Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"First Impressions"

Flying through the clouds into Hiroshima this morning created an eerie sensation. I can only imagine the feeling of helplessness the people of this city would have felt on the morning of August 6, 1945. The Pacific Ocean and mountains that surround Hiroshima on three sides created a “Death Bowl”, if you will, trapping hundreds of thousands on that fateful day.

Our first stop was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where Mr. Keijiro Matsushima described his experience on August 6 as a typical sixteen year-old, headed to school. For Mr. Matsushima, the sight of the planes first brought beauty (he said that they looked like “ice candy”) and the next, terror, confusion, and destruction. He said that at 8:15 am, “I felt like I was thrown into an oven for a moment.” He and the rest of his classmates felt the impact of the atomic bomb so violently they assumed it had been dropped right outside the school, but they were many miles away. Little did he know, the entire city was affected. He then described that everyone he saw was suffering horribly from fire and radiation burns. While this story had a tremendous impact on the students, one of the most important things Mr. Matsushima shared with our veterans was that we need to “think about the future, not the past.”

On a lighter note, Hiroshima has created a huge first impression upon me. Once we settled into our rooms, we headed to dinner where we attempted to keep up with our tour guide, Tomika Page, a young, intelligent, bi-cultural woman. She knows the city well and it became difficult to match her pace winding through the busy traffic and confusing tracks of the subway trains. Of course, a group of American college students literally running through the city of Hiroshima causes a lot of attention, but it was impressive how hospitable and kind the Japanese people are. The taxi drivers all wear a crisp white button-down shirt, black tie, and white gloves. Even at our restaurant, the waitresses were patient through our obvious language barrier. It felt as though they were honored to treat us. It was a sign of respect that is unfortunately lacking in other areas of the world.

Our dinner at a sushi bar presents a story of its own. It was a sit-down affair but instead of giving your order verbally, there was a touch-screen at the table that presented your options. You would then tap the item you want and a narrow conveyer belt would deliver all the food to the tables. But here’s the catch--everyone else’s food in the entire restaurant was also on this one long, winding conveyer belt, therefore, it becomes important to know exactly what you ordered otherwise you end up eating another table’s food. This concept is the epitome of “dinner and a show.” We had a blast!

After all the excitement, we are settling down for a good night’s sleep at K’s House. This is a true test of our compatibility with the Japanese culture. Without beds, we will be stretching out across a reed-matted floor and comforters but it is simply part of the adventure of a lifetime. Through the heart-wrenching emotions and the belly-aching laughter we have shared, today has been an incredible first impression of Hiroshima, a city that has risen from the ashes of war.

Danielle Sailors

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