Friday, February 20, 2009

Japan Day 5 (cont'd) [transcribed from journal]

Today was mostly filled with train rides. After arriving at Nagasaki station, we met Sergio, who is Rushton's contact at Kwassui College, the oldest women's university in Japan.

Rain also greeted us at the station, and accompanied us through the rest of the day. After a dash through the rain, we squeezed students and luggage onto a tiny bus bound for Kwassui.

At the university, Sergio gave us a brief campus tour. School was founded by determined woman missionary from the U.S., back in the 1870s. In contraste to the typical, cost-svaing, concrete-cube construction of many Japanese colleges, Kwassui has a stately and coherent architectural style, looking vaguely Federal to my untrained eye. The tour included a small chapel that Rushton calls "The Hogwarts Room" for reasons that are obvious on sight.

After the tour, we met up with Sergio's 2nd-year English class for some casual mixing and chatting.

Think a dry cocktail party with way more women than men and an impressive language barrier to boot. Kids handled it very well, with students from both countries finding ways to communicate and talking about common interests. At one point early on, Rushton sent me to break up a clump of guys and get them chatting with the Kwassui students. This proved fairly easy. "In a few years when you look back on this trip," I said, "and you think about the time you visited the women's college in Japan, if all you remember is standing around talking to some dudes, you will hate yourselves. I promise." That worked.

After our time was up, we bussed 15 minutes over to Kwassui Senior High School. This school is connected to Kwassui University, and it's the host school for our students' homestays for the first time this year. Homestay families picked up our students one by one, after which we headed to the Monterey Hotel to get our rooms (that is, Rushton, Lauren, and me).

Hotel was ultra-European in a very Japanese way: "Europe as it was meant to be" was how I tried to express it, a sentiment Rushton agreed with.
Lots of large oil portraits of anonymous Dead White Guys. Mozart and Bach softly piped in to every hallway and common space. A good smattering of brass. All quite tastefully done actually, not tacky or overbearing. Just jarring to walk into such an environment straight off the Nagasaki street.

After freshening up, we set off on foot toward Chinatown, about four or five blocks away. (I bought an umbrella ASAP). Dinner was at the first likely-looking restaurant we saw, where Lauren, Rushton, and I ordered tofu, chicken, and pork dishes, respectively. Decent. Just about exactly like Chinese food stateside. Then back to the hotel and nice warm bed.

A word about Nagasaki before I get to today. Like many Americans, the only thing I know about Nagasaki is that it's the second place we nuked. I've found it to be an eye-opening experience to stand here, for two reasons. First, to get a sense of the place separate from the bomb (a beautiful bayside city, like Tampa or San Francisco, with a healthy Chinatown stretching back generations, etc. etc.). Second, to get a sense of what the bomb does mean here. In all discussions of history, there's a discontinuity so omnipresent as to become almost implicit at times. "This was theonly guilding on campus to survive the bomb blast, so it's the only original building remaining in the college. The building survived by random chance." Or, "Kwassui High School was the closest school to ground zero, so the campus was of course completely destroyed." And meeting anyone with hair gray enough, I can't shake the thought that either they remember the bomb itself (they'd have to be at least 80 or so), or else they grew up in houses where the memory of this event was the defining element of the national character.

The people of Nagasaki have been uniformly welcoming, friendly, and curious about us. And I expected nothing less. But even after this many years, such a great disturbance in the Force is still very present in my mind at least.