It has been about 3 weeks since I returned from Japan. I’ve had a bit of time to digest my experience marching and attending the World Conference Against A & H Bombs. These were truly life changing experiences. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have gotten this post out in real time, but better late than never! Heeeeere we go:
Despite the blistering heat and longer-than-usual walk, the march on 7/27 was perhaps one of my favorites. We stopped at a middle school for lunch, and chatted with some curious students. At the middle school, we met a dozen mentally handicapped people who would walk with us for the remainder of the day. It was such a joy having them join us in marching, singing, and chanting for peace! I also met a sweet girl name Miori, who was stuck to my hip the whole day. We were reunited at the conference and she gave me a handwritten card.
Finally, after a grueling day of walking, we reached Onomichi. I was overjoyed to be back: in 2013 I had traveled to Onomichi for a day trip, which I spent silently exploring the winding pathways and countless Buddhist temples. Upon our arrival, we were met by a jolly man named Sumida-san. He immediately requested that I call him “panji-san,” which roughly translates to “Grandpa Bread.” He owned a bakery (hence the bread), and presented us with delicious anpan and melonpan, sweet Japanese breads.
Since arriving in Hiroshima, we had been walking longer hours and the days were hot. 7/28 was definitely the toughest day of walking for me. If it wasn’t for Matsunaga-san cheerfully knocking on my hotel room door that morning (“Mary-san! Are you ready? I’ll meet you in the lobby!), I probably would have stayed in bed all day. The two thru-marchers radiate such energy, positivity, and passion. It’s contagious, even when contending with a comfy bed.
On the evening of the 28th, we arrived in Mihara and went out to dinner with the crew. All 15 of us or so packed into a teeny restaurant. Our friends from Mihara explained to us that they had picked this restaurant for the party because the women who owned it was a great supporter of the Peace March. She publicized the march by placing posters outside and throughout the inside of her restaurant.
One of the Mihara peace marchers happened to be a very talented artist. He passed around a book he had made of illustrations about the hibakusha and the day of the bombing on Hiroshima. He also took my picture, although I didn’t find out why until the World Conference, when I was presented with a startlingly accurate portrait! Hands down one of the most unexpected and awesome gifts I’ve ever received.
Another unexpected twist in my Peace March adventure came on 7/30 when we were walking through Kawajiri. Instead of helming my usual post at the front of the march, holding the banner with Matsunaga-san and Yamaguchi-san, I was recruited to be a bokin suru hito, or a fundraiser. This entailed wearing a box around my neck, knocking on every door in our path, and asking people for donations in the following way: “We are the Japanese Peace March! Could you give us some money please?” In America I don’t know if this strategy would have work so well, and I was shocked at the generosity and encouragement of the people we met. We collected quite a bit of money, which will be used to help hibakusha and finance Peace March events.
After a while of fundraising, I began to notice something strange: namely that there were posters of my face taped up all over town. The organizers of the march in Kawajiri had planned ahead, asking many store and home owners to put these posters in their windows to advertise the March. It was a bit strange being introduced by the marchers in Kawajiri (“Hello there! Look, look, this is that American girl from the posters!”_”that American girl from the posters,” but if it made people more receptive to me barging into their homes and shops, than it was alright with me!
By 8/1, the Peace March had made it to Kure, tantalizingly close to our destination! As soon as the march ended for the day, a few of us drove to visit an American military base in the city. It was the first time I’d ever seen an American military base. It was a harrowing experience that made the reality of Japan’s occupation by America all the more apparent. The Japanese man who had offered to drive us to the base even shared with us that Americans had stored nuclear weapons in the mountains behind the base, in close proximity to Japanese homes.
The day that we arrived in Kure happened to coincide with Japan’s Summer Festival (natsu matsuri) and there were lovely fireworks in the evening. Just as we had in Mihara, we ate dinner with the Kure crew in an unbelievably strong restaurant owned by a woman known only as Mama-san. That evening, I had the privilege of meeting the infamous Takeda-san, who I had heard so much about from Yamaguchi-san. Takeda-san was a thru marcher who had marched all the way from Hokkaido, the northern most tip of Japan, and was now merging with our course, the Tokyo – Hiroshima course. What an inspiration. You can find a link to his blog here. In Kure I really felt as if I was among family. Laughter, playful banter, and story tell abounded (no doubt aided by a bit of sake).
The day before we were to enter Hiroshima for the 70th anniversary festivities, there was a huge party where I was reunited with many of the people I had met along the Peace March. I also got to meet some new faces; I was beyond thrilled to meet two of my fellow International Youth Peace Relay Marchers, Maggie and AG from the Philippines. There were many speeches and toasts. I was overwhelmed with such happiness to be surrounded by such kind people dedicated to a more peaceful world.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the documentary crew that had been documenting our progress since the beginning of the Peace March debuted a trailer for the Peace March documentary. It will be released in November and you can contact me if you are interested in more information!
My final blog post will detail the World Conference Against A & H Bombs. Stay tuned!