For our last full day in Japan, the group headed Northwest to the other side of Kyoto—near Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion made famous to Western readers by Yukio MISHIMA—to start our peace-related activities. We took a bus to the end of the line, disembarking in front of Ritsumeikan University. Around the corner we found Ritsumeikan’s Kyoto Museum for World Peace.
Prior to embarking on this trip I had no prior experience with Japanese culture. Well, it’s true that a few years ago I had visited a local Japanese restaurant, whose chicken fried rice was exquisite might I add, but aside from that I had never truly immersed myself within any culture other than that of the United States. Fortunately, however, the Global Connections 2015 trip afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime; for two weeks I would be traveling across Japan on a journey to observe the many ways Japanese culture memorializes peace.
After taking care of some housekeeping in Tokyo in the morning, our shinkansen spirited us away to Kyoto. We settled into our hostel, and the students felt like they were returning to dorm life. We didn’t have much time before dinner, and we got as far as the Kamogawa River before deciding that it might be better simply to divert toward dinner. We split up for dinner and returned for a seminar.
It has been a week since we landed in Japan. I still cannot believe how much we have experienced together and how much more we are going to explore. Our today’s itinerary is quite intense. Starting the day with a cup of iced coffee (Of course having some troubles reading the menu and ordering the drink), we are going to another museum, Yasukuni shrine, a famous omelette rice restaurant and finally a temple (also looks like a research facility to me).
After a Monday on our own, we were back at it early in the morning. Our experienced travelers prepared for a long day away from the hotel with a variety of audiences. Somehow we managed to find the Shokeikan, an elusive museum dedicated to the hardships of veterans and their families. The museum bears the subtitle, in English, of “Historical Materials Hall for the Wounded and Sick Retired Soldiers,” but as the website notes, the “shokei” also “means to pass down, succeed or inherit,” clearly indicating the impetus behind the creation of the museum.
The proliferation of feeling life through art and experience
Pain changes people. I am a witness and my life is my testimony. I have lost three people who were very close to me over the past year and I have been trying to find a means to keep going. I looked forward to this trip for guidance and potential spiritual enlightenment. Our 1st day in Japan, we went to a shrine; there we saw large statues of foxes and big orange gates. The foxes sat before every gate like guard dogs welcoming in every visitor who dared to pass them. I asked our tour guide what it all meant and he kindly told me that the foxes where the messengers and the gates orange color was to ward off bad spirits and the shape is supposed to symbolize the door to heaven. I stared at the gates in the heavy rain and thought. Heavy rain wash away my sins and pain and let me run through these gates to find some type of heaven in this world.
We arrived in Tokyo after another full day of travel. Before we left Hiroshima, however, we had a seminar with reflections led by Justin Sia and Kimberly Reynolds, our two most recent student bloggers. The conversation was so interesting and productive that we continued long past when we originally thought we would catch our streetcar. The students explored many ideas about peace, justice, and nuclear disarmament. They had some very nuanced and insightful things to say about how one (we? they?) reaches current and future generations, how one reaches across cultures, how one gets people to care about these issues we have been exploring. It was a perfect way to conclude our time in Hiroshima.
After lunch, the group boarded another shinkansen bound for Tokyo. After one of our longer travel days, we settled into our accommodations near the famous Shinjuku Gyoen (park) and had a brief orientation before dinner on our own.
I never knew Taeko Miyoshi. Before today I was unaware of this woman’s existence. Even though we are a part of different generations and reside on completely opposite sides of the globe, we share an important similarity. The year I was born in a small town in Alabama, Taeko was relaying her memories of the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima. While I took in the world with new eyes, Taeko remembered the last time she saw her mother, an image characterized by her waving a feeble goodbye to young Taeko with a blood-ridden hand. This reflection on a memoir only serves as one example of the thoughts that have been racing through my head on this trip thus far, especially regarding today’s events.
It was this day in Hiroshima that anchored our travel experience. We started the day hosted by the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation (HPCF) and the remarkable Ms. Yasuko OKANE for a recitation of bomb-related memoirs and poems at the Hall of Remembrance for Victims of the Atomic Bombing. Three volunteers and the students participated in the poetry recitation, and as poems were repeated multiple times by different voices, all of us were overwhelmed by the experience. The recitation—active, not passive—disrupted our expectations and required participation in a way the students hadn’t yet experienced, “resetting” everyone for the day and using the unsettling time to open them to the encounter.
Victory at any cost. This phrase seemingly encapsulated the strategy and mindset used by the U.S. at the time of the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. In the American school system, we learned that the U.S. dropped two devastating bombs on Japan in order to end the war as quickly as possible, thus preventing more killings and saving lives on both sides. However, the costs of this victory that ended WWII were staggering: 140,000 dead in Hiroshima and 70,000 dead in Nagasaki.