Workshops and Cross-Cultural Dialog in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, with a Special Emphasis on Building Bridges with our Friends in the Survivor Community in Nagasaki


Click through older posts to see pictures
of our work in various cities, including
Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Teacher's Impressions

Shofukuji Temple

     After we left Hiroshima on August 7, where we engaged in numerous conferences, workshops, and conversations about how to make the world more peaceful, we took a train to Nagasaki and entered its mountainous enchantment. It was hard to believe that this beautiful city had been destroyed by a nuclear bomb 65 years ago, since it miraculously maintained its charm and a thinly veiled progressivism and independence. I admired the way in which the inhabitants celebrated their long history of religious diversity, scientific innovation, and cultural dissidence, and it is truly ironic that Nagasaki is the last city to be devastated by nuclear weapons in history in a war that was already finished.

     Although we attended the smaller memorial ceremonies at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, and although we were graced by an audience with the mayor of Nagasaki, the most sacred moment for me was not a memorial ceremony, nor was it workshops or conferences or collecting signatures on petitions. It was only on the next day when I was in a ruined temple alone that I was able to begin thinking about August 6 and August 9. Because our schedule was so busy, and because we – especially my students Nick and Pauline – were constantly asked to speak – we did not have enough time to quietly reflect, an important component of commemoration. We also did not have time to recover from the rigors of international travel, nor to rest in between activities. It is important for activists – adults and students -- to cultivate their passions and develop genuine relationships so that the work is truly meaningful and not just merely “going through the motions.” It was very difficult for us to communicate, and we are grateful for those who translated for us, but we were always speaking through someone else. Often we could not talk when we wanted to speak. Therefore, the truly beautiful moments were the unintended ones at serendipitous times when the circumstances of communication were right.
     I am especially grateful to our Japanese hosts who reached out in cross-cultural dialogue and listened to us as individuals and saw us as true partners. In particular, I thank Mr. Okuzumi, the teacher leader of the Tokyo student group, as well as Mrs. Yamashita, who hosted us in Nagasaki. Relationships among the members of groups who do this kind of work are as important as the work itself. We cannot make a more peaceful world unless we treat each other as individuals with respect, love, and dignity. I am thankful for each occasion when our hosts were kind and thoughtful. A special thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Hashiguchi, who took me to Mt. Fuji, where I missed the mountain but saw a rainbow, to Mio-san, who translated but also showed me how to dance around in a yukata, and Taka-san, a young journalist who also became my adopted little Japanese brother. Finally, gratitude must be extended to Mutsuko-san and Lydia-san, the remarkable mothers of Pauline and Nick. Domo arigato gozaimasu. Thank you.

Moments When This Journey Seemed “Perfect”:

1.     Spending an hour in the ramshackle 17th century Shofukuji Temple in Nagasaki that escaped – by a few meters – the fires of the atomic bomb. It stands as the city’s most powerful unofficial memorial, and it was a quiet place where I could finally reflect on the loss, and the meaning that we were all trying to make of it.  
2.     Meeting with hibakusha (survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), including Mrs. Kodoma, Mr. Kido, Mr. Tanaka, Mr. Tomonaga, and Mr. Hiroge. In particular, high points for me were visiting:
*     Mrs. Akizuki, the nurse protagonist in the movie about the Nagasaki hospital. Like an inquisitive American, I asked her about her courtship with Dr. Akizuki, and I made her blush like a schoolgirl. She said no one had ever asked her that. I would like to think that I gave her five minutes of happy memories.
*      Mr. Konishi, of Tokyo, a Hiroshima survivor who spoke at St. Luke’s in 2005. I visited him in the hospital on my last day in Japan, since a bad fall has incapacitated him. I reminded him that if he had survived Hiroshima, he would find a way to survive again. He managed to wave goodbye, and I will continue to contact him.
3.     Watching my American students as they become more effective and sophisticated diplomats who explained their own national narrative and challenged their peers to think strategically. 
4.     Seeing high school students and their teachers from Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Korea, and the Philippines struggling to find a common voice and an effective strategy to remake the world. Considering what had happened in history among these nations, bringing together these young people was truly incredible. 
5.     Being inspired by all the young people I met in Japan. 
6.     Learning from the students from Tokyo under the leadership of Mr. Okuzumi and the other teachers. I was encouraged by their commitment and passion.
     On September 1, 2010, Nick and Pauline will travel to Senator Schumer’s office in Washington, D.C., where they will present the petitions collected in Japan.
Ms. Kim Allen, Teacher

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