Friday, September 06, 2013

August 6th, in the Age of Fukushima

The lines were clearly drawn, two sides, each yelling through bullhorns.  Around and between them stood the riot cops, in their blue helmets and light body armor. 

The passion of the arguments was bringing the heat into the day.  The rightists were relatively few in number, but shouted the loudest.  Despite their personal beliefs that they represent the soul of this country, the majority looked like they didn't belong, looking like society's bottom-feeders.  Most had the stocky build of the working class, and well as the conservativism of the blue collar worker of my own country, I find myself surprised at their suppost for a cause that has so little concern with their well-being.  Economic cannon fodder. 

The other side didn't speak so vehemently, but had greater representation.  Two or three of them fielded responses to why Japan needs to hold onto nuclear power, why it needs to beef up its military.  One brave guy was taunting the riot police directly into their faces through a bullhorn.  The rest of the leftists numbers sat quietly on the ground, listening to calmer speeches issuing from a series of speakers standing before the atomic dome.  The speakers rotated in and out for a while, one of them a German national with a really bad translator.  Just to the left of the speakers were another cluster of red-clad righter wingers being ignored by the crowd despite their best tough guy scowls and stances.  

There were a number of smaller peace groups about,  as well as anti-nuke groups with more localized concerns such as stopping a particular reactor, like Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi.  They rarely numbered more than a dozen, but they did have guitars, and they did have songs. 

A group of Buddhists sat not far off, chanting and beating drums as the sun falls upon upon their saffron robes.  Three priests of a different sect ignored the din, offering incense at a stone altar front of the dome. 

I smile at the passing foreign tourists who might mistake this for the actual ceremony.

And plainsclothes cops with the tell-tale ear pieces film it all.

Seated quietly to the side are a few dozen people clad in black.  Hibakusha.  It is they I feel for most of all in this, as they try to remember with dignity friends and family members now lost.  Yet all around them the political chaos reigns.

At 8:15, all fall silent, only the cicadas keeping up the din.  Bells from across the city begin to toll.

On the other end of the Peace Park, the Prime Minister will be speaking soon.  Newly elected politician Yamamoto Taro gives a rousing speech to his anti-nuke constituents, stating that it is time to shout down the PM.  Nearly a thousand people stand and begin to march toward the site of the official ceremony.  The riot cops march with them, directing traffic along the way.  I follow at a safe distance. Despite my solidarity with their cause, I choose to honor the bomb victims and keep my politics in my pocket today.  When we near the Peace Museum, the march veers toward the headquarters of the Chugoku Electric Power company, where they will continue the chanting for another hour. 

I decide instead to move toward the official memorial ceremony.  A UN representative is giving the usual shallow and vapid speech in English, saying something about how we mustn't repeat the horrors of nuclear war.   But how can she speak on the horrors of nuclear war while ignoring the ongoing horrors in Fukushima?   

I return to the dome, passing the white clad grannies performing their annual peace flags protest, handing out flowers to passerby.   One of their number will step up to the mic holding a flag and say, "Japan wants peace,"  or "The US wants Peace," or "Malawi wants peace."  Compared to the peace marchers, it is neat and tidy, and so inoffensibly Japanese.

The leftist having moved on, the rightists are now shouting at one another.  I hear one group repeating the words, "American aggression, American aggression."  (Ironically enough, within 24 hours the media will quote the memorial attendee Oliver Stone with saying the same thing.)  Another group of rightists is making racial taunts against Korea.  A lone woman holds a small sign in his face, which says simply, "Not Today."     

A group of relay runners begins to move out onto the hot city streets, heading toward Nagasaki.  I too move on.  In the park, a group of high school girls offer tea for peace.  I accept a bowl, piping hot but surprisingly refreshing against the heat.  Behind me, a Korean tour group is praying at the memorial for Korean victims.   In front of me, a man with the Chinese name is speaking in Japanese with some students before the Memorial to the Unknown Victims.  Later that evening, I'll see a large group of monks chanting here, as this is the only place in the park where the ashes of the cremated have actually been laid to rest.  I move away from them, to ring the peace bell and offer a prayer.

I've been here all morning and am beginning to grow overwhelmed by the crowds and the heaviness.  I smile at the Japanese man wearing the USAF T-shirt with out any sense of irony, and at the American Flag waving above a bar a few streets from the park. 

I walk a long way, eventually finding my respite in Toshogu Shrine, on the other side of town.  I follow the forest path up to the Buddhist Peace Stupa atop the hill.  The trail lower down is swept clean, but higher up it is littered with leaves and the carcasses of cicada.  It looks as if the Shintoists swept only until the uppermost shrine, leaving the Buddhists to fend for themselves on the higher sections.  Nevertheless, this path must be beautiful in the spring, under the spread of pink sakura overhead. 

I top the hill, the stupa before me, built on the Burmese model.  There are dozens of these throughout Japan, warranting a book, or at least an article.  It is tough to look directly at it today, as it literally glows white in the sun.  It is well into the 30's now, too hot to linger.  I'll come back to town in the cool of the evening...

...Miki and I return to the Peace Park at dusk.  Things are far quieter, but tens of thousands of people continue to mill about.  We stop and watch Oliver Stone sitting on a stage with a news team.  We don't stay for his remarks, choose instead to read them in tomorrow's paper.  The area around the dome is still lively, a band now playing uplifting music for some reason.  Neither Miki nor I are in the mood, so we go sit by the river.  A hundred people crowd the steps, gently placing candles wrapped in colorful paper bags into the water.  It reminds both of us of the funerary ghats along the Ganges.  A cello plays as the bags begin to follow the current, moving down river toward what ever comes next...

On the turntable:  Shakti, "Shakti"
On the nighttable:  Oliver Statler, The Black Ship Scroll"

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