Friday, June 20, 2014

Japan Adventure - Day 8

I'm writing this post from our train, a Shinkansen (or bullet train), as we go from Hiroshima to Tokyo. We're traveling at 169Mph. While they both allow and encourage eating, the train is spotless. There's no dining car, but every once in a while a lady with a cart full of goodies comes by to offer us snacks. Every seat we've sat in has a note telling us to turn off the ringers on our cell phones, and that if we must take a call, it should be done so at the end of the car (outside a set of doors). A train full of cell phone free cars, how novel (and pleasant!).

Out the window I see various small towns zip by. In many respects, they could pass for any American town. There's houses, apartment buildings, shopping centers, malls and baseball diamonds. I think I just saw a bowling alley roll by. The houses do appear to be packed in more closely than back home. The big difference between here and the US (besides the Japanese script on the signs) is the presence of rice paddies. Each town seems to have them, and they often make up the green space within and between towns. From the train they look like green rectangles delicately filled with water that have rows of plants popping up in them. I suppose it's like driving through the Midwest and seeing cornfield after cornfield.

Dinner tonight has been another culinary adventure. On the way out of town we hit a grocery store and made our way to the prepared food section. I showed one of the store employees our card that says what we can and can't eat and pointed to a number of different meals. She then checked them out and reported back to us which were vegetarian friendly and which either contained meat or had a meat sauce. So far we've cracked open two of the meals and the results have been...well...unique. I assume we're eating vegetables and tofu, but other than the carrots, I can't really put names to anything. There's the crunchy purple things, gelatinous purple things and blocks of tofu like things. But it's an authentic experience, so I'm loving it.

We started our day with a tour of the Hiroshima Mazda plant. While the Mazda history was interesting, and the various vehicles on display noteworthy, it was the view of the assembly line at the end that proved to be the best part. It was like out of a movie. We watched as a dashboard was raised from an elevator and swung into place, a worker then bolted it in. A few moments later, the elevator disappeared and popped back up again with another one, and the worker repeated his task. We saw a glue robot apply a line of glue to a windshield, and then saw a worker snap it into place. As we finished our section of the assembly line, cars were being lifted into elevated racks, so that workers could access them from below. The whole experience was like a watching a giant Rube Goldberg machine at work, where the output just happens to be a new Mazda. I can't imagine the amount of engineering that goes into making a place like this work.

After the Mazda plant we made our way back to Peace Memorial Park to take in the sights that we missed our first night in town. This time the park was packed with people, including many school groups. At the Children's Memorial we caught a group of school children singing and presenting a collection of paper cranes (I assume they folded them), which were added to the thousands that are already present there. (The cranes are symbolic of the wish for peace, and are folded in memory of a 10 year old girl who died of leukemia 10 years after she was exposed by the bomb.). From there, we made it to the nearby museum.

A quick note on Japanese school children: good lord are they polite! Seriously, if I bump into *them* they turn and bow repeatedly. If they think a group of them are blocking my shot, one alerts the group and they all scatter. It's like they respect old people or something.

The museum takes one through the history of Hiroshima, up to the fateful day of the bombing and into the aftermath. It's really well done in nearly every way. They present declassified government memos which explain how the US chose them as a target and the logic the US used in deploying the bomb. They have two models of the city, one before the blast, one after, and the results are predictably stunning. The bomb nearly leveled the entire city. They have artifacts from the explosion ranging from a watch stopped at 8:15am, to a steel girder that appears to have effortlessly been reshaped by the blast. The most gut wrenching part of the museum takes you through the lives of the survivors both immediately after the blast and beyond. Not since the Holocaust museum have I see such devastating suffering.

The part of Hiroshima that I find most remarkable is this: they are devastated by our attack, and what's their next move? To make themselves into a city of peace and a beacon of hope that nuclear warfare will be abolished. There's no hatred or animosity towards the US, there's only a plea for peace. The museum makes clear that the atomic bomb was inhumane, but they also accept responsibility for starting the Pacific war and that war itself is devastating.

Someone noted before our trip that with a visit to Hiroshima, and our past visit to Pear Harbor, we'll have seen the symbolic start and finish of the Pacific conflict. They were right, and this hallowed ground, like Pearl Harbor, is a definite must see.

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