This trip would never have been as memorable and informative if we didn’t have Sammy as our amazing tour guide. His never ending narrative and pride in his country helped us understand the history, little known facts and anecdotes. He was always upbeat, positive and eager to help in anyway.
Hakone is the site of Hakone volcano. After a huge volcanic explosion the crater collapsed and now there is a lake, this occurred 3000 years ago. Hakone is considered a resort area. The hot springs and lake are attractions. We stayed in a Japanese Inn and experienced the hot spring baths. We traveled the Hakone Ropeway funicular to see the volcano site.
During our 2 weeks in Japan there have been 2 earthquakes, a minor tsunami and a typhoon. The Japanese are very respectful of nature.
After spending a delight night with our host family in their homes, we attended a closing ceremony to say good-bye to them. Beautiful countryside, lots of rice paddies and family gardens.
Asuka Primary School – opened in 1981 – 243 students grades 1 – 6 with 2 sp.needs classes; principal & vice principal
This is considered the birthplace of Japan and at one time was the capital before Nara and Kyoto.
We visited Ishibutai ancient tomb Japan’s largest stone chamber. Probably early 7th century, one side was estimated to have been 55 meters. The soil cover has been removed. The huge stone chamber revealed could be the origin. Of the name Ishibutai (little stone stage), although many stories surround its origin; a fox changing into a woman who then danced on the stones; a traveling player dancing on the stones…It is unclear who was buried here, but with political power concentrated locally in the latter 6th century, it is likely that it was Soga no Umako.
For 400 years Kyoto served as the capital of Japan.
Visits to the Rock Garden at Ryoanji Temple
Kinkakuji Temple – Golden Pavilion – the original pavilion was burned down in 1950 by an apprentice priest. It was rebuilt in 1955. Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – guardian of the harvest – hundreds of tori – Christo’s “The Gates” exhibit in Central Park NYC mirrored this shrine
Miyajima has been worshipped as a divine island since ancient times. This is why the Itsukushima Shrine was built on the seashore where the tide ebbs and flows. The contrast of the blue sea, green hills and the vivid vermillion-lacquered shrine is breathtakingly beautiful.
Itsukushima Shrine was first built in 593, then rebuilt by Taira-no-Kiyomori in 1168. The shrine was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1996.
Keiko Ogura – 77 years old – Director of Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace and Atomic Bomb Survivor – she was 8 years old and in 2nd grade at the time of the attack. On August 6,1945 her father told her to stay home as he had a “feeling.” She was outside ( 2.4 km from the hypocenter) when the bomb hit, she was thrown to the ground and unconscious, then it was dark.
There were fires after the bomb and people jumped into the contaminated rivers to escape them. The rivers were filled with dead bodies. Then there was the “black rain” further contaminating a large area.
In the center of the city many students died – 6000-9000. Many children were orphaned and died of starvation.
Flying glass was stuck in buildings and people. B29 aircraft were flying overhead.
The trauma was intensified with air raid drills all the time.
After there was discrimination toward people who had survived the A-bomb – they had burns, a lack of energy caused by the radiation and illnesses such as colds and stomach problems. Mothers kept silent about their exposure until daughters married and delivered normal babies.
After the bomb, Keiko walked out in the street and people were begging for water, she gave them well water. Her father told her not to give the water. She was so distressed that she had she told no one. After her father died, she told her story and the nightmares stopped. It was her remedy.
August 6, 1945 – Hiroshima bombed, August 9, 1945 – Nagasaki bombed, August 15, 1945 – Japan surrenders
She graduated from Hiroshima University in 1959. She married the Director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum – he died when she was 42. In 1984 she established Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace and deepened international exchanges with writers and journalists. Her books include Hiroshima Handbook and Hiroshima Peace Park Guide (English translation).
This area in northern Japan suffered the worst devastation. 850 of the 17,000 people living here either died or are missing. The tsunami was 20 meters high and arrived approximately 20 minutes after the quake. 5000 are still living in temporary housing. The area is being completely rebuilt. We heard a moving story from Amina Sato, she was in 7th grade in 2011. Her family survived, however she lost her aunt. She had several messages from her experience – always say thank you and appreciate your environment. The 12,000 remaining people in this coastal community see their recovery as a slow and natural process.
We had a traditional Japanese lunch served by the women who fed and served survivors. The owner’s niece joined us with her beautiful baby. We visited a small business center called YES formed to keep people working and productive. They are known for their reconstruction project character products “Octopus-Kun.” We also visited a Shinto shrine and met with a priestess. The colorful sign says “Smile Again Project.”