Due to some technical difficulties probably resulting from DJing one too many raves in high school, my computer decided to stop working for a few weeks in Hong Kong, so I am playing a bit of blog catchup from home.
Without further ado…Japan. To be honest, Japan was not a country I originally thought I would have the opportunity to see while on exchange, however, a cheap flight and an extra push from a good friend to pull the trigger on Sky Scanner landed me in Tokyo two weeks later, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Although every country I visited deviated from the norm of life back State-side, Japan differed in ways that I could have never predicted. For one, the three cities I visited were all drastically different from the US, but more surprisingly, they were all drastically different from each other. So much so, that I almost felt as if Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima were different countries rather than cities 2 hours apart in the same country.
For the most part, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when landing into the most populated city on the planet. By this point in time, I had lived for 4 months in Hong Kong, so metropolis life wasn’t necessarily culture shock in it’s own right. However, what did shock me was how peaceful Tokyo was considering its size. For a city of over 35 million people, Tokyo might have been one of the most calm and relaxing places I had been. There were certainly crowded areas (like the electronics market with SEGA stores at every corner and the night life areas of Shibuya and Roppongi), but by and large, I was overwhelmed at Tokyo’s efficiency, cleanliness, and most of all, friendliness.
Speaking to Tokyo’s efficiency, this city (and Japan as a whole for that matter) knows how to move people. Lots of people. And fast. I have never seen a more complex metropolis train map in my life for a single city, yet after a few days there, I began to appreciate the brilliance of such an amazing feat of ingenuity. To build a mass transport system for a city of 35 million and to have the thing work daily with very little trouble is astounding. It sounds a bit dramatic, but the train system in Tokyo, as well as the rest of Japan, is truly a work of art.
Aside from a brilliant train system, Tokyo may also have been the most diverse city in which I have been. The differences in regions within Tokyo was not necessarily due to a difference in the general culture of the locals, but the “feel” of the different areas was very noticeable. I know this is an extremely generic statement, so let me elaborate a bit.
From the 5am tuna action on the coast, to the peaceful and newly built region in Odiba, to the absolutely insane electronic markets, to the peaceful Tokyo garden (the oasis in the concrete jungle), to the business district in Central, each area was vastly different from the others. Each area offered a unique experience, yet was fully Tokyo in its own way. Join all of the different regions together, with their different paces of life, architecture, cuisine, and places of interest and throw in a brilliant train system to connect them together and you truly get a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. You get Tokyo.
However, although each region of Tokyo differed in many ways, there was one constant- the people. As a collective whole, the Japanese people were among the most friendly I encountered in Asia. Although the language barrier was usually a bit of an issue, I never met a local who didn’t take time out of their day to help me fumble through my map and figure out which direction to walk, which rail to take, or which stop to get off for the next destination. Always greeted by a general willingness to lend a helping hand, I was overwhelmed with the Japanese hospitality. This remained true throughout Kyoto and Hiroshima as well.
Kyoto was pretty much different from Tokyo in every way imaginable. Taking a 2-hour bullet train from Tokyo, I arrived in Japan’s sacred city. With many temples, trees, and mountains surrounding us, Kyoto was rich in natural beauty and historical culture. I will never forget the two-hour canoe ride down the river with mountains and trees surrounding us- it looked like the perfect landscape out of an old Japanese movie in which Samurai war lords would fight feudal battles over power and territory. I'm sure Tom Cruise was there as well, because they needed an American's help to fight ;). While Tokyo felt futuristic in almost every way, Kyoto took me back a few years in the time machine.
Visiting Hiroshima was an absolute necessity for me once I purchased my flight to Japan. After writing my AP Language final on the ethics behind the atomic bomb, I knew I could not go to Japan without seeing one of the hallowed cities. Without turning this too much into a political post (the internet is the worst place for these kinds of “debates”) I’ll describe my thoughts after seeing the only original building left standing in a city that was roughly the population of my hometown, Fort Wayne, at the time of the bombings.
Initially, seeing the building with all of the windows blown out and rubble on the floor in the midst of a thriving mid-sized city left me a bit “shell-shocked.” Riding my bike all day with David tasting local cuisine and enjoying all Hiroshima had to offer was fantastic, and then we pulled up to the Genbaku Dome. And then I realized that in this city still exists an aura of pain that I have never experienced and pray that I will never experience. And then I realized that all of the kind, friendly people I referred to a few paragraphs above had to endure the effects of a weapon that killed indiscriminately. And then I realized that all of the war rhetoric had reduced the decision to drop the bomb to terms of a simple mathematical equation of saving American lives at the expense of Japanese lives. And then I realized that America had placed a statement of global hegemony to Russia over innocent lives. And then I realized that the paper I wrote back in 2009 could never adequately describe how wrong this decision was.
I am aware that in war, bad things happen. My grandfather fought in Germany as a sniper in World War II and aided in liberating a concentration camp, and I couldn’t be more proud of his service and the legacy he left for the Williams name. However, I am not willing to let the excuse of war cloud my judgment regarding the senseless loss of innocent human life and reducing man to a math equation. It’s easy to sit in a war room and draw up X’s and O’s so long as you, your wife and your kids aren’t apart of the equation of sacrifice. However, those were someone’s wives. Those were someone’s kids. Japanese, or American, they were still human, and losing sight of this fact is anything but human.
After seeing the results of a weapon designed to reduce men to ash, I know now, more than ever, that Hiroshima is a testament to the horrible things of which man is capable, however, Hiroshima is also a testament to the inexplicable resolve man has to not only survive, but to rise above less-than-ideal circumstances and thrive.