A Travellerspoint blog

Last leg of the journey

Tokyo Rain

We arrived in Tokyo 2 days ago and evidently brought the start of the rainy season with us. It has been POURING ever since our arrival. Last night, after a nice dinner with our friends, we were about to leave, only to find the restaurant staff on their hands and knees at the outside of the front entrance, bailing water with cans--3 or 4 inches of standing water!

The rain is threatening our planned trip to watch a baseball game on Sunday. That would really be a shame; we would have gone to a Carp game in Hiroshima but they were on the road. The Carp are evidently really big in Hiroshima--posters everywhere; bar TVs turned onto the game; paraphenalia on sale in every store; Carp manhole covers! P1080105.jpg. Dick even got a Carp bento box with a baseball card of Carp ace Maeda, the box shown here in comparison to my bento box. P1090565.jpg

We're in Tokyo primarily to visit with friends--a law school classmate of mine and his wife. Instead of downtown like we did in 2012, we're out in the outskirts of town (at least relatively speaking). Compared to our little "convenience" apartment in Hiroshima P1090560.jpg, our Tokyo apartment is positively palatial, with two rooms, one of which is shown here. P1090568.jpg We're right next to train station, but the windows are triple glazed, so there is minimal noise. P1090575.jpgThe neighborhood is charming.P1090586.jpg

I should say something about the delivery service here. It's FABULOUS! We decided we did not need to take our big suitcase to Onomichi or HIroshima when we left Kyoto. What to do? We got black cat (kuroneko) delivery service to pick it up at our house in Kyoto on May 29. They delivered it, per our instructions, to our Tokyo apartment on June 5, within a 2-hour window selected by us. The distance between Kyoto and Tokyo is just a little less than the distance between Seattle and Spokane. They held the suitcase for 7 days. Total cost for door to door service, including the 7 day hold? $15.12. No, the decimal is not misplaced.

Last night we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant near our friends' neighborhood. Here's the beer with a frozen head! P1090594.jpg Kampai! 140606_Kampai__2_.jpg Will be home on Tuesday night!

Posted by pokano 18:31 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Finding Family

One of the questions I'm frequently asked is whether I have family still living in Japan. Unfortunately, on my mom's side, I don't think anyone knows. On my dad's side, however, the picture is a bit clearer. Dad and many of his siblings were sent to Japan when they were children to get a Japanese education. They lived with family members or family friends on a small island off the coast of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. So, unlike on my mom's side, the second generation (my dad and his siblings) knew the Japanese side of the family. Some of the siblings had maintained contact over the years. In fact, in the early 1980's, dad, my stepmom, and I had even visited the family in Innoshima. But it was so long ago, I had very little memory of it.

Those who are left in my dad's family in America had not heard anything from the Japanese relatives in recent years. One of my Seattle cousins had a partial address of the second generation's first cousin, but nothing else. No one knew how to get to the house, assuming that the cousin and his wife were still in it.

So armed with the partial address and the name of dad's cousin and his wife, Dick and I took a trip to Innoshima. Since time was tight, we took a bus (the last time I was there, there was no bridge connecting Innoshima with the mainland--we had to take a ferry).

We knew what portion of the island the cousin, Hiraki san, lived in--Habu, a port on the south side of the island. It just so happened that the bus's last stop was Habu port, so we got off there. Okano is a very common name in that area; this dentist was no relation to me, but it was fun just to see a business sign with our family name. P1080319.jpg

My Seattle cousin had suggested that we check at the post office to see if anyone there knew Hiraki san. New friends we had met in Onomichi had recommended going to the town hall, where a registry is kept of all families on the island. We had no idea where either of these facilities was. So we walked into a nearby tourist information office, intending to find out.

None of the employees there spoke English. I'm at slightly more than a beginner's level of Japanese, so in my very elementary Japanese, I explained that I was from America and was looking for my dad's relative in Innoshima. I gave them the name and the partial address.

One lady stopped what she was doing and looked up the cousin in the phone book (you might be wondering why I didn't do that, but it's because I can't read kanji). Then she took the partial address and the phone number and found the location of the house in a map of the town that apparently records who lives in each house. After that, she called the phone number. I'm sure whoever was on the other end was not prepared for this phone call at all! I could hear the tourist agency lady explain twice that Okano Masaru's daughter had come to visit.

Finally, she volunteered to walk us to the house! Turns out it was very close to the tourist information office, up a hill. We were part way up the hill when we met Hiraki san coming towards us to meet us! In only about 35 minutes after we'd gotten off the bus, we found ourselves in my dad's cousin's house!P1080304.jpg

Neither Hiraki san nor his wife speak English, but we had brought a lot of photos of the extended family on Dick's tablet, so we were able to have a nice time looking at those.P1080266.jpgP1080271.jpg Here's one of Hiraki san and me holding up a photo of his mother, my paternal grandmother's sister!P1080287.jpg

Hiraki san's wife, Hisako san, also cooked us lunch! P1080292.jpgP1080297.jpg

We had come to Innoshima not knowing whether we could find my relatives or whether they'd even be alive. To find them at all, let alone apparently doing well, was incredibly rewarding!

Posted by pokano 04:42 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

August 6 Equals August 5

Dick's Thoughts on Hiroshima

Since I was eight or nine years old I've known that Japan's August 6, 1945, when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, was August 5 on the American side of the international dateline. Calculating precisely when it occured Seattle time would always have been child's play. Over more than 50 years, though I've contemplated the exercise numerous times, I've never completed the task.

I was born in Seattle on August 5, 1945.

We chose to make our first visit to the A-Bomb memorial site shortly before sunset, late on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. It was a good decision. We first saw the skeletal dome at the blast site from a streetcar. The day's crowds had almost completely thinned so, except for a handful of other visitors, bicyclists, lovers, musicians and picnicking families, we were able to explore the site in tranquil solitude. On the hot afternoon and evening of our visit, the park's vegetation, fountains, and surrounding rivers lowered the temperature to a comfortable level, making it, a bit ironically, a sanctuary. P1080063.jpgP1080073.jpg

The park is on the northern tip of an island in the highly urbanized delta complex of Hiroshima's rivers. Everything one can see within a roughly 2 kilometer radius, except the dome, was constructed or planted after 1945 -- much only after fully developed renewal plans were adopted in the mid 1960s.

A bridge, Aioi Bashi, just north and west of the dome, had been the target, easily identified from the air because of its distinctive T-shape. It has since been reconstructed.

Today the site, so dignified, solemn and beautiful, houses multiple memorial elements -- a museum, a peace conference center, bells, lanterns, sculptures and gardens. Admission to the museum is (U.S.) 50 cents for aduts, 30 cents for students and seniors. The rest of the Peace Park is free, and any and all concessions or commercial activity is prohibited.

I'm a kind of cynical cuss. No room for cynicism here. This visit stopped me in my tracks. It was possibly the single most moving experience of my life.

As somber and sobering as this first visit had been, it was now after seven and we were hungry. The view across the river, away from the Peace Park, was of a lively, brightly lit Saturday night, and the bright lights beckoned. As we walked from the Park across the bridge into the nearby restaurant and entertainment zone, the solemnity of the previous two hours was washed away by the frenetic blocks-long warren of covered arcades. We stopped to look at the menu of one of the first seafood restaurants we encountered. It featured whale bacon. Back to contemporary reality.

Posted by pokano 18:49 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Onomichi Again

The minute we saw Onomichi, I realized I had made a big mistake. I'd booked us for only two nights. Not enough time. We'd just finished a 3-week stay in Kyoto, which is totally landlocked. Onomichi is on the sea--the Seto Inland Sea to be precise. A good part of the business area lies on a thin strip of flat land that hugs the coastline. Steep hills arise just behind the train tracks. P1070839.jpgAnd the sea is dotted with gorgeous islands, not unlike the San Juans. P1070937.jpgP1070940.jpgAlthough there's a big modern bridge, a small fleet of tiny ferries, carrying maybe up to 9 vehicles at best and some foot and bicycle passengers, ply the water between the islands. P1070836.jpgP1070822__2_.jpgThe island closest to the mainland supports what appears to be a busy shipyard. P1080016.jpgHowever, we were told that the shipyard has been losing business to China on a regular basis.

Fortunately, the city has had the foresight to diversify. For the last several years, it has looked to become a tourist destination. The city (population around 150,000, so we were told) has a webpage and a guidebook in English. Mostly young people come from all over the world to do the Shimanami Kaido, a 70 km bicycle route over the expressways starting in Onomichi, going through the islands, and ending up in Shikoku. For Japanese visitors not interested in biking, Onomichi has a history in the arts: many famous Japanese authors have lived there and many Japanese films have been filmed, at least in part, there. As someone told us, lots of people from all over the world come to Onomichi, no one comes to Fukuyama (the town up the coastline).

In fact, perhaps the most famous person from Onomichi was the writer, Fumiko Hayashi, who plays a part in Okano family history. When my cousins and I were young, we heard stories about how our great uncle--my grandmother's younger brother--was the lover of a famous Japanese author. Our reaction was sure, right .... Maybe famous in Japan. And then we forgot about it. Turns out that the author, Hayashi, is indeed famous, not only in Japan but world wide. Some of her writings are available in the Seattle Public Library. Anyway, Hayashi came from a broken family and the Okano family disapproved of the match. So I did not become her grand niece. But the fact that she and great uncle Gunichi were lovers is all over the internet. And Onomichi has erected a statue of its favorite daughter.P1070860.jpg

And this is citrus fruit country! Lemons, oranges, and grapefruit for sale everywhere! In other words, this is like the Mediterranean area with plenty of water.

All that said, some of you may be wondering why we chose to visit Onomichi. One of the islands off Onomichi, Innoshima, is where my father's family comes from. And my dad, born in Anacortes, was sent--at about age 9--to live with family in Innoshima. He and his sister, my aunt Niki, lived there for approximately 10 years before returning to America, sometime in the 1930's. We believe dad's first cousin, if he is still alive, lives in Innoshima.

In any event, it was unseasonably warm while we were there--in the mid to high 80's everyday. Early our first and only full day there we decided to go up the big hill. The city has set up a temple walk along the hill, there is a castle at one end P1070834.jpgand a large temple at another. We didn't have time to get to the castle, but thought that the temple and the observatory above it would make a good morning destination.P1070958.jpg

You have to be a mountain goat to live here. The hills of Seattle are NOTHING compared to the hills of Onomichi. P1070901.jpgP1070956.jpgThere's a cable car but we decided to walk up and take the cable car back down.

It took us about 90 minutes to walk up the hill. The cable car ride down took less than 5.P1070951.jpg

Some artist has placed hundreds of stones painted like cats all over the city. P1070985.jpgP1070984.jpgP1070999.jpgThere is also a cat museum--it really appears to be a lady's collection of thousands of depictions of cats. P1070977.jpgP1070978.jpgP1070980.jpgP1070995.jpgP1070982.jpg

We met an elderly gentleman who spoke good English at the hotel. He lives in Onomichi and invited us to dinner. Actually, he said a "salon" with dinner. "Salon"? Without thinking very hard, we accepted. Then we started wondering whether we should have. What were we getting ourselves into?

It turned out to be a fascinating evening. Matsuura san and his companion, Fumiko san, put on a real spread--chirashi sushi (sushi rice with all the goodies sprinkled on top), maki sushi (the nori seaweed wrapped sushi rolls), braised fish, tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlets), macaroni salad, spinach with chikuwa (a cylinder shaped fish cake), tofu and nappa soup, and sweet potatoes. P1080027.jpgBetter yet was the conversation. They had invited 3 other people: an English woman whose mother had recently given her the detailed diary her grandfather had kept while he had been in a POW camp in Onomichi during WWII; an elderly Japanese man who had traveled in the US and spoke excellent English; and a younger Japanese woman who also spoke excellent English. The latter two were interested in translating the diary of the British woman's grandfather into Japanese. Matsuura san and Naoko san agreed to use their Innoshima connections to see if they could help me find our Okano relatives on Innoshima.

We were unable to go to Innoshima before we had to leave for Hiroshima. But the distances are small enough and the train fare reasonable enough that we hope to go to Innoshima on a day trip out of Hiroshima before we have to leave for Tokyo on June 5.

Posted by pokano 07:57 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Onomichi's Sea Wall Gates

Onomichi, Part 1

Over the past 3+ years we've been mildly obsessed by Japan's Tohoku earthquake, the subsequent tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. We've watched hours of documentaries about the events, the aftermath, and the plans and efforts to avert comparable outcomes "next time."

What was stunning about much of the footage was the exposure of developed urban areas and farmland to the tsunami's inland floods. This exposure, we now can see, was largely a function of the topography of the land formations: Coastal hills are so precipitous that little building or farming can occur on them; river valleys and coastal flatlands best lend themselves to farming and development.

Our time in the port of Onomichi brought some of this into vivid perspective. The business section of Onomichi lies on a thin strip of flat ground next to the sea; the backdrop is steep hills. Surrounding Onomichi in the Inland Sea is a chain of islands, kind of like the San Juans. Despite the labyrinth of islands seemingly "protecting" Onomichi from the potential furies of the open sea, the city's high sea walls are designed to eke out still three or four additional feet of protection by use of mighty, closable steel sea gates. P1080015.jpg [Pam: Dick cut my head off on purpose; he just wanted to show the scale of the sea gate

In our conversations with locals the subject of the impacts of global climate change was repeatedly mentioned. Sea level rise, here we come.

Posted by pokano 17:59 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

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