Where The Streets Have No Name: Chapter 9: Into the Heartland.

"Necessary Evil"

- Name of the Observation plane that accompanied the Enola Gay to Hiroshima.

In the spring of 1992 I travelled to Kyoto and Osaka while visiting my friend Eamon, who had moved from Chiba to Shiga prefecture the previous year. Eamon was a great man for travelling, and a great friend to travel with. He had a gift for striking up conversations with people, and finding fun and something of interest no matter where we went. The previous summer, he rang me just before the summer holiday to tell me that he would have access to a car for a couple of days during the break. He arrived at my place as promised on the morning and we started discussing where we wanted to go. For no reason other than it looked like a big city, I suggested Fukushima, and that was it. We set off and made it there by the early evening. The first order of business when we got there was a beer in the beer garden on top of Fukushima station. Since we had no place to stay, we would have to sleep in the car. And as Eamon had started drinking, we would have to move out of the city to avoid the police. We drove up a nearby mountain and found an onsen. We got into the onsen, with a large bottle of sake between us. We let it float around in the bath to warm it up, but Eamon managed to tip it over into the onsen, so it got a bit watered down. We left that bath and went out to the "rotenburo" or open air bath. Here again we got in with the bottle of Sake, but were careful to keep it out of the water since this time there were other bathers around. We relaxed and enjoyed the water, taking some photos, which is probably not standard for an onsen, but the other bathers didn't seem to mind and even posed for a few shots with us. We got out of the bath, and took our bottle of sake further up the mountain. In the car park of a hotel there was a "yakitori" (chicken on a stick) restaurant, so we sat in the car park and enjoyed their food. Finally we drove further up the mountain and the two of us sat on the bonnet of the car and finished off the sake. I dozed off for a bit, which prompted Eamon to exercise his homicidal sense of humour by starting up the car and driving off, with me still on the bonnet. I woke up, realised we were moving, and nearly jumped of in panic. I grabbed onto the windscreen wipers, remembering a time in childhood when a friend and I removed windscreen wipers from cars as a bit of mischief. I remember thinking how easy it was to pull off windscreen wipers, and would they hold my weight, as Eamon cackled gleefully behind me. In what must have been only a few seconds, but seemed like an age, he pulled over and got out of the car, barely able to stand from laughing. I have never sobered up so quickly in my life.

We slept in the car, and the next morning rewarded us with a glorious view of the clouds below us, blanketing the city all the way out to the sea. We drove back home, deciding en route that a trip to Nikko was an essential part of our journey. Nikko is home to one of the most famous temples in Japan, and the narrow winding road that leads up to it guarantees that all who visit will experience another Japanese tourist attraction, the traffic jam. Since there is limited parking space at the top of the hill, somebody has to leave before the next vehicle can get in, so progress is slow. We had a puncture on the way up, and pulled off to change the tyre. The tourists on the bus behind us watched in amusement as the two foreigners changed a tyre at the side of the road, and by the time we had done so we could pull back into the traffic, directly behind the bus that was previously behind us. We returned the car to the owner in Kumagaya and had to get a bullet train from there to make it for the last train back to my place.
I first went to Osaka on a weekend in January, spontaneously. Eamon was staying at my place before he moved down to Shiga, and he suggested I go down with him on the journey. Saturday was spent driving down to his new apartment in a van he had rented, and in the evening we went to Osaka, to what was then the only Irish bar in Japan, and that was pretty much all we saw of the city on that trip. The most memorable point of that trip was the apartment that Eamon's new company had arranged for him, which he would share with two others. The toilet was clean, but only as far as a line on the floor dissecting the toilet seat. Behind that the floor was covered in a half -inch thick layer of grime. When I pointed it out to Eamon, he said they would have to discuss the cleaning duties very soon! (And this was coming from the messiest person I know! On a good day, his apartment looks like it has been burgled, and a strong earthquake would probably actually tidy it up a little bit.)
In the summer of that year I went down to visit Eamon again, (now that he had settled into his own apartment provided by the company - the toilet was a useful argument in favour of moving out.) and spent five days with him, so we took a little time to see the city of Kyoto. We didn't plan things very well (i.e. we didn't plan at all!) so when we got the "Kinkakuji" - the Golden Pavilion, it had already closed for the day. Not to be outdone, we took photos of each other knocking on the door to be let in. Another much cherished photo I have from that day is the vomit that Eamon threw up over a wall of the nearby temple. Since it was quite probably the first and only time in the temple's history that anyone has rendered projectile vomit on to it, I thought the moment should be conserved for posterity. We came back the next day and saw the pavilion itself.
We spent one night during that visit watching a fireworks display at the nearby Lake Biwa. The next day, I rushed to a nearby photo shop to get my photos of the fireworks exposed, and was surprised to be treated rather gruffly by the old man behind the counter. I discovered the reason as I walked back to Eamon's place. The previous evening, we had gotten drunk after the fireworks and on our way home had stolen an advertising banner from in front of the camera shop. The owner must have guessed it was us because we had taken photos of Eamon with the banner wrapped around him self, (with his trousers off,obviously,) and those photos were among the ones that we had got developed that morning. I was glad I didn't have to live there. On that same trip, I had my second adventure with a motorcycle. Eamon let me try to ride his scooter, but since I was used to riding bicycles, I put my pelvis as far back on the saddle as possible, since this allows cyclists to get maximum effort out of their legs. Doing this on a scooter means that too much of your weight is too far back on the bike, and when you accelerate you are likely to do a wheelie, and lose control. This, of course, is exactly what happened to me. As I careered down the road outside his apartment with the front wheel in the air, I remembered that I had still not asked Eamon how to stop the thing, (a mistake I made the first time Eamon let me ride it about a year before, when I barely avoided colliding with an oncoming vehicle.)
A strange thing about panic is that you sometimes do something extremely stupid while realising that it is extremely stupid, but your brain is so tied up that the "Don't do that!" instruction gets lost in the maze of thoughts flying about. In my case, the "Let go of the bike!" idea continued unhindered to the control centre of my mind, and I attempted to stand up, while the bike continued to charge ahead like a manic stallion, with its front wheel as high as my head. I fell forward and rolled over, only to see the bike fall on its side a few feet short of a parked car. I looked behind me to see Eamon running towards me with a horrified look on his face. I barely managed to inform him that I wasn't badly hurt before he completely ignored me and ran on to check on his bike.
That evening, we went to a nearby bar where an American neighbour of Eamon's worked. Eamon got fairly loaded, as did I. When we left, (although my memory is patchy here,) Eamon started a fight with a parked car, and I had to forcibly drag him away. It was late, and Eamon was too drunk to find his way home. We walked in what I thought was the direction to go, and tried to flag down a taxi, but any that passed were unwilling to notice us. I soon realised we were lost, so I decided to sit Eamon down in the gateway of a factory and wait for a taxi to come along. I was trying to  flagg down any cars that passed, and eventually a young man on his own stopped to help us. By this stage Eamon had thrown up on the pavement, and I had rolled him over to keep away from it. Sadly, comically, inevitably, as I tried to get him to stand up to get in the car, he lost his balance and landed in the pool of vomit. At this point I realised the situation could not get much worse, so I told the young man that he might as well go home as he didn't deserve a vomit stain on his car seat in return for his good deed. He pulled a towel out of the car, told me to wrap it around Eamon, and insisted on driving us home. I told him the name of the station near where Eamon lived, and we set off. Eamon was in the front with his head out the window, I was in the back, and the driver was furiously fanning Eamon with an "Uchiwa" plastic fan. If I hadn't been so totally pissed off and tired, I might have found the scene amusing. I asked the driver to drop us off near the station as soon as I recognised our location, thanked him profusely, and half-walked, half carried Eamon the rest of the way. Once I got him into the apartment, he fell asleep immediately. When he woke the next morning, he headed straight for the shower to sober himself up, and only then did he take his clothes off to change. He was suitable retrospect for the rest of the day. I will never forget the kindness of that driver who stopped, and his unfailing willingness to help us out was a highlight of my stay there.
The other highlight of that visit was my trip to Hiroshima. One day while Eamon was at work, I got a bullet train early in the morning and arrived in Hiroshima sometime before noon. I was excited to visit such a famous place, and strangely enough was slightly surprised to find it looking so normal. I walked from the station firstly to the castle gardens, and had a short look around there, before finding my way to the atomic memorial and museum. I felt somehow awkward to be there. I was reluctant to ask directions to the museum for fear of appearing ghoulish, like someone hanging around to watch the aftermath of a traffic accident. When I got to the museum, I looked around the outside first before I went in. There were probably half a million cranes on the children's monument, still not enough to help little Sadako, for whom they were brought there.
Inside the museum were basically two different types of artefacts. There were scientific and technical explanations of the effects of the bomb: Photos, models, maps and diagrams showed the effects of an atomic bomb on buildings and people. All very scientific and impersonal. Then there were the personal effects, things that I felt should be mementoes for the relatives of those who died, but presumably there were no relatives left to whom they could be returned. I thought these things did not belong there, they were too personal; glasses, clothing, notebooks, personal papers and trinkets. Each personal belonging gave details of the owner, where they were and what they were doing when the bomb was dropped. Remarkably few people were doing anything that could be considered "ordinary" by today's standards. It has been said that this museum treats the Hiroshima bombing as something that came out of the blue, like a sudden natural disaster that could not be avoided. Many of the exhibits in this museum refer to building bomb shelters or fire breaks as if they were everyday activities like washing clothes or painting a fence. It became clear to me, seeing these objects and their descriptions, how the daily lives of the Japanese people were totally thrown off track by the effects of the war. One can only wonder, if the Americans had not dropped the bomb, how far would the Japanese leaders have driven their own people down the path to destruction before surrendering, and how far would the public have let themselves be led.
At the exit of the museum, there was a booth where people could return the rented tape recorders that played a pre-recorded guided tour of the exhibits. One American woman returned her tape recorder, took a step back and then bowed from the waist as formally as anyone would in the presence of the emperor himself (but probably nowhere else). I don't know if she was doing that because of some deep regret or remorse she felt after seeing what her country had done, or because that was the only way she knew to bow, but it struck me as ridiculously overdone. Outside the exit there was a guest book in which many people had written their impressions and wishes and prayers for peace. I could not think of anything suitable at the time, but the following came to me during the journey home:

“Do not blame the Scientists, for they merely furthered our knowledge.
Do not blame the Americans, for they merely won a race.
Do not blame the Soldiers, for they merely followed orders.
Do not blame the Leaders, for they merely sought to protect their people.
Do not blame Anyone, for the evil that did this is in us all. “

On the Bullet train back up to Eamon's place, I sat with a can of beer and reflected back on what I had seen that day. It wasn't long before I started to cry.



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