07 August 2004

Lost in Translation.

I am absolutely in love with Japan! Everything about this country is amazing- the people, the sights, the food-I love it all! The country is ridiculously clean, neat, and orderly- there is an incredible respect for the law here- no one jaywalks, or even crosses the street when the crosswalk light is red! It is also bad form to eat and walk at the same time- judging from the beautiful presentation on all foods, especially desserts, there is a deep respect for the art of food making. After eating the food for a week, I'm inclined to feel that it deserves all the respect we can give it. I think Japanese food wins the "best food in Asia" award, at least from what we've tried. The people were exceptionally nice- they'd always help us find our way, or point out the right train for us to take, even if they didn't speak any English. I'd love to come back here, and backpack through Japan the way you would Europe. Japan is expensive, however, especially after places like Vietnam.

The morning we arrived, the Port of Kobe held a welcome ceremony for us since it was our ship's first time docking there. There were Japanese harp players and drummers- both amazing! There was also a lengthy presenting of gifts- a Japanese doll for the dean, a plaque for the captain, and jugs of sake for the staff captains, and another student and I were selected to receive gifts on behalf of the students. We each received a happi, a traditional Japanese jacket with the Port of Kobe emblem in Japanese. I felt special, not going to lie.

After lunch, I went with some friends into the city, where we spent almost an hour deciphering the subway system so we could get to the Suma Aqualife Park, a mini version of Sea World, complete with a dolphin show. We spent a few hours exploring the indoor aquarium areas, where we saw an enormous Maine lobster, giant spider crabs, and a host of other creepy looking animals. Outside, there was a sea otter tank, and after seeing them from a distance in Alaska, it was especially cute to see them up close. During the dolphin show, a group of penguins made a guest appearance, and one of them went AWOL, jumping into the pool and swimming around for the rest of the show, then trying to escape down the steps into the crowd at the end. It was pretty amusing, especially since I come from the carefully orchestrated world of Orlando tourism.

On our way back to the subway, we stopped at the fabulous Mr. Donut shop, which, although more expensive, was also better than Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts. (Or we just missed deep fried American goodness). We caught the train back to Kobe, and had dinner at a little noodle shop, where food is ordered by inserting money into a ticket machine, and then you give the ticket to the cook. The machine was entirely in Japanese, but fortunately, we ran into the ship's food anthropologist and his wife, who read Japanese, so they were able to give us recommendations. It was fabulous, and comparatively cheap for Japan. Fuji, the food anthropologist, wrote his dissertation on KFC in China – I’m considering going into the field myself. Stuffing my face to advance human knowledge? Count me in!

The second morning, I went to Hiroshima, via a five-hour bus ride. Hiroshima was a moving experience- we were there on August 5th, the day before the anniversary, so there were a lot of people setting up for the ceremony, arranging chairs and hooking up the electronics equipment. The old Prefecture building, the only building preserved when the city was rebuilt after the bombing, was a powerful sight- the only reminder of the bombing in a completely modern city. We saw a group of monks and other Japanese engaged in a Fast for a Nuclear Free World- they were incredibly generous, offering juice when we stopped to look at them.

I also saw the monument to the "A-Bomb Children," the one built in memory of the girl who folded over 1000 paper cranes in hopes of recovering from leukemia. All around the monument are small, enclosed buildings filled with chains of paper cranes, donated by people all over the world. It was quite a moving sight – seeing the visual representation of such tragedy really makes it hit home. Like the Vietnam Wall or the Holocaust memorial in Boston. Across the street was the Peace Memorial Flame monument, to be extinguished when all nuclear weapons have been eliminated from the earth. At the other end of a reflecting pool is the memorial cenotaph, with an arch framing the flame and prefecture building, and a chest containing the names of everyone who died in the bombing, with the inscription "Repose ye in peace, for the error shall never be repeated."

The entire area is just overwhelming- it was difficult to believe what we did to the Japanese people. The museum was another moving experience- we spent over two hours there, and I could have stayed even longer. It was filled with documents and pictures from the bombing, and a fascinating section on the American decision to drop the bomb. I was impressed with the fairness of the exhibit, especially after the Vietnam museums. With the shrine to Japan’s war dead causing constant tension on the continent, I never expected such a neutral portrayal of the Allies in WWII.

There was an entire section on the orphaned children, which was difficult to look at. We also watched a film about the destruction of the bombing, and the effects it had on people- like the children exhibit, it was also hard to watch at times. The section with the artifacts recovered from the bombing was incredible- melted clothing, toys, accessories, and the famous human shadow imprinted on the stone steps. There was also a display of the protest telegrams sent by the mayor of Hiroshima to world leaders following every nuclear test- I had never heard of this practice, but there were a disturbing number of them- two sides of a large wall in the middle of the first floor. There was also a copy of the Mayor's August 6 declaration from last year, calling for the leaders of all nuclear capable nations to visit Hiroshima and see firsthand the effects of nuclear weapons. Overall, Hiroshima was simply overwhelming- no words can do it justice. I can’t understand how anyone could see Hiroshima and not support complete disarmament.

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