Tuesday, May 27, 2003

In the past day there have been several dozen aftershocks in the Touhoku area. However, there have been less than 100 injuries and NO deaths reported. How's that for cool?

Monday, May 26, 2003

First things first:

About 20 minutes ago, at 6:24 this evening, an earthquake measuring 6- on the Japanese scale hit just off the coast of Miyagi prefecture in the northern part of Honshu. Although no tidal waves are expected from this quake, it's effects were felt over most of northern Honshu. As I am at the extreme southern end of Kyushu, I felt no effects. If, by some chance, this gets reported in the US, I'm okay, just so you know.

Edited to add: The Japanese earthquake magnitude scale tops out at 7.0, and in fact the strength at the epicenter was 7.0. This quake was felt all throuought eastern Japan, from Hokkaido to Kyoto Prefecture.

Edited again to clarify: It was a 7.0 on the the open-ended Richter scale, and a 6- (six minus) on the Japanese scale.

Happy Memorial Day!

For those teachers and/or students reading my web log, who are approaching summer vacation with great anticipation. . . I don't wanna hear about it. I will just remind you that MY summer vacation doesn't start until mid-July. . . .

I'm getting close to the end of my second year in Higashiichiki-cho. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess. Well, mostly fun. I still get bouts of the "stranger in a strange land" blues. I've been chatting with Itakura-sensei, one of the English teachers, about this, and she said that every ALT she's ever worked with has complained about the same problems. Her advice? "Get married!" (?) Well, it sounds like a good idea, but it might be a bit difficult to implement in the near future. (^_^);

Of course, earlier that day, I was in one of the other teacher's English classes, and her students like to joke around that she and I should get married. [sigh]

As for Memorial Day, since it's not a holiday here, I'm sitting in the school board offices, typing up this entry. I took last Friday off, though so that's okay. Besides, according to some people, I get too many days off as it is (right, Derrick?).

At the junior high schools, there are occasionally elective enrichment classes in addition to the regular curriculum. Every once in a while I get to work with these classes. It makes for an interesting change of pace. For example, at Tou-chuu, the third grade (U.S. 9th grade) is writing poetry, while the second grade has expressed an interest in translating English comics into Japanese. I got to work with the third grade class last week. I actually composed two or three haiku on the spot, though now that I think about it, a couple were based off of old pop songs, and thus don't count.

light and warmth have left
there's no sunshine when she's gone
will she be come home soon?

cold begins to thaw
winter fades into spring warmth
my heart becomes glad

. . . and somesuch. I don't remember the third one, but for the last line: "home is where you are."

Yeah, I know, someone should stick a hole in me and let the sap out. . .(^_^)

It's now about 6:50, and half of the TV stations have switched to the NHK newsfeed. It took them about 30 minutes to get the bilingual broadcasts going, but now I'm listening to the news, and it seems that although it was quite a strong quake, initial damage reports are minimal. Lots of blackouts, closed highways, and many warnings about potential fire risks. Some helicopter shots of houses burning, but not many. However, apparently communications in the areas closest to the epicenter are down, so they don't know for sure how things are there.

I'm switching between This is exciting! and This is frightening!

There was more that I was going to write about tonight, but it's gone clean out of my head. I might post more after dinner.


Saturday, May 17, 2003

Okay, I feel the need to post more of the cool things that happened in Hiroshima, to counteract the bleak way that last post ended.

As we got into the elevator to go to our hotel room, a Japanese family got in with us. The kindergarten-aged girl took one look at us, marched up to me and insistently held out her nametag. We weren't quite sure how to react.

I looked at her nametag, and blurted out the first thing that came to mind: Aa, Minako-chan, hajimemashite! The young girl's face broke out into a huge grin, and she danced back to her equally happy parents.

What else? Let's see. . . I had a Subway club sandwich for the first time in about a year. We often spent time relaxing in a Starbuck's. We found that in Hiroshima there's a much higher chance of running into store clerks, wait staff, etc. who speak a little English. It's been said that Kagoshima is about 10 years behind the rest of the country when it comes to social attitudes and the like, and the greater number of English speakers in Hiroshima seemed to reflect that. Or maybe it's because a FAR greater number of non-Japanese come to Hiroshima than Kagoshima. Hmm.

All in all, it was a good vacation. It was nice to get away from things for a while. A little while, anyway.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Well, I've been back from Hiroshima for. . . a while now, and I still find it a bit hard to assemble my thoughts on the subject. Okay, here goes. . . .

The first place we visited was Miyajima (Shrine Island), which is about a 45 minute trip from the city by train and ferry. Miyajima is reputed to be one of the three most beautiful places in Japan. It was so beautiful, in fact, that back in the mists of time it was believed that the gods and goddesses lived there, and so people would journey to the island by boat to pray and leave offerings.

The current Itsukushima Temple was built in the middle of the 12th century. It took about ten years to complete. The whole complex was built on stilts over the tidal flats, so as not to offend the goddess that lived on the island. In fact, for about a century, even the monks didn't dare live at the shrine, instead commuting daily. By the mid 13th century, people had begun to live on the island, but they were under severe restrictions. Because Shinto is a religion of purity, anything considered "unclean" was not allowed on Miyajima. They could not till the soil, give birth, die, or be buried on the island. This tradition continues today in that there are no hospitals or graveyards on the island.

We set out for Miyajima just after dawn (it felt like), so we could see the temple at high tide. It was quite a sight, an entire shrine complex appearing to float on the water. There were lots of deer, wandering nonchalantly among the tourists. Perhaps a sign of the tranquil, serene, divine nature of the island?

One of the things I did there was to draw my fortune. When I tried to read it, I got as far as the kanji for "ill fortune" before I stopped, tied it to a handy tree branch, and walked away. . . .

In the evenings, we tried to just hang out, chill, absorb the ambiance (or background radiation?). . . . One night we decided to play darts. Imagine our surprise when we saw the "Japanese Speakers Only" sign. Apparently, they'd had trouble with drunken foreigners before. Fortunately, Doug was able to explain that we just wanted to have a drink or two, and shoot some darts. We ran into this problem again a couple of nights later. A pool hall had a cardboard sign that said simply, "Japanese Only." Once again, Doug was able to talk our way in.

The day after we went to Miyajima, we visited Hiroshima Peace Park, and the Peace Museum.

And, it's at this point that words begin to fail me.

We spent a little while wandering around the Peace Park, and this is when I took pictures of the A-Bomb Dome and the Children's Peace Memorial (Sadako-chan). As we moved past an eternal flame to the Cenotaph for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb, we all signed a petition calling for world peace, and an end to aggresion in Iraq. (Kind of hard not to, considering where we were).

And then, we went into the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

The first exhibit was a brief history of Hiroshima, and it's role as a military city. This was followed by artifacts from the Pacific War -- ration coupons, propaganda posters, calls for the donation of metal for the military cause. There were also American leaflets that were dropped over the city.

The next exhibit had some film footage of the flight of the Enola Gay, and two dioramas of the area around what is now the peace park, just before and just after the bomb exploded. Here, we learned that there were a number of upper elementary and junior high school students out working that morning, helping in the demolition of buildings to create firebreaks. Almost all of these students died that day.

There was a brief display describing in mechanical terms the strength and power of the bomb, and some photos and film of aid and recovery efforts after the war ended. This was followed by an exhibit showing the current state of nuclear weapons around the globe. (Although the museum was fairly even-handed in it's description of the reasons and justifications for using the bomb, one of its major goals is to convince people that all nuclear weapons must be destroyed. A fine goal, but it was sometimes as heavy-handed as a typical Star Trek episode) There was a resting point next, along with a bookshop. I picked up some books on Hiroshima.

Next to the rest area were the first few exhibits of personal effects of those who were exposed to the bomb. The first thing I saw was the half-melted remains of a junior high schooler's nametag. His body was burned so badly that his legs had fallen away from his torso. The only way they could identify him was by the nametag.

This is the first museum I've ever been to where I actually found myself hurrying to get out. It was all very interesting, but at times the horrific nature of what I was seeing was too much. The pictures of people who had the dark patterns of their kimono burned into their skin. A girl who's face had been charred to a crisp, her eyes melted away. The lunchbox of a 13-year-old boy, twisted and deformed by the blast, with the carbonized lunch still inside. His mother found him, with his lunchbox clutched to his chest. Some of Sadako's 1000 paper cranes, folded in a futile attempt to get a wish, before she died of leukemia.

After I found myself outside in the bright sunshine, I felt a bit upset that I didn't give everything the attention that I felt it was due, so I went back in and tried to examine some of the things that I had glossed over. It was no good; I found myself rushing through to get out again.

I've been told that the museum in Nagasaki is even more powerfully moving. I've also heard that people go to one of the Peace Museums, but then never go to the other.

There's probably a lot more I could say, but. . . I'm going to have to stop now.