Japan, Chapter 8: Homeward Bound

Day 6: Homeward bound

For the first time during my short stay in Japan, I had some free time to wander and I did that through the streets of Tokyo. What a beautiful city. Stunning. I cannot tell a lie: I saw a woman with a Starbucks Coffee cup and, catching her with a few frantic but effective Ohaiyo gozaimas’s (Imagine being chased down with “Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!”), she directed me to the nearest shop where I drank the mass-produced, commoditized, and fantastically delicious nectar of the gods.

Over tea and waffles (sic) we discussed some possible next steps: get some sleep, discuss the ten-day pilot course (how about, for a name, “Human Ecology Lab and Island Odyssey,” HELIO?) with faculty, staff, students, and the board at COA, get the folks at Japlan hooked up with Patagonia-USA, invite a COA faculty member to Tokyo to serve on a panel of Ashoka Youth presentations in March, create a program outline for HELIO, ask Makiko if she would be interested in taking and perhaps helping organize the course, pitching the HELIO course to other Ashoka U colleges at the upcoming meeting in New Orleans, LA, find at least a half dozen appropriately minded Japanese college students to take the lab … on and on and on.

***

On the subway ride to catch the express train to Narita Airport to catch the flight to JFK Nagao-sensei, Okanako-san and I sat across from a young mother with an all-smiles toddler. “There was a woman,” Nagao-sensei began, “who was born in Hiroshima several days before the bomb dropped. Though 80,000 people were evaporated instantly and another 70,000 died before the end of the year, she had somehow survived. The infant became a toddler, like that child sitting across from us, and soon showed signs of radiation poisoning. She became the poster-child for the Japanese government’s initiative for understanding the long-term effects of radiation. About every week she was hauled before a group of Japanese scientists, asked to disrobe, and was poked and prodded and otherwise humiliated in the name of science. The radiation had stunted her growth, but the life-long public nudity and objectification stunted her psyche. The Enola Gay pilot became her white whale. What she wouldn’t due to that man if she could get within inches of his throat!

“One day the woman, now in her 50s, was again paraded around for some formal government function and was introduced to an American man she had never seen before. Shaking her hand, the elderly man began to sob uncontrollably. ‘Please forgive me; please forgive us; I’m so, so sorry. What have I done!’

“At the very moment the elderly man’s quivering hand touched her own the vitriol that lived within her – a vitriol that compounded one-hundredfold any poison or humiliation – evaporated. They wept together. The woman was at last at peace.”

I looked over at that little girl now climbing around her mother’s neck, still all-smiles and felt that uncomfortable, uncontrollable flood of tears begin to well up. “Hold it together Darron,” I told myself and bit my tongue.

I’ve said it at least once: Japan has a complicated relationship with things at the atomic level. This trip and now this feeling I wrestled with was, at its root, about this same complicated relationship. I thought about COA’s founder Father Jim Gower, whose grave I had visited just a week before leaving for Japan. I thought about his original name for COA, The Acadian Peace College. I’m not sure what will come from my time here in Japan, but I can honestly say that something new and inspired had awoken within me, something I think would have brought an ear-to-ear smile to Father Gower’s face approximating the angelic and ultimately happy comportment of that little girl.

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