Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hiroshima: Part 2

 After our first day and a half in Hiroshima, we were buzzing with good vibes. Even though we left the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in gloomy moods, spending time cruising the city with my dad and my husband cheered me up immediately. You couldn't have found a happier girl. Japanese sunshine, delicious sushi, and ice cream on the canal all framed by the emerging cherry blossoms made for an incredibly sweet time.

Just when I thought our trip couldn't get any better, my Japanese family members showed up at the hotel the next morning with bright smiles and high spirits. My Obaasan (grandma), Uncle Paul, Cousin Wendy, Cousin Chris, and Cousin Jeannie came from California and Hawaii to retrace our family roots in Hiroshima. My Obaasan spent part of her childhood in a town close to Hiroshima and was so excited to be back in the place of her family's birth.

After everyone settled in at the hotel, we all traveled by ferry to Miyajima, also known as the Shrine Island.

On the ferry, we saw beautiful views of the famous torii gate. The gate was part of the Itsukushima Shrine which was first constructed in the 6th century. It was dedicated to the three daughters of the Shinto deity of the seas and storms. Since the shrine and the island itself are considered sacred, no commoners were allowed to visit throughout much of its history. The shrine was built like a pier over the water to create a barrier between the sacred and the profane. Those who sailed to the island had to navigate through the torii gate in order to arrive at the shrine.

 Here, you can see the torii gate in the distance from the ferry.

Once we arrived at Miyajima, we ate a delicious udon/soba lunch before we started the walk around the island. The circular island path was framed by all kinds of souvenir shops, restaurants, and coffee shops. My Cousin Wendy bought us all Momiji Manju, maple-leaf-shaped cake filled with mashed sweet bean paste, to eat as we walked. Tyler and I ran up a hill to survey the momentous structure pictured above. The Senjokaku Shrine, also known as The Hall of a Thousand Tatami Mats, was built in 1587 by a Japanese warlord as a place to hold sutra-chanting in honor of war casualties. 

Another funny thing about the island is that Japanese deer, also called Nihonjika, were everywhere! They acted more like pet dogs than they did like deer. They were so "friendly" with people that they could be regularly seen chasing down an innocent child holding a bag of food. We saw a poor guy munching on french fries get accosted by about six deer. 

The traditional rice scoop that comes from Miyajima, called the Miyajima Shakushi, was featured in every shop window. Towards the end of our walk, we came upon a giant Miyajima Shakushi on display. When Tyler saw it, he exclaimed, "The world's largest ping-pong paddle!" 

The next day, we were all in for a special treat. My grandma's cousins came to the hotel at 10:00am to pick us up and take us to Kamifukawa, my family's hometown in Japan. My grandma stayed in Kamifukawa for a year when she was in elementary school and only has fond memories and happy stories to tell about her time. After we all packed into two large vans, we headed to the cemetary where my grandma's grandfather is buried. The stone marker above features the family name, Kawate, and is the grave of my great-great-grandpa. The photo to the right is a picture of the most adorable little girl on the planet named Ai (meaning "love" in Japanese). She's my grandma's cousin's granddaughter, which I believe makes her my third cousin. 

My grandma's closest cousin, Toyoko, stood next to the grave markers and shared history in Japanese. She was a fountain of knowledge and recounted many stories of my great-great-grandparents. We were all able to find out a great deal about our family history. 
On a more sorrowful note, Toyoko later shared with us her own experience in the 1945 atomic bomb. Toyoko was only 17-years-old when the bomb detonated. She had traveled from Kamifukawa to Hiroshima to work in the city. She was only 2 kilometers away from the epicenter when she saw and heart the blast. Toyoko rolled up her sleeve to reveal a patch of flash burns that she incurred at the moment of the explosion. She said that her hair was singed, her clothes were falling off, and she was scorched from head to toe. Her shoes were so burnt that she took them off, left them behind, and walked many miles from Hiroshima to her home.
Having a family member tell such a powerful story really hit home. The atrocities of nuclear weapons became so real to me after hearing from Toyoko and visiting the memorial museum.

It was so neat witnessing my family members discuss and try and figure out our family history. I learned a great deal not only about our lineage, but about the Japanese culture and the traditions of family life. My Cousin Chris has been piecing together parts of our family history puzzle for years now and recorded a great deal of important information from our time at the cemetary.

After we left the cemetary, we visited our family house built by my great-grandfather. The house is used for the sole purpose of family gatherings.

 Our generous family members served us green tea and a cracker-like snack. We sat around two tables talking and enjoying the company of new family members.

 My Obaasan, pictured above, was so happy and content to be reunited with her cousins in a place she had visited so long ago. She was beaming the entire time!

To end our beautiful day, we went to a delicious traditional Japanese restaurant. Obaasan, Toyoko, and I ordered bento boxes with soup, rice, vegetables, tofu, and tempura. Just look at those two gorgeous ladies in the photo above. Can you believe that they're in their late 80's? Man, I have some good genes.

Our time in Japan was one of the most special and memorable trips I've ever had. I still can't believe that I was able to visit the place where my family originiated from and connect with so many of my native Japanese relatives. During this trip, I realized the significance of tracing family history. Knowing the details of where you came from provides so much insight into your self-identity. I know that I am going to preserve the tradition of honoring our family's cultural identity for many years to come and one day share it with my own children.

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