Archive for August, 2011

the Hiroshima treat; the Hiroshima tragedy

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

You know how Rice-A-Roni is billed as “the San Francisco treat”? The website says it’s based on an Armenian recipe, but considering the Japanese population in San Francisco, I’m not convinced. I just had something called ‘sobameshi’ for lunch, rice fried together with noodles, and both the rice-chopped noddle combination and the seasoning remind me very much of the beef-flavored Rice-A-Roni Mom used to serve us. The colleagues I was eating with told me that this is really a home-cooking food, not a restaurant food – it’s what your mother makes to use up extra cooked rice. (I’m sure that, like so many traditional foods, it’s also a way to make a tony bit of meat satisfy a whole family.) Maybe the Armenian family learned the recipe from a Japanese neighbor, or maybe the early marketers were afraid Japanese food wouldn’t sell well in middle-America and so they fudged the story a bit.

Yesterday I went to the Hiroshima Peace Park. The museum there that shows the effects of the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima has my vote for one of the two most depressing museums in the world, coming just barely after the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and well ahead of the War Museum in Seoul. It’s got tons of artifacts (like shredded clothing from several of the junior high students who had been volunteering to do demolition nearby), reconstructions of the city before and after the bomb, and some extremely graphic photos, models and even a few body parts of the bomb victims. It is a well-done museum, with explanations of exhibits in English as well as Japanese and audio tours available in several more languages.

The history as presented is interesting and all very nonemotionally written; they do say straight out that Japan started with war with the US by bombing Pearl Harbor. (I was wondering if they would.) They very briefly mention the “colonization” of Korea and the importing of workers (again, their words) from there, many of whom thus became victims of the bomb, and the invasion of China. There barely any mention of Nagasaki that I remember. As for the bomb itself, the way I learned it in the US was that it was dropped because the only alternative was an invasion of Japan itself that could have cost even more lives and suffering. The museum says that Japan was already trying to negotiate surrender on its own terms (e.g. keeping the imperial system) and that the Americans didn’t want this and moreover wanted the war to end right away before Soviet Russia could enter the Pacific war and gain power in Japan. Clearly I need to do a bit of research to reconcile the stories.

The most touching part for me was a series of walls containing replicas of all the letters written by the mayors of Hiroshima – every time any country does a nuclear test, ever since the bombs were dropped, the mayor at that time writes a letter in protest to that government. There are a lot of letters on those walls.

Outside the museum are more monuments: the Children’s Peace Monument, with what must be hundreds of thousands of origami cranes; the Memorial Hall; the mound where thousands are buried; the monument to the students who were caught by the blast because they were in the city for the summer volunteering to do demolition to create firebreaks. Just outside the park area across the water is the Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome). Because it was nearly below the bomb’s epicenter, all the blast force was downward; the walls still stand, though the dome is a skeleton.

The photo below is one I took yesterday of the dome, using the iPhone Retro Camera app.

back in Japan

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

For some reason, it feels very strange to be sitting in a Japanese hotel lobby (no wifi in the rooms) watching Penn of Penn & Teller on TV. Somehow, seeing Conan O’Brian on there doesn:t feel odd at all. I think it’s because I’ve seen him live, and because I’m only about three degrees of separation from him (I know someone who knows someone who…)

I have a new theory: maybe it’s the ghosts of the shoguns, enforcing their old policy of isolation, who make sure I can’t have a trip to Japan without at least some kind of complication. This time it was a small easy one; I just couldn’t check in all the way through and had to check in for the second leg in Seoul. I’ll need to do the same thing going home. It was actually easy with only carry-on bags, even factoring in having to lug the luggage. Of course, traveling to Japan is inherently complicated anyway; train to Schiphol, flight to Seoul, flight to Centrair airport near Nagoya, train to Nagoya station, Shinkansen (bullet) train to Hiroshiima. I could have simplified the end a bit by flying directly to Hiroshima, but only at the cost of an 8 hour layover in Seoul and I7d stil have to take a bus to the train station, where my hotel is.

There was another odd thing about the trip. I guess I’m not around kids much in my normal life, because I kept noticing them. I haven’t written about it here, but anyone who follows me on Facebook kows I have a new nephew, 9 days old now. He was born at only 32 weeks by emergency C-section, so he’s still in the hospital with tiny oxygen tubes in his nostrils and a feeding tube going down his throat. My brother and sister-in-law will get to take him home n a month or so when his lungs are a bit more fully baked, but given the circumstances he’s doing well and has already gained a few ounces. Anyway, on the trip here I kept seeing his future. Him a year from now in the one-year-old who, trying to climb up on the airport seats with his older cousins, was giggling happily but at constant risk of bonking his head on the armrests between seats. Him in three years, having a meltdown by the immigration desk. And yesterday before I left, I saw him in 21 years, just out of a good college and in his first job, on Facebook in the profile of a young guy who shares his first and last name. I wonder if that happens to parents or if having the actual kid there all the time means you notice the hypothetical futures less?