Day 6. July 15, 2012
In Japan it is Monday, July 16, 2012, again a day ahead. We stayed at the Hiroshima Pacific Hotel. As I said yesterday the rooms are very small. It was a bit hard to spread suitcases properly, but I did fine. Africa did well with her ¾ of the bed, (not really). Actually, we slept comfortably.
I awakened at around 6AM and first called Karen. All was well at home. It was Sunday so she was taking it easy and not even sewing.
Yoshie and I took Africa for a walk at about 8:15AM and then went into the restaurant for breakfast. This restaurant had a traditional area with tatamis as well as a place with tables and chairs. Each table was in its own walled off area with a curtain in front. It was kind of like the private booths at some old restaurants in the States. We had a traditional breakfast with fish, Misu soup, rice and vegetables. In all, a quite tasty and nourishing meal.
We were scheduled to leave the hotel for the day at 9:15. Right on time the YMCA contingent arrived including Steve Kolak, International Coordinator of the Hiroshima YMCA. Steve is from Chicago. He has lived in Japan for 35 years. He was great as a host and narrator. He as well and Tadahiro (teddy) Ota, (Okayama YMCA Secretary General for the district), were our hosts. Teddy speaks quite good English.
Our first stop was the Hiroshima Peace Park and museum. Along the way we drove past some traditional Japanese gardens and the Hiroshima castle.
At 10AM we arrived at the Peace park where we were met by the director of the Park and International Peace Initiative, Steve Leeper. His title is Chairperson, board of directors, Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. Steve was our host while at the park. He told us much about the formation of the park in the years after the dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. The main attraction of the park is the remains of the Hiroshima dome an office building which partially survived the bomb even though it was right below where the device exploded. The original dome was covered with a thin copper layer which was vaporized when the bomb exploded 600 meters overhead. However, the copper lasted long enough so that when it disappeared it gave the air pressure time to equalize inside the building. The central portion of the dome survived enough so the structure was still recognizable. Today, the dome is fenced off stands open to the air. Later I was able to see a full-size replica of the dome in the museum.
We walked around the park and came to a place where thousands of paper cranes hang in cases. The tradition was started by Sadako Sasaki, a child who died at the age of 12 from Leukemia which she contracted from the bomb drop. While sick, Sadako began folding cranes believing that if she could fold 1000 paper birds her every wish would be fulfilled and she would continue to live. She was not able to complete folding 1000 birds by the time she died. However, others took up the cause. Now tens of thousands of new cranes arrive at the park every year. The have become a representation of the desire for peace. The plan is to continue promoting the creation of the cranes until all nuclear weapons are eliminated.
Near the cases of cranes was a bell with a statue of Sadako on top of it. Ringing the bell is a symbol of a continued desire for peace and no more nuclear bombs. I was honored to be able to ring the bell. I also laid a bunch of flowers at a symbolic coffin.
We moved to the museum which was about Hiroshima and its destruction followed by its return. There was only about 600 grams of fissionable material which created the bomb blast at Hiroshima. Even so, there was so much destruction and loss of life. Only one person within 500 meters of the actual blast survived. One man was in the basement of a bank searching for documents. He was protected from the blast by all the concrete and metal above him.
I saw areas of the museum devoted to showing the effects of the blast, the heat, and the actual radiation created by the bomb. Each caused its own tragedies. Together all the destruction was only part of the Hiroshima story. People felt that plants would not grow for quite awhile after the bomb. It was only a short time before flowers began to emerge. Since the bomb exploded in the air and since, by today’s standards, the bomb was so small in power, the radiation dissipated fairly quickly and did not contaminate the ground. Today except for the memorial and items preserved in memory of what happened in 1945 you would never know that one of the two most destructive bomb drops in history ever took place there.
We left the museum at Noon and returned to the YMCA for lunch. There we met additional YMCA leaders including Kentaro Hayashi the Executive director, sales and promotions, (we first met him at dinner the previous night), Shoji Kamikubo the General Secretary of the Hiroshima YMCA. For lunch we had a Hiroshima specialty Hiroshima Oknokomiyaki. This meal is kind of like a pizza except that instead of a crust the base is noodles. It was a great and filling meal.
At lunch I was informed that over 200 people would be coming to hear me speak at 2PM. I asked how so many could get off work if it were working people who were coming. It was then I learned that this was a National holiday called Japanese Sea Day, a celebration of the sea around Japan.
At 2 we began the afternoon talk. We started, at the request of the YMCA folks, with a showing of the KGO video. Actually, first I was introduced. Then I spoke briefly and introduced the video by telling what I did and why I was visiting Japan. After the video I spoke telling my life story and I described some of the events of 9-11. I finished that part of the event by talking about “Thunder Dog” and telling of Roselle’s retirement. We then showed the 3-minute video about her retirement. I then described about what guide dogs do. After a total of around 50 minutes we opened up the event for questions. As often happens people were a bit shy at first. However, it wasn’t long before questions came as fast as I could answer them. We took questions for almost an hour before cutting them off as we had to go catch a train.
At 5PM we boarded a Shinkansen for Okayama and our next stop. This ride took only around 40 minutes. When we arrived at the station we were met by the chairperson of the Okayama YMCA, Soji Takashi and his wife. After a brief stop at our hotel to feed Africa and drop off luggage we went to dinner at a Japanese French restaurant owned and operated by a close friend of the Takashi family. The owner is a French trained and quite accomplished chef. Japanese French food uses quite a bit less butter and more vegetables than “regular” French food, (what a surprise). As usual the food was great. We started with a small vegetable appetizer followed by some smoked salmon. Next was a mushroom soup followed by a salad. Next came red snapper followed by a filet mignon cooked to order. Desert was a trio of fruit, crème Berlet and ice cream. Fear not, portions were small so we were full but comfortable by the end of the 2.5-hour meal. Conversation was great. Teddy as Secretary General of this region accompanied us from Hiroshima where he came to hear my speech.
We got back to the hotel at around 10PM. After an Africa walk it was time for bed. I was ready.
Our hotel rooms were again quite small. They were very similar to the Hiroshima rooms. The air conditioning was quite good. There was even a control which automatically changed the air vents to keep the air flowing to different parts of the room, quite clever.
By 11:30 I was in bed.
Tomorrow will hold three speeches at schools and a public event. It should be a tremendous and exciting day.