R Scott Okamoto
We spent the day traveling almost the length of Japan. While traveling to Koriyama from Tokyo, I noticed we blew through a few of the smaller stations at 200mph. It was just a split-second blur of a platform flashing by the window. I wondered what it would be like to be on the platform watching 16 cars go by at 200mph. Standing on the platform at Koriyama station, we got to find out.
The engineering of those trains is incredible. When you pass another train on the tracks, there’s a mere few feet separating the two trains. And standing on the platform in those stations, the middle track where the trains blow through is about 20 feet from where you’re standing. While standing there, I spotted a train approaching in the distance. In the time it took to recognize the train, reach for my phone and lift it to my face to open the camera, it was gone. It felt like a missile flew by. Owen dove for cover behind a rail behind us, covering his ears. Standing so close to so much power and speed was awesome and terrifying.
So we spent the next 90 minutes zooming to Tokyo where Geri got us tickets for the trip to Hiroshima. We got the tickets, headed to the platform and only had to wait five minutes before the train arrived. In Japan, if the schedule says 12:56, it means exactly 12:56. It pulls up at exactly 12:55 and leaves at exactly 12:56. You have to be ready to board when it pulls up, or you aren’t getting on. With our six small rolling suitcases and backpacks, it’s quite an ordeal getting them into the train. By the time we find our seats, the train is taking off while we stow the suitcases in the large overhead shelves.
The trip down to Hiroshima was about three hours and forty-five minutes. I spent the day writing the earlier blog entries and napping. After four straight days of walking 5-10 miles, it was nice to just sit in comfort and relax.
I spent some time thinking about the trip and my life as an American. Early in the trip as we left Tokyo, Geri tapped me on the shoulder and we looked out the right side of the train to see Mt. Fuji. It looked so close, nestled in some clouds. I got emotional. Nearly a week in, and I was feeling so many emotions. I immediately thought of my friends and family. I may be discovering my Japanese roots and heritage, but those people make me who I am.
We arrived in Hiroshima and took taxis to our Air BnB. No more hotels for us this trip. We were dropped off and found a pretty nice apartment waiting for us. It was small, naturally, but there was a master bed on the floor of a small room with sliding doors and a tatami room next to it where 3 bed rolls fit for the kids. Just before we went up to the apartment with all of our stuff, I looked at google maps to get a sense of where we were. The blue dot was just across the river from the Peace Park, and we could see the dome of the government building clearly. I gulped and headed up the stairs wondering what tomorrow would bring.
After we got settled into the place, we went out onto the street to find some dinner. One thing Geri and I have always loved about travel is the thrill of discovery in a new place. Yelp exists in Japan, but it’s pretty hit and miss. Mostly miss because it really only covers tourist areas. I checked Foursquare and it listed a bunch of places on the very street we were staying. We walked through light rain about two blocks down and found a ramen shop. It was the cold ramen, and this place specialized in spicy cold ramen.
The kids ordered no spice or near-no spice. Geri got a medium. I ordered a #10 out of a possible 32. It was amazing. Perfectly cooked cold noodles dipped into the spicy sauce with lots of green onions and bean sprouts. We got some ice cream from the 7/11 beneath our apartment and went to sleep.
Day 6- This is a hard one
We got up at around 9 the next morning. With Foursquare, I found a breakfast spot a few blocks away. It was all in Japanese, but the pictures showed French toast and eggs. It was really good with friendly women running the place. Great pour-over coffee, too.
And then we walked over the river into the Peace Park. To get there we crossed a unique T-shaped bridge that led to the government building. As we would quickly learn, the U.S. targeted that very bridge for the nuclear bomb, as it was a strategic target. Amazingly, the bridge survived. But just about everything around it did not. The bomb was detonated directly above the governmental building next to the bridge. Because the building was directly beneath the massive explosion outward, a part of it was left standing. It has been left untouched to this day to remind the world of the devastation of the bomb.
We toured the area around the building and then crossed the river into the main park. There are statues and monuments everywhere. At the first one, I felt the tears start to well up. A children’s monument. The sad truth is that the lucky people that day were the ones who were immediately vaporized by the bomb. Those in the areas directly around the bomb experienced a hellscape we can only imagine. And even many of them did not survive the first moments, hours, and days after.
America murdered and tortured tens of thousands of innocent civilians on that day. The museum is filled with accounts of the survivors who desperately searched for loved ones in the chaos. They were burned, poisoned by radiation, and each one of them finding out loved ones were dead or missing. So many families reunited briefly, burned head to toe, sleeping outside together as one by one, they died. One father recounted that his young daughter was badly burned. As they went to sleep under the stars, she asked if he and her mother were there. He assured her they were there with her. She said she could no longer see and reached out for them. The father knew this was a bad sign. She was dead in the morning. Story after story, we watched videos, read displays and felt the weight of it all. We were all wiping tears at every stop. All three kids were mostly silent on this morning. I wanted to talk to them, but I couldn’t find my voice. Near the end of the morning, Owen turned away from a display of school children’s burned clothing wiping away tears. He walked over to me, and I just put my arm around his shoulders. Neither of us could think of anything to say.
It occurred to me that America had done worse things than elect Donald Trump president. That list is longer than I care to think about.
The last picture I looked at was a drawing of a toddler leaning against a wall. A man who survived recounted finding what looked to be a child crying against the wall. When the man went to comfort the child, he discovered that the boy had died this way. Alone and in anguish.
If we had bombed pretty much any other country this way, I think we’d still be at war with them. If we had nuked two cities in Germany or Italy, and firebombed their cities, they would still be trying to get revenge. I have never heard anyone in Japan talk about revenge for the nuclear bombs. Something in the culture accepts and tries to move on. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are plenty of individuals who hated America for what it did, both with the bombs and with the firebombing of most of the major cities. I don’t think we deserve forgiveness for what we did, and yet Japan is one of our closest allies.
I learned about World War 2 in AP U.S. history. I identified with the American side of the story, even as I hated that we dropped nuclear bombs on innocent people. This time I felt connected to both the U.S. and Japan. And it really hurt.
Anyone who can be cavalier about war and the “necessities” of winning has buried his or her soul in a dark place. Not just about the nuclear bombs. In all of human history. I think of the Syrians who have suffered and died. All people who suffer because of the sins of their governments should be grieved for.
It’s July 4 back home as I finish this. I’m glad I’m not home for it this year. I’m in Kyoto, connecting to my roots. I’m thinking of my friends and family back home. I’m thinking about how fortunate I am.
There is still a lot of travel ahead of us with a lot of great experiences and food. But Hiroshima has left a mark on our hearts that will never heal. I hope we can turn this pain into something beautiful in our lives.