Hello there everyone! My name is Mary Popeo and I am the International Youth Relay Marcher for the Okayama – Hiroshima leg of the Peace March. I will be sharing my experiences on the march on this blog, so please stay tuned for updates!
After my arrival in Osaka (and a 2 hour wait in the immigration line) Komatsu-san, the Secretary-General of Osaka Gensuikyo, met me at the airport. Although we didn’t have much time for sightseeing in Osaka, he treated me to lunch at a wonderful sushi restaurant called Ganko Sushi. I wish I had pictures but, alas, my jet-lagged self could only think of gorging myself on delicious sushi. I also had the opportunity to meet many people who were working in Komatsu-san’s office, including Iwata-san, the President of Osaka Gensuikyo.
In the afternoon, I took the train to Okayama, where Hirai-san (Secretary-General of Okayama Gensuikyo) and Shinko-san gave me a warm welcome. They prepped me for the days ahead over some spicy reimen.
The next day was my first day of marching. Along with 5 members of Okayama Gensuikyo, I boarded Gensuikyo’s van and traveled to the beginning of the Okayama course. There, we waited to meet the marchers from Hyogo Prefecture, who would be passing the torch off to us. Many people gathered to meet the Hyogo marchers, led by Yamaguchi-san and Matsunaga-san, who were doing the entire march from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Maggie from the Philippines passed off the International Youth Relay sash to me.
That day, we marched for about 6-7 miles, to Bizen. Although it was raining due to an imminent typhoon, I had so much fun marching with everyone. I was especially energized to see that many young people had joined the march. Young people named Tomomi, Hiro, and Masatomo cheerfully and unceasingly led chants throughout the day. We had a few breaks, where generous men and women provided Japanese cold tea and candy.
We finished the day’s march at the Bizen Prefectural City Hall, where the mayor encouraged us in our efforts and presented Yamaguchi-san and Matsunaga-san with gifts. Overall, it was a wonderful introduction to the Peace March! Sore and happy, I hit the sack at 8pm.
The next day there was a typhoon. To my relief, Hirai-san announced that we would not be marching in the typhoon and would, instead, be treated to a surprise. Yamaguchi-san, Matsunaga-san, Satou-san (who is filming a documentary about the march), Tomoki-san, and I visited the workshop of a master of Bizen traditional ceramics. He taught us how to make our own pottery!
Afterwards, the five of us ate yummy ramen and hot cocoa to warm up in the midst of a chilly day. In the afternoon, we went to Sentouchi City Hall to meet the mayor, Akinari Takehisa. He was very gracious and happened to be quite good at English due to the years he lived in Watertown, MA. It’s a small world, is it not!!??
The Okayama Gensuikyo team and I began the day by visiting a memorial to the Okayama hibakusha (or bomb victims), where we said prayers and left flowers. As for the march, it was much hotter and hillier than the first day. I got a sunburn because I forgot the sunscreen (rookie mistake). Despite the heat and incline, I was once again overjoyed by the enthusiasm and turn-out of my fellow marchers! In transit to Okayama, we had a few breaks, one at a beautiful Buddhist temple for lunch. I think I must have eaten 12 popsicles in one sitting. We also stopped at a local hospital, where a line of adorable Japanese children presented us with leis made of paper cranes.
In the evening, I ate a wonderful dinner with about 10 people from Okayama Gensuikyo and other related organizations. Afterwards some of us went out for karaoke. I LOVE karaoke and had much fun with my new friends.
Since arriving in Japan, I have been met with so much generosity and kindness. I am truly overwhelmed, humbled, and honored to be here. I cannot wait to start the march today, surrounded by the inspiring and galvanizing energy of my fellow marchers! Until next time!