March 31: Review from a moving train

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Moving again, this time back to Okayama for two nights then on to Kyoto where I will remain for most of the rest of the trip. I must admit I am getting tired of all this wandering.

I came to Hiroshima to see only one garden, Shukkeien, which I got to on the day I arrived. It was very crowded, being Saturday and being filled with cherry blossoms. When I walked in I unfortunately picked up a volunteer guide who thought he spoke English. I tried several times to politely get rid of him with no success. Finally, after walking around for some time, I pleaded the need to sit down and was able to tell him I could manage by myself. I realize I like being by myself in a place where I want to absorb my surroundings and to photograph.

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Traveling around, looking at gardens outside of major urban centers or temples, I have come to realize how much history these gardens encompass. I knew the concept of creating a garden was very old. But I never thought about their importance as part of Japanese history. The gardens I have been looking at, outside of Kyoto, were created by or for the overlord (daimyo) of the area, used for his entertainment and increased his prestige. I think it might be possible to do a history of Japan based on the creation of gardens.

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I don’t know what I had in mind when I decided to spend two nights in Hiroshima, but none of the day trips appealed to me yesterday, so I walked back to Shukkeien, arriving just as it opened, and managed to walk around for another hour, sans crowds and English guide. According to the brochure, the name  “literally ‘shrink scenery garden’ expresses the idea of collecting and miniaturizing many scenic views, and according to tradition it is a miniaturized landscape modeled on Xihu (West Lake) in Hangzhou, China.

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The garden was destroyed by the A bomb, with the exception of this stone bridge.

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Many of the people who were severely wounded by the bomb sought refuge in the garden but no medical help arrived. Their bodies were interred beneath the garden.

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I find Hiroshima very difficult. I cannot stop thinking about what happened here, even though it is now a beautiful, modern city whose population seems no different than any other large urban area.

A-bomb dome. Remains as a memorial.

A-bomb dome. Remains as a memorial.

After the garden I visited the Prefectural Art Museum where I was hoping to see crafts done by famous artists, but as is so often the case, very little was on display. I was able to see some interesting contemporary art by Hiroshima artists.

I went back to the hotel to decide what to do next, and eventually went for a long walk in the downtown shopping area. Besides the large department stores that still seem to thrive here there are many covered arcades; just a covered street with no vehicular traffic and shops on both sides. These places are always crowded and seem to thrive. How is it that our attempts at creating such arcades have never succeeded? I seem to have more questions than answers.

March 29 and March 30

Went from very warm yesterday to quite chilly today. I went back to Fukuoka for one more try at Yusentei. First I went to Shofuen, the garden that was closed on Tuesday. It is a small garden in an upscale residential area, built originally as a tea house garden, then taken over by the city. It was an uphill walk from the bus stop and then a steep set of stairs. However the wonderful thing about municipally run enterprises is they often consider people like me and put in an elevator, actually enhancing the experience. Instead of seeing the garden in bits and pieces as you clamber up the stairs it opens to you all at once when the elevator door opens.

Frothy, powdered green tea with sweets. Note the pink sakura

Frothy, powdered green tea with sweets. Note the pink sakura

It was noon by the time I arrived and climbing up the hill had tired me, so for the first time, I accepted a bowl of green tea and a sweet, which I was able to eat while sitting on a bench and viewing part of the garden. It was a lovely experience I will probably never repeat but it was nice to try it once.

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80 year old maple tree in the center of the garden

After I felt restored I walked around the garden and the teahouse.

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Before I began this visit I got detailed instructions for Shofuen and Yustentei from the information desk at the train station. Actually not detailed enough, but I was able to figure out details like which direction I should go on the bus. Two buses and help from passersby I got to Yusentei only to find it closed. This time there was a long letter on the door, I think, explaining the closure, which will probably last for months. I can’t read the writing but I recognize dates. Giving up, I got back on the bus then took the subway back to the train to Kumamoto.

March 30

On the train again, this time heading back toward Kyoto with stops at Hiroshima and Okayama. I can’t believe I have been here two weeks already and have only a few more days of travel before I settle down for most of the remaining three weeks. I shipped my bag directly to Kyoto, taking enough underwear and medications for the next four days. Interesting what becomes important as you grow older.

Had a great day in Shukkeien garden here in Hiroshima. I’ll write about it tomorrow or Monday when I’m on the train again. The rest of this post was written on my way here.

Some casual observations.

Alice, sometimes you must read my mind. I don’t remember writing about how clean it is here, but I think about it. You seldom see papers or plastic bags or anything on the ground. And unlike our cities you don’t see trash containers on every corner. I have walked around all day with junk in my pocket and no place to get rid of it. Every small purchase earns you a receipt. I have learned you don’t have to take them. Then it’s up to the giver to dispose of it. This year smokers seem to be largely confined to smoking areas with cigarette disposal containers. Mostly there aren’t even cigarette butts on the ground.

Besides the receipts, the other nuisance here is the one yen coin. Like our pennies they are mostly useless except in supermarkets where they make you think you are getting a bargain if they take 2 yen off. I now have a pocketful of one yen coins that I save for my supermarket purchases.

One of the wonderful things here is that buses and trams all have change-making machines. They expect you to pay the fare in exact change, but you can use the change machines to break even a 1000 yen bill. All lower denominations are in coins, including the equivalent of $1 and $5. In New York, if you don’t have a Metro card, you have to walk around with a pocket full of change or beg other passengers to help you break dollar bills.

I’m in another largish hotel room with a slightly larger bathroom and I’m getting ready to try out the bed.

Housekeeping day

It has been windy and threatening all day; sometimes I had trouble walking with the wind. It was supposed to rain but that never happened. Maybe tonight. I took my time getting out, finally going and getting some breakfast and walking around the hotel area. There are at least three shops selling beads and I found one place that purports to sell ivory. I thought that was banned. Or is that another whale area where Japan defies the world.

I used the day to do several things that needed to be done, like laundry. I could have gone for another couple of days but this was a good opportunity. I also needed to get reserved seat tickets for the train trips I will be taking. With the help of a website I wrote out all of the details–date, time, to, from and train name and numbers for the first four trips. I took all this written data, including asking for window seats, to the train travel center and painlessly got my tickets. I didn’t have to understand the ticket agent and he didn’t have to understand me or the English language. I will have to do this for four more trips, but I need more information about getting from Hiroshima to Matsuyama. Hyperdia evidently doesn’t deal with boat trips and that’s what is needed going from the island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku. I’ll stop at another tourist info center or maybe I can research it on line.

I am finding it very hard to be without my phone–not for calls–I’m not a big talker–but for information. My addiction is almost as bad as my addiction to food. So I keep looking for places I can use the phone. I am even willing to pay, but I think I’ll just have to get over it. Yesterday, at the tourist info center they told me I could use wi-fi in the train stations but I had to go and register. That was another place I went today. The train stations are massive and have all sorts of things in them: shops, restaurants, even art galleries. It sounded like a good deal. Well, it’s only good if you are in a hot spot; like in the tourist info center. I registered but I don’t think it will do me much good.

Finally, I walked over to the Ozu Washi Paper Store, a maker of hand made papers. It was nice, but I’ve seen nicer. Just as well. If they had something I wanted I would have had to return the day before I was leaving Japan. But there is a good paper store in Kyoto. That will be much more convenient.

Nuclear weapons

Sometimes Pittsburgh is amazing. I've
been away so much I hadn't realized that since August 6 there have
been a series of events commemorating the
A-bombing of Hiroshima, 63 years ago. Friday night there were presentations
by one of the survivors (hibakusha), Sachiko Masuoka and the daughter of a survivor, Yuki Miyamoto.The presentations were both incredible and terrible. Ms. Masuoka, a tiny 81-year old, stood straight and unflinchingly recited her story, the terrible things she witnessed. Only once did tears come to her eyes when she spoke about her little brother who died. She lost both a younger sister and the brother. She told about something that was either not mentioned at the Hiroshima memorial, or I overlooked when I was there: flies
would lay eggs in the wounds of the burn victims and the maggots
would eat into their flesh. She knew of one girl who survived because her mother removed each of the maggots with a tweezers. That affected me almost as much as the
terrible photographs and objects I saw at the museum. By the end of the presentation I was just as shattered as I had been in Hiroshima.

The topic is more relevant than ever, since our own president and several other world leaders are able to contemplate using nuclear weapons. Too bad these people don't want to understand the tragedy they would create. The theme of the presentation was "Remembering Hiroshima, Imaging Peace." These days peace seems to be unimaginable.

Destruction and remembrance

I am writing about Hiroshima for my Japanese art class–not about the bombing, but about the memorials and how they relate to earlier rituals and representations of death. My memory of what I saw at Hiroshima has not diminished, and I feel that dealing with this arcane art history topic is a little like having that elephant in the room that no one wants to see. To make up for ignoring the main issue I have been reading Hiroshima in America, a book that recalls the history of our use of the bomb, the distortions we created in the aftermath of its use, and how it affects our current policy about nuclear weapons.

I was 14 years old when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t remember much about it; only a discussion I had with two of my older cousins. They knew little more than me, but all three of us were confused and ignorant (along with the whole country). It took years for the whole story to become known. Our leaders did not want to acknowledge the truth, did not want us to know we were not the "good" people we want to think we are. All reports about Hiroshima and Nagasaki were censored (by us) for years afterward. We lost the opportunity to hear the stories of the survivors and to decisively influence how the world thinks about nuclear arms. Instead of acknowledging what we created, we have become mired in the argument about whether the Japanese "deserved" the bomb, and it has enabled us to think about the bomb as just another weapon.

My visit to Hiroshima was a stunner. They’ve done an amazing job of conveying the horror and devastation; every world leader who thinks about nuclear weapons should be required to visit. We have forgotten our fear of the bomb, or we’ve become inured to it. This is something we should never forget.

Thanks to Charna, who diligently sends me news about climate change, species destruction and other things that upset her, I learned that our government has a plan to build more nuclear weapons–as if we don’t already have enough to destroy the entire world.

I took the following from the Union of Concerned Scientists website:

Despite the fact that the United States maintains hundreds of
nuclear-armed missiles on high alert, the administration still wants to
upgrade the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex. This new
proposal–called "Complex Transformation"–would return the U.S. to a
Cold War cycle of designing, developing, and producing new nuclear
weapons.
Fortunately, a mandatory environmental review allows you to
submit comments on this ill-advised draft plan. Please write
today
–we don’t need the capacity to build NEW nuclear weapons; we need
to take the lead in moving closer to a world free of nuclear weapons.

Raise your voice!

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