Rockstar Weekend

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Flag of Japan  ,
Saturday, March 18, 2006

Two qualities of Japan that were apparent to me straight away were courtesy and speed. Walk the streets of nearly any Japanese city and you'll notice an abundance of folks, young to old, wearing surgical masks. When I asked, I was told they were mostly donned if the individual was sick to protect other people from their germs, quite the contrast with the sweaty dude hacking his lungs on my shoulder on the Greyhound in Hanford. Speed is also a virtue, from businesswomen in impossible high heels dashing through the subway corridors and a pace to most cities reminiscent to when you play that 33 1/3 LP at 45.
The shinkansen (bullet train) is the perfect product of these 2 values: speedy at over 200 mph like you wouldn't believe (especially for someone bred on the Amtrak that took my 5 hours extra to get home nearly every time) and always with a pleasant, polite voice and gentle jingle instructing you to both please detrain here and to have a wonderful day. The shinkansen to Hiroshima set a new standard or at least land speed record, depositing us hundreds of miles from our origin in Osaka probably before we even left. Once we met Jeff, an old buddy of mine from the La Loma dorm days at Cal and all around chill dude, we set out for a guy's night of beer and wings, but Japanese style so instead of wings substitute ram, octopus balls, whole fried sardines (head to tail) ... and, OK, wings as well.
The next day was ours for reflection about the moment Hiroshima is most widely known for. First though, we had to get down and dirty with Japan's version of grits: some good southern fried cabbage, egg, onions, and brown sauce eaten off the griddle. It may in retrospect that I'm spending an awful lot of words on food in Japan. Best explanation I've got for that is I've written most of the Japan travelogue from the blazing corner of a van bouncing through the Gobi Desert for 6 days and in Mongolia we eat about two things that have not once been part of one of three kinds of animal. So I suppose apologies of sorts and if this is making you hungry please by all means go fix yourself a sandwich, I'll be right here on your screen when you get back :)
A large portion of Hiroshima is dedicated to remembering the legacy and lessons of the atomic bomb dropped over the city at 8:15AM on August 6, 1945. The first monument we came across was one of the only buildings that survived the blast, now called the Atomic Bomb Dome for the metal frame up top that still crowns to remaining skeletal building. The basic structure remained intact because the bomb exploded 600 meters nearly directly above it, giving the walls a chance against the immense heat and pressure that obliterated anything else the shock wave reached horizontally within a 1 kilometer radius. The now spindly and crumbling shell serves as a severe backdrop for the other homages a little ways further down Peace Memorial Park: a collection of annually donated sets of 1,000 paper cranes inspired by the story of a young girl told she could survive her radiation poisoning if she could make such a set, an eternal flame meant to be lit so long as nuclear weapons exist (so yes, eternal seems a likely description), and an arch-shaped shrine where a Japanese woman approached Jeff, me, and Ryan in turn to give us blessings as we each concentrated and prayed with her. The museum provided me with mostly facts that I already knew and pictures I'd never seen, both framed as a conversation I had not quite before heard.
A less sobering affair was dinner thereafter with the Japanese English teachers Jeff works with, Haneda and "Marylyn"-ish (we were told right off that we wouldn't be able to manage her proper name and we didn't argue). Stories and laughs, a very thoughtful/unintentionally hilarious gift from Marylyn of half-again too small camel toe socks, and an extremely interesting hearing again the perspective shared by other teachers we'd spoken to in Japan contrasting the image I'd had of the country as a paragon of ultra-efficiency.
Between the reliability of my legendary '91 Toyota Previa and the courteous precision of the shinkansen (not to mention the fugu!), I was surprised to receive multiple reports of gross inefficiencies in many social systems, particularly in education. And while the teachers all loved the country and their occasionally-misbehaving kids, Dave had told me of mistake after mistake in their administration with no effort to rectify and Leanna of the 12-hour workdays that are the norm, with relatively little to show for it. And though I never witnessed anything but the most attentive service (excepting of course the Tokyo branch of MIAT, the Mongolian airline, which I'll write about in a bit), I guess it's good/depressing to know that red tape is an international phenomenon :)
After splitting the bill (all settled with cash ... Japan being such a safe country that carrying large sums of bills is customary, I only even had the opportunity to use my credit card once, in a large department store), we set off to meet Jeff's fellow JET teacher friends Russ, Lisa, and Casey. We all had a ball in the park and then club where we throughout the evening spent quality time with a group of Japanese fellas with a Takeda jingi-worthy rallying cry, a Yakuza (Japanese mafia) pirate and her unhappy boyfriend, and a group of Filipinos who informed me that Casey was my fiance and that we must have the wedding in their hometown (just in case I taught her a few things in Hebrew, Mama said that if I bring home a wife she'd better be able to say the Shema).
As luck would have it, the very next day was the annual samurai parade on the Miyajima, the large-ish shrine-riddled island just a short ferry hop from Jeff's place. Meeting up with Ryuhei and his girlfriend, both recent Cal alums, we all explored the parade with its inspired and sometimes fearsome costumes and pageantry, took loads of funny photos with the deer all around that are unafraid of you and will try to eat the passport right out of your pocket if you're not careful, and marveled at some really lovely and impressive shrines. When the tide receded in the afternoon, we were actually able to trot out to the usually water-locked huge gate that the island is often known for amongst the kids tossing coins up onto the crossbeam for good luck and the old women digging up mussels in recently unflooded sea floor nearby.
Another fun dinner (this time of chicken neck and skin on a stick), an all-nighter, and some fond goodbyes later, we were back on the road for a full day of journeying to Mongolia.

Moral of the story: chin chin budi budi sasegi
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