R Scott Okamoto
Hiroshima to Osaka- Let the food heal the soul
Day 5 continued
After we finished at the Peace Park, we were all kind of in a daze. Our eyes were puffy, and I was still choking back intermittent sobs. It was strange to return to today’s Hiroshima, which is really a wonderful city. We walked east over the canal and into the Hondori market area, one of those huge outdoor market/mall areas. It seemed incredible, but we were hungry.
Thinking about simple pleasures in life after bearing witness, even 75 years later, feels awkward. How does one carry on when so much suffering happens? I’ve had milder versions of this dilemma after the Indonesian tsunami, Fukushima, the earthquake in Haiti…the list goes on. I remember we didn’t celebrate wildly on New Years after the Indonesia disaster. It just felt wrong when at that moment there was so much human suffering.
Of course every day there is suffering, and we have to find a balance of mindfulness and a life well-lived. I suppose one can even claim to honor lives lost or human suffering by living fully or dedicating life to bettering humanity. I remember about 10 years ago, my friends, Marko and Tim in the band Sugarcult were touring Japan with the band. They were scheduled to play in Hiroshima, so the band visited the Peace Park. Not the obvious choice of relaxing before rocking out in front of a huge crowd. But Marko wrote in the band blog that they indeed felt the weight of the tragedy and suffering, but they somehow found a way to channel that into their music. It was a memorable show for them.
All this to justify a manic search for ramen. Which we found at an Ichiran in the Hondori area.
After lunch, we went back to the Peace Park to board boat in the canal that would take us to Miyajima island. It was about an hours trip, and I napped, the emotions lingering from earlier in the day. My friend, Ken Narasaki, wrote on social media that going to this island after the Peace Park was a healing experience. And he was so right. Deer inhabit the island and walk freely. There are shops and restaurants on the beach, and lots of trails leading up into beautiful forests with streams and bridges. The trees are so lush and green. The kids found all manner of colorful insects, frogs, crabs, snakes, and lizards. Walking this island, even for just a couple of hours, felt like a big exhale. If we are privileged enough to see beauty, we should seek it like truth. That’s what I thought about, anyway.
We returned to our Air BnB and cleaned up. The weather was really hot and humid. We showered and headed back to the Hondori area where we got Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is made with noodles instead of pancakes. It’s basically a bit nest of noodles pan fried on both sides with lots seafood, meats, vegetables, etc. The kids tried it, even though they were skeptical. Geri and I split the seafood ones with octopus, scallops, and fish. The kids had bacon and cheese and pork. I was proud of them for trying something new. Audrey has been the bravest, trying pretty much everything at least once.
We slept well in the apartment, packed up the circus the next morning and headed to the train station to store our luggage while we spent one last morning in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima in the morning, Osaka that night.
Our friend, Naomi Hirahara told us about a school museum right in the Hondori area. Right behind all the shops and restaurants is an elementary school that is still open. On the edge of the school grounds is a small three-story structure where the original Fukuromachi Elementary School used to be. Went the bomb hit, much of the school was leveled and almost everyone killed instantly. The main building had all the windows blown out, but the central hall and stairs remained, so it became a shelter for the survivors. On the wall of the stairwell, people wrote messages to loved ones telling them where they were, or asking if anyone had seen a son or daughter. As time went on, the wall was painted and plastered over, but the writings were rediscovered in the late 70’s or early 80’s. One family learned that a lost daughter had been alive briefly, as she wrote her name on the wall. The child was never seen again, but the family had one last connection to her after all this time.
A precious three students survived the bomb. They had shown up to school without shoes, and were sent to the basement where the extra shoes were kept. There were more than three kids down there, but the ones who rushed up to the playground were killed by the intense radiation. The three who survived waited before they emerged from the basement due to injuries. Their accounts of the day are among those closest to the bomb site. The carnage and devastation those children saw had to nightmares for the rest of their lives.
Audrey and Geri bought some kimonos in town to wear at the Obon festivals at home. It was another surreal experience to purchase such beauty after visiting such tragedy.
We took a short Shinkansen trip from Hiroshima to Osaka, and arrived at dusk. Our next Air BnB was about a quarter of a mile from the station, and we formed a haggard parade of small rolling suitcases and sticky, sweaty marchers. We got to the place and found that it was right across the street from the famous Osaka Aquarium and the Tenzoan Marketplace.
Again, the temptation was to crash and get food from 7/11 or Family Mart. But I looked up the train route to Dotonbori market, and rallied the troops. We were in search of Osaka sushi. The Dotonbori is a famous outdoor marketplace. It was Saturday night, so it was crazy crowded. But the restaurants just off of the main walk seemed to be less crowded. We found a nice sushi restaurant and got in a short line. It was already after 9pm, and we were starving. The host asked if we could split up the five of us, but we noticed the bar clearing out. Dare we sit at the sushi bar in Osaka? Dare we did. We were seated in front of a jovial man with an infectious laugh. He seemed to be the captain of the crew, as he was the one yelling greetings to people coming in, echoed by the other chefs.
This guy was a showman. When we ordered four pieces of uni, he made a big show of putting the pieces in front of us, one by one, counting in English, “One. Two. Three…” When he got to the fourth piece he shouted, “Four!” and put down a perfectly formed mini nigiri uni sushi. He paused for effect as we suppressed our laughs, unsure of how to respond. And then he burst out with a big, “Hahaha!” It was funny every time he did it. And he always added the fourth regular piece, so we got extra mini sushi for many of our orders.
And it was pretty much the best sushi we’ve ever had. Magical night. We walked the market, got some shave ice, and walked along the canal. It was around 11pm when we finally headed back to our place. Another perfect night.
Hiroshima seemed so long ago, even as I often teared up when I thought about some of the things I had seen and read. I had a feeling it was going to be a while before the lingering effects weren’t so present.