Sunday, July 31, 2005

More Peace park

Kiyoshi was tired and so after a lunch of teishoku, he decided to return home to Kokura, a four-hour ride by slow train. Goodbye Kiyoshi, and good luck on your dissertation. He he he....
I did stop by the soon to be demolished Wakakusa shopping plaza, a ramshackle collection of stalls and shops from the early 1960s. Sad to see it go, as it had the best iced coffee in the area.
I stopped by my cousin Kimiko`s former stall. She used to run shop here for years and now it is empty. Kinda makes me feel the passage of time.
So I did a little more walking around Peace Park today, trying to figure out what was the overall gist of the place. Something about this place I still can`t quite put my finger on... This is one of the times I am glad I am not white and can just blend into the crowd. I saw white tourists look so miserable and guilty looking at all the museum exhibits. It is like how you don’t see that many Japanese tourists at Pearl Harbor, and see lots of Chinese tourists instead.

Now I have a hard time figuring this city out. You would think that this would be the most anti-American of all cities in Japan, since the U.S. pretty much leveled this place to the ground, and all subsequent Japanese history books imply that this was the American’s fault. And like the anti-American exhibit I saw yesterday, there are some raw feelings. And yet, in all my years of studying here, I have never ever encountered anti-American feelings even once. And if you say you are an American, people warm up to you, and even try to practice their English. There is even free Internet access for foreigners just outside the exit of the A-bomb museum. Japan, as a whole, must be one of the most pro-American countries in the world. So why is there so little resentment, while on the other hand, there is so much anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea and China?

Yoko once told me her opinions on this subject. First, her mother said that the American troops were very kind to her when she was a child. Second, Hiroshima was bombed, an impersonal form of destruction. On the other hand, in the Nanking massacre or Rape of Manila, you could see the faces of the assailants and hear them screaming in Japanese, a very personal form of oppression. So it is much easier to hate Japanese. I think there is so little overt anti-American feeling is because the ideology of pacifism has taken root in Japan: all forms of war are bad! Also, the most hated countries in Japan are North Korea (for kidnapping Japanese citizens), China (for encouraging anti-Japanese sentiment), and among some older Japanese, South Korea (for manyJapanese believe Koreans are continually holding a grudge against Japan).

Maybe I take it too seriously, as I saw Japanese just having fun in the park. I mean just 20 yards from the A-bomb dome are boats that offer you a 10 min ride for $5 each. This is the same river that when the bomb went off, so many victims could not stand the heat and so they dove into the water, which was then clogged with dead bodies. Can you imagine signs offering private boat rides next to the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor? I heard the beat of congo drums and thought that anti-globalization activists and peaceniks had made their way to their park. Instead, just across the river from the A-bomb dome, a group of Japanese teens were practicing a slow African dance. And next to them, just down the river, some kids were strumming their guitars and singing. Since park space in most large Japanese cities are so limited, the Hiroshima Peace Park, being a wide open space, has turned into a music and dance rehearsal room for young Japanese. I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time practicing in a park that stood where an entire neighborhood was obliterated in a few seconds.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hiroshima Peace Park

Today, we finally visited what made Hiroshima world-famous, not its oysters, or okonomiyaki, but its Peace Park and Atomic-bomb dome, the remains of what used to be a handsome green-domed building. The A-bomb dome sits right across the baseball stadium, and you can go very close to this place. I was surprised to see no security guards or policemen in sight! This building lay only a few hundred meters from ground zero, and serves to remind people of the power of the atomic bomb.

Along the way to the official museum, I saw a citizen’s exhibit about the atomic bomb. Talk about an anti-American exhibit. Do not even discuss cause of the bombing or the context: there was a war going on! This exhibit just focused on victimization of the Japanese: the exhibit starts with the city, and then the bombing. Then poems and scenes of suffering. Then onto Okinawa, where they documented American atrocities against the Okinawans. But no mention of shudan jiketsu, or "compulsory group suicide," in which whole families killed each other in order to die an honorable death and avoid capture. When Japanese soldiers told you it was time to kill yourselves, it was very hard to say no, especially if the Japanese soldiers were armed. Many survivors felt anguish after they killed their family members, and then failed to kill themselves. The American soldiers did not kill them, and so they wondered why they had to kill their own family members.

Mention of shudan jiketsu, by the way, is strongly discouraged in Japanese society, and as Norma Field, in her book, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor points out, right wing thugs will intimidate you into silence. Anyway, after this victimization display, the organizers set up a petition to sign to demand an apology from the Americans. Fat chance. You will get Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos, who suffered immensely under the Japanese, in a fury depicting the Japanese as the true victims of the war. Imagine going to Koreatown or Chinatown and telling the people there that they will have to apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Kinda like omitting all mention of the Holocaust and having the Germans demand an apology from the Allied nations for the firebombing of Dresden.

Anyway, no matter whose responsibility you may say it ultimately is, the Americans for dropping the bomb, or the Japanese government for starting the aggressive war against Asians, and for failing to surrender when they knew the war was lost in 1944, you still feel very sorry for the people of Hiroshima who were nuked away that day in August, 1945. It was still a gory and painful way to die by A-bomb. I said a prayer for the souls at the memorial.
The following picture is a bunch of paper cranes. You fold a thousand so that someone who is ill can get well. A young girl, Sadako, died of radiaton poisoning ten years after the bomb, and she kept folding cranes in the hope of getting well. So there are many displays of paper cranes from schoolkids all over the world.

We then walked into the display, which to its credit, did state that Japan was in a war at the time of the bombings, and implied a link between the bombing and Japans attempt to take over Asia. Kiyoshi and I spent time comparing the English and Japanese translations. Lets just say that the English translations make it clear that Japan had invaded Asia, and was mistreating the Chinese and Koreans, while the Japanese translations are a bit more on the vague side. I can see that the museum staff is under pressure from all sides, and they are at least trying to raise the issue of Japanese war responsibility.

We then went to the memorial for Korean victims of the A-bomb, which seemed quite empty of people. 10% of the victims of Hiroshima were Korean, conscripted to work in factories in Japan. This fact, still unknown to most people, really murks up the victimization theory, as it reminds Japanese that their nation invaded, occupied, and brutalized the Koreans next door. Here is a photo of the monument to Korean victims of the A-bomb.

Across the street from the A-bomb dome is a baseball stadium, and today I saw a large baseball signed by the Japanese league players.Anyway, today felt depressing walking around the park, so we decided to lighten up by going to an Irish bar in the middle of town. Guinness beer is delicious no matter where you go. Here`s a picture of the foreign staff.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Night out in Hiroshima town

I met Michiyasu for lunch. He could not meet on Friday night because his daughter had a ballet recital. Years of hard work and overtime seemed to have worn him down, and he looked positively tired. He would only get 4 hours of sleep a day since he worked two jobs. He did perk up when talked about American football. I have met three Japanese men so far – Masaki (Etsuko’s husband), Inoue (the restaurant owner), and Michiyasu. All work long, grueling hours not because they want to, but because they have to. They all have wives and children, and since they are the only breadwinner, they do not complain, but rather do what they have to do. Unlike the U.S., welfare is just not an option. We chatted about the past, and after awhile, it felt as if we were talking back then in 1994! I showed him my blog, and he let out a laugh of recognition when he saw the photo of Saito-san and his wife.

I then met Kiyoshi, a friend from the University of Oregon, at 6:30 pm in front of the station. We chatted for awhile, and then we decided to celebrate his passing his oral comprehensive exams. So we went to a yakitori restaurant, and ate very delicious sticks of roasted chicken parts. I love the “junk” meats such as liver, tongue, crisp fried skin, etc. the owner of the restaurant, originally from Yokohama, came to talk to us, since he noted that we were gabbing away in English. I learned that I have to say I am from America, and then the reaction from other Japanese becomes more positive. But does that mean that non-American foreigners from other parts of Asia do not get good treatment?

Then it was off to town to visit the gaijin (foreigner) bars from my past ten years ago. I first looked for Mac, a famous watering hole popular with English teachers, marines, and counter-culture Japanese. I remembered their huge CD collection of English songs as well. But when I went to their spot, the building was gone, replaced by a shiny new building. At a loss, I stopped two gaijin women walking down the street and asked if they knew where Mac was. One was an English techer from Washington, and the other used to live in Eugene, Oregon. They told me where Mac was and also the name of other gaijin bars. We then looked for the new location of Mac, and when we got lost, I asked two marines and their Japanese girlfriends the location. See how you can use the gaijin network?

We finally discovered Mac next to some parking garages. Yuri, one of the owners exclaimed (in Japanese), “Hello, it has been a long time!” and then she started talking about mutual friends, mainly from Latin America. Her words brought back so many memories! Like I said, these Japanese are memory machines. This is a mellow place, and I saw a few Marines in here with their Japanese girlfriends, some Japanese businessmen, and some Japanese youth, but no bad vibes. In fact, I ended up talking to a Japanese salaryman named “Saito” and we talked about Japan and America. He has distant relatives in Portland, Oregon.

We then went to a watering hole known as Jacara. The owner recognized me and greeted me for being away so long. The owner is on the lower left of this photo.
I even got a bit extra whisky for being away so long. The bartender (center of the photo) knew a mutual acquaintance of mine, and so we chatted for a long time. He was very friendly, and I enjoyed talking to him while enjoying the rap music. Gaijin do not come anymore like in the past, as the management had too many problems with the marines coming and getting into fights. I still remembered the sign from ten years ago (now gone) – “Marines, please do not molest the Japanese women.” It is sad because I met so many cerebral Marines back then who did not fit the stereotype of over-hormoned young men itching for a fight. But I guess the problem just got too bad. So Jacara has turned into an all-Japanese place, at least for this Saturday night.Here`s a picture of a friendly customer who sat next to me. The bar seemed considerably emptier than before, but still a pleasant atmosphere. But man, EVERYONE was smoking, and it became a gas chamber in a small, enclosed space.

We then entered the Shack, a new American-style bar and grill packed with gaijin. I met a student from the University of Hawaii and we spent some time talking about Japan. Kiyoshi and I also drunkenly debated someting - what it was I have no idea.

I love playing darts while drinking and so we went to the dartboard. Some American men and Japanese women were already busy at work practicing their English and Japanese on each other. This is what we call the beginnings of “international exchanges.” The Japanese girls next to use were joking in English with each other, saying dirty stuff they must have picked up from the movies like,“I must have sex!” Yes, so many Japanese speak English so badly that they cannot even string together a simple sentence to order a hamburger, but they become bilingualwhen it comes to dirty words. I couldn’t keep a straight face and burst out laughing and scolded,“Watch your language!” I wanted to take their picture, but they refused, probably out of shame. Anyway, I got too flustered and kept on laughing and so my darts aim just deteriorated, so Kiyoshi won that round of darts. We then said goodbye to the dirty-talking women (I kept laughing so hard), and then went to Snappers, a stand bar from long time ago. Unfortunately, it was closed, and when I went back to Jacara for more drinks, someone told me that it had shut down awhile ago. Maybe it is closed for the vacation? Or maybe it shut down for good? We then taxied home. Taxi drivers often seem tense when I talk to them. Do they think I am a Chinese criminal?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style

I think I figured out how to expand my pictures. Try clicking on them, and they may expand in your browser.

Spent most of the day studying and writing my manuscript. But I got hungry, and decided to go to Paku Paku, a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki place just down the street. I went here frequently when I was studying in Hiroshima in 1993. Now what amazes me about this place is that I do not know the propreteir`s name, and she does not know my name, but whenever I go to this place, she still recognizes me! Even if I plop in once every year and a half! Today was no exception. I walked in and she said in Japanese, "Ah, it has been a long time! What would you like to eat?"

Much like how Americans have different types of pizza (New York, Chicago, and California), Japan has different types of okonomiyaki (Osaka it is all mixed together, Tokyo looks like glue, and Hiroshima the foods are layered). You must try Hiroshima okonomiyaki, and it is a sneaky way to serve people their vegetables. My okonomiyaki (served on a hot skillet) had soba, cheese, mochi, and corn in it. Yum!

When I asked her about the changes in the area, she and her helper said that crime has gotten worse in Hiroshima. Too many young people committing crimes. After dinner, I went to an Internet café on the south side of the station at 11:00 pm at night. Aunty kept warning me before I left not to go, as it was too dangerous at this time of the night. When I said that it was safe compared to America and that I am stronger than most Japanese men, she kept saying that the road outside the apartment was dangerous, and I could be stabbed. So Japanese now beleive that the whole area is dangerous.The perception that crime has gotten worse has spread throughout this nation. What we consider safe in America is dangerous by Japanese standards.

Despite the fact that I am pushing middle age and working a professional job with responsibility, your elders in Japan will always treat you as a child, as if I have no judgment. So I promised Aunty I would be careful and walked to the station entrance anyway, about 12 minutes from the apartment. I saw groups of drunken salarymen, and even a policeman sweeping up the street. Yes, keep the streets clean as part of your duty to protect the nation.

Sad to say, I could not understand what the internet clerk way saying to me when I tried to close out my computer session. He spoke too rapidly, and used some strange honorifics. Can you believe that? All those years of studying Japanese and I still cannot understand an Internet café clerk! He then told me in English, “You finished Internet?”

The daily grind on my vacation!

Again, I spent most of the day chugging away at my work. So now I have settled into the daily grind here in Japan. Or I HAVE TO settle into the daily grind, as I have a mountain of work to do. Today’s highlight? While on a short stroll around the station, I met three British backpackers from a village south of London. They looked truly lost trying to find the bus stop. Now despite some English-language signs, Hiroshima station, it is confusing for foreigners who do not understand Japanese. But at least there are passers-by you can ask questions in English. Being in Japan makes me realize how international of a language English is, and what an advantage we Americans have when we travel. Ironically, you get to interact with more foreigners in Japan because you don’t take each other for granted. You find someone who speaks English and you strike up a conversation. You end up talking to people you normally would not talk to if you were back in the United States.

Today is the day of the eel. I forgot to take pictures, but you are supposed to eat eels on this, supposedly the hottest day of the year. So we all gorged on broiled eel, which tasted delicious. It is enjoyable to do traditions like this and see everyone else eat the same food at the same time. Of course, it means huge profits for eel restaurants, and they see their profits soar.

I walked home alone at night, and passed by a small group of young punks. I was going to take a picture, but thought the better of it. Still, I did not feel the fear I normally would back in Hawaii if I were walking alone in the middle of a city at about near midnight. First of all, I am physically bigger than most Japanese young men, and so I feel confident I can hold my own in a brawl. Next, guns are strictly controlled in this country, so I need not fear an armed holdup. Last of all, youth here have been socialized to not use violence to solve disputes. Of course, this country has its share of crime (a murder made NATIONAL news today: a 53 year old man stabbed another man to death) but there is a social compact: everyone will have a piece of the pie and basic human respect so long as you work hard.

Speaking of fighting: I watched news of K-1 fighting and the press conference at the Ala Moana Shopping Center featuring Akebono. I felt homesick seeing the Crabtree and Evelyn in the background, and the shots of the cool blue ocean. The weather here has cooled down, but does not compare to Hawaii.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hanging out in Hiroshima

Finally, things have settled down. I spent the whole day locked in my apartment, working on my book and reading my copies of old Japanese magazines.

And I think I figured out how to expand my pictures. Try clicking on them, and they may expand in your browser.

Today, I devoted all to research and work and thus I have very few pictures to post. I watched some afternoon TV and saw some Korean dramas (very popular here), and a news segment featuring a car chase in Los Angeles. I would like to think that the Japanese exaggerate crime in America, but sadly, crime is too high in the States. I wish every American could come here and see what life is like without fear. Then you would hear fewer complaints about taxes to pay for jails, police, or social programs to reduce crime.

While walking to my Aunt’s place for dinner, I spotted Michiyasu, an old friend and lifting partner from ten years ago. He, like most Japanese I have met, recognized me right off the bat. He remembered that I mailed him a t-shirt and letter, and that he had forgotten to write back, and so he apologized profusely. We are talking about an event TEN YEARS ago that frankly I had forgotten about! We agreed to try to meet sometime this Friday, either the afternoon or evening.

I have been here for almost three weeks and I have hardly used or heard English. It is a very strange phenomenon indeed, and unlike the experiences of other non-Asian gaijin (foreigners), Japanese do not attempt to practice their English on me when they find out I am an American.
Anyway, I managed to use my cousin’s computer to download some blog entries. On my walk home in the middle of the night (that is how safe this country is), I noticed that Genkotsu ramen was open. So I went in and ordered a bowl of their ramen. It has soybeans on it, which MUST be a Hiroshima specialty, as I noted in a previous entry. You crush your own garlic on the noodles. Delicious and it costs only about $4.60 to eat this! Refills of noodles are 100 yen, or less than a dollar! Who says you can`t eat cheap in this country?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Visiting more replicas in Fukuyama and Okayama

Korakuen, a famous Japanese garden in Okayama

Today being the last day of our JR rail pass, we decided to visit not one, but two cities! Yoko said goodbye to my aunt and then we left for Fukuyama, where a castle stands right next to the train station. Unfortunately, I noticed in the fine print that this too, was a reconstruction of the original, which was destroyed during an air raid. Almost all castles in this nation are reconstructions. Still, Fukuyama castle was beautiful, and I enjoyed the view from the top.

Now we rushed so fast to catch the train to Okayama prefecture 40 or so miles away, that we left our bags in the locker at the Fukuyama train station. Since it was running late, we decided to leave the bags there and get them later at night.

Once we arrived in Okayama, we immediately caught the bus to Korakuen, a kind of oriental garden that Americans associate with Japan. Nice rolling mini-hills. Neatly trimmed trees. A nice (reconstruction) castle overlooking the park. Friendly turtles that come to you seeking food.
Even a centuries-old zen teahouse! This open air teahouse is of rare design: a stream ran right through it, which gave the room a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. You have to experience this teahouse to realize how at peace you can be watching water! Nobility would come here in the Tokugawa period to relax and drink tea. The sign in the middle of the floor tells you to take of your shoes (in Japanese, of course. Where do you think we are, in America?)
Unfortunately, whenever I go to relaxing zen places, I always bump into obnoxious foreign tourists. This time, it was the “Ugly Chinese.” While we were enjoying the peace and tranquility, these Chinese tourists arrive, start yelling in their loud voices, and the woman starts snapping pictures right in my face. HELLO?? NI HAO??
Ni kan zhonguoren ma?(Do you see the Chinese?)
Then they start STANDING in the stream to cool off their feet. Folks, this is a place of meditation, not a bathhouse! The Chinese tourists started shouting at each other oblivious to our nearby presence. Is there so much noise in Beijing that you have to yell at each other even if the other person is only two feet away? I fear what happens when China becomes a rich power and more Chinese tourists go abroad. (Yoko, who is quite fluent in Chinese, told me that they were speaking in Mandarin. I wished she had yelled at them, “Don`t you Chinese know what the word QUIET means?”). Now before you accuse me of racism, I encourage you to look at this webpage address. Yes, according to the rules of civil society, my Chinese blood gives me every right to criticize the behavior of some Chinese tourists.

Korakuen closed at 6:00 and the staff politely shooed us out. We went to a stream to relax, and I realized that you couldn’t do this in most Japanese cities. BTW, we passed a common sight in Japanese waters - the swan boat! You sit in these boats and power them by pedalling.

Swan boats. Notice the one with the black trim?

On the way to the station, I bought a Japanese t-shirt at a store for large and tall men. They had imported American-sized goods like Nike XXL shirts and Hanes XXL underwear. Hey, that’s where American goods will always have an advantage over other nations – clothes for extra large people! We should make use of our obesity epidemic and have “Fat tours” for overweight Japanese. Bring them to Hawaii and take them shopping for large clothing. Take them to all you can eat buffets. Have them enjoy sitting in extra-wide bus seats, and not feel out of place at all when they stroll the street. Of course, who am I to speak? I must have gained ten pounds since coming here with all that eating.

Afterwards, we walked around downtown Okayama. The town here seems surprisingly deserted and we decided to eat at a yakitori place. The friendly chef decided to introduce me to a new kind of food: fish guts. Yes, he served me kim chee fish guts, and it was surprisingly good with beer. I also liked their twist on Korean jhun pancakes (which Japanese call chizimi). While the authentic Korean jhun has leeks or seafood in it, this variant had pork, kim-chee, and cheese mixed into their chizimi. Sounds gross, but all three flavors go together very well. Trust me, now I can envision that one could make pork and kim chee tacos!

Mixing pork, kim chee, and cheese together with the pancake batter

We had left our bag in the locker at Fukuyama, so we had to return there. Bullet train travel does shrink distances between places. Imagine leaving your bags in a town 40 miles from where you are visiting, which you can do if it only takes 15 minutes to get there by train. We went to Fukuyama, walked around the deserted downtown, and then went home. Yoko would take about 70 minutes to go 130+ miles to Osaka, and I would take only 20 minutes to get back to Hiroshima about 60 or so miles away. But it seems so close when you travel by bullet train, which goes so fast, you feel like it is going to take off and fly off the rails. I kept thinking of the Eugene to Portland Oregon distance of 100 miles. It took me a little over 90 minutes to get there by car and I always felt wiped out afterwards. I could travel the same distance in under an hour if it was by bullet train and arrive feeling refreshed. When are we Americans going to learn the joys of mass transit?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Visiting Fukuoka

Poorly stictched panorama of the Fukuoka Tower. The tower is actually straighter, not crooked in real life. Sorry for the botched job.

My cousin Kurie decided to join us today for a trip to Fukuoka, one of Japan’s major regional cities. It is on another island, Kyushu, but while a long trip of a half-day by car, would take us only an hour an a half to get there by bullet train. Consider that the bullet train goes at about 150 miles per hour, and you get a notion of the distance involved. Kurie (the woman who sang at my wedding) has matured into a pretty and intelligent woman capable of holding rather sophisticated conversations either in English or in Japanese. She now works grueling hours at a major Japanese company and so this was one of her rare days off.

We visited lots of temples and shrines in Gion district. There was a massive wooden Buddha over several stories high at Shofukuji temple. No pictures allowed, but this is quite new, only 15 or years old. There was even a simulation of what happens after you die - you enter a dark hallway, and then see scenes from hell. You then walk into a pitch black winding hallway, to simulate being lost, and after getting freaked out, enter a lit room with a Buddha in it, representing salvation. Call it a religious Disney exhibit. I felt sorry for the foreign tourists who were there – the sign pointing to the Buddha upstairs was in Japanese! No wonder I saw a puzzled looking foreign tourist leave the place when I entered. We then went to Japan’s oldest zen temple, and met two British woman. One was living in Fukuoka, and although she couldn’t speak Japanese, she knew the area very well and was showing her friend around. She gave us good advice on where to visit.

We then visited the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum, which explained to us the everyday life of the city residents who lived here seventy years ago. We met a craftswoman who could bend wood to make utensils. She took on the business after her father passed away.That is how much Japan has changed – the way of life of two generations ago now seems so alien that it needs a museum. IN fact, there was a recreation of a living room in the 1930s. Talk about a nation that has changed! You need to explain that people used to listen to records back in the good old days.
Fukuoka Tower
We then caught the bus and arrived at the Fukuoka Tower. It is the largest tower by the sea in Japan, and quite an impressive tower. The pretty elevator girl expertly narrated the tower on our ascent up. She is the last of a dying breed, as the ranks of elevator girls grow thinner with each passing year, so I had to take a photo with her.Fukuoka seemed like a handsome city- and I even saw beaches. They were man-made beaches, to be sure, but beaches never the less in the middle of the city! Of course there was an exhibit of TV shows, and so I had to check it out. I found the trunks worn by the late Andy Hug (with the word "Andy" emblazoned across it), a great kickboxing champ. Next to it was a poster of other K-1 fighters. So I posed for it while Yoko took my picture.

Eating outdoors in Fukuoka
We then went to a unique feature of Fukuoka dining – the street stalls. This city is famous for its street stall dining and so we went there to eat.
Now the stall staff is quite aggressive for Japanese – they will yell at you to sit here, or say stuff like, “Hello! We got some openings for seats for three." We had some street stall tempura, and I chatted with the cook, who was wondering if I was a foreigner or not. She appeared shocked that I wanted to take her picture.I saw so many other foreigners nearby as well, and then I remembered that a U.S. navy base is nearby. I started to become quite drunk from two large bottles of beer, and we were running out of time before the last train left Fukuoka, and so we left to buy presents. Afterward, we decided to visit “Ramen Stadium” which was a collection of top ramen shops, but with a Fukuoka flavor. We had to walk through a red-light district to get there. That is how safe Japan is – women can walk through a red light district at night and not get harassed (although I wouldn’t recommend they make a habit of this). I think white women cannot do this as they will be mistaken for Russian prostitutes.

But I digress. The ramen at Ramen stadium was excellent! Perfect shoyu tonkotsu ramen! Yoko and Kurie were stuffed from the stall food but managed to finish their ramen.

Tonkotsu shoyu ramen: Pork broth with shoyu, and four huge slabs of char siu!

Visiting Lord Kikkawa`s domain at Iwakuni

Statue of Lord Kikkawa - local ruler of Iwakuni

Iwakuni lies just a single shinkansen stop outside of Hiroshima: about 40 miles away and yet only 15 minutes by bullet train. I have always visited this town as a kid, but never really toured and explored it. My family only visited Iwakuni’s Kintaikyo, one of Japan’s most famous bridges, and then we would leave Iwakuni (which is also the site of a U.S. marine base). So today, I look forward to the trip to this former castle town. It was built by Lord Kikkawa, the ancestor of one of my good friends in Hawaii, and so I have an interest in seeing the Kikkawa family museum and graves.

Kintaikyo Bridge, a famous landmark

One thing you will note is that Iwakuni typifies how Japanese love replicas and recreations. The Kintaikyo Bridge was washed away by a typhoon around 1952, and what we see today is...surprise...a replica. The Iwakuni Castle overlooking the city from the mountains was destroyed in the early sixteenth century by order of the Tokugawa Shogun, who only allowed one castle per domain, and this replica was rebuilt in 1962 or so, some yards from its original location. In fact, almost everywhere you go, like Kintaikyo in Kyoto, or the Statue of Liberty in Tokyo, you will see crowds of tourists taking pictures of replicas built in the 20th century. Now if you are a purist, you can see this as a cheap attraction to kitschy replicas, but if you are Buddhist, you can see this as a lesson on the non-permanence of things. For buildings to disappear and be rebuilt is akin to the cycle of reincarnation. Anyway, now you understand why Japanese can so easily accept the replicas at Disneyland and DisneySea – replicas are famous tourist attractions in Japan!

Anyway, I went to the Kikkawa family museum, which was set in what used to be the Kikkawa family manor (not a replica), and saw the family heirlooms such as scrolls, swords, and paintings. Here is a picture of the main gate to the museum.

Iwakuni is also famous for its white snakes. They must have come from some sort of mutation, and because they were seen as good luck omen, they were left alone, and so their numbers increased over the centuries. Aren’t they cute? Environmental degradation, however, had reduced their number, and so an effort is underway to breed more of these snakes. Here is a cute cartoon from the Iwakuni White Snake Village.

Then we went to the ropeway at the base of the hills to get to Iwakuni castle. It felt so much cooler in the hills, and the five minute walk in the forest to the castle was quite enjoyable. I saw a sign featuring crying trees and sad animals to tell you not to throw cigarettes into the forest. Isn`t pity a much better way to move people than scolding them?

I wonder why Lord Kikkawa chose to destroy this pleasantly cool castle with such a fine view of the city and instead opt to live in the hot and humid lowlands?Anyway, I walked around this splendid replica of a castle, enjoyed photgraphing it under clear blue skies, and then it was time to go.

Afterwards, we went back down the hills, and then visited the Iwakuni City Museum and enjoyed viewing the fine armor collection while enjoying air-conditioned comfort. Yes, go to museums so you can enjoy their air-conditioner. Then we wentto the Kikkawa family graves, and saw lots of graves of the Kikkawa daimyo and their first and second wives. And sons. And daughters. We are talking lots and lots of graves. And no one in sight. I felt reluctant to take a photo fearing a ghost might appear on my print.It did feel quite creepy being surrounded by so many graves and so we beat an exit out of there.

On the way back home, we saw a parade led by children carrying an omikoshi (portable shrine) to each store. Merchants would splash water on them for good luck. I like the way children are involved in traditions over in this country.

I also, on the return trip over the bridge, saw lots of Japanese mothers with their half-white or half-black children, a reminder that this is a military base town as well. This mom was yelling to her kids in Japanese, and they were talking back in Japanese.It also felt good to see my global counterparts – I look Japanese/Chinese (depending on who you ask) but speak English as my mother tongue, while they look white or black, and yet speak Japanese as their native language. That is one way to get rid of racism - have all of us marry each other. These mixed children will be Japan`s bridge to internationalization. How apt that they are on a bridge in this photo.