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Japan 2005 Trip Blog

Friday, August 26, 2005

Dear friends,

It is late at night and Eliza is sleeping. I am as yet unable to sleep, at least before I share some of our day and my response to it. This is my story, Eliza will tell you hers another time. Today we visited Hiroshima, the Peace Garden and the Museum!

As many of you know, I have read a great deal about what happened on August 6, 1995. I have diced it and shredded it and analyzed it and discussed it till I thought I had an understanding of what happened on that day. We all have our view of the dropping of the first atomic bomb - its immediate devastation and much of its lasting damage to the people who were there, certainly, but also to us. As Hermann Haggerdorn says in his epic poem "The Bomb that fell on America" , written about that event "The bomb that fell on Hiroshima, fell on America too!"

Whereas I have been moved by my readings and conversations, I was totally unprepared for the experience of being near ground zero of the bomb. As I sat (I felt too weak to stand!) and looked at the remains of the building that holds the dome and realized that the center of the blast was less than 650 meters away, that somehow this building was not flattened as most of the buildings so close to the blast were (see photograph of site taken a few days after the blast), I began weeping and was unable to stop for many minutes. I was angry. I was sad. I was hurt that humans could do such a thing to other humans. I grieved the loss of 100,000 lives in an instant and the tens of thousands more who suffered and died from the after effects of radiation exposure.

As I gathered myself together from the initial shock of emotions that raged inside of me, I began to walk around the Peace Park. I have attached a couple of other photographs from the park. One is of the sculpture of Sadako, the girl who started folding cranes in the belief that if she could only fold 1,000, not only would she be healed but it could bring peace to the world so this could never happen again. Sadako did fold her 1,000 cranes and soon thereafter she died. If you are not familiar with her story, go to: http://www.sadako.com/ and learn her story for yourself.

Sadako started a movement that continues today. I believe there have been untold millions of paper cranes folded for Sadako's dream of peace. Eliza and I folded a couple ourselves and left them at the memorial.

We continued on into the museum and stepped into the world of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. This was an experience equally difficult to experience and try to relate to you as my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

It is late and I am growing sleepy. We will write more and tell you all more when we see you after we return next week.

I have never meant it more when I say -

Peace and love to you all,


Saturday, August 27, 2005
Hiroshima, Kyoto, Eliza

Hiroshima. To us, it means only one thing. To people who live here, (the older generation especially) it means that as well. But to the young generation it means a whole lot of other things. A stop on the Shinkansen (bullet train) line from Tokyo. A prosperous city on the ocean with a busy port. A place with a nearby island shrine and hot springs up in the mountains. The high school football team we saw getting off the train. There is a ubiquitous coffee bar in the railroad station where you can buy souvenir mugs that say "Hiroshima Starbucks". This struck me as supremely bizarre, but I am not the target market.

I cannot add to what David has said about our visit, or only to say it was a devastating experience. I was surprised to see lots of small children visiting the museum, which spared no detail of the horror in the aftermath of the atom bomb. My response to it all was different from David's. I just felt physically sick. And since these weapons are still with us, in much greater numbers, mostly under U.S. control, it leaves me with a sense that the future looks scary and out of control. William Sloane Coffin has spent much of his life fighting the good fight against nuclear arms. I used to think it was an issue that was more immediate years ago, when we were still in the cold war. I don't think so anymore.

Returning to Kyoto we waited at the train station and struck up a conversation with an older Japanese woman whose English was near perfect, but whose accent I just couldn't figure out. Turns out she was born in Hiroshima, married an American, and has lived the last 40 years in Meridian, Mississippi. Her accent was pure Miss Daisy, with a Japanese undercurrent. We told her we had visited the Peace Park and the museum, and she just said, "Oh, Ah just don't want to see that again." We think from her age that she must have been a child in Hiroshima in 1945.

Today, by contrast, we had a wonderful last day in Kyoto with a young couple in their 30's, Hiro and Mami, and their baby, Sakiko, whom we met in Bali. They live in Osaka, a 15-minute train trip from Kyoto, and came up to spend the day with us. It is so different to see a country in the company of people who can actually tell you something about what's going on! We spent the day seeing museums, eating, and talking about everything from wedding customs to relatives to working conditions. Kyoto is a very beautiful city, but it is not all quaint old Japan. It is a big modern city with a long and well-preserved history. Its gardens and temples are as beautiful as you will see anywhere, and they make an interesting counterpoint with the neon and bustle.

The train station is an enormous underground complex surmounted by 12 stories of department store, restaurants by the dozen, our hotel and other facilities beyond number. Each time we've ventured out we've gotten lost in a new and different way. The whole structure is under a huge glazed space frame in the shape of a tunnel arch, open at both ends. The stores and hotel form the side walls of this "tunnel". A broad, open stair and escalators take up about half the central floor area, rising 11 floors in a straight run in such a way that the top 8 flights form an amphitheater above a stage on the third floor. In the center of this space a central void looks down to the train and subway levels below. Well, it's hard to describe but gadzookey beyond compare.

We return to Tokyo tomorrow, and home on Tuesday.