On this 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we as American travelers recognize the many faces of the US-Japan relationship, in both war and in peace. On 5 August 1945, U.S. President Harry S Truman ordered the release of atomic warheads on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Within four months, at least 129,000 Japanese citizens died from the blast injuries or radiation sickness. Ten days later, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered to the Allied forces.
As parents, we have tried to show our children the many faces of war with Japan. We stood in silence on the wreck of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. We have seen the 1x,xxx marble crosses of Americans and Filipinos at the War Memorial in Manila. Also in Manila, we rode trains and drove on highways that were funded by the Japanese. In Japan, our children enjoyed biking around peaceful Mt. Fuji.
It is the face of the Shinkansen (bullet train) station master. In his smartly pressed blue uniform and cap, he lifted his white-hand to the station clock. He then methodically pointed down the track in one direction and then the other. Seconds later, three electronic tones sounded and two trains passed each other at 100 miles per hour. The station master flashed a slight, wry smile, pivoted and marched back to his office, a living monument to Japanese efficiency and punctuality.
Japan has the face of my cousin, Malia. She welcomed her American cousin and family like homecoming heroes and took us to 500 year-old Kakegawa Castle. There we enjoyed a remarkable formal Japanese tea. We will long remember her hospitality. Such kindness means more to us now. As a Japanese woman with an American father, she has struggled to find acceptance among her peers, a struggle shared by many women like her in postwar Japan.
Japan also has the face of our friend, “Uncle Bob” McKemey. Among other duties, he ran a beautiful guest house on the shores of Lake Yamanaka, at the base of Mt. Fuji. As an American living in Japan, he has had to overcome suspicions and questions. After decades of language learning and cultural adaptation, Japanese friends began using the title “uncle”, testifying to his love for Japan and her people. Joining him are graduate school friends, Darlene, Darwin and Karen who, like Uncle Bob, live out a message of peace and reconciliation.
Japan has the face of a fellow rider on a Tokyo subway. As new American tourists to Japan, we were unfamiliar with the unwritten code of silence. With our then three children in tow, including a jabbering toddler, we tried to blend in with the waiting line of grey suits, noiselessly turning their newspapers.
On the subway, we took our seats next to a sweatered gentlemen quietly reading a plain-covered book. Our family chatted to each other, oblivious to the absence of conversation around us. The gentleman periodically glanced side-ward from his book at this obviously American family. I curiously glanced at what he was reading. When his stop arrived, he promptly closed his Japanese Bible, turned to us with a smile and said,
“God bress you.”
He disappeared into a crowd of grey suits as the subway promptly shut. I wanted to shout, “Wait, wait! Let me talk with that man!” The anonymous fellow traveler still echoes his blessing.
So on this infamous anniversary, to our named and unnamed friends in Japan, we put down our newspapers and continue the echo,
“God bless you.”
For a peek into our travel through Japan check out this video.