This morning we started off the walk greeted by Yasuko-san, whose mother walked in the first Peace March in 1958 and again at the age of 94 in 2007. What an inspiration and connection to the past and legacy of this March and its Marchers. And how the scenes must have changed between then and now.
A highlight was seeing the home of Ben-san, our interpreter and a native of Britain who now lives in Kurashiki with his wife Akiko and 10 month old child Namu in Akiko’s family home, which is about 200 years old. Although he, his wife Akiko, and new baby Namu don’t use electricity in their home, the style keeps it very cool inside, and we enjoyed some water before setting back out.
Ben shared with us many things about life in Japan, about the erasure from history textbooks of Japan’s war crimes during WWII, about how he and his wife have taken many people to see and learn about Hiroshima, about the brutal history of Okinawa, and about how schoolchildren all visit Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or Tokyo to learn about the atrocities of war and nuclear weapons.
It seems that in some ways, peace is taught through the example of the United States and Japan – two countries with violence and tragic history between them that have successfully “moved past” this aggression. However, we in do this work know that peace is not merely the absence of war and violence. What of the Okinawan people – once independent, then subject to brutal Japanese conquest, rule, occupation, and cultural destruction; occupied by the U.S. following WWII; “returned” to Japan as the “preferred” of the two occupiers; and now having lost over 20% of the land to military bases? This, of course, is not peace, although the U.S. and Japanese governments are allies and culprits together in the crimes.
We stayed at Ryokan En – run by Utumi-san, where Manisha and I shared a large tatami mat room and enjoyed the space and the luxury of such traditional quarters.
In the morning (Friday, the 25th) we were off for another day of walking, and rested for lunch, where we filled out papers with messages for peace.
In the afternoon we finished our march at Kasaoka City Hall, where we let hundreds of balloons fly into the air, attached to our peace messages from lunch. We quickly met Tsuchiya-sensei, a hibakusha who experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, who would join us at dinner that night.
We then went to the home of Michiko-san, an English teacher, who hosted a barbecue with delicious Japanese foods! What a wonderful, festive time, and a tradition of outdoor barbecue-ing that we share between cultures. I understand barbecues are also common for a Constitution holiday in Japan, similar to how many in the U.S. grill out for the 4th of July holiday.
As we finished up our meals, we gathered around Tsuchiya-san, who told us of his experiences in Hiroshima at the time of the A-bombing. He was making a delivery when the bomb was dropped, and as he told his story, he showed us illustrations that he had drawn recounting the horrors of that day, and the weeks that followed. How these images must be etched on his mind. Cities full of people who witnessed the most horrific sights. He recounted hearing a woman cry out for help, trapped under rubble. A huge dead horse, rotting away, for which soldiers dug a hole and buried. Two people lying on the ground in a school yard, whose dead bodies were followed by twenty lines that their ten fingers had dragged along the dirt. Dozens of dead bodies that Tsuchiya-san helped drag away and burn – the blue flames a detail he made a point to recount.
And still people are victims to the cruel nature of politics, of leaders who take advantage of (at times legitimate) conflicts of human needs, aspirations, and rights, who capitalize on the opportunities for power and wealth promised by big corporations, dictatorship, and pseudo-democracy.
As a white, well-to-do, U.S. American, I have not heard bombs or gunshots outside my home. I have not drank and showered in Black Rain because there was no clean water. I have not had many schoolmates whose lives are stolen from them as they sit in jail-cells while the perpetrators of war crimes and environmental disasters enjoy their comfortable retirements. My parents have not been put into detention cells and thrown out of the U.S. after they made their lives as upstanding (non-)citizens, born in land that the United States committed genocide in the process of acquiring. I have not lost five, ten, fifteen of my family members to aerial bombing or seen my home or ancestral lands destroyed before my eyes.
But I’ve felt the love and kindness from people who have. And I know where my taxes go, and far too many of them are used towards pursuing such inhumane exploits as wars and imprisonment and police brutality and deportations.
This all comes up upon hearing a personal story about one of the more horrific crimes against humanity in our modern history – the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan. Where are we now? Have we progressed? Sadly, when it comes to world peace, in many ways, I don’t think we have.
But I am so hopeful. I see such dedication and recognition in my fellow Marchers’ eyes, and in the actions of people around the world who are loudly and powerfully demanding an end to violence, war, state-sponsored terror. And that’s an inspiration, that provides solace and hope. So, onto another day. Peace!