Saturday, February 21, 2009

Japan Day 7 [transcribed from journal]

Free morning and early afternoon for us as the students enjoy some time with their homestay families.  We walked through a riverfront park near our hotel, with Lauren noticing that even the storm drains are beautifully decorated here.
In general, Japan has been just startlingly clean and well-kept.  My guess is a combination of:
  • Our travels sticking to nice areas.
  • Low crime rate generally(?)
  • Harsh penalties for littering, vandalism, etc.(?)
  • Dearth of paper products (no napkins at restaurants, for example)
  • Cultural differences
  • Who knows?
We soon hopped a streetcar to the Atomic Bomb Museum.  Very powerful place, with the dual purpose of chronicling the story of the bomb at Nagasaki, and of promoting peace and de-nuclearization throughout the world.

The museum was incredibly well done, and very moving.  Major focus was on the direct effects of the bomb on Nagasaki, though there were also exhibits detailing the construction of hte bomb, the timeline of the Pacific war, the buildup of nuclear arms post-WWII, etc.  Many, many staggering artifacts on display, one of which I'll always remember: the bones of a human hand, inextricably fused with a lump of glass.  Maps on the wall detailed precisely how shockwave, fire, and radiation had hit the streets I'd just been walking.  Our volunteer "peace guide" was a marvelous woman who had just returned from a citizen's mission to Korea, to apologize for Japanese atrocities there during the war ("Since the government does nothing, we citizens must go.")  A really remarkable person.

We walked from the museum to the simple pillar nearby, marking the blast's epicenter...
...and then on to Peace Park, where we took in the statuary and fountains donated by countries around the world.

Grabbed a cheap lunch to-go from a convenience store (chicken with rice for me).  Then, changed pace and rode a streetcar up to Glover Gardens.  Gardens would have been Mom's first stop in Japaan for sure: an old house full of old things.  Glover was a Scotch shipping magnate (read: gun-runner) who came to Japan at age 21, made his fortune, and built a large compound overlooking the bay.  Some really great views of the city, and beautiful koi ponds.

A bit odd to visit these original, old buildings just after the Atomic Bomb Museum.  Our many minutes on the streetcar between the locations gave a very concrete and immediate measure of the distance that saved these structures from the blast.

After Glover Gardens, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and then took a taxi to the train station.  Three chaperones enjoyed some overpriced but charmingly-presented tea and pie in a neighboring department store, as students and hosts slowly trickled in.  We had some (literally) tearful goodbyes before hopping on the train, where I write this now.

We'll spend most of our remaining Japan time in transit: tonight, the 5-hour train trip back to Osaka and our trusty hostel, then tomorrow a series of trains and planes that eventually end with us back at the San Francisco airport.

[later]

Final note: last night ended with a mad dash to Mos Burger, which the kids have been begging for all trip.
Basically a home-grown take on Western fast food.  When I asked one of the students why she was so excited about Mos Burger, she rolled her eyes, looked at me like I was an alien, and squeaked: "It's an Asian burger!"  I suppose that especially for the kids, but for me as well, many things in Japan are cool simply because they're in Japan.