Intending Peace in Hiroshima

While it’s now been well over a week since I visited Hiroshima, the effect that the city, its people, its history and their strong desire for peace has left a lasting imprint on my heart. Words cannot really describe how it felt to spend some days in this city. From the enthusiasm of the Hiroshima Carp fans, to eating “Okonomiyaki” with new friends and colleagues, to singing Karoake the “authentic way,” it has been a very fun place to visit.


Okonomiyaki


Ready for Karaoke

Beneath the “good times” in this city lies the undertone of the historical significance to what happened here on August 6, 1945. Over 200,000 people lost their lives that day, and there was always an undertone of the realization of where I was during my entire stay there. Whenever I’d see an older person, I couldn’t help but think that they were alive during the terrible tragedy. I wondered if they remembered. I wondered what they thought of Americans. I wondered how they survived.

On one of the mornings, we visited Shukkeien Garden. I found this video made a few years ago on YouTube to give you an idea of this very beautiful place.

Immediately upon entering, you can see the images of the park as it was before the bomb hit it and destroyed everything there. I stood in silence as I read that people began to run to the park for shelter when the bomb hit, but to no avail. The garden has been reconstructed to replicate how the park was prior to its destruction. The reconstruction is magnificently done and the park is absolutely breath-taking. The garden itself means “shrunken-scenery garden,” and there are valleys, mountains, forests and mini rice fields, along with tea houses within. Of course, I took some photographs of my own.


Shukkeien Garden


Shukkeien Garden


Shukkeien Garden


Mini Rice Field in Shukkeien Garden

As I walked through the park, across its picturesque bridges and rocks spread across streams, I couldn’t help but notice the trees. I love to photograph trees and am instinctly drawn to looking at trees. The bamboo trees were breath-taking and I know that they grow very fast, so they were planted after the bombing. Yet I saw a few other trees that looked much older than 60+ years since the bombing and wondered out loud if any trees survived the atomic bomb.


Bridge in Shukkeien Garden


Bamboo Trees in Shukkeien Garden

Little did I know that later in the day, my question would be answered by a taxi driver. He brought the subject up, what appeared to be completely “out of the blue,” and I felt this sensation that I was about to hear something important. He announced that he had been studying about the atomic bomb and that he was studying the trees. He had a page of photographs that were laminated in the back seat pocket for us to look at. There I saw how what looked to be a dead tree later develop into flourishing symbols of endurance, strength and beauty. He explained that very, very few trees survived the bombing in the entire city. I realized right then, that he had answered my question. Chills went through my body at the sychronicity of it all; yet I knew in my heart that when one asks, the answer is always given.

I was so touched by this man that I asked his permission to take his photo.


My Gracious, Humble Taxi Driver

The trees represent the wisdom and perseverance of the people who survived. They are respected elders who we can all learn from. Through the trees and the elders who survived the bomb, we can see examples of the beauty of love and peace; of perseverance and nurturing; of how respecting nature and human beings can blossom into a harmonious world for us all. Despite the atrocities of what occured in Hiroshima, the city lives on: through its people, its history and its trees. The message of the trees and of the survivors is one of peace and they consciously broadcast that message to the world.

All of this was a prelude for my final day in Hiroshima, where I would visit the site of the A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Inside the park, one sees the actual remains of where the bomb hit directly above this building. It remains because it was dropped directly above it.


A-Bomb Dome

The park itself is beautiful and a moving symbol of peace for the world. I wished I had more time there, but it was a rainy day and I had only a few hours, so I spent most of my time in the museum.

The museum experience was very powerful. I don’t know how anyone who experiences it can exit without becoming an advocate for peace on Earth. I learned about the Hibakusha, a name in Japanese that literally means “explosion-affected people,” and is used to represent the survivors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They could be survivors who were in the area at the time, who suffered from the side effects of nuclear fall-out or unborn babies at the time who later were born with birth defects. The Hibakusha have fought hard for an end to nuclear proliferation.

Below is a replica of what Hiroshima looked like both before and after the bomb.


Hiroshima Replica Before the Bomb


Hiroshima Replica After the Bomb

I found it very difficult to “get through” the second half of the museum, with artifacts and stories of individual children who perished. I literally didn’t listen to them all, as I found myself in tears. Yet I understood the intention of having those exhibits there: to imprint a desire and passion so strong for peace within all who experience it.

Perhaps the most fitting photographic exhibit for me was in this last image I’m posting of the phoenix trees. If you click on the photograph, I believe you can read the captions which explain how the phoenix trees survived and grew, even though no one expected them to for at least 75 years. What is deeply moving is reading that the “hibakusha” gained strength from Nature’s rebounding from this man-made destruction. What a tribute to the trees and people of Hiroshima! May we always find that peaceful place within us and with others.

Exploring Miyajima Island, Walking with the Deer and Climbing Shrines

Saturday I spent the hot, humid day on Miyajima Island with colleagues and hosts, who were so graciously accompanying us to show us around. The place is absolutely beautiful, and like most places I’ve seen in Japan so far, I ran out of time to see everything that I wanted to see. I found myself spending a couple of hours in one particular shrine, climbing various structures and stopping by to listen in on a Buddhist monk chanting and talking. While I couldn’t understand any Japanese, I felt his gentle spirit in his voice and demeanor.

There is something magical about this place. I will one day return here.

Baseball: Japanese-Style

The other night, I had the pleasure of attending a baseball game here in Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Carps played against the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles. It was an exciting finish, as the Carps won in the bottom of the 10th inning in an exciting home run by the player, Ishihara.

The excitement of the crowd in getting to the game was similar to what one may see in the States. People had on their favorite team colors and various sports attire, and vendors enticed the crowd to buy their food along the way. Yet I knew I was in for a special cross-cultural treat when our hosts told us that we’d be picking up a Bento box to take into the game to eat (because it’s cheaper and better than the food in the stadium), and I saw the array of bicycles parked just outside the “Mazda Zoom Zoom” Stadium!

Amidst the backdrop of the mountains around the Hiroshima area, the new Mazda “Zoom Zoom” stadium has a stream of trains gliding by throughout the game, as train passengers get a glimpse into the stadium as they travel to and from Hiroshima. In this picture, you can see a white Shinkansen train (bullet train) gliding by.

The game itself was very much like a baseball game in the States. The crowd behavior, on the other hand, was quite a bit different. There were cheering sections for each team, way up high, with flags waving and leading the crowd with their continuous cheering, chants and songs. It reminded me of a soccer game, actually.

The crowd joined together and cheered on their team, with the lead from the section way up in the stands (where there was a small band as well). To give you an idea of how the crowd all joins together to cheer, here’s a quick video moment from the game.

I ordered a Coke and later had a beer, as we weren’t allowed to bring in drinks from the outside. While food from the outside is permitted, liquids apparently are not. One of my colleagues ordered a corn dog at the game as well. Both young men and young women strolled the stands with beer kegs on their backs, serving the crowd.

Baseball is extremely popular in Japan and it showed in the pride and fan support during the game. The rules were all the same, and there were even two American players on each team (who didn’t perform that well, by the way), and I couldn’t help but think about how wonderful it is to share something in common with a culture that is so different than our own. Sports is a great way to cross the cultural divide between nations, yet there are some fundamental differences between the object of the game across countries.

One of my hosts and I talked quite a bit about the differences and to give you an idea, consider this: in Japanese baseball, if the game is tied, it only lasts until the end of the 12th inning. In other words, the game can be tied at the end, as the players will get too tired if the game goes indefinitely. Imagine a game in the States where there is no winner! We are so competitive and wouldn’t stand for no one winning, while the Japanese are more concerned about keeping everyone happy and in harmony with one another. I thought it was a very revealing contrast. I also learned that when the game is televised, the broadcast ends when the alloted television time is over, so if the game endures for a long time, people watching don’t see the end. Now imagine that ever happening in the States! It would likely cause a riot in some major city rival games!

I noticed that the players threw out baseballs at the beginning of the game, that they don’t sing a national anthem prior to the game, nor sing any patriotic songs at any time during the game. Instead, they sing their school song with pride. In addition, most people stuck around after the game to watch the “press conference” that was set up on the field as a stage and the “hero” of the game was interviewed in front of thousands who remained.

After it was all over and done, everyone seemed to pick up their own trash and carry it over to a trash collection area, so that the stands were as clean as they were when we first arrived.

It was a great night of Japanese baseball and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have experienced it and particularly to my Fulbright hosts who entertained us with this special treat.

Oh, and by the way, this is their mascot. Somehow I couldn’t see the “carp” in him, but he was very cute! 🙂

Images of Kyoto: Cultivating Peace

Last night we arrived in Hiroshima for some days. I thought I’d look back on the past few days in Kyoto with some photographic memories here. No need for lots of words.

Japanese Cooking Class in Kyoto

Today I had the honor and pleasure of being inside of a Japanese home (above) to take what turned out to be the highlight of my experience so far here in Japan. Along with one of my colleagues on this trip, Aimee, we took the “class” together, meeting our hostess and teacher, Emi Hirayama, near her home at a local university and walking to her house where we began our “lesson.”

What a pleasure and delight it was to be inside her home, in her kitchen, learning about all of the different kinds of vegetables and other ingredients used in Japanese cooking! She is a lovely person and while Aimee and I did our best to “cook” along with her, I found that it took some time to take all the photos, write down the recipes and that there were many, many steps involved to making some typical summer Japanese dishes. We peeled off the skin of soybeans, cut eggplant, chopped prawns into a paste-like substance, ground fresh ginger, wrapped eel with shisho in soymilk skin (yuba), made tempura, made soup, made and molded sticky rice into beautiful molds that provided a lovely presentation, grilled scallops, prawns and eggplant, drank sweet homemade plum wine that Emi makes every year, and ate a delicious meal at the end of it all!

Most of all, our hostess was so kind and knowledgeable. I highly recommend this experience to anyone visiting Kyoto, and particularly if you are looking for an escape from the hotels and other tourist sites and want to get an glimpse into the Japanese kitchen in a real life home. She can accommodate up to 4 people, but I think doing this with one other person was quite meaningful, as there was space and room for both learning along with Emi, but in conversing with her as well. She is fantastic and has it all so well organized and is very pleasant company while you learn. I will always remember this experience and I also know that if I ever come back to Kyoto, I will definitely want to do this again.

To learn more about Emi and her cooking class, please visit her blog and her website.

Rather than try to write out the “recipes” I learned (and quite honestly, I didn’t get all the names of things, but got most of them), I thought I’d share a few visual images that will give you the idea of the rich experience and delicious food we learned to make today.

Here’s a taste. Enjoy!


Soymilk skin (Yuba)


Shitake Mushrooms & Kyoto Peppers


Lotus Root


Name? This was used a special garnish


Shisho


Deveining Fresh Prawns


Ready to Roll The Yuba-Filled with Shisho & Eel


Ready to Fry the Tempura


Frying Prawns, Scallops & Eggplant


Molding The Sticky Rice


Beautiful Rice Mold Result


Hot, Bubbly Oil Making Tempura


Draining Tempura


Ready to Eat (minus soup)

Lunch in Kyoto: Soba or Udon?

After a thrilling ride on the bullet train from Tokyo, we arrived in Kyoto around lunchtime today. After checking into the hotel, we immediately found our way to a noodle place for lunch.

We had a choice of soba or udon noodles (buckwheat vs. wheat). After I had already decided on the soba, one of my colleagues asked the waitress which was better. She said that the udon noodles were better, so consequently everyone in my group ordered udon except me.

There is something to the sound of “buckwheat” that sounded more “down-home” to me today and I stuck to my initial decision. I have to say that both were delicious (one of my colleagues and I tasted each other’s–just to be sure!)

I thought I’d share a visual “taste” and let you all decide for yourself.


Soba


Udon

To The Left in Tokyo

While I’ve been here for less than a week, I am quickly reminded of some adjustments in my normal everyday habits that I have to make while walking around Tokyo. It could get dangerous NOT to remember that the driving in Japan is “to the left.” This means that instead of looking left when crossing the street, I have to remember to look right. It sometimes feels like a march in my mind as I first look left; then remember that it’s the wrong way so I quickly look right; then left to be sure again!

But even more noticeable to me is the way in which the pedestrians move in the subway system, through tunnels, stairways and escalators: through crowded rush hour “pedestrian traffic,” one must keep to the left (most of the time). As a reminder, there are signs:

But sometimes, I’m supposed to go to the right!

It’s all very orderly and efficient, yet I cannot help but smile as all of this “dancing” around Tokyo has me chuckling as I’m reminded of the song by Beyonce…

Service: Japanese Style


One of the things I’ve known about Japanese culture from working with people over the years is how polite and service-oriented the society is. Yet while one can read about this in thousands of books and experience it from meeting Japanese people in the U.S., there is nothing that compares to experiencing it first-hand in Japan.

While I’ve been here not quite two days, the examples of exceptional and efficient service and kindness are everywhere: from the governmental officials at the airport in the Quarantined, Immigration and Customs’ areas, to the money exchange counter, to the bus limosine staff, in the hotels, restaurants, on the streets, in the subways, the departmental stores, the taxis and the tourist areas. It is truly a delightful change to have people acknowledge you with a slight bow, a smile and a soft voice whereever you go. It certainly makes one feel very, very welcome. Even the store display of this sale in a department store is welcoming! (Hint: Click on the photo to enlarge it so you can read what is written on the display in English.)

In the States, normally this kind of exceptional service would be rewarded with a tip of some kind. Yet in Japan, tipping is not practiced! What a cultural difference this is, leaving me and the other Fulbrighters in my group to feel a bit guilty right now that we cannot reward such service with the tip that it deserves.

Yet we are thinking in our own cultural box when we have such feelings. While I’m aware of it and can process it, I can’t help but feel the emotional response of a bit of guilt because that would be how I would show my appreciation back home.

So in my reflection of what I’m seeing, hearing and feeling, I turn to gratitude. I so appreciate this element of Japanese culture and am grateful and humbled by the many demonstrations of it all around me.

And I cannot help but think of how the world would be such a better place if we all practiced a little “Service: Japanese Style” of our own, once in awhile.

Blogging from Japan


I just arrived in Japan for the beginning of what I know will be an amazing experience. I intend to occasionally (or perhaps, more regularly) blog from here as I journey through my experiences here. Since I’m extremely jet lagged and tired, I’ll let the picture speak for itself. This is from Narita airport (Tokyo) right after picking up bags and hanging over the Customs area.