Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hiroshima

Some places in this world need to be seen rather than read about. Opinions or beliefs are just not correctly formed if you don't have the benefit of direct experience. Yosemite Valley in California is one such place; so is Paris.

Hiroshima fits that category.

The day started with a trip to Onomichi. Anyone with a foreign passport can get a rail pass; there are many varieties, and we got the seven day JR (Japan Rail) west pass that goes all the way from Kyoto to Hakata all the way in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. It covers the shinkansen for much of that distance, including the Nozomi, which is the fastest.

And when I say fast, that means topping out at 186 miles an hour. It's a rush, no pun intended.

Onomich is an old town with some excellent temples and old, narrow roads that would barely be a sidewalk in most cities. Cars aren't allowed, but we encountered a couple of scooters. Mostly, though, we had the place mostly to ourselves. Twice we were passed by other people doing as we were, wanderers on an old, historic path.

There are a lot of cats in Onomichi. I hate cats. they can be cute, but a stray cat is not a pretty thing. Some were clearly domestic animals that were just doing whatever the hell they wanted with their time. Others had missing tails or parts of ears. Some had visible scars.

Mostly, for me, it was about the temples and shrines. They were quiet, peaceful places. Once we climbed old iron rungs up a small cliff to experience that small difficulty that priests often had to go through in their training. My wife spent time taking pictures. I just existed, for the first time in months not concerned with anything other than that moment. I looked out over the inland see. Staring off into that middle distance, modern society's noises in my right ear, a crow cawing among songbirds in my left, I realized that the thing I had feared - might still fear - is liking that peace too much. Getting addicted to it, to the point where nothing else matters. It's something that sounds lovely on paper. Writers have made fortunes telling us we should all do exactly that. But peace doesn't pay the bills. And I guess that is as good a summary of my problem as any.



We ate ramen near the coast and headed on to Hiroshima.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we checked in to our hotel, which sits near the atomic dome and the peace museum. That evening we walked to see the dome in the fading light. It was nearly directly hit by the bomb; a nearby intersection of two bridges was the "x marks the spot" target. How anything survived is a marvel. My mother in law told us a story about how, when she was young, you could walk around inside the building. Now, though, it is closed off and has been actively reinforced to keep it from falling. As it should be.

The next day we went to the museum.

It's not something that can be described easily. You go in knowing there will be an impact on you; but exactly what that will be is different from person to person. Anger. Sadness. Despair. Frustration. Everyone feels some combination of those emotions, and more. Because the focus of the museum is on the children. The students who were in the city that day. Young people who had no part of the war, no function in that awful machine that destroys nations.

That's what hits so hard.

The uniforms.

The bags.

The stories of children who lived and those that died.

The silence inside the museum was so complete that people hesitated to even cough. They picked up their feet and placed them back down silently. Only the whirring of the central air system and the gentle hum of lights could be heard, along with the occasional "wow" uttered in a few different languages.

In the afternoon we headed to Miyajima, an island that is home to a wonderful shrine and is itself one of those places a person must experience in person.

The museum, though, stayed with us.

A good day

The first full day was all vanity and cultural absorption. Vanity for my wife and son, who went to a certain beauty salon near Himeji Station to get their hair done. Cultural absorption for me, as I took us first to Mister Donuts (what is now Dunkin Doughnuts in the US), where we sat drinking good coffee while eating one of the best doughnuts you'll ever have.

Then, shopping at the new mega shopping complex on the station's north side. Just to see what's there, just to walk among the people. Evidently Alpha Industries is big in Japan; it's manufactured by the Edwin clothing company, but the brand is from my home town of Knoxville. It's weird to see things from  your home town so far away.

While my wife and son were getting their hair done, I hung out in the new Starbucks on the fourth floor of the Piore building. Some will scoff at going to a Starbucks, but there is no coffee shop in the country with the view that you get from there, directly down the street to Himeji Castle.





That was the first day back.

Japan 2016

There are a few good things about constantly being on the road for work. One is that I get a ton of points on both Southwest and Hilton. Neither of those does me much good in Japan itself; Southwest will not do that in my lifetime, and Hilton has only a handful of hotels in the country, with no "partner" hotels that I can use my points for.

But it did allow us to fly to the west coast for free, and we stayed a night in LA for free as well.

So that makes the stress and anxiety worth it. I guess.

I won't go into the LA part of the trip too much, except to say that if I never go back to that city, it will be too soon. So much traffic, and rude people bumping into me all the time without so much as an "excuse me." And the airport is a test case in inefficiency.

Likewise, I wont' speak too much about the flight to Japan. It's a long flight, and while Japan Airlines (JAL) has much better seats than your average US airline, there's only so much you can do to make a twelve hours in an airplane anything more than bearable.

And then we landed.

Osaka International Airport - KIX - is a wonderful airport. It's not crowded, which isn't good for an airport but is good for the passengers. Not many flights go there; from the US it's a very low number, and JAL only has one flight from Los Angeles, a sad state since JAL is the most well known airline in Japan.

In less than one hour from wheels-down we had our bags and were talking with my father in law. There are a lot of good restaurants in the domestic side of the airport, and we headed there to get something. No matter how much food they shove at you on the plane, I'm always hungry when we land.

Fed, satisfied on that deep level that only comes after a good meal at the end of a long road, we headed for home.

Home.

Strange that the place I visit feels more like home than the place I live.