Sunday, February 5, 2012


(Written January 7, 2012)

Well, halfway through. And I guess it’s about time for some serious reflection. But I’m about to kill my Light blog – no new posts since September 21, 2011, and I don’t think I’m gonna start up again anytime soon. On top of that, I feel like that this year is so much different than a summer in a new country – you’re amazed by all these new things, you take lots of pics, you talk about your weekend excursions – but this year has been more about people than places. And you can’t blog about people the way you can about places. I feel like some things are just best not shared with random Google searches. Not to say that I’m no longer reflecting on those experiences – my memories in Japan are being preserved through long emails to friends back home, a plethora of photos, and personal journaling, among other things. But blogging, perhaps, is no longer doing what I originally intended to do.

Nonetheless, I’m about to go back on what I’ve said by blogging about a place that’s left me such an impression that I want to preserve something of it here.

This winter, I went down south to Kyushu and Okinawa – and while most people gasp with jealousy when I mention Okinawa, it wasn’t those balmy tropical islands – but Nagasaki – as the place that left the most powerful impression. I never go to museums when I travel, but in Japan, I apparently make an exception for atomic bomb museums. I went to the one in Hiroshima last year, and that had been pretty moving. Nagasaki was even more so. The images are sometimes disturbing, but how else do you understand the horrific power of an atomic bomb? Nonetheless, the image that stuck in my mind the most weren’t the child corpses or the half-burned faces. It was a photograph of a boy, with a baby slung on his back. 

Quoted from the photographer Joseph O'Donnell: "I came in from Sasebo to Nagasaki and looked around from a hill. Men walking with white masks caught my attention. The men were working besides a big hole of about 60cm deep.  They were putting the corpses pilled up on a wagon into the hole with burning lime
. Then I saw a boy of around ten years old walking toward them. 

He has his little brother baby strapped on his back. In those days, it was quite common in Japan to see young boys carrying their little brother or sister on their back while playing at the field.
  But this boy wasnt here to play. He had a very important duty to come to this crematory. 
You can see it on his face. And he was bare feet. 

The boy came to the edge of the crematory. His face is stiff and eyes bracing for an ordeal. The baby on his back looks deep asleep and head bent backward.  The boy stood there for five or ten minutes. Then the men with the white masks came towards him and started to untie his strap. At this moment, I realized that this baby brother he was carrying was dead. 
The men gently held the babys arms and legs and slowly put him into the hole where the hot stones are laid.  I could hear the steaming sound of the babys flesh burning. Then a gleaming red flare danced up in the air. The bright red color like the sunset was reflecting on the yet tender boys cheek as he stood there straight and still.  That moment, I realized that the boy was biting his lip and it was bleeding. He was biting hard as he gazed his little brother in flames. 
When the flames had calmed down, the boy turned on his heels and left the place silently." 

I tried to take a picture of it, but it’s not that great quality:

Also, at least 13,000 Koreans were exposed to the bomb (a lot of them conscripted during the war). There was also a memorial for the Koreans who died in the Hiroshima bombing in the other site as well. I don’t know too much about Korean history, but has there ever been another event where that many Korean people died in seconds?

I was also interested in Nagasaki because of its remnants of Kakure Christians – Japanese Christians who went into hiding because of persecution during the Tokugawa shogunate. Missionary work by the Catholic church during the sixteenth century was actually progressing quite a bit in Japan up until Tokugawa, but the ensuing persecution was brutal. Christians were forced to apostatize by stepping on the image of Christ, or else, crucified in the same manner as Christ. Nonetheless, hidden Christianity continued for two hundred plus years until Kakure Christians emerged during the Meiji period – but through the hundred of years that they had stayed hidden, their religion had mixed so many elements of Buddhism and Shintoism that the Catholic Church considered it blasphemy: images of the Virgin Mary that bear a striking resemblance to the Buddhist Kannon bodhissatva, for one:

Whether they are truly Christian or not, I find their mix of religions interesting – as well as the story of martyrs and persecution also moving.

And now I throw in my travel tips to highly recommend the SUNQ Pass if you ever travel around Kyushu – 10000 yen for 3 days of bus travel covering almost any bus on the island; not just intercity buses, but also local city buses, ferries, etc. In addition to Nagasaki, I also stopped by Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, and Beppu (the onsen are AWESOME!) – all great cities worthy of travel. Ah, Kyushu, if I could live anywhere in Japan, I think it would be here. I think Tokyo is still my favorite city … but something about the palm trees and the laid-back atmosphere of this island wants to convince me otherwise.

(Written February 5, 2012)

Well, I guess that’s a pause for now … lots of things to look forward in the rest of my time here – running the Tokyo marathon, Tohoshinki concert (hehe), jumping leaps and bounds in my Japanese (hopefully), and most importantly, building relationships with the friends I’ve been lucky to have here. Looking back on what I wrote I month ago – well, I don’t know if I’ll truly “kill” this blog or not, but it will no longer be an obligation for me to update every two weeks since I’ve opted to do the report option instead for the Light fellowship. It has truly been a year where I’m learning that the people make the places.

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Ricky said...

Good luck with the marathon. I was considering the Great Wall one when I was in Beijing, but I decided that preserving my cardiovascular health against the smog was more important than proving it.

For what it's worth, I hope you don't stop writing. Though I have no doubt that you will manage to write an excellent report, I think the world will be a little better thanks to your well-articulated musings. Even if it's just a paragraph, a poem, a photo and some reflections on it, I hope you keep this blog alive.


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