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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

PEARL'S ASHES: Chapter 11 Japan

A year and a half into my mission, I had dropped off Pearl's ashes at 15 sites.  Finally Japan, where I performed seven ceremonies in a period of a month.  This was her favorite place to come, certainly because of her roots, but also for the Sakura was in bloom, a particularly cherished time to be here.  We once did a roots search in and around Hiroshima, for that is where most immigrants to Hawaii came from, including her ancestors.  My Spring 2017 around the world adventure will include two weeks on Japan Rail Pass to again visit most of these same sites.

However, back to my pilgrimage, I arrived at Narita Airport from Bangkok on 12March2011, the day after the cataclysmic earthquake off Tohoku, and subsequent tsunami throughout the region causing the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.  While that graphic to the left could well also have represented my eyeballs by the end of the day--I was traveling for 18 hours from the time I awoke in Thailand to when I settled into the Tokyo Westin--this is a NOAA map of tsunami heights into the Pacific.  I initially seemed inspired to become an on-the-spot news reporter.  

But that nightmarish 5-hour struggle into Tokyo, ensconced in an almost blacked hotel room, I came to my senses and ended up dodging the radiation from Fukushima.  Hopping all over the Orient (Beijing and Seoul) and throughout Japan, I did not return home to Honolulu until April 10.  While all these uncertain terribleness was occurring around me, I took a fatalistic attitude and chose to maximize my hedonistic tendencies.  

On March 13 I heard that the French Embassy had urged its citizenry to get out of Tokyo as fast as possible, so I immediately the next morning went to the airport with a goal of getting to Beijing.  I already had a valid visa.  That was a major hassle you can read.  During this period I published a very long article for The Huffinton Post on this crisis:

     The Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami:  The Aftermath

This posting covered 13 days of the calamity, where I was subscribing to The Chicken and Chicken Little School of Reportage.  To begin, off to Beijing to be sufficiently far away.  But early reports indicated the radiation was not as bad as feared.  So I eased back to Seoul.  Then things seemed to get even better, so I flew to Tokyo.  Here are two reports (#1 and #2).  If you've been linking to all those articles, yes, shamefully, I was eating much too well.  I figured if I was going to die soon, I might as well enjoy myself to the fullest.  So I walked next door to Robuchon (that's the view from my Tokyo Westin room), where I might have had my best French meal, ever.

However, again, news reports hinted that the radiation was perhaps nearing Tokyo, so I caught the Shinkansen to the south.  I always get a right side window seat to view Mount Fuji, while consuming a bento and beer or sake or both.  The mountain comes up as soon as 35 minutes after departure from Tokyo Station, but usually closer to 45 minutes on the Hikari.

While in Fukuoka, the accident level at the those damaged nuclear reactors rose to level six.  I learn that there might be some cherry blossoms blooming in Kumamoto, so I caught a train there, then to Kumamoto Castle, where I celebrated PA#16 under cherry blossoms with a light lunch of rice crackers, almonds and sochu...right next to this scene:


Close by was Suizenji Jojuen Garden, almost half a millennium old.  I thought this was a particularly interesting photo.

Next day I was off to Nagasaki.  One dish you absolutely must have there is their tonkatsu, or pork cutlet.  I keep advising L&L BBQ to improve their version by copying the Nagasaki recipe.

Every time I go to Nagasaki, I visit their Peace Park, where the Fat Man A-bomb's epicenter on 9August1945 was right over this point.  Amongst cherry blossoms was placed PA#17.

A couple days later I stopped by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, leaving PA#18.  Here is where Little Boy was dropped on 6August1945.  The Japanese surrendered on 15August1945, ending World War II.

Moving closer to Tokyo, on the 21st day of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, I dropped off PA#19 at the base of the oldest Sakura tree in Japan at the Tasaka Shrine in Kyoto.

Returning to Tokyo, I inquired how best to get to the Fukushima radiation site, and learned that it would take five trains and eight hours each way.   And I would still not be able to get close. I gave up on that and instead went to Yonemura, a Japanese-French fusion gem in Ginza.  On Day 26 I trained to Sapporo and had dinner at Mikuni with my mystery lady, Maria.

I've been to Hokkaido numerous times, primarily to search for the story on Kenjiro's (my father's father) grandmothers.  My next dinner was at Suginome, again with Maria.  Interesting that electricity in Sapporo was normal.  Turns out that there is no common national grid in Japan, and, in fact Western Japan cannot send electricity to help Tokyo Electric Power because they are at different frequencies.

Day 28 of the 11March2011 earthquake found me at the Four Seasons in Tokyo Station.  Don't know how they do it, but someone from that hotel was waiting outside my Shinkansen train when it arrived to walk me to their hotel.  That night I agonized in a 7.1 earthquake.  Not too many reading this has felt anything like this.  I stupidly walked over to the glass wall to view what was happening outside.  I should have immediately made a dash to the bathroom.

I then moved to the Park Hyatt, the star of the movie Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.  This was probably Pearl's very favorite hotel, so I dropped PA#20 at the base of a cherry blossom tree across the street in a park.

Her two favorite Sakura parks were Shinjuku Goen and Jindaiji Botanical Park.  At this tranquil spot at the former to the right went PA#21.

I then trained to Jindaiji, walked around a bit, and was so startled to see a statue that looked like Pearl when we met in 1962, that it did not occur to me to place her ashes next to sculpture.  I learned that the artist was Bussi (yes, that is the spelling), and he completed this work in 1962.  With the help of the office staff there, I'm still trying to find out who was the model.  I had to return later to drop her ashes here in a chapter to come.

Here is a grand summary of my Circle-Pacific trip that resulted in Chapters 10 and 11.  This might have been my most stressful, yet incredibly enjoyable, trip, ever.

During my month flitting around the Orient, I had a comprehensive e-mail discussion with a score of colleagues on why the A-bomb sites of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were safe, when both  Chernobyl and Fukushima will remain lethal for a long time to come.  The short answer is that, while the half lives of plutonium and uranium are around 25,000 years for the former and a billion years for the latter, exploding nuclear power plants release more material with isotopes having half-lives of a much shorter period, and therefore more radioactively dangerous.  That's Fat Man over Nagasaki with me to the right.

Next week:  Rio de Janeiro.
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