Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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January 14, 2003

I Had a Great Holiday Trip!
I went to Tokyo, Hiroshima, Miyajima, back to Tokyo and then back to Nagaoka. Here's a daily breakdown...

Saturday, December 28, 2002
(Travel to Tokyo)

I was pulling my rolling suitcase through a little bit of snow just starting on my way to the bus station to start my first real trip out of Nagaoka. Suzuki was riding by on his bicycle, on his way back to our building. (His office is on the first floor, Conor and my apartments are on the third floor.) Anyway, he asked me to wait right there. He rode to his car at his office and came and picked me up, taking me to the bus station. Good guy, huh? :-) After an uneventful four-hour bus trip I was in Tokyo. I'm quite proud to say I was able to navigate the Tokyo subway to meet Astrid halfway. Then she and I went the rest of the way to her apartment. I wasn't sure I could find her apartment. Here in Japan, it's very difficult to find a specific building, even if you know the street address. You just have to know where you're going. Fact of life, it's just the way it is. Some taxi drivers might not know where to take you if you give them a street address. And even people who have lived in Tokyo all their lives make sure they have very good directions, and someone to show them where to go. Anyway, after a good long chat in her apartment, Astrid and I went to sleep pretty early.

Sunday, December 29, 2002
(Walking around Tokyo and the amazing street of lights)
After sleeping in and getting up slowly, Astrid and I got out the door. We did a little shopping here and there on the way to the train station. We went to Tokyo Station and walked around the Imperial Gardens. The gardens are in a walled-in area, so we didn't see the gardens themselves, but the walk was nice and there were some gardens outside the wall too. The photo to the left is me in front of a famous bridge leading into the castle. Oh, Astrid was very excited to find a bench - I guess there aren't many of them in Tokyo - this might've been the first she'd seen. So she sat/lounged on it (just because she could) while I walked around a bit more on my own.

Then we met Astrid's friend, Matt, and we all went to a light display on a major street near Tokyo station (see photo to the right). The light display was basically about 20 or 25 arches with a ton of lights on each of them. People lined up filling an entire street around a city block to wait their turn to walk under the arches. In fact, the wait was the most interesting part of the event. I'd never been in so big a line before.

We were a head above everyone else, and it was fun to watch the crowd. I “flirted" with all the little children that were around us. It was easy to make contact with them, because they can't help but stare at us, particularly at Astrid who is six feet, has blondish hair and is really pretty. Matt is very tall too (about 6 feet and also has blond hair. Above is a photo of a typical kid staring at us. Wouldn't you stare at those two blonds when all you ever see is smooth dark hair? I would.

Compared to Astrid and Matt, I really blend in with the Japanese. In fact, once when I was alone on the Tokyo subway a man actually turned and started to ask me in Japanese which station we were at. When he was finally looking me full in the face, only then did he realize I wasn't Japanese. Before I could even try to fumble through an answer, he turned away, and instead poked his head out of the subway car and looked for a sign. But for an unthinking moment he thought I was Japanese. Made me feel pretty good, actually.

After the light show we got back to Astrid's apartment in time to watch most of “Executive Decision" with Kurt Russell and Halle Berry. I like that movie a lot, although it was kinda spooky to watch, considering the 9-11 terrorists attacks.

Monday, December 30, 2002
(Shopping for books, clothes and CDs in Tokyo)
This was a day for lots of shopping on my own as Astrid took care of a few things. I bought quite a few CDs, a few more books, and some clothes - I found a GAP store! I just needed to buy all the things I can't buy in Nagaoka. Astrid and I met up again back at her apartment in time to watch “The Man in the Iron Mask" with Leonardo DiCaprio. We don't get movies like that out here in Nagaoka, at least not as far as I know. So that was fun.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002
(An Incredibly Exciting New Year's Eve!)
In the afternoon, I logged into an Internet cafe near Astrid's apartment and answered a couple of emails, but not many. I also managed to post a quick update wishing everyone a Happy New Year. At 7pm or so we went to the apartment of another of Astrid's friends. His name is Steph and he was borrowing a really great apartment for a few weeks from another friend who was out of town. We met some new people including Steph's dad, and lots of other people. All these people were meeting up to go to a club just down the street. They invited me, but I didn't want to spend my Japan New Year in a bar with other foreigners. I wanted to try and spend the New Year how the Japanese do.

New Year's is a VERY important holiday for the Japanese. It might even be the MOST important. At midnight, it is believed that the cosmos are re-aligned, restarted, fresh. And so the Japanese go to a shrine to give their first prayer for good luck in the coming year on New Year's Eve night. And many temples ring the bell 108 times to dispel each of the 108 evils of humans. So I decided to go to Asakusa, a temple in the Tokyo area, for New Year's Eve. I think I found a typical Japanese New Year's Eve because there was a huge, long line about 15 feet across leading up to the temple itself. But despite the crowd, there were very few foreigners. At first, instead of standing in line, I did some shopping for y'all back home. There were little booths on both sides of the line. In fact, right at the stroke of midnight, I was buying some things for family. I thought that was a nice thing to be doing at New Year's Eve. The clerk who was helping me wished me a Happy New Year in English and smiled. Nice of her, huh? Then I did stand in line to see exactly what was going on. As the line got closer to the temple stairs, it got more and more rambunctious and there were more and more police. They had signs and controlled people movement as best as they could - but it was mayhem. Finally I was at the bottom of the stairs. When it was my group's turn, the police lifted their arms and some people ran up. The police were shouting different things in Japanese. I think they were yelling “don't run" among other things, trying to keep things under control. And then at the top of the stairs things got REALLY crazy! People were pushing and pushing and shouting and pushing some more. And there were coins wiping through the air over my head all towards an area in front of me. And even more police, one speaking calmly into a megaphone. He was standing in a little box with a bit of fence around his head. I wondered if he was calmly saying “do not throw coins"... I thought that would be so funny if he was because he was in a box meant to protect him from the coins people were throwing. Right behind me a guy was putting his hand on my back and just pushing me really hard into the person in front of me. This went on and on and it eventually got to me, I'm afraid I lost my patience. I pushed my way to the side, pushed my arm behind him and pushed him ahead of me with all my might. And then I noticed a woman was behind him, holding his hand, so I pushed her too. And I mean with ALL my might. But you know what?! They didn't seem to notice! They turned and smiled and waved at me. If anything they seemed to appreciate the help! I had to laugh at that point so I hid my face in my scarf and had a really good giggle. I couldn't help myself, the experience was so exciting and strange!

After that I was still in the crowd and needed to do something next. So I decided to see what all the coins were going in to. I pushed as politely as possible and yet still make progress. And further up people were throwing/dropping their coins into a sort of bin with slots so the coins couldn't bounce back out. On the other side of a glass window, past the bin, people were moving calmly. They seemed to be moving in slow motion compared to the chaos around me. I couldn't tell what exactly they were doing, but I think they were collecting the coins. In all the bustle I managed to get a 100 yen coin out of my purse. I got a little closer, and watched to see what people around me would do. I watched a girl hold her coin in the air for a few seconds and then she threw it a few feet in front of her, into the bin. Then she clapped her hands twice, prayed for a second or two, and then started to push, with her boyfriend, away and out of the crowd. So I threw my coin and wished for a good year in 2003 for me and all the people in my world. Getting out of the crowd proved more difficult because everyone else was still trying to get closer. But eventually I made it out. Luckily, I chose to go out of the temple through the opening to my right. You don't actually go IN to a temple, you sort of go on the porch, for lack of a better word. But I went out of the “porch" to the right, and walked a little ways and suddenly I heard the bell being rung very close. I followed the sound and saw the bell up on a little hill, surrounded by people. I imagine it was the ringing of the bell 108 times for each of the 108 human evils. Each of the 108 times the bell was rung by a different person. And people would cheer for their friend when he or she rung the bell. I watched the last 20 or so times the bell was rung. There was about one ring per minute as each person went up a few stairs, bowed, rang the bell, bowed, and came back down. Some were in suits, some in traditional kimonos, some in casual clothes. After that I headed home, which was an adventure in itself because not ALL the trains were running. Because it was New Year's Eve, only SOME of the trains were running all night, but not all. I got two stops from Astrid's station, but then couldn't get a train for the last bit. So I just took a taxi. The first taxi I took on my own in Japan. It wasn't too hard. I got to Astrid's apartment at 2:30 am, and would you believe I beat Astrid home.

The whole experience was rather interesting - possibly the most interesting Japan experience I've had yet. (Unfortunately, none of my photos turned out.) This was a religious event for the Japanese, but it wasn't solemn, like western religious events are. I can't imagine people going to church on Christmas Eve and pushing each other to get in the door and then whipping their donations up at the altar, possibly hitting the priest or minister. There was a different feel to it - LOTS of boisterous energy and excitement. But otherwise it wasn't that different. People were with their spouses, family, friends. And it wasn't about drinking, it was about being together. I thought that was nice. So although it was very different in some ways, in a basic way, the ways that matter, it was very much the same. All and all, a very good experience! I've done some reading since then, and I'm not sure, but I think the basic difference is that the Japanese don't think they are somehow “less" than their gods. They are equal with their gods, and sometimes humans have more power and sometimes the gods. It's all about balance between the two, and balance with the natural world around them. So there is no subservience in religious events. And so people cheer and whip coins and shout and run. It seems important to also mention that many Japanese people have admitted to me that they don't really believe in any gods, and yet there was a CROWD at Asakusa temple.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003
(New Year's Day - Travel to Hiroshima)
Astrid and I managed to get it together and on the road in good time to make our shinkensen (bullet train) to Hiroshima. The trip was quite nice, because the shinkensen is a beautiful thing, indeed! Astrid slept most of the way because she only got one hour of sleep - that's her sleeping to the right. The bullet train was so smooth it's easy to fall asleep.

Once we got to Hiroshima, it was easy to find our way around. They make it as easy as possible for tourists - Hiroshima is a very nice city. They call themselves "The City Devoted to Peace." They want as many tourists as possible to come and see what the atomic bomb did to their city, not to make America feel guilty, but because they want to show how important it is to get rid of all nuclear weapons around the world. Whenever there is a nuclear test anywhere in the world, the Mayor of Hiroshima sends a telegram to that country's government asking that they stop their nuclear weapons program. And they always hope it's the last telegram they will have to write. And among all the memorials to those who died, there is a memorial flame. The idea is it will burn until there are no more nuclear weapons, and then it will go out. Nice, huh? So the city is all about wanting people to hear their call for peace. So wherever tourists tend to go, there is lots of English, or someone to help who speaks English. There was a tourist information desk right when we got off the train. They spoke English, gave us maps of the city in English, and an English-speaking person explained how we could get to the Hiroshima Youth Hostel where our beds for the night were waiting.

Try to imagine being so tired and hungry from a long trip, and from lugging around a big ol' backpack. You THINK you're on the right bus, but you're not sure because everything is in a writing system (kanji) you can't read. You're kinda just winging it, and then you hear a message in English telling you “Please get off at the Ushitashinmachi station if you are going to the Hiroshima Youth Hostel." Now you are assured that you ARE on the right bus. Whew! But now you're on this bus, wondering when you should get off, how will you recognize this Ushitashinmachi station, and how do you spell Ushitashinmachi? Of course even if you could spell it in roman letters, you still don't know what the kanji looks like. And if you could recognize the stop, you wonder if you need to push the button to make the bus stop, or will it just stop. You're looking around for any clue to help you know what to do next. Before each stop there are announcements in Japanese, but you're not sure what they're saying. You listen for Ushitashinmachi station, but it's all gobbly gook to you. And then you hear a second announcement in English telling you “please get off at the next stop if you are going to Hiroshima Youth Hostel." Again, whew! You smile at your friend and calmly get off the bus, follow the signs and find your bed for the night. At the youth hostel, our beds were bunk bed with walls on three sides - and the ceiling (or top of the bunk above you) closes it at the top. There were curtains covering the one open side. There was a shelf over my head, and a little cupboard at my feet. It was a like a mini-room and very cozy! I really liked it! I'd like to have a bed like that someday. The photo to the right is of me in my top bunk. :-)

We went to sleep rather early, since we were both very tired. Astrid was actually asleep by 6 pm. I stayed awake a bit later than that to get something to eat down in the hostel cafeteria. Over a simple dinner, I met a guy from New York named Colin. His brother is teaching English in Tokyo and he was in Japan visiting him for a couple of weeks. He came to Hiroshima on his own though and was feeling a little homesick. Colin and I chatted a bit and I invited him to join Astrid and I to Miyajima the next day. I could tell Astrid would like him, and we three got along great!

Thursday, January 2, 2003
(Hiking and Touring Miyajima Island)
We did a day trip to Miyajima Island and Temple from Hiroshima, it's only a half an hour away first on a train and then a 10 minute ferry ride. Miyajima is one of the prettiest sights in Japan. Maybe you've seen it on postcards. It has a tori in the water. Colin did come with us and we three had a great time - the photo to the right is all of us in front of the Miyajima Temple tori. When we first got to the island, we decided we wanted to hike up Mount Misen first. Luckily walking to the trail head took us by the shrine and we got this photo in the daylight.

Then up Mount Misen. It was tough going. In fact, so tough that I'm rethinking the idea of climbing Mount Fuji. Might not be a good idea. Eventually, I made it to the top of Mount Misen, and saw some lovely views of the islands and sea on the way up and all around the island from the top. Most didn't turn out, but as we walked through a pair of rocks, I had a strong feeling that I wanted a photograph there. to the left is a photo of Colin and I between those rocks - and I really like how it turned out - good job, Astrid!

It took MUCH longer than I thought it would, and I was so hungry only half way up. Any of those who know me well know that when I get hungry - it's just not pretty. By the time we got to the top of the mountain, I was SO hungry that I ate something without having any idea what it was. I couldn't even tell you if it was vegetable or meat! VERY unusual for me. But that's how hungry I was. And we three snarfed down two boxes of nut crunch cookies. Yum! I don't like being that hungry, but being full afterwards is a wonderful feeling. :-)

To the left is a photo of me near the top. Behind me is the bay with islands of all sizes sticking up - this photo does do it justice at all. Again, I just don't know why all my photos are so washed out. Anyway, just before this, as we came around a bend in the trail, we found some flat, smooth rocks in the direct sun. We all had the same idea - a little snooze. :-) I don't know how long we were there, but it felt so good.

I think we startled quite a few Japanese when they came around the bend in the trail to find three foreigners sprawled out on rocks. They probably thought we were hurt, until they realized we were just snoozing. At that point they probably thought we were very strange.

Instead of walking back down we took a cable car almost to the bottom of the mountain. The view was lovely on the way down. Maybe it was because we were exhausted, or maybe not, but for whatever reason we were so tickled by this sign we saw in the photo to the right -"10 minute walk (7 if run a little) to ropeway station". There are signs like this all over Japan with English that sounds funny. Most of the time the meaning is clear, but sometimes not.

We also came across this little cutout in front of a fire station - see the photo to the left. The cutout was meant for little kids to pose with, but I couldn't resist. :-) Again, maybe it was just because we were so exhausted, but we had good fun with this. Plus it was interesting to see Japanese fire engines. They are much smaller than American fire engines. I think because they have to be able to maneuver through streets that are much more narrow.

We did MORE shopping in the little town, and actually went into the shrine - unfortunately none of my photos turned out. :-( Then we took the ferry/train back to Hiroshima. I was exhausted, but happy. A VERY good day!

Friday, January 3, 2003
(Shopping in Hiroshima)

This was another shopping day in Hiroshima. Some of you probably find it strange that I would do so much shopping on my vacation. But I really have trouble finding what I need in Nagaoka.

I found another GAP store and bought another pair of pants that fit and a much-needed belt. During a break Astrid and I were sitting on a bench watching the people go by and chatting. All of a sudden we saw a guy from the Youth Hostel. I guess his name is Adam and he's an Australian teaching English southeast of Tokyo. Astrid had met him the night before, after I went to sleep. We three had a few words and then he went on his way and Astrid and I carried on with our conversation. Later that same day, we saw Adam again, this time at a Starbuck's. It seemed we were destined to have a good chat, so we invited him to sit down and we did have a good chat. He promised to buy some white wine for Astrid and I to sip tonight. Back at the Youth Hostel, Adam indeed had the wine. We were also joined by another Australian, Damian. We four had a few laughs and sipped the wine until the Hostel staff asked us nicely to go to bed at midnight. But before Astrid and I left them to go to the women's wing, we decided to have another chat tomorrow evening. I took a few photos with my cellular phone camera when we were at Starbucks. To the left is Adam, and to the right is Damian.

Saturday, January 4, 2003
(Visiting the Peace Museum)
I decided before we arrived in Hiroshima that I needed to do the Peace Memorial Museum (about the atomic bomb) by myself. So we split up again for this day. I went to the museum in the morning, Astrid went in the afternoon. I was there for five hours, taking in as much as I could. Would you believe I saw Conor there? He was traveling with his girlfriend and they made a quick stop in Hiroshima to see the Museum. He tapped me on the shoulder and I barely recognized him when I turned around. Partly because he has a new haircut, but also because my mind was so much into the exhibits. Conor was caught up in it to, so we just said hello and carried on with reading and learning. The Museum is amazing. I hope you all have a chance to visit it some day. I wish everyone could visit Hiroshima, particularly government leaders. I think there would be more call for ending nuclear arms programs world-wide. The photos and stories are just heart-wrenching, mostly because they are real life. I didn't get too weepy, just a little near the end when there was mention of how people thought nothing would grow there for 75 years, yet it wasn't long before some parasol trees sprouted some green. That gave the people hope. They replanted those trees in Peace Park near the Museum and the hypocenter of the bomb. Not surprising that would get to the “tree-hugger" - that's when I got weepy. The photo to the right is of me with these trees. All the color paper things at the foot of the trees are folded paper cranes that people made and left there as memorials.

Astrid, Adam, Damian and Conor all said there was too much to take in, that their minds were reeling afterwards. I didn't have quite that experience because I read a book back in September. Maybe you remember me mentioning in the September 20th entry that I read a book called “Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb" from the library. I bought my own copy of the book in the Museum book shop, and a few other books too. Anyway most of my mind-reeling happened in September. This visit was more of a pilgrimage in response to reading the book. I'm glad I read it first because it made my entire time in Hiroshima that much more meaningful. I was very sensitive to the older people around me, on the bus, in the street - and wondered what their story was. I noticed a higher percentage of older people were limping and knew it was most probably effects from the bomb. Yes, people's health is still effected even today. I couldn't help thinking of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. As terrible as those were, Hiroshima was 100 times worse in terms of deaths, but also so many people were walking dead for days after with skin dripping off their bodies, coughing up awful substances, bodies burned so badly their families only recognized them by their voices. I heard/read many stories of those who “met with the bomb. And yet, the people of Hiroshima (and Japan) do not seek retribution on the United States. Instead, they seek peace. I wish the United States could manage such open-mindedness and forgiveness.

There are many similarities between the two situations. Japan was a target for the atom bomb because of their foreign policies at the time. They were trying to conquer other parts of Asia, and their foreign policies at the time were not very popular and so there was anger towards Japan. Although the US does many wonderful things, (I love America!), its foreign policies are also not very popular with others, and so there is quite a bit of anger towards the United States - making it a primary target for terrorism.

Generally speaking, the Japanese are only starting to become aware of the foreign perspective on Japan's past foreign policies. For many years, the Japanese textbooks have been very bias, only telling certain parts of Japanese history to its students. Japan was presented in a very positive light. The atomic bomb was presented as something that came out of nowhere, for no real reason. However, a Japanese man recently died who had devoted most of his life to trying to change Japanese textbooks to be more truthful. He had achieved only a partial victory with an edited version of his textbook getting published. Hopefully his fight and his partial victory were enough to begin a change in Japanese minds. It's been 57 years since the atomic bomb was dropped and only now is Japan starting to recognize the effect of its past foreign policies on that event. Personally, I believe citizens of the United States are also not fully aware of the effects of our foreign policy on the rest of the world.

There are a ton of memorials in Hiroshima... but my favorite is a flame that is hopefully NOT eternal. The idea is it will remain lit only until all nuclear weapons have been disarmed. I really like that optimism. The photo to the left is me in front of that flame - it's under that arch, along with a book of all the names of the people who died in the explosion. Through the arch you can see the building (about a hundred yards back) that was closest to the hypocenter of the explosion (where the bomb actually exploded). They've left it standing as another reminder. Adam made an interesting comment. He thought it was interesting that one of the most important spots in history is actually up in the air, not on the ground.

I met up with Astrid, Damian and Adam at Starbuck's afterward to chat about the museum and what we'd seen. Even though Starbuck's is not known to be a socially responsible company, it became our hang out for the week. It was the only place we all knew, and we could all find. Besides,the atmosphere there was quite nice with jazz music in the background, decorated in warm colors, and hot drinks easily available. To the right is a photo of Damian, Astrid and Adam. It was surprisingly cold in Hiroshima, so I had a couple of Starbuck's short hot cocoas. It was amazing how well we four got along, so quickly. Unfortunately, these folks all live quite a ways away from Nagaoka. We tried to find a particular restaurant that served Okenomiaki (a Hiroshima food specialty - not sure if I spelled that right) but after a lot of searching we found it... closed for the day. So again we chatted back at the youth hostel until they nicely asked us to go to bed about midnight. We couldn't chat in our rooms. For one thing Astrid and I were in the women's wing and they were in the men's. And for another thing, they were shared rooms and it would be rude to keep everyone else up talking.

Sunday, January 5, 2003
(Postcards and Visiting a Japanese Art Museum)
Damian left very early in the morning so we didn't see him. After checking out, Adam, Astrid and I put our backpacks in coin lockers at the train station. Then we walked around and looked at the different memorials near the Museum. There was a fresh bit of snow on them so it was a different experience than the day before. Astrid went to find Okenomiaki, and Adam and I bought some post cards and wrote up a few at Starbuck's. Adam left to catch his train at 12:30 or so.

I went on my own to the Hiroshima Art Museum. It was interesting. There was one building of western art, and another building of Japanese art, connected by a walkway. It was interesting to compare the two, almost side by side. As I looked at the western art, I wondered how they must look to the Japanese. There were very few Japanese in the western galleries. And the few that were there went very quickly by each painting. There were many more Japanese people in the Japanese art galleries, and I found myself going quickly by those painting. I had no frame of reference to appreciate them. The symbolism was (of course) different from western symbolism. And there was writing on many of the paintings, but I couldn't read it. I truly tried to open my mind to the Japanese art, and I was able to make a guess and what the painting might mean, but they were just pictures to me. It wasn't a question of open-mindedness, it was a question of having having a frame of reference, which comes from cultural upbringing or extensive study of another culture. For example, red in western culture tends to mean blood, lust, anger, war. However, in Japanese culture, red tends to mean happiness. Again, another example of the power of culture.

I walked around Hiroshima Castle a bit, and then headed back to Starbuck's to meet Astrid before we walked to catch our 7pm night bus back to Tokyo. We made the bus, and expected to wake up as the bus pulled into Tokyo at 7am so she could go to work. However...

Monday, January 6, 2003
(A Nightmare of a Bus Ride)
Astrid and I woke up at 7:20 am still on the bus with the conductor guy making all sorts of announcements in Japanese. Finally we found a map in Astrid's guidebook, and we showed it to a guy next to us and tried to ask him in Japanese where we were. He was nice enough to struggle with his English to explain to us what was happening. As it turned out, we were 12-1/2 hours into the trip, yet we were only about half way to Tokyo! The conductor was saying that if people were in a hurry they could get off at Nagoya station and take the shinkensen back to Tokyo. Astrid decided to do that because she had to work at 1pm that day, and the conductor was saying we wouldn't get into Tokyo until at least 2pm - 7 hours after the scheduled time. :-o I decided to take my chances and stay on the bus because I didn't have enough cash to buy a shinkensen ticket, and I wasn't sure I could get more cash in Nagoya. Besides, I wasn't in a hurry because I didn't have to work until the next day.

I don't know why we were delayed so much. I suspect the snow causes a huge traffic jam. They don't usually get a lot of snow in Hiroshima. Plus EVERYONE was trying to get back to Tokyo for work the next day. Anyway, we had quite a lot of stress trying to decide what to do. Everything worked out well in the end. Astrid was on time for work, I made my connection to the bus back to Nagaoka, and made it to work Tuesday, no problem. But it was quite an adventure!

Glad You're Alright, Pop
The end of my vacation had a bit of a scare. My pop had a third heart attack. Not to worry, it turned out he's okay. He has to go through rehab, but because he was able to recognize what it was he got to the hospital very quickly. So there was much less damage to his heart than he had with the first two. Whew! Take care of yourself, Pop!

Disturbing Scene back in Nagaoka
Conor and I were walking home the other night from school. We don't finish until 9pm, so it's usually quite dark. I don't remember what we were talking about, but I didn't even notice we were walking towards a bit of a scuffle going on only a few yards ahead of us. Conor interrupted our conversation to kinda pulled me closer to the street with a head nod and a few words of caution. I looked up and a very drunk man was grabbing a woman by her coat and sort of pushing her around in front of a closed shop. Standing right in front of her was a little boy who couldn't have been more than three. She clung to the little boy, trying to block him from the man with her body. Otherwise she was just letting the man... I don't want to say "push". He was sort of moving her left and right by pulling on her coat. He was very drunk. I started to stop, but Conor said we should keep walking. I took a few steps, but couldn't help turning around to make sure she was alright. Conor said we could do more harm if we interfere. I suppose he was right. Sometimes when you interfere she gets more of a beating after she gets home. I felt so helpless. As a woman it was SO hard to just walk away. My stomach hurt and I could feel a few tears coming. I always thought if I saw something like that I would find a verbal way to make it stop. Maybe pretend to know the man, or the woman, and just start talking and smiling until it passed. But I couldn't even do that because I don't know the language. And we couldn't call the police because we don't know the language nearly well enough to communicate what was happening, or even where we were. It broke my heart to walk away from her. I kept looking back, I couldn't help it. At one point I heard loud banging. I thought he was slamming her into the garage door down over the shop front. When I looked back I couldn't see her at first. But then I saw her leaning with all her weight on him and his arms, sort of pushing in a subservient way... if that's possible. In Japan it's possible. The women tend to be VERY subservient. The little boy was standing a few feet away from them, looking up at them, without moving. By now other people were starting to stop and watch too. Conor said we should let the Japanese handle it. I had to have faith that someone would call the appropriate people, and she and the boy would be okay. I just couldn't stop thinking of that little boy, standing there watching this happening right in front of him. This happens all over the world, but it was frustrating just the same. Another unexpected difficulty from not knowing the language. :-(

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to January 21, 2003