Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The 2005 School Trip, Day One

It all started bloody early this year....we met at the school at 6:15. At least it's a clear, sunny day. Amazingly, all the kids are here on time. This is the 6th time I’ve been dragged into one of these school trips, and I’ve never seen such eerily good behavior. I’m already spooked.

We ride the regular train to Narita, not the usual Ayame Express. It’s packed solid with commuting students. Getting off the train at Narita Station is a bit of a hassle.

Mr. O (I just can't get away from that guy!) is using one of those suitcases with a built-in hand truck with the handle extended all the way. It's like a long tail dragging behind him, and it's a bloody annoyance when we’re all walking in a great, big line. When we are in Narita Station I inadvertently kick it several times and actually trip over it twice before I start yelling obscenities. Doesn't phase the guy at all.

On the Narita Express the boys have no idea of their seating arrangement (did they even bring their guidebooks? I know, stupid question...). I switch seats with someone who is absent, then wind up trading yet again with a boy who wants to play cards with his buddies. They are playing cards with a Buzz Lightyear deck. Oh, joy.

Arrival at Tokyo Station. The station is a sprawling labyrinth crawling with people. Younger folk and foreigners thread their way gingerly through our oozing mass of uniformed youth. Middle-aged and elderly simply barge their way through. Time was short getting off the Narita Express, so it was a mad rush. Luckily, the Shinkansen (New Trunk Line, i.e. bullet train) is on an extended stop here in Tokyo, so we can take our time getting on and dissolving into chaos. For some strange reason, on the Shinkansen they haven't just divided us by class, they've divided us by gender. The girls have a nice, quiet car to themselves. The boys' car is filled with a lively din (read "cacophony") even before we get started.

So much for getting a nice nap...

Actually, as it turns out, I get about 2 hours of welcome shuteye, even with the three rugby players having a very exuberant (read “obnoxious”) card game behind me!

After we pass Nagoya we get into the eerily lovely, hilly landscape that is the Kansai area, birthplace of Japanese culture. There are splashes of brilliant autumn colors, as if an artist's palette dribbled globs of paint here and there on the hills.

The Shinkansen garbage-collector girls wear uniforms that are bright pink and battleship gray. If this was meant to be eye candy, it sure isn’t very tasty. Whose idea was it, anyway? Was it some psychologist’s bright idea to discourage sexual harassment? At least the puke green dresses worn by girls of Hokota 1st Senior High back in the 90s, designed with the aforementioned thought in mind, made no pretense of being attractive.

Finally we arrive at our first travel destination, Hiroshima. We travel from Hiroshima Station to the Peace Park by riding the famous streetcars. It’s a radical departure from our usual travel procedure in that city, and it’s interesting, if a bit hot and crowded...

The Peace Park.

This is my sixth visit here, and it still hasn't lost its impact. Unlike previous years, however, we are here in the afternoon, and it is crowded! I mean, I have NEVER seen it so packed! Lots and lots of school groups, and they're unbelievably noisy. We have one hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) guide for our whole room (last year they broke each room up into groups, which was a much better idea), and with all those yowling senior high girls and giggling elementary school kids all around us, it's almost impossible to hear what she is saying even with her portable amplifier. She does keep up quite a dialog, though.

Finally, at an old Edo-era gravestone which was tilted by the bomb (and was the only surviving relic of a temple that got completely toasted, as the fireball was almost directly overhead), we get a moment of peace, and she can finally tell her story and be heard. As with last year, the first time we had hibakusha guides, her tale is a nasty one made worse by the fact that it actually happened. Still, amazingly, after all of the expected nightmare images of real-life fire and brimstone, she actually makes a big point of commenting on the kindness of the soldiers of the U.S. occupation.

“In every country,” she says, “including Japan, the U.S., North and South Korea, China, even Iraq, there are both good and bad people. Never forget that.”


The students seem unusually unresponsive this year. Not only is their behavior uncannily good, but it's too good. They're kind of cold. But at least, for once, I'm not getting the "Hiroshima look". I’m also very thankful that no students faint this year.

After the park tour, we make our way over to the Museum, and the place is packed solid...especially the most nightmarish part. It’s a student traffic jam. Finally clearing that mess, we assemble at the edge of the grounds, and the kids are cheerful as if we were returning from a picnic.

Kids. It must be wonderful to live in a world all your own.

An old man on a bicycle stops and asks us where we're from. In Hiroshima, such displays of amicability are actually quite common; a big city with a small-town attitude, a unique culture, a tragic history (even beyond the bomb), and people that are just plain interesting. That is the charm of this fabled city.

Next, each of our four room groups goes to Sadako's memorial (also known as the Children’s Memorial) to leave its chain of paper cranes. Then we walk over to the hotel, literally right across the street from the A-Bomb Dome, where dinner is waiting. We have Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, naturally. (So much for my diet...again). The chief homeroom teacher of my room, Mr. Sakuma (who is also connected to the music club, so I’ll use his full name), is at his “lovable bulldog” best, giving out affection and head-thumpings in equal measure. Yes, he’s a surly, little guy with an explosive temper and a notoriously loud shout, but he really cares about the kids, and they love him for it.

Not all the teachers do, however. At the teachers' reception, Mr. O tears into Mr. Sakuma with his characteristic polite, smug self-righteousness, leading to a surprising confrontation. He quietly accuses Mr. Sakuma of using corporal punishment against the students, concluding by saying, “We, the faculty of Seishin Gakuen, will not tolerate this. Keep this in mind, and change your behavior accordingly.” Mr. Sakuma’s demand for an explanation is far less quiet and far less polite. Mr. O then attempts to dodge the issue, as usual, but it only makes Mr. Sakuma madder. Mr. O then quickly retires, and the rest of the meeting becomes a Mr. O hate party, and somehow I wind up in the very center of it.


Oh, well. At least it’s refreshing to know I have so much support.

Good night!


  • I am very jealous Japanese student in the present generation, they could get out their living city and go to another cities for having their school trip..That is really nice and treasure outdoor education days for them.

    Look back in my childhood, we had a one day trip for picnic and BBQ on the beach only.

    Why don’t you post a photo here for garbage-collector girls work in the Shinkansen?

    That must be funny ^_^

    By Anonymous L.c_d, at 6:09 PM  

  • I remember that 8 hours long bus journey to Kansai region, from Tokyo. Shinkansen is totally out of my budget, haha! Lucky kids!

    Never taste Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki before, probably as good as Osaka-styled? :)

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 5:27 PM  

  • K and I have never been to Hiroshima. We must do that before too long to pay our respects and reflect on the meaning of the events there. I don't think I'd want to do with with a group of high school kids though and guy who gets in your way with his suitcase and cramps your style with his words. (:-0

    Taking the local train to Narita then changing to the express to Tokyo does not sound like fun. Happily, without four classes of kids in tow, we can take the express bus from Itako directly there which is pretty painless.

    The words of the hibakusha telling the kids to always remember that there are good people and bad people in every country is remarkable considering. Or perhaps her experiences is what brought her that awareness.

    gqqmlr - how Bush says "quagmire" after drinking.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:07 PM  

  • The hibakusha guide my group had in last year's tour had an even more shocking first-hand story to tell. Her class, like so many others, was out participating in forced demolition of houses when the bomb hit. All of her classmates were incinerated. The only reason she survived was that her group leader had sent her to get water. She was inside the school building, which fortunately was made of brick. She was lucky to escape with only serious burns and lacerations from flying glass.

    That's when one of the girl students in my group (a French horn player) fainted, which was perhaps merciful as it got me out of there. However, when I made my way back to the group later, the hibakusha was telling the students not to blame America. She said the real culprit was war.

    Actually, all of the hibakusha I've met at that park, and there have been quite a few, have been amiable, eager to help, and eager to get acquainted. The fact of my obvious gaijin-ness has only served to make them more interested in working with me instead of trying to preach at me, for which I have always been grateful.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:27 PM  

  • If only every living souls had the same level of understanding like fellow hibakusha...we will have brighter future, better world, no?

    Some people are gaijin even in their own country, so i think you've done well to gain their recognition and acceptance.

    Congrats, Moody!

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 4:18 PM  

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