Urakami Cathedral, Nagasaki, Japan

Urakami is a suburb of Nagasaki, being one of a number of villages that have over the years been absorbed into the larger metropolis. On 9 August 1945 at 11.02am, Urakami was laid waste by the second atomic bomb, ironically killing more Christians than had ever been killed in Japan during centuries of persecution. The church of Urakami, as it then was, was the largest ecclesiastical building in the Far East, of brick construction modelled on the Romanesque style. It stood only three hundred metres from the epicentre of the falling atomic bomb which destroyed thousands of homes and killed an estimated 73,884 people immediately and many others over the years to come with the lingering effects of radiation sickness.

So total was the destruction that the police headquarters in Nagasaki was not aware of any damage until a few survivors made their way over the hill to the centre of Nagasaki; there was not a single telephone line left to report the damage.

Urakami Cathedral Organ Console

At a late stage in the conception of the organ, we decided to give the console curved and terraced jambs, as a surprise for the consultant who was not aware of this until the console arrived. No attempt was made to give the console a French nineteenth century appearance. Rather, the curved jambs were conceived as part of the contemporary design of the organ as a whole.

Terraced drawstop jambs become a little unwieldy on large organs if they are square to the case, and angled ones do not somehow look right if they are straight. By curving them and providing them with mouldings, a pleasing and comfortable console was achieved which was commented on very favourably by a few notable organists we asked to try it before it was shipped to Japan.

An interesting innovation on the Urakami Cathedral organ is a system whereby the departmental pistons can be made to act as generals.

By drawing a stop labelled "Combinaisons Generales" all the departmental pistons (including those for the Pedal) become general pistons, giving the organist easy access to the generals. This allows the organist to choose whether he wants to use departmental pistons or benefit from the easy access to the generals anywhere on the console; 64 levels of memory are provided as well as a sequencer.

The installation of the organ was most enjoyable. Unlike our last installation in Japan, we were not treated to an earthquake. The nuns of the convent associated with the Cathedral kept us plied with food, cold drinks and cold wet towels (the installation started at the hottest time of the year). Each acquired a name we could understand, Driving Sister, Blue Sister, White Sister, English Sister (the only one who spoke English) as well as others. Members of the congregation took us on day trips, and we explored the rich history of Nagasaki and its excellent restaurants. The local television station took an interest, and the writer was pressed into his television organ-playing debut (why can you never find an organist when you want one?).

View the Specification of the Urakami Cathedral organ (completed 1996)

Project Leader John Mander
Casework Design Didier Grassin
Technical Design Didier Grassin, Geoff McMahon
Construction Harry Austin, Mike Smith (Workshop Foremen)
Site Assembly Leslie Ross (Team Leader), Ralston Bryan,
Sosuke Okubo, James Richardson-Jones
Scaling John Mander
Tonal Preparation David Frostick, Michael Blighton
Tonal Finishing John Mander, Leslie Ross, Sosuke Okubo