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Walking with Ghosts: A glimpse of Hiroshima and Miyajima

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November 2011

Growing up in the States, I learned all about World War II and the A-bomb from a particular perspective. History exists based on how it’s written. American’s write it one way just as every other nation has their on take on the events. Going to Hiroshima was my chance to finally get a hold on the other perspective of the A-bomb first hand. Though I was as interested in what the city had become as much as what it had been.

Another time travel post, sorry. My classes are thinning out so I finally have time during my free periods to hash out the details of these experiences with a clear head. Or clearer. I’ve been having some troubles with my body acting up but that can wait till another post.

I love the way foreigners pronounce Hiroshima, when it’s done incorrectly. It always makes me giggle. I called my mom to tell her I was going on this trip and said Hiroshima the proper way (hee row shee ma – phonetic!) and she had no clue what I was talking about until I said it with an American accent. I certainly don’t expect people to know all about Japanese pronunciation. I’ve been listening to stuff in Japanese since I was 12. I think I have a little bit of a head start besides the whole living in Japan thing. It’s just interesting how these things stick after all this time.

Where was I… Ah so we headed out super early before the sun and made our way down the highways towards Hiroshima. I am proud to say I drove both ways AND only got lost once. Couldn’t have done it without my trusty navi unit – NicoNico aka my friend Nicole. There we were, driving down the big highways in a tiny little K-car with yellow plates (more powerful cars get white plates). I can’t wait to drive at 65 mph on a regular basis again. In a car that doesn’t feel like a tuna can. The driving here can be painfully slow and dangerous because of all the mountains.

When we got to the outskirts of Hiroshima, we made a turn off into the inaka in search of Nicole’s great aunt. After a little hunting in the wilds, we found the temple her family ‘owns’ up on a hill. Nicole’s grandmother had recently passed away and we brought Nicole to the temple to pay her respects to her grandmother’s sister and family. A bonus was to see the temple, of course. Her great aunt was really sweet and friendly even with us being absolute foreigners in both nationality and understanding. Anna was with us and she speaks Japanese and looks Chinese but is from Singapore. Nicole is half Okinawan and half Japanese and can understand conversational Japanese but deep down she’s full blooded American-Hawaiian to me^^. And then there’s me. An obvious foreigner and not the greatest with the language. But she welcomed us like long lost grand babies.

After sitting around talking and giving the letter and gifts to the great aunt (I think she was nearly 100 years old but didn’t look near that old), we were shown the grave site where Nicole’s ancestors were buried. It was inspiring. Then we headed back down the hill and thought we were done but there was one more thing to do… ring the evening bell. Here’s the video Nicole took. I might be a goof but I was really honored to have had that experience. The original bell had been taken during the war to melt down for weapons or whatever but after the war they got a new one. I don’t remember the whole complex story behind it, there was a lot going on to take in at one time.

We said our goodbyes as the sun set on us and made our way into Hiroshima… a slow way. Tons of traffic. The city is set in a half circle of mountains. This barrier is all that kept the fallout of the bomb from spreading to the surrounding towns. Because of that, there aren’t a ton of ways to get into the city. Hence the heavy traffic I assume. After we made it to the island part of the city with the museum, we found our huge hotel and got settled in. The service was friendly as ever in Japan and they even spoke English! Yay for big cities. Our room had 2 beds and pull out sofa. It was very clean and the front desk was helpful with our questions about where to eat and such.

We arrived in time to catch dinner somewhere so we headed out. Several of the places were closed but we found a popular Italian place across from the museum. It was surprisingly good and I laughed out loud when they handed the Japanese menu to Nicole and the English menu to me. Nicole looks Japanese so I can understand that but what was so funny was when I asked her if she wanted my English menu. The menus were all written in Italian plus one other language and I know enough Italian to order food. The funny part is when Nicole glances at the menu and goes “What ya mean? There’s English on here.” I started cracking up and made her actually read it and she starts laughing and face palms while passing me the menu. I think the waiters got a little weird-ed out by how hard we were laughing but whatever. I was a little drunk from a glass of wine and the leftovers of motion sickness pills so I went right to sleep when we got back to the hotel.

 

He had birds all over him!! Nicole just had to have a picture so to be polite, we took a sneaky tourist shot.

Since Saturday was shaping up to be a nice day, we decided to find our way to Miyajima. This island is still rather sacred and it used to be that no one was allowed to die or give birth on the island. Now it’s a tourist spot with hotels, restaurants, food vendors, a rope way to the near top of Mt. Misen and of course lots of deer. The photos might describe it better than I can. On our way there we wandered the grounds of the Peace Park.

Nicole and Anna actually made it to the top of the mountain but I was dizzy and weary from the 10 plus hour drive the day before as well as all the walking that day so I waited for them at the love temple. I already did Fuji, I didn’t need to prove anything haha.

 

Just hanging out. Totally unafraid of people.

To the rope-way!

Typical beautiful natural surroundings found in Japan. I guess it was typical for us, being from the countryside. That’s Anna on the left and Nicole on the right.

 

The rope-way! I would ride that all day around that mountain. Beautiful.

They always make it look so easy on the map…

 

The girls went on ahead without me. I was pooped. And watching people at the love temple was very entertaining.

The paddle thing was huge. Near this was the fried oyster place. They were delicious. I’ve never been one to enjoy that genre of seafood but I decided it was stupid of me not to try something that was so popular and famous there. I’m glad I did.

Then we caught the sunset on our way out. Beautiful. The deer were even being cute.

We waddled our way back to the ferry to take us to the mainland. Anna and I fell asleep on each other. The mainland train then took us all the way back around to the shopping district and we went in search of a good okonomiyaki bar. We found one. It was fantastic, highly recommended. I really don’t know if I like Osaka style better than Hiroshima, though. They were both amazing. I felt bad but I couldn’t finish mine… it was starting to burn on the grill, I had taken so long to eat it. One thing I have not acquired is the Japanese way of shoveling down food. I like to take my time.

Somewhere in this madness we found a spectacular okonomiyaki place. I’m lucky to always have such resourceful friends.

A pseudo indoor mall street thing.

The only building left standing after the bomb dropped. It’s so haunting. A constant reminder.

Nicole posing in front of the museum. Everyone cries in there. Everyone.

Saturday was quite gloomy so we decided to go to the museum. I didn’t bring my camera due to the rain. The museum… is an experience every human being should have. I can’t begin to express how impacting  it was on me and everyone around me. Certainly there are some things left out or slightly altered to betray Japan in a more favorable light (just as we do in the US). But there was also some surprising admissions of guilt. I highly recommend reading up on your WWII knowledge before walking through it (from many sides if possible) as it helps give perspective. The over sentiment was most definitely anti-war all around.

We then wandered to a nearby mall center to wander around the omiyage (souviner) places. Some very delicious stuff. I found a place that sold the hard candy balls that are nostalgic of the pre-WWII era in Hiroshima. So many flavors. I bought bags and bags of them and took them back for my teachers… and me. We ate at a kinda whatever place in the mall and then did snack night with drinks at the hotel room.

The last day out was gloomy again. The beautiful Saturday we had at Miyajima was turning out to be extremely lucky. Anna really wanted to see the castle in the center of the city… but we were tired and it was rainy and… it was time to go. So we drove by it on our way out and made our long trek back home. I drove most of the way back (I get motion sick so it’s better if I drive) but Nicole took over at some point. I was so tired.

The moral of this trip for me was to be in the moment. Don’t blink! And if it’s raining out, bring the plastic cover for the camera!

With love- M

 

EPIC Tokyo trip part 1

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July 2011

Well, not that epic. There were no elephants or mermaids involved. I came away smiling despite that. Also, this story is quite old now so I apologize if I mix things up anywhere.

A quick sum-up of more recent occurrences (October 2011):

I’m studying Japanese quite bit more and taking lessons. My weekends have been either packed or empty… yet still packed with things that get pushed aside during the week like laundry and cleaning. Playing games with Joel and friends for hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings has been making me feel like a kid waking up for Saturday cartoons. My co-workers are much more comfortable chatting with me now, though I don’t think my Japanese has gotten that much better… just a comfort thing. This weekend I’m off to Hiroshima for a few days to see the sights and pay respects with Nicole for her grandmother who recently passed. Before I post on that trip I still need to do the August trip home, climbing Mt. Fuji, and Senmaida light up festival.

For this post I’m going to be methodical about my trip to Tokyo and go day by day and try not to forget anything important. It was an eventful trip. I pray that I am brief but still entertaining.

Tokyo. Everyone’s heard of it but everyone has not had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand. It appears to be different things for different people. For me, this trip was like a wine tasting. Nicole and I made our way through as much as we could while still enjoying our vacation and not getting too stressed. Maybe less nomi-hodai next time(see Friday)…

Wednesday night/Thursday

Traveling in Japan has been an interesting adventure for me. Never had I traveled long distance via coach bus before. Not only was I to be in a motor vehicle for 10 or so hours but I was to travel at night and sleep as much of the way as possible. This works in theory but since it was my first time… sleeping wasn’t on the menu much. Nicole did okay I think but my dramimine just wasn’t knocking me out like usual. I got a few hours of sleep before we touched down in Shinjuku. Here’s a picture of us waking up at 5:30am on the bus.

Nothing was open… really. There were some conbini’s scattered about but none had bathrooms except for one that we finally found. But why not go somewhere in Shinjuku station? You may wonder… the only area open that early was one with a men’s bathroom area. Granted, in Japan it is very acceptable for women to use men’s restrooms in times of need but men can never use women’s restrooms. I guess that was the idea behind only having the one bathroom available. Ugh. After cleaning up in the smallest (and suprisingly grossest) conbini bathroom EVER, we made our way walking about Shinjuku to kill time until we could check into our hotel.

I forget all that we did on Thursday as I was only partially concious. I do remember visiting the Square Enix store. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as I hoped but was still cool to see the dude (a life size Final Fantasy character) in the floor. I didn’t get a picture… don’t seem to have any pictures of that first day lol how silly. We also found our way to random pet shop and had a nice time in there with some exotic critters like monkeys and such. The best part was when we first walked in and there was what we thought to be a huge stuffed dog in the back. As soon as we were both inside the door he sprang to life and came over to say hello. That was the single most uplifting moment of that trip for both of us I think. We were missing our pets back in the States terribly at that point and he was just the friendlest little guy ever.

Finally we made our way to the hotel to unload our luggage and relax for a bit.

Friday

To the tower! We made off for the Tokyo Tower and I was surprised. I guess I expected to be in an area like in Paris where people take pictures with it and it’s imposing presence is always in the background. Nope. I could barely see it from the station we got off at, so many buildings and trees in the way. It felt like it was just stuck in the middle of stuff, an after thought. ‘You know what’d be great here! A HUGE tower!’ ‘Why?’ “Why not I think is what you meant to say…’. Anyways, here it is. We had some pretty good curry served by a foreigner who spoke perfect Japanese. Not weird at all…

In the evening we decided it would be best to keep it simple and not stay out too late so we opted for an interesting looking izukaya. After finally being seated (not sure why they were looking for customers, they had plenty) we decided to get nomi-hodai (all you can drink). Nicole’s friend came eventually and we enjoyed some drinks and jokes for a while until we realized we had missed the last train home… and were subsequently stuck in Shinjuku until the morning train unless we took a super expensive taxi. So stay we did. And party we did. We made our way around trying to find a half decent club but had a hard time surprisingly. Finally we found Xanadu and made ourselves at home with a second nomi-hodai. I don’t recommend the club unless you love that genre of music, 70’s and 80’s disco and techno style, slightly modernized but it’s hard to make poo any better than what is, no matter how many beats you smear over it.

To Anan and back

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A short trip to see Nathalie’s town and get stuck in a typhoon.

Again, long over due. This little adventure happened back in mid July. Better late than never! With all these typhoons we’re getting right now, I can’t help but be remind of this trip. The trip was planned to be me traveling to Osaka and then to Tokushima and finally Anan on Saturday and return on Tuesday since I was able to get an extra day off after the holiday.

I started out on an early Thunderbird (that’s the super train in these parts) and made a quick changeover in Osaka to a bus. While I was waiting in line to buy a ticket, a nice fatherly man started making random chitchat with me using surprisingly good English. After I got my ticket I took a minute to gather my stuff together and he caught up with me to make the conversation more official. As it turns out, he was a JTE (that’s Japanese Teacher of English) for many years at a highschool way up in the mountains a few hours from Osaka. He was traveling alone and made it very clear that he prefers it that way.

Being curious I asked why and he said that he had never found a companion that didn’t make traveling irritating. His wife especially drove him mad and even his best friend was too much trouble. He said he prefers the alone time because it makes it much easier to interact with foreigners he runs into along the way. I absolutely understood this because being such a person, I prefer not to be suddenly surrounded by tourists interested in practicing their English for extended periods of time. It’s much nicer one on one and not so confusing.

He was super nice. Asked if I wanted to get a cup of coffee but unfortunately I don’t drink coffee and said I just needed to eat a fast lunch instead. He then offered to show me to the nearest food area so I could grab something before getting on my bus. I already new the area really well from my last Osaka trip but it was kind nonetheless. We parted but as I was sitting in the little cafe eating my sandwich, who should round the corner but my little friend eager as a beaver to squeeze in some more English before I left. He had some interesting philosophies on the differences between western foreigners thought processes and those native to Japan. I wanted to agree that my folks, Americans, were not living sustainable or at all in tune with our natural environment on a daily basis… but certain things kept coming into my head about whaling, personal freedoms, and the unfortunate downside to constantly following the “wa” system (see my older post) that I decided it best if I kept my mouth shut. Smile and nod. It’s the “wa” system in action. Maybe he would’ve benefited by my counter-idea, who knows.

Finally I made my way to the bus and was given the only seat with an empty seat next to eat. Praise Jesus or whoever. It was perfect because my bum is a little more than typical Japanese standard… just a little heh. I probably saw the most scenery of Shikoku on that bus ride out of my whole trip. The mountain formations were really interesting. I should have snapped some photos but I only had my phone cam and it’s not the best with motion. I’ll try to paint you a mental image: you know those huge paintings in Chinese restaurants and buffets? The ones with the little fishing boat gliding on the water with huge odd looking mountains all around that look impossible they’re so slender? Those are what I saw. Take a mountain, shave away the outside until it’s almost a cylinder from top to bottom.

After meeting up with Nathalie and getting my rental bike, we dropped my stuff at her place and headed for dinner. Dinner was a 5k bike ride away at the nearest super kaitenzushi. We were so bushed by the time we got there. Red faced and frothing at the mouth. This was summer in Japan mind you with the humidity that comes just before a big typhoon. We stuffed ourselves and before it got too dark and buggy we headed back for conbini ice cream and lots of sleep.

The next day, Nat’s friend took us around for a little sightseeing in Tokushima City, the closest big city to Anan. She had a car. It was lovely. First was food. Real udon, my first time.

The strange statue outside the noodle shop.

Some mountain top viewing of the city.

The next day was by train and foot, back to the city for some wandering before the storm hit too hard. There was Awa Odori stuff everywhere.

 

Delicious foodstuffs.

Nat being herself at the train station. We got off too early. Boo.

But the waiting presented a photo-op of some Totoro graffiti.

And the morning after was my giant bowl of oatmeal and banana courtesy of Nat.

Then the ridiculousness began. The typhoon hit on Tuesday, the day I was to head home. I had work on Wednesday morning and an important party for a JTE I didn’t want to miss in the evening. We tried to find out what was what with the trains and it seemed things were fine so we bundled up, wrapped my stuff in plastic, and headed out on the bikes… through a typhoon. Eventually we were just walking the bikes because the wind was so hard it would’ve toppled us and the rain stung our faces too badly. We then returned the bike in town and walked to the station. The bike man looked super surprised to see us.

I went in, got my ticket and hopped on the next train to Tokushima.

Once there, I ran to the bus terminal and asked about a ticket to Osaka. No tickets, no buses. What about later? I asked. Nope. And tomorrow? Don’t know yet, maybe yes maybe no. Depends on the storm. Crap.

I made some frantic texts and calls to Nat and my supervisors. There was more talking involved than I think was necessary with my company but eventually they got the concept that there was no way I was going to be able to leave Shikoku until the following day if I was lucky. And Nat’s wonderful friend with a car was so wonderful and picked me up from the station after only a few hours waiting. I was concerned about getting a hotel room because of all the other travelers stranded there. One girl sitting next to me with her mom was calling all the local hotels to find a room that wasn’t ridiculously expensive for the night. I think she found a place at the Toyoko Inn just as I was leaving. I looked back at her as I got up to leave and she gave me a slow nod to say she would be okay. Yay for not needing words sometimes.

The next day there was some seriously anxious waiting involved at the train station while they got things up and running again. It was a nice little trip, excitement and anxiety. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Shikoku another time. After all was said and done, I made it home to Nanao by 10pm and Nicole picked my exhausted self up. I was done with traveling for a while after that… oh wait… one week later was the Tokyo trip. What was I thinking?!

With love – M