It has been a bit over a week since I last wrote and so much has happened! We have crossed over into Hiroshima Prefecture, finishing the portion of the march in Okayama Prefecture.
A typical day in Okayama for the thru-marchers and I begins with breakfast around 8am, usually at whichever hotel we are staying at. We are then picked up by the Gensuikyo van and arrive at the beginning of the day’s march around 8:30am. The march begins with a ceremony where local city officials speak words of encouragement to the marchers and present us with pennants and monetary gifts. Yamaguchi-san, Matsunaga-san (the two thru-marchers), and I then give our own introductory speeches.
The daily march may last anywhere from 6-8 hours. During the day we usually get 3 breaks, two for tea and snacks, and another for lunch. Thoughtful volunteers facilitate break times, providing yummy treats such as tomatoes (often grown in their backyard), watermelon, ice pops, and umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums).
During the march, we meet many kinds of people – smiling from their cars, peeking out of their stores, waving from their apartment balcony. There are even some people who wait for us to give monetary donations to the peace march.
The weather here is HOT – in the 90’s near every day with 100% humidity. By the time the march ends I’m covered in sweat and dirt and my feet and legs are so sore. On the other hand, the two thru-marchers seem unfazed by the strenuous days in the heat. They look forward to every day’s march with enthusiasm and, during the march, never cease their peace chants and cheerful words of encouragement to fellow marchers. Their strength and energy inspire me to keep going!
No matter where we go in Okayama, I see evidence of the massive support for peace. Everyday in the newspaper there are articles detailing recent peace marches or public opinion polls rejecting the revision of the constitution or American military bases. There are posters on nearly every street corner urging passers by to oppose war and build peace. This was such a wonderful surprise to me – in America, I barely ever see stories related to the peace movement in mainstream news outlets.
When we aren’t marching, the thru-marchers and I have time to explore the localities that we stop in. For example, we stayed for four nights in a hotel at Kurashiki and had fun jaunting around Bikan, the city’s historical quarter. The shops and homes look much like they did during the Edo period.
On 7/24 we arrived in Konko, where we spent the night at a traditional Japanese home. Doing laundry outside was a first for me, as was eating a fully intact squid. In the photo below, you can see Yamaguchi-san, Matsunaga-san, and a few other people who constantly accompany the thru-marchers and I. Arihara-san and Sato-san are film makers, helping Yamaguchi-san to direct and compile a documentary about this year’s peace march. It has been really cool to witness a bit of the film-making process; every night Arihara-san and Sato-san are hard at work on the computer, editing footage. Like me, Hasegawa-san is also walking from Okayama to Hiroshima. He is a peace march veteran – his first time marching was in 1996, when marchers camped outside every night instead of staying in hotels!
On 7/25 (known as hanabi no hi or Fireworks Day in Japan) we reached Kasaoka. Some local volunteers had planned an activity called Peace Balloons – we all wrote our wish for peace on a piece of paper, tied it to a balloon, and all at once released them into the sky. It was such a beautiful moment!
That evening we stayed at Michiko’s (one of my translators) home, where we had a lovely barbecue and watched the fireworks. At the barbecue, I had the immense privilege of having a long conversation with a hibakusha (or bomb victim) who lived in the area. I also met a woman from Florida who moved to Japan 3 weeks ago to teach English!
7/26 marked out last day marching in Okayama. Crossing the boarder into Hiroshima prefecture was bittersweet. Although I am thrilled to be nearing our destination (6 days away!) I am also heartbroken to be leaving all the amazing people I met in Okayama: young children who marched with me, inspiring young people who became my friends, and dedicated translators who helped me during my daily speeches.
We have been marching in Hiroshima for 4 days now. I will write later with updates on the current going on!