THERE is an old man who sits in the corner of my local pub back in Wales. He does not speak much, but when he does it is of the war and his imprisonment in a camp near Nagasaki. Sometimes he talks of the atomic bomb and his walk to freedom through the devastated city a few weeks later. He remembers how, on seeing the smoking rubble and the defeated, weary people, he did something he had not done for four years. Something terrible. He laughed. I arrived in Nagasaki expecting to be infected by the sadness of war, as if it were hanging in the air like residual radiation. But the only living things that weep in modern Nagasaki are the willows that line its narrow rivers; the only painful groans come from the old street-cars as they limp through the city centre, from the suburbs to the sea. After the atomic bomb exploded above 171 Matsuyama-machi on August 9 1945 it was believed that nothing would grow in the city for 70 years. Forty-seven years later Nagasaki has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and stands as a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Its schools, factories, stations, even its medical college, have been rebuilt exactly where they were prior to the bombing. Nagasaki appears to have evolved like any other Japanese city, almost as if the great catastrophe, the unforgettable fire, had never happened. Underneath the high-rise hotels, the pachinko parlours and the wide avenues, however, there lies a quiet dignity - the stubborn pride of the survivor. Events have proven that whatever happens in the future, there will always be a Nagasaki. It is indomitable, having enjoyed the best of times and endured the worst of them. Relics of Nagasaki's darkest day are displayed at the Atomic Bomb Museum in Urakami. When listed they read like ghastly items on some satanic inventory: two bleeding ovaries, one incinerated hand melted on to glass, fragments of skulls bonded to a metal helmet, dead bone marrow. Then there are the statues of Christ and his angels, discoloured and disfigured by the heat and the blast, the waxwork models of keloid scars and photographs - monochrome pictures of a monotone landscape: twisted, flattened, a battlefield like any otherexcept for the fact that it was created in an instant and contaminated for a lifetime. However, just as there is more to London than the blitz there is more to Nagasaki than the bomb. The city is not content to bask in the uncertain fame of an atomic past and does not want to be remembered as the second martyr of the nuclear age. The August 9 memorial service is not listed in the tourist brochure's calendar of annual events, and the local girls who walk in the Hypocenter Park come not to view ground zero or the ruins of Urakami Church but to photograph visiting foreigners. The sights they recommend have nothing to do with the war. Nagasaki's most popular attractions are remnants of a remarkable past that began in the 13th century, when the town was named after Nagasaki Kotaro, an official of the Kamakura government. Built by foreign traders and missionaries in their own inimitable styles, they are grouped around the old harbour in the south of the city, an area that escaped the fury of the bomb. Salmon-pink and solid-looking Sofukuji is the most impressive temple in Nagasaki. Constructed by Chinese residents in the 17th century it is a rare example of Ming architecture outside of China. Rather more drab but no less substantial is the Oura Catholic Church. The oldest Catholic church in Japan, it was built by French missionaries in 1864 to commemorate the crucifixion of 26 Christians in Nagasaki. The city also boasts the country's first Protestant church, established by the Dutch on the small artificial island of Dejima. During Japan's period of isolation (1639-1853) the Dejima trading post was the country's only point of contact with the outsideworld. The Chinese and European merchants who sailed into Nagasaki did more than change the landscape, however. They brought with them technologies that would revolutionise Japanese society. The people of Nagasaki were the first in Japan to encounter the sundial, the mobile printing press, the steam locomotive, the telephone and photography, as well as the stone bridge, the iron bridge, the coal mine and the slip dock. The man responsible for much of the modernisation that occurred during the 19th century was a Briton named Thomas Glover. His bungalow, the first wooden European-style house in Japan, and other Victorian era buildings stand in Glover Garden, a portion of the old foreign settlement that annually attracts a million more visitors than the Atomic Bomb Museum. The tour groups glide through the houses to the accompaniment of bagpipes and the distant percussion of machinery in the Mitsubishi shipyard. High above its crowded docks, Mount Inasa's observation platform is the perfect place to end a visit to this fascinating city. Nagasaki is strong and obstinate, like the palms that grace its gardens, cheerful and elegant, like the hydrangea, the city flower. ''No more Hiroshimas,'' cry the anti-nuclear protesters, confusing the city with an event. If only there were a few more Nagasakis.