Monday, February 2, 2009

The Trip to Japan, Day 2

We awoke on Sunday to another gray, snowy day. Undaunted, we bundled up and headed out in search of a coffee shop for breakfast. I had a very strong green tea latte made from the powdered green tea that the Japanese like, which is apparently rather high in caffeine, I guess because you are actually drinking the powdered tea and not just allowing it to steep in your hot water.

After breakfast we took the tram over to the Urakami area, which was the hypocenter of the atomic bomb explosion. We were distracted near the tram stop by a huge athletic complex where a number of people were out jogging or playing soccer or softball, undeterred by the wet, cold, snowy weather. We saw a very soggy track, a huge and jealousy-inspiring pool, and a very soggy soccer field where some poor youngsters were playing. The players were egged on by a group of enthusiastic bench-sitters who were yelling and singing through megaphones. We admired the tenacity of players and fans.

From the athletic fields, it was a short walk over to the Nagasaki peace park, which would have been an enjoyable and peaceful place for a walk if the weather was nicer. We saw a peace fountain, a huge peace statue, and several smaller sculptures donated by various nations. We noticed that several were donated by former Eastern bloc countries during the 1980's and speculated that these countries were only too happy to proclaim their support for peace while meanwhile subtly impugning the U.S. for dropping the bomb on Nagasaki.

The peace statue in the Nagasaki Peace Park

Next we went on to the actual hypocenter site, which is marked by a black monolith. It was hard to imagine that we were standing in one of the few places in the world where atomic weapons were actually used in combat. More moving than the monolith was another statue nearby. It was of a mother holding a child, and on the base it read simply "1945 8.9 11:02," which of course is the date and time of the explosion.

Statue near the hypocenter

All around in this park and in the Peace Park we saw hundreds of folded paper cranes in a rainbow of colors hung in memory of the victims of the bomb and as prayers for peace. Kayoko told us later that the Japanese were moved by the story of a young girl hospitalized for injuries from the bomb blast. She tried very hard to fold 1,000 paper cranes in the hopes that they would bring her health, but she was not successful. Because of her, paper cranes are now associated with good wishes for victims and survivors.

Finally, it was time to go inside for a while and visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The entrance to the exhibit hall reminded me of the layout of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. You descend a long, spiraling ramp that reminds you of the downward spiral of disaster and misery that was Nagasaki after the bombing. In a series of well-designed and interesting exhibits you learn about the history of the bombing and the effects of the blast, subsequent fires, and the radiation. Most interesting to me were some of the artifacts that really brought home the explosive power of the bomb, like the metal bottoms of towers that had been twisted by the bomb's force. They also displayed the wall of a building that had been burned black everywhere except where a ladder and a man's body had shielded it from the heat of the blast. There the shapes of the ladder and the man were etched in white. It was eerie. After a room full of written and recorded survivor testimony, you enter a section of the museum dedicated to the arms race, which strongly argues for cessation of nuclear testing and for increased nuclear disarmament.

I suppose people may be curious about how all of this information was presented, since clearly the Japanese are less likely to be sympathetic to the Americans' rationale for dropping the bomb. First of all, it was a little disconcerting to visit the museum as an American. I was reminded of my visit to Auschwitz, where I encountered groups of German tourists and wondered how they felt about their history. This time, it was me who was a citizen of the country that, no matter how compelling our reasons may have been, unleashed unspeakable horror on the citizens of Nagasaki. I felt that the presentation of pictures and artifacts from the bombing was fairly straightforward. The museum didn't have to comment on these articles because they were clearly horrifying. But in the section of the museum dedicated to the anti-nuclear movement, there was definitely a bias against the United States and other countries who possess nuclear weapons. For example, at the beginning of the exhibit, there was a display of many scientists who had worked on the bomb and later came out against the use of nuclear weapons. A number of scientists and military men were quoted as warning Truman that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unnecessary to end the war. But there were no opposing viewpoints presented. As someone who has always thought "Who knows what would have happened, but we have to hope that the nuclear bombing saved numerous lives by hastening the end of the war," I was understandably jarred by the museum's refusal to acknowledge this kind of reasoning.

After the museum, we were ready for something less depressing (we were on vacation, after all), so we headed back into the center of town for some lunch. We found a sushi restaurant close to the train station. It was similar to a restaurant we'd been to in Tesco on Geoje Island where the sushi parades in front of you on a conveyor belt and you pick what you want. This restaurant was on a much larger scale, though. Here again, a Japanese woman demonstrated the helpfulness we so appreciated in Japan. After we sat down, we poured out some soy sauce for dipping our sushi in, and Keegan discovered some wasabi to add to his sauce. As he scooped it out, the woman next to us could hold her tongue no longer and told us that the "wasabi" was actually powdered green tea that we were supposed to mix with hot water and drink! So, Keegan had to pour another little dish of soy sauce, and we had something to drink. When she left, the woman told us, in heavily accented English, to have a good trip. Thank heavens for her intervention.

Conveyor sushi restaurant

In the afternoon, we decided to check out two temples mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook. The first was in the shape of a huge Buddha standing on top of a turtle's back. We approached the temple through a quiet neighborhood of small houses at the base of a hill. The hill was almost entirely covered by a huge, steep graveyard. The whole area was so peaceful and silent, so even though we were freezing, at least we enjoyed being tourists at a quiet time of year. We explored the temple grounds and walked a little around the graveyard, enjoying a great view of the city from the hill. We were disappointed that we couldn't go inside the temple, as there is supposedly a Foucault pendulum inside, suspended from the top of the statue's head!

First temple we visited

The second temple had a more traditional architecture, but it was different from Korean temples because it wasn't so brightly painted. Still, I liked the lush, green, quiet atmosphere there.

Next, Keegan wanted to go down to the waterside to see what we could see down there. There is a huge seaside park in Nagasaki, and there were a lot of people there playing with their dogs and enjoying the brief sunshine. Nearby was an art museum and a shopping area that was mostly closed up for the winter. I'm sure in the summer it's quite nice, almost like an American beachfront area filled with seafood restaurants that overlook the water. It was so nice to be in a city with wide open green spaces - we could certainly use more of that on Geoje!

Keegan by the water in Nagasaki

By this time it was getting late, so we headed back to the hotel to try to contact our friends Joy and Todor, who were coincidentally visiting Nagasaki at the same time. They called around six, and we decided to go get dinner together. Kayoko had recommended that we try an izakaya restaurant, so we asked the ever-helpful hotel staff for advice. They pointed us towards a nearby restaurant, and we were soon comfortably ensconced and trying to figure out what to order from a huge menu. It turns out that izakaya is a sort of tapas-style way of eating, so we ordered a whole bunch of small dishes to share, including delicious edamame, tuna and avocado rolls, grilled scallops, potato salad, and fish. Everything was wonderful! Thankfully, there was an English menu, so we were able to avoid some of the less appetizing dishes, like the raw horse meat. We had an interesting conversation with Joy and Todor (that's why I like them so much!), and retired back to the hotel full and content.


Jamie said...

Fantastic, thorough, thoughtful commentary. Wow, Ellen!

chrissy & ryan said...

Day Three! Day Three_We want to hear more! We're missing you lots these days and wish we were closer (or that we could come see you!).