Peace Through Paper Cranes

A-bomb Dome, Hiroshima, Japan.

The A-bomb Dome, once the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, stands in stark contrast to the lively Hiroshima City of today.  Its skeletal presence looms over tourists and residents alike, without differentiation, a ghost in plain sight.  The building was located 160 meters from the hypocenter of the bomb, killing those inside while allowing its structure to remain standing.  Some say it is a sign of peace; others say it is a reminder of the casualties war.  Regardless of its symbolism, most agree that its preservation and presence both are necessary and relevant. 

Hiroshima City, Hiroshima, Japan.

Throughout Japan, Peace Memorial Parks, can be found.  In part, they serve to honor and remember lives lost in war, but they also serve to remind us of the horrors of war.  In Hiroshima, volunteer guides, walk among tourists, ready to answer questions.  One such volunteer near the A-bomb Dome prepared binders with a narrative of the causes of the war, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and its aftermath.  His name tag explains why he is there, “In Utero Survivor,” it reads under his name, Mito Kosei.  He has translated the binders, entitled “That Day” into, among other languages, English, Korean, French, and Spanish.  For him, a man who lost his family as a result of the bomb, it’s personal.

The international presence visiting Hiroshima is easily discernible, as hushed conversations in Chinese, French, Spanish, and English can be heard.  People were there to learn, to remember, to mourn. 

In Japan, origami cranes are a symbol of hope, happiness, and prosperity.  It is said that should one fold 1,000 cranes (senbazuru) in a year, his or her wish will come true.  They are folded and held together with a string, oftentimes in strings of 25 or 40.  And they are displayed at memorial parks and temples as a tangible showing of the desire for peace.

Millions of origami cranes hang from either side of a memorial to school children who lost their lives.

Across the river from the A-bomb Dome, stands the Children’s Peace Monument, surrounded by displays of origami cranes.  Each year approximately 10 million cranes are offered to before the Monument.  Why?  Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia ten years after the atomic bombing, was two years old when she was exposed to the A-bomb.  Nine years later, she became sick and was diagnosed with leukemia.  Upon her admittance to hospital, she began folding a thousand cranes in hope that doing so would help her recover.  She died shortly after her admission to hospital and a monument has been erected in her honor.

A wish for love and peace, made from small folded cranes.

Seeing a thousand folded small cranes is a wonder.  It is also befitting that an act of intricate folding transforms common paper into a beautiful artistic reminder of hope and peace. 


An Afternoon at the Garage

The garage.

This spring, three events have dominated my thoughts and actions:  (1) paying the annual Japanese road tax; (2) ensuring our vehicles pass the Japanese Cumpulsory Insurance (JCI) inspection; and, (3) preparing to sell both vehicles prior to leaving Okinawa.  Without payment of the road tax, at best, fees and fines will be incurred and our vehicles will not be allowed on base.  Failure to pay the JCI and/or pass the mandatory bi-annual inspection will render our vehicles inoperable.  Accordingly, failure to do either will make our vehicles unsalable.

One of our vehicles awaiting inspection.

Of no surprise, a good bit of time has been spent at the garage, obtaining JCI estimates.  As part of that process, I have joined the mechanic in the garage, staring up at various parts of our vehicles never before seen.  As the mechanic explains each noted issue, his (yes, his) words are translated by the front office assistant.  I’ve been shown tierod end and lower balljoint boots that need replacing and have felt the difference between a smooth brake rotor and a warped brake rotor.

It’s been a process that I’ve enjoyed.  It’s also been a process that [S] has enjoyed.  Who wouldn’t?  Free drinks are offered (warm and cold).  Comfortable seating is provided.  Clean restrooms are standard.  And DVD movies are provided for little ones. 


O’ Christmas Tree, O’ Christmas Tree!

Our Christmas tree farm.

Some weeks are better than others.  For our family, this week was not one of them.  Each one of us was diagnosed with pneumonia or suspected pneumonia.  As one might imagine, it was a week of long days spent at home sipping tea and eating soup.  By the end of the week, I was bored.  It seemed as if [S] and I had read every book multiple times, played with every toy repeatedly, and danced to every song on the radio. 

Friday morning, hardly able to stomach the repetitive nature of my days, I looked for inspiration.  Thinking of my Husband’s desire to learn origami, I gathered various packets of origami paper and googled “origami Christmas tree.”  Taken aback by the number of search results, I scrolled through page after page.  So many types of trees.  So many video tutorials.  So many options. 

With [S] sitting on my lap and a piece of plain green origami paper before me, I started the tutorial of the prettiest tree I could find.  After a few folds, I was far behind the tutorial and utterly confused.  Being stubborn, I persevered.  The three minute tutorial took me nearly an hour to complete.  The result?  A lopsided, tiny, kawaii (cute) Christmas tree. 

My first origami tree.

Upon waking this morning, I sat next to Russell at the dining room table, handed him a sheet of paper, and started the tutorial.  After completing a few, we no longer needed the tutorial.  And for that I am grateful.  We crafted numerous trees to give to friends and family, near and far.  This evening, we were graced with the unexpected presence of neighbors stopping by to deliver season’s greetings.  In return, we were able to gift small keepsakes in vibrant colors.  The smiles we received in return were priceless.


A Child’s Place

[S]’s breakfast at Seaside Cafe Hanon, Okinawa, Japan.
I have never been one to eat breakfast out.  Perhaps it’s because I’m frugal.  Why spend $10 on eggs and pancakes when it costs pennies on the dollar to make at home?  Perhaps it’s because I loathe leaving the house early on weekend mornings.  How is it a lazy morning if I must put myself together to leave our house?  Or maybe it’s just because I enjoy breakfasts at home–the smell of coffee brewing, the sound of eggs being cracked, and the unrestrained giggles of a two-and-a-half year old.

Living in Okinawa has not changed my feelings on eating breakfast out, but it has given me a reason to embrace when we do so:  the children’s breakfast set.  Here, one typically orders a meal set.  Sets often include a choice of beverage, the main course, and a dessert.  For breakfast, children are routinely offered ice cream, chocolate, or whip cream to accompany pancakes, in addition to syrup.  And the creativity of eating establishments is bemusing when it comes to children’s plates.  One cafe provided [S] with a liquid chocolate pen to decorate her own pancakes.

At Seaside Cafe Hanon, [S]’s meal included three types of ice cream, pancakes, and a mini-cream puff.  The restaurant substituted the egg-based cream with whip cream on the ears and in the cream puff without us asking, given [S]’s egg allergy.  (I only requested that they leave the egg-cream off the plate.  But that wouldn’t fit the aesthetic, would it?)

I find joy in the pride and creativity of restaurant workers here.  One’s job is not merely to prepare and/or serve a meal.  Rather, it is seen as an honor to do so.  And it shows.

How was my meal?  It was beautifully presented and delicious.

Eggs Benedict, steak bacon, and whole wheat pancakes, served with a salad.

Lost in History

Heading down to explore the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, Okinawa, Japan.

On most days, World War II seems far too distant to be relevant to my here-and-now life.  That is, on most days.  Yes, this despite daily reminders of the sacrifice, courage, and bravery of U.S. servicemembers who fought to defend our freedom and values.  Like many men his age, my Grandfather fought in WWII.  And, like many men who did so, he doesn’t speak about his time overseas often.

I recall my first–and only–visit to Hawaii more than 10 years ago.  It was suggested by a friend–and a resident of Oahu–that I spend time at the USS Arizona Memorial.  I chose not to do so; it is a decision I regret.  In my defense, from the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt the weighty history of our country on my shoulders.  War, I understood, was hell.  And how could it not be given the accompanying all-encompassing fear, destruction, and death.

Since moving to Japan, I’ve been forced to confront part of World War II’s legacy.  As an American living in Okinawa, I find myself uncomfortable more often than not.  America won the war.  American occupied Japan post-armistice.  America authored Japan’s current constitution.  And America continues to have a significant presence on an Island whose countrymen and women desperately fought against American forces.  I think about the events of December 7, 1941, as often as I think about the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Indeed, it’s impossible not to living here.

On Okinawa, most of the war memorials are in or around Naha.  MCCS (Marine Corps Community Services) Tours offers a battlefields of Okinawa tour and one can learn about the war at Okinawa’s Peace Park Memorial.  I’ve been told by some American visitors that they felt out of place, as if they shouldn’t have been there, given the solemnity of a memorial dedicated to remembering those Japanese whose lives were taken by American forces.

It is a sentiment I now understand first hand.  On a rainy day we headed to Naha to tour the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters.  The Japanese forces there, fought to the end in June 1943.  As we toured the intricate replica of the underground headquarters, we noted the placards and reading material explaining that their defeat was inevitable because of the “overwhelming fire superiority of the U.S. Forces.”  We were the only Americans touring the site.  And while the mood inside the memorial was grave in remembrance of history, we were warmly welcomed.

Will we continue to explore battle sites?  I hope so, if only to remember the realities–and true cost–of war.

Japan’s Main Opposition Party Elects First Female Leader

Renho Murata, center, at a debate in Tokyo with her political opponents Yuichiro Tamaki, left, and Seiji Maehara. Ms. Murata is vying to become the first woman to lead the Democratic Party. Credit Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — Among democracies in the developed world, Japan has one of the worst records of putting women in positions of political power.

Yet if, as widely predicted, Renho Murata, a member of the upper house of Parliament, prevails in a leadership contest on Thursday and becomes the first woman to lead the opposition Democratic Party, she will be the third woman to assume a high-profile political post in Japan in less than two months.

—  Opposition Figure’s Rise Could Pave Way for Female Leaders in Japan, The New York Times (September 14, 2016).

A Different Kind of Celebration.

Shrimp Wagon, Kouri-jima, Okinawa, Japan.

I recall the first time I longed to celebrate the Fourth of July as an adult–it was a month and four days after I had moved to Grand Cayman.  While other countries also have occasion to celebrate the anniversary of gaining independence, I like to think that our Fourth of July celebration is as uniquely American as deep-fried Oreos.  Then, I craved a grilled hamburger, potato salad, and fireworks.  Ultimately, I settled for a hamburger cooked on a stove-top, Caribbean potato salad and PBS coverage of fireworks on television.

This year, I suffered from that same longing experienced years ago–I wanted to celebrate the holiday as Americans do.  At least to a certain extent.  Initially, I frantically searched for flights and accommodations that would allow us to discover a nearby island to explore.  But it is high-season and hotels are booked far in advance by those travelling from mainland Japan and throughout the Pacific region.  Then, I considered hosting a gathering at our home.  It would have been a logistical challenge and taken a significant amount of effort and energy on a day when I wanted nothing more than to relax and spend the day at the beach.

As the holiday weekend approached, it became clear that this year’s Fourth of July would be a different type of celebration–it would be a day of making new memories while saying goodbye to friends leaving the Island.  What did we do?  We headed north to see the stunning waters of Kouri-jima.

Bridge to Kouri-jima.

After three years of Okinawa living, our friends had frequented Kouri-jima, as have we.  But this time, we traveled to eat at the Shrimp Wagon, a food truck located near the beach on the left immediately after crossing the bridge.  Various rumblings, rumors, and reviews of the food truck, made it seem as if it would be a sure thing.  But as anyone who has ever eaten at a food truck knows, there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to food truck food.  Items become sold out.  The food truck moves location.  They have a bad day.

[S] learning to sign hang loose.
Aside from a 40 minute wait for our food post-ordering, the meal was everything a food truck meal should be.  The fare, inspired by the famous shrimp truck stationed at the North Shore of Oahu, was simple and tasty.  Shrimp, cooked in the shell, marinated in a delicious garlic marinade, was served with rice and accompanied by fresh basil, a slice of lemon and goya.

The Shrimp Wagon’s limited menu featured grilled horned turban.

[S] enjoyed the basil garlic fries.
FullSizeRender(253)We finished our meal with gelato and ice cream from the restaurant next door and then headed to find Heart Rock Beach.

The beach wasn’t what I expected.  It was small and overrun by tourists.  The water was tepid and the surrounding area was less than optimal for swimming, but the heart rock (or whale’s tail) provided a unique photo opportunity.

Heart Rock Beach.

IMG_5422Despite not finding a frolic-worthy beach, this year’s Fourth of July celebration may just be my new favorite, despite having to say goodbye to friends.  Certainly, it was my most memorable.