriele moved to work in Tokyo and engaged himself in the arduous task of translating Takashi's books from Japanese. The opportunity to read and present such books is a gift for our lives and changes them: bishops who read Ciò che non muore mai [What Never Dies] in two evenings and, amazed, recognized the freshness of the early Christians within it, or an elderly parish priest who decided to turn a mountain church at the top of Lake Maggiore into a Shrine of Peace and asked us to create panels about the story of these two Japanese Christian newlyweds for permanent display. These panels became a second traveling exhibition translated into Japanese, French, German, Spanish, English and Portuguese, which continues to travel between Paris, Tokyo, Syracuse, Canary Islands, Rome, Luxembourg, Munich, Vienna, Oxford, Lugano, Barcelona, Madrid, Santiago de Chile and various cities in Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Three pilgrimages have already been organized to the Virgin’s Pass and to Nyokodo. The books have been translated from Italian into Spanish, French, English, Portuguese.

Cultural centers, communities, but also people from other movements or groups, contact us. More than 120 presentations have been given and our exhibitions have been set up and presented by trained guides 40 times across different continents. For what purpose? Many seek us to present these spouses to the hundreds of couples they are accompanying on the journey of life and vocation, others seek us to restore motivation to their hospital colleagues amid their daily toils, and there are those who want to organize projects with school children or medical students. All animated by the desire to discover that human path that allows one to face even the most atrocious circumstances with an enviable position of heart. We have had incredible and moving outcomes, and continuous messages from people who feel that their lives have been deeply marked by encountering these two great companions on the road, and wish to become their friends in the adventure of life.

Many places have reported back to us that preparing and presenting the exhibition together has led many people to get involved with enthusiasm, in a historical time that is marked by individualism and scepticism, which easily turns away from a passion for the human. Organizers and guides are surprised by the friendship that is born and grows among them; indeed, they become friends by helping each other delve deeper into the meaning of life, as one person from Munich recounts, "In being there together, time was filled with something greater." They also experience the exhibition as a privileged tool to introduce the Christian faith to those who do not believe, which appears as the fulfillment of reason in responding to the same restlessness that, just as it lived in the depths of Takashi’s materialist heart, remains intact today within the postmodern person.

Why is all this happening? Because Takashi and Midori are undeniable witnesses. Every person needs not explanations but to see witnesses in order to live, to see that a fulfilled life is possible. This restores that "naive boldness" that makes people act as protagonists in history. What we communicate to those who seek us – as the subtitle of his autobiography says – the arduous and fascinating journey of a man, of every person who allows themselves to be challenged by reality because they believe that life serves to seek its meaning until they find it. That is, we could call Takashi a true realist: he always started from reality, from what happened, he did not ignore the burning and recurring questions that the precariousness of life and circumstances always pose and that are fundamental for life to remain human. Today, on the other hand, we often kill questions. In addition, he had the scientific honesty to verify the answers, wherever they come from.

Takashi’s other characteristic is that he was profoundly true to himself, which is rare; that is why he had the charm of a united man. Indeed, in the two panels of the exhibition dedicated to medicine, we have seen that by changing his conception of the human being, he changed the way he works. All this would not have been accomplished in him without that cloud of witnesses who showed him everyday life in an exceptional way in the Christian neighbourhood of Nagasaki. Above all, it would not be possible without Midori. She was the incredible woman who first accompanied him "gratuitously" to conversion, who then as his bride knew how to love him by translating love and her companionship to his Destiny – the greatest love– into the tenderness of daily gestures, until she also introduced him into the inexhaustible Friendship of Christ, which forever conquers loneliness. She lived every moment before a Presence, certain of the yes to her vocation. Midori, who marked her husband's path even when he was gone, guided him to that poverty of spirit that she experienced first-hand and that led him to fulfilment, to see the poetry of everything beneath the veneer of appearance, recognized as the gift of a God who loves us.
This is what anyone who is truly challenged by their witness discovers to be so desirable for themselves.

Along the way, we have also realized that we can understand their story in depth precisely because of the charism that has taken us: from the engagement of reason with reality to the threshold of faith. More and more we discover them as living examples of the journey that Fr. Giussani takes us on in The Religious Sense.

Why have these Japanese people, from such a diversity of culture, history, tradition, turned our lives and the lives of so many people upside down? Because they touch those heartstrings that are the same in every latitude and culture: the heartstrings of Beauty, of Truth, the touch of that infinity for which we are made. They are the same heartstrings that led an entire people not to flee from the atomic desert, but to rebuild that wasteland into a flowering hillside. They move us today, once freed from loneliness, to become aware again of the greatness of our self and to rediscover the gusto for communal engagement. We can also say that the "rationalist" Takashi (and we all are a bit) makes us broaden our systematic approach, allowing us to rediscover that transcendence and concreteness are not mutually exclusive, but rather that the presence of the transcendent is empirically ascertainable; thus he extends his hand and helps us broaden our reduced reason.

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That is ultimately what convinces us. Takashi’s luminous face in such terrible circumstances is indeed undeniable (as are the faces of his friends as they pull the bell out of the rubble during the vigil of the desolate Christmas 1945) and allows a glimpse of something much more pleasant than comfort and instinctivity, that true Love that loves the destiny of the other, in its small and hidden daily gestures as well as in the dramatic circumstances of life. This opens up a path of hope, of true peace and freedom, although undoubtedly arduous as any work on oneself is. Human freedom is always played out in the present moment, which is why Takashi and Midori challenge us today.

We could summarize the challenge with this question: what do I want to do with the time I have left, that is, with this instant? They show us the freedom of people who, becoming children and experiencing an inexhaustible Friendship, do not need the circumstances to be other than what they are in order to live now. Is this not salvation? We can say that the unexpected task at hand is the continuous experience of a vocation within our vocation, which enhances our gratitude and makes us say together with Takashi, "What in the eyes of the world appears only as misfortune, for the saints is a grace: the place of the path to self-perfection," that is, fulfillment or happiness.

*Director of the Friends of Takashi and Midori Nagai Committee