Sunday, 18 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 4.

Sunday 4th June

This morning we took a taxi to the Eizen-Ji Temple to meet the Buddhist monk once again. He guided us around the temple where we saw the granite family shrines of local people. A specially commissioned monument for the P.O.W.’s who had died in Hakodate camp was also there with the man who had designed it and raised the funds for its erection there.

There followed a fifteen minute service with the priest chanting and striking a large brass urn that gave off the sound of a deep bell that resonated around the building, a large solid wooden drum was also struck at intervals, as the service progressed we in turn said silent prayers and burnt incense.

A film crew and reporters were present to record the event, and once the service was over, we looked around several parts of the temple before sipping green tea and eating traditional Japanese cakes whilst seated cross-legged on the floor, in a large communal room in the adjoining house. It was now lunchtime so we made our way to a small French restaurant where we had an enjoyable meal of soup, brioche and kebabs.

In the afternoon we went to the YMCA were I gave a talk in the hall to a group of 60 local Japanese majority of which were elderly, they listened in silence and with their impassive features I did wonder if I was making any impression on them. When I had finished speaking, several asked questions about life in the camp, I was surprised when an Australian got up and spoke, then later I met three who I learned were all English teachers, this rather amused Angela, the thought of Japanese students speaking English with an Assue accent.

As I left the platform a Japanese man took over and started to speak, pinning up a very large sheet of paper covered in Japanese writing, I recognised him as Mr Asari the man who I assisted planting the tree and rose bush, he was telling them that it was time that Hakodate remembered the P.O.W.’s who died there also the Japanese dead by erecting a city memorial.

Before leaving I was offered several thousand Yen for my visit, I refused to accept it, telling them to use it to start their fund for the memorial.

This engagement over, we returned to the hotel to collect our cases, then boarded the airport bus which took us a short ride to the edge of the city to a very modern airport.

The flight to Tokyo in the A.N.A. aircraft had the usual pilots view on the overhead cabin television screen which enables passengers to watch the take off and landing, switching to look vertically down as it leaves the ground and then switches back as it approaches the runway for landing. Our flight time from Hakodate to Tokyo Haneda airport was one hour ten minutes. We then boarded a limousine bus to Tokyo Central Station where we hired a taxi to our hotel and unpacked.

It was getting late when we took a stroll to a fast food bar for a meal of rice and tempura, miso soup with noodles and a cold beer.

Monday 5th June

Angela and Bari went off to Tokyo Central Station in order to book our seats on the ‘Bullet’ train for our following days journey to Hiroshima, they also called in at the British Airways office to book our seats for the homeward flight.

I had a relaxing morning and after lunch we decided to try the Tokyo underground system, a notorious rabbit warren. After studying the route charts, went to the Asakusa district, a main traditional Japanese shopping area, we encountered no problems in getting there, but we had avoided the rush hour! For the first time during our stay in Japan, more tourists were noticeable, most of the shops were for tourists, all selling similar Japanese goods, like elsewhere, there were some old streets, others modern. We did our shopping and then made our way back and went out for an evening meal.

Tuesday 6th June

Today we travelled without our Japanese companions, boarding the ‘Bullet’ train for Okyama, then a quick change of trains for the remaining journey to Hiroshima, a total journey time of just over five hours.

We disembarked and were met by Mr Kobayashi, the representative of the Japanese P.O.W. Network. We then travelled by taxi to the Memorial Park, there we were met by a young lady interpreter, also, I was introduced to a gentleman, Mr Mori, who as a child of eight years of age had remarkably survived, from only a distance of two miles, the blast of the atomic bomb that had been dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima. We entered a large hall where refreshments were being served and ordered coffee while Mr Mori continued with his story of survival. Apparently he was blown off his feet by the blast and into a shallow river, the weeds, reeds and mud covered him and protected him from the radiation, two other boys, his friends, who stood beside him, died.

I asked his views on the dropping of the bomb, “It was a terrible thing”, he said, “But it had saved many lives by stopping the war”.

Meanwhile, Mr Kobayashi had taken Angela and Bari around the museum, a place which I had already visited on a previous trip, I met up with them outside. Angela said she found the exhibits interesting but would have liked more time.

We returned to the rail station and caught a local train to the coastal channel port town of Onomichi, arriving at our hotel, the Green Hill, just after 18:00 hours. At 18:30 we attended a formal dinner in the hotel with a group of invited guests, which finished at 21:00 hours.

Wednesday 7th June

A small ferry from a dock immediately outside of our hotel took us across the short expanse of water to the town of Makaishima opposite, where a monument to the P.O.W.’s who had worked and died there had been erected four years earlier. I was then taken to a perk where the English Oak Tree that had been planted near the memorial had been moved to, it had been realised that it would have grow too large to leave by the towns road in a central location.

We then returned to the factory where the P.O.W.’s worked, this was now producing Japanese open toed socks. In the owners office while being entertained with the traditional cup of green tea, we were presented with three pairs of socks each.

Before boarding the ‘Bullet’ train for our return to Tokyo, we were taken up the mountain overlooking the town and the coastal inlets of the sea that interspersed this area forming a group of small islands.

Yoshiko, Taeko and Fuyuko were waiting for us as the train pulled into Tokyo Central Station. It was our last meeting and time to thank them for all that they had done to make this a most enjoyable and unforgettable visit. There was a lot of talk as we enjoyed our last meal together before finally saying goodbye.

Thursday 8th June

We made an early start to ensure there were no hiccups in getting to the airport on time. We left the hotel by taxi to Tokyo Central Air Terminal, from there to Narita Airport by Limousine Bus. A stroll around the airport shops for last minute presents, light refreshments, then boarding the aircraft which departed on time at 13:10 for our 10½ hour flight home across the top of Siberia.

Friday 9th June 

Arrived at London, Heathrow Airport at 16:47, just three minutes early from our scheduled time of arrival, ending our trip to Japan.

1 comment:

  1. The story of the Japanese man who designed a monument to the POWs who died, and also raised the funds for it, is most impressive. There is a similar monument to the Dutch prisoners who died in Mizumaki, tended by three brothers in a Japanese family there. They were motivated out of empathy for the victims of war: their own brother died in the war, far from home.

    I'm also impressed by all of the media attention you received, and the marvelous hosting by the POW Research Network Japan.