Saturday, August 6, 2011

Twist Of Fate

A-Bomb Dome Interior from Google Street View
Saturday marked the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Tora-kun,one of Temple Valley's most beloved residents, attended this year's memorial ceremony held at Hiroshima's Peace Park just as he has every year for about half a decade now. That’s more times than the US government has sent any official representative to the event. In fact last year was the first time the U.S. sent a delegation to the ceremony. Just like the rest of the dignitaries in the audience they sat up front in a reserved section where underneath their chairs were bottles of chilled mineral water to help them survive the sweltering heat of a typical August morning in Hiroshima.

After the final speech was delivered, signaling the end of last year's ceremony, Tora-kun hung around the park for a few moments of quiet time. Suddenly he spied out of the corner of his eye something that seemed out of place. It was an unopened bottle of mineral water wasting away beneath the seat that minutes before cradled the bottoms of the U.S. ambassador. Tora-kun made a bee line for the ambassador's former perch and upon arrival stuffed the sealed, slightly chilled bottle in his satchel.

The next time I saw Tora-kun he gifted me with this treasured discovery. He explained how it struck him as somewhat ironic that he should find that particular bottle of cool mountain mist left lingering in that most conspicuous of places. After all, he noted, everyone had just spent the better part of the morning remembering the countless victims who, on the day that death mushroomed in the skies over Hiroshima more than half a century ago, were begging for just a sip of water to cool lips that would be parched for an eternity.

Touched that he would remember me in that way and was thoughtful enough to bring back a souvenir, I placed the bottle in a niche of honor inside my humble abode. There the bottle remained untouched until, in perhaps another twist of irony, Wednesday, March 23. Thanks to the leaking nuclear reactors in Fukushima, on that day the radiation level in the Tokyo water supply spiked so high that the government advised pregnant women and children under one year of age to refrain form drinking anything from the tap. Although my youngest is a lot older than one, when he was looking for something to quench his thirst that day, I pulled out that bottle of mineral water, twisted off the cap and poured out the contents into a glass for him to drink in. Since then we've run out of mineral water but our fears of radiation poisoning have been steadily replenished by a growing list of radiation-tainted foods from an ever-expanding geographical zone that encompasses areas of northeastern and central Japan.

This year Tora-kun called me from Hiroshima to tell me the mayor was delivering a televised speech in English for all the world to hear. In that message delivered against the backdrop of the shelled out A-bomb Dome, I spied a well spring of hope. Calling on everyone “to do everything in our power to abolish nuclear weapons and build lasting world peace,” the mayor also urged the Japanese government to “quickly review our energy policies, and institute concrete countermeasures.” Living in a world where nuclear clouds loom large over the horizon, maybe this is as close to finding a silver lining as we'll ever come. The hope that the lessons of the past will illuminate our future is all we really have now.


I don't know how Tora-kun does it. The guy has got a lot of time but not much of an income. Actually he has made a science of traveling on the cheap. Eschewing the more expensive express trains or planes that would get him there in virtually a blink of an eye, he uses only local lines. After 14 hours and who knows how many transfers he winds up in Hiroshima, located halfway across the country from Temple Valley in Yokohama, all for a grand total of less than two thousand yen (a little more than twenty dollars)in train tickets. If you have more time than money to spare, it's definitely the way to go.

Related: 2011 Hiroshima Peace Declaration

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