I’m not sure how the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony became such a must-see event for me. It’s something I’ve wanted to see in-person long before I knew I’d be coming to Japan…a little strange since my birthday happens to fall on August 6 as well and it wouldn’t exactly be the happiest way to spend the day. I had been planning to go to Hiroshima on this day ever since I found out I’d be teaching here and I was hellbent on keeping that part of my schedule. And here I was…on my 23rd birthday, waking up extra early in the morning to go to the ceremony. Also, to get far away from the manga cafe and it’s so-so chair.

As evidenced by discovering every hotel in the city had no open rooms the day before, lots of people were just as determined as I to go to the park. Not deterred by what might have been the hottest day of the summer, these souls crowded towards the tram station to make their way down to the park. The line for the ride wasn’t too intimidating…I’ve seen longer waits for Splash Mountain…but it still outdid whatever wait we’d experienced the day before. We shuffled onto the packed tram, and stood for the entire commute.

People going to the park

People going to the park

Unsurprisingly, the park was packed with people inching towards where the formal ceremony would be hold. Japanese people and obvious tourists…I see ya, fannypacks…made up the majority of this wave of humanity. Yet the ceremony also brought out plenty of activists and protesters who wanted to sell some platform to the large number of people in Hiroshima. Some pushed religion, virtually throwing pamphlets using the atomic bombing as a gateway to whatever faith they subscribed to into passersby’s hands. Others focused on political movements, ranging from “lets get rid of all nuclear weapons” to more nationalistic ideas like “give Japan an actual army yo” or “get the fuck out America” (my words, not theirs). Most people moved by them as quickly as possible and beelined to the main area.

The main seating area was already full by the time we arrived…made up mostly of people who had reserved spots or folks who must have gotten here stupid early…so we settled on watching the ceremony from the side, in a spot surrounded by trees but very little shade. Even from our spot, we could see the majority of the white stage and, though each speaker looked like a raisin from where we were, could hear everything well (ignoring the fact the majority of it was in Japanese). The actual ceremony lasted one hour and featured a lot of speeches in Japanese, a message from two adorable school kids urging the world to stop stockpiling nuclear weapons and a moment where a bunch of pigeons were released into the air.

This year’s ceremony, the 65th since the attack, ended up being historic. It was the first time representatives from countries with nuclear weapons – France, Russia, England, America, a few others…attended the ceremony. It also marked the first time the United Nations Secretary-General came to the ceremony, and Ban Ki-moon actually took to the podium and delivered a speech (the only one in English on the day). It was a solid speech – about how the world needs to get rid of nuclear weapons etc. etc.

U.N. Secretary-General

U.N. Secretary-General

An hour after we had arrived, it was over and the mass of people streamed out of the park. Plenty of other mini-memorials were happening around the park…including a “parade of flags” deal where I ended up holding the flag of Burma, but it’s all sorta a blur now…along with tiny rallies. Yet it was far too hot to spend too much time exploring these various events. We stayed a bit, ate and left in the early afternoon, one major thing off of my Japanese checklist.

(Japanese Fun Fact #80 – Vitamin Water just got released here so I see the stuff everywhere…well, in the city at least. Glad Japan can experience sugar water too!)

On Burning Out

September 27, 2010

Another diversion from the almost two-months-old Hiroshima entries to bring you some floating personal thoughts

It’s 11:46 on a Monday night and I can’t sleep because of the drizzle smacking against the pavement outside of my apartment. The rain, quickly becoming a part of my daily routine, came suddenly with hardly any warning. The seasons in Japan seemingly replace one another without any grace period, the blistering summer months one day transforming into the gloomy autumn which will soon enough, with no warning, give way to the god-foresaken winter. Not many “pretty good days of weather” or even “ehhhh, I’ll take it” days pop up, things change rapidly.

I’ve found myself speaking ill of the Japanese fall…a season I once proclaimed “number one season” in my mental list-making days…a lot more recently. It’s obviously a bit stupid because it’s no different than what I’d be experiencing in, say, Evanston right now…and based on the amount of Twitter updates mentioning how today’s the first day so-and-so has to wear a sweater, I seem to be really right. Yet I’ve been having way to many negative thoughts about the new season…and way too many negative thoughts about other aspects of Japan that, one year ago, filled me with an idiot-glee usually reserved for a college freshman (no offense!). Part of me fears I’m burning out on Japan.

Within the people-living-in-Japan-who-also-write-or-talk-about-it-online world there exist two extreme stereotypes. Of course, being the internet, these representations probably account for, oh, about two percent of foreigners living in Japan total, but online they feel way more dominant. On one end of the spectrum are the “I love Japan SO MUCH” types, the people who seemingly have no bad experiences here and are masters at painting Japan in a positive light regardless of the situation. They would make amazing PR people. The flip side, though, are the souls who loathe everything about Japan and who spend lots of time online raging against the country. They seem bitter, sick of it all, disillusioned…burned out. I fear I’m slowly turning into one of those people.

Well, that’s dramatic. I actually don’t hold much against Japan…I still really like the country. And I honestly love my job and am terrified about having to start all over again back in America. So I’m really not like those folks on the web who despise Japan after being here too long.

But I’ve still been feeling pretty mixed on everything for a little over a month now. My first year in Japan went pretty well…save for a few instances of ennui where I can’t even remember the source now, I loved it. Signing up for a second year came with knowing a lot would be different…the thrill of everything being new that I felt 365 days ago (“whoa, weird Pepsi”) has been replaced with a far more boring familiarity (“I’m not drinking that shit”). That ones probably not hard to figure out just by looking at this blog, where frequency of updating has dipped big time recently and the only reason I’m writing this is because I can’t sleep, I felt inspired for some unknown reason and I have a slow day at work tomorrow. I fully expected that.

The problem, though, seems to be making the most out of the less-than-a-year I have left. I came to Japan pretty firmly believing I’d do two years and then get out so I stuck to that plan. Before August I would have pegged my chances of doing a third year at something like 60 percent “no way Jose” and 40 percent “OK!” Today I’d put that more towards 85 percent to 15 percent. Since being vague rocks, I won’t say what specifically has made me get a bit more frustrated (though I don’t really think there are many specifics), and rather throw out a list: at times I’ve questioned my teaching abilities, I’m nagged by a loneliness I haven’t been able to shake since college, I’m realizing I don’t want to lose the ability to be a “stupid young 20-something” at the moment and I’m kinda bored. It’s all basically Holden Caulfield-ish mixed with whatever that New York Times article said about the 20s being the new adolescence…because I really wanted to live through that again.

These issues have all collided at once to make me start acting like a dick at times. I try to always be respectful of Japanese culture and the differences that pop up, but recently I’ve been acting with a little bit more of a “screw it I’ma do what I want to” attitude. One weekend, I committed the big Japanese no-no of talking on my phone while on a train, something I never do…mostly because I have a phobia of talking on cell phones, but that’s for a therapist…but on this particular day seemed like a great act of rebellion. So I yapped away and then the guy across from me tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a look saying “dude, no.” I’ve also started eating food while walking (yes, this is frowned upon) and not properly separating my recyclables. Completely lame acts yes, but for me it’s like storming a military barracks.

So now I find myself wondering…how do I not blow these last few months. I actually am feeling better today thanks to a Saturday night spent in Osaka that…despite the presence of an all-time low bowling score…revealed some of my friends actually have the exact same problems. That night, coupled with the oddly delirious state I’m in now, has made me a bit more determined to go out there and actually enjoy my time left instead of be a baby about it. Innovative strategy, I know. Mostly, I don’t want to turn into one of those bitter dudes. I’m sure they make phone calls on the train.

(Japanese Fun Fact #79 – Japanese bowling alleys stay open until 5 in the morning. I don’t think that’s the reason I sucked so much at bowling, though.)

If you read all of that, sorry, this is the equivalent of a midnight snack for me when I can’t sleep. I’ll let you slap me in the face when I’m back in America.

Miyajima Island houses Itsukushima Shrine, one of the most beautiful sights in all of Japan according to every travel guide I’ve ever thumbed through. Getting to the island is a bit of a hassle…though it’s located within in the city limits of Hiroshima, it requires riding the local tram all the way to the last dot on the map before transitioning to a ferry. The tram rides tests patience, especially for those who came to Hiroshima feeling a little sick and without the ability to talk (ahem me). The brief ferry ride, though, provides some billed-as-and-true gorgeous views of Miyajima and the city.

The island itself features a very little town, consisting mostly of luxurious looking hotels and rows of shops, most seeming to sell only trinkets aimed at tourists. Plus, various huge rice spoons, which I guess were the island’s novelty. We arrived late in the day, meaning the streets wrapping around the island were basically deserted, most of the shops closed or in the process of calling it a day. Even the deer – like Nara, they roam freely on the island and interact with those walking around – seemed relatively sparse. Of course, the moment the deer detected a person holding food, they zeroed in on them relentlessly.

The main draw of the island, though, is Itsukushima Shrine, which sits a little off from the island proper. All the travel books show the main entrance gate seemingly sitting on the water, but not all tourists get lucky enough to see it in this state…if you come at the wrong time of day, the water may be low and it’ll just be another entrance gate sticking out of the ground. We lucked out, though, and saw it in all its stickin-out-of-water goodness.

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Thanks to by planning expertise, we came to Hiroshima without a hotel. Something in my head said “you’ll just find one there…it’s a big city, they gotta have somewhere to sleep!”

Nope. Turns out, coming to town the day before the biggest event of the year without lodging means no shelter.

This left one option – the manga cafe. The name both tells you everything you need to know and not nearly as much. It’s sorta like an internet cafe that also happens to have a massive collection of manga sitting out for your reading pleasure. Depending on how much you pay, you can get a cubicle with a computer, a TV, a chair and a few other doo-dads…or you can go cheap and sit in a row of desks with other people. The service doesn’t end there…you can drink all the beverages you want out of their soda fountain/coffee machine, and also play a bunch of different arcade games. I was way too tired to check out all this stuff, though I did pay the extra 200 yen to take a shower the next morning.

Lots of people do exactly what we did…buy a nine hour pass and spend the night sleeping in a chair in a tiny cubicle. It’s terribly uncomfortable…though the chair was the best option available to us…and the lights stay on the entire night. And since not everyone uses the manga cafe as an emergency hotel, you hear lots of people typing away on their computers and generally being loud. So yes…check out hotels when booking a trip gang.

Still without a computer, so just doing a quick post lacking in much substance. Enjoy.

What I noticed this week:

– During August, McDonald’s in Japan offered “food straps” for a low price. A “food strap” is a chunk of plastic shaped into one of several ubiquitous menu items. So, for like two hundred yen, you could get a tiny, plastic version of a Fillet-O-Fish. Turn the clock forward to September and, while back on the job at school, I noticed how many students proudly clipped the “food straps” onto their school bags. I guess a tiny plastic Quarter Pounder or Apple Pie is a cool trend among the kids now.

– I didn’t realize how many of my Japanese co-workers lived with their parents until this week. Benefit to this: people who have their moms make their lunch seem really impressed (or feign being impressed) by my ability to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Truth be told, I’m jealous of them.

– A friend went to the dentist this week for the first time in Japan. For one visit, complete with a little work AND a couple of pain pills, he had to pay…$16 thanks to the national plan. America has a long-ass way to go.

The Expendables drops on October 10 on these shores. I’m counting down the days.

– I corrected student’s “summer vacation” diaries this week and, after going over a few gleeful entries about trips to Tokyo Disneyland, I realized just how much of a cynical jerk I’ve become as an adult. Sorry to be all Holden-esque, but it would be pretty rad to have some of that innocence (read: naivety) back.

– But who am I kidding…I can drink! On the street!

– Miley Cyrus has an entire magazine devoted to her here.

These Are My Students

September 13, 2010

Because I’m a big idiot who failed to grasp the idea HP makes bad products, I’m currently without a computer as mine is at the Japanese equivalent of Best Buy being fixed. Until it is hopefully fixed, I’ll share something one of my students wrote for her “summer vacation diary” assignment. She and her freinds saw me at a festival. I was with friends. She wrote:

“We met Mr. Patrick in that place. Mr. Patrick was with a woman. Mr. Patrick said ‘she is my friend.’ but we suspected she is him lover.”

Impressive, though she obviously means “his” in the last sentence.