We’re Back From Japan!

Christina and I got back from Japan this past Wednesday after two weeks of nonstop adventure. We flew out of Chicago and landed in a sweltering Tokyo on August 23rd. The subsequent days were filled with tours, hikes, feasts, laughs, and jet lag wake-up calls at 2 am. Japan is a magnificent country and the people are straight out of some 1950’s “Pleasantville” show. Interacting with a Japanese stranger is like a boyfriend interacting with his girlfriend’s parents for the first time – there is a lot of bowing, attentiveness, respect, and reiteration of the word “sorry.” Suffice it to say, Japan is the most well-mannered, clean, and sophisticated country you are likely to visit in your life. Even the toilets try to be helpful with soothing music and a squirt of water for that hard-to-reach dingleberry. Added to the wonderful people we met, the food in Japan raised our trip to a whole different tier of pleasure: there was ramen, udon, okonomiyaki, teppanyaki, shabushabu, takoyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, and a whole host of interesting concoctions that are nicely displayed at this link.

Most of our daily activities included some sort of tour which highlighted the history of Japan. The Japanese mostly believe in both Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism is the native religion of Japan which believes in nature as a source of divinity – think of Native American religions – while Japanese Buddhism is an amalgamation of Shintoism, Chinese beliefs, and Indian Beliefs (click here for more on Buddhism). We visited a myriad of shrines which were hundreds of years old and learned some of the customs of worship. There are usually steps of purification at shrines and one must either cleanse with water or take off footwear before entering a sacred space. This is why the Japanese commonly take their shoes off before entering the home or a public space like a restaurant. The tours were great and I was able to juxtapose each experience with a previous book that I read on the subject. The highlight of the trip for me was climbing Mt. Fuji which took Christina and I over 11 hours to complete. This was the highest mountain I have ever climbed and the air at the top caused both of us to have altitude sickness. We had to take a lot of breaks and eat a lot of snacks but in the end the view was worth all the hardship. The trip as a whole was simultaneously amazing and exhausting; by the end I missed America, my culture, cheeseburgers, my bed, my family, my friends, and my chihuahua. Below are some of the best pictures we took.

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Tokyo Fish Market

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Squid on a Stick

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Tokyo Station

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Bike Tour in Tokyo

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Meiji Shrine

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Buddhist Temple

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Multi Level Pagoda

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Famous Shibuya Crossing

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Climbing Mt. Fuji

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Climbing Up

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Near the top of Mt. Fuji

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The Crater of Mt. Fuji

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Christina getting turned into a Geisha

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Christina walking Kyoto as a Geisha

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Buddhist Garden

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Golden Temple in Kyoto

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Hiroshima Specialty

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Hiroshima Castle

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Deer at Miyajima Island

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My Favorite Shinto Shrine

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A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

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View from Tokyo Tower on Last Day

A Shadow of the Dead in the Concrete Wall: Hiroshima August 6th, 1945

At 8:15 AM on August 6th, 1945 the first ever atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” detonated above the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The blast ended up killing an estimated 100,000 people in the city either from direct force, indirect injuries, or radiation poisoning. In addition to the dead, over 100,000 were left injured and exposed to radiation which would wreak havoc on their life-long health. The book Hiroshima by John Hersey is a morose but real look on the effect of that fateful day for those in the city and their lives thereafter. The book is full of gruesome anecdotes about the aftermath of the bomb. One was about a group of officers who were looking towards the light created by the explosion-their faces burned instantly and the eyes melted leaving empty-bloody sockets. The light that was created from the reaction was so intense that it discolored the concrete in the city. This discoloration created the effect of preserving the shadows of certain individuals in the cement facades; shadows of people painting and riding horses at the very moment they were disintegrated. Holy cow! These facts truly scare me and make me realize how much I never wish to experience a nuclear bomb. 

The radiation sickness that resulted from “Little Boy” caused terrible scarring, infertility, cancer, malaise, decreased life span, decreased immunity, stomach pain, awful bouts of headaches, and countless other ailments. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were known as Hibakusha which literally means “explosion-affected people.” The Hibakusha were not given any health assistance by the government until 10 years after the bombings. Overall, it was not a great honor to be a Hibakusha. It was difficult to find a husband for female survivors and male survivors often were stricken with malaise that prevented them from steady work. The survivors, in a way, felt guilty for not dying because those, who did meet their demise, provided the greatest sacrifice for their country. 

The ultimate question is whether the atomic bombs were necessary and/or ethical? First off, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were major wartime manufacturing cities which were crucial for Japanese military production. The rationale by the United States was that bombing these cities was ethical because the civilians were involved in the advancement of war and hence were pseudo-military. If the atomic bomb did not work, the US would have to invade Japan which had an estimated soldier death toll of 5 to 10 million (between the Japanese and the Allies). The US also gave multiple opportunities for the Japanese to surrender-warning that complete destruction would come if they did not oblige. Furthermore, the long-term effects of radiation sickness were not well known at the time and President Truman was known to be a strong detractor of chemical warfare. The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my opinion were the only way to psychologically kill the pride of the Japanese Empire. The Emperor would not surrender to the Allies through conventional warfare and that is why the complete threat of atomic destruction was necessary. Although I believe that the A-bomb was ethical, in this specific situation, I do disagree with war in general. War is fought by young men at the hands of old prideful politicians. I wish there were no bombs or guns. If only we used our brains and the knowledge of the past so the pursuit of power would not result in the deaths of millions of people.