Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Columnist pens travel book on Japan

    Shimmering Japanese Sunlight, my latest book about a woman’s musing on her experiences in Japan, came about quite unexpectedly.
     When I returned home, I did the usual unpacking, checking the mail and re-acclimating into ordinary life.
     There was something not quite right, though. I wasn’t settling in to my normal routine and there was a noticeable edge to me.
     Out of nowhere I heard all these loud voices twisting in my head. I had to get out of the way and let my muse write.
     And write I did. For hours my fingers worked the keyboard. For days I sat in a room only with a skylight reminding myself there was an outdoors somewhere in the universe. There was no let up whatsoever. Some days if I didn’t have to go out, I sat in my new Japanese kimono sipping green tea and writing.
     Before I knew it, I had a manuscript for a book completed.  Frankly, I was exhausted from the trip and now, from using my brain to re-live my journey.

Here are excerpts from a chapter about my stay in Hiroshima.

      On the closing days of my vacation, I spend the remainder in the modern city of Hiroshima with its wide boulevards, bustling stores and sleek buildings.
     Everything is rebuilt with functionality in mind — earthquake proof, too, for there are at least three a day — and the majority of the people walking the streets are two or three generations removed from the destruction.
     It has been over 70 years since 80% of the city was destroyed. On August 6, 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
     After leaving my bag off at the hotel, I go to the actual place where the A-bomb hit. I anticipate that it will be a long afternoon, and I need plenty of time to process everything. That’s the way my writing mind works in order to capture the spirit of somewhere.
     As I stand in the park shaded by large trees looking at the one remaining building left as a symbol of the city's wipe-out and to the actual target — the bridge 200 feet away — tears well.
     Here I am halfway around the world to the faraway place that was the main topic so often in conversations during my childhood. Part of the panic about the Cold War period in the fifties was how horrible a nuclear war would be if the Russians used their weapon of destruction. The events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were too close of a reminder.
     Growing up, my history books are filled with how World War II ends abruptly and why bombing Japan is deemed necessary. It saves American soldiers lives and spares the Japanese people from more suffering. I don't debate the reason. 

     Still, it is hard to fathom that at one moment in time there are human beings screaming in agony and racing to get away from the terrific heat — many jump into the river — and all the multitude of fires from collapsing buildings.
     Since it is so still around me — people are relatively into their own thoughts — a rush of energy circles me. It really is hard to describe, except I felt the identical energy at Gettysburg, Nuremberg and looking into the pit of earth at the 9/11 destruction before the museum was built.  There’s nothing like living the history of the world.
     There are many Japanese middle school children here with their teachers studying the facts of the event, and I wonder what they are being told. Maybe it is me — a couple other Americans say they felt the same—but there is restlessness in the air when I come face-to-face with those children. In fact, a couple young girls somehow get mixed into our group, and when they look at us I hear one whisper to the other, “Oh, Americans.” There is no negativity in her voice, except that they are studying about the country that dropped the A-bomb, and here we are in real time.  From every other discussion I have in Japan, peace for the future is the most desired lesson to be taken away from a bad period. 
     An hour is spent with a survivor — a woman age six at the time — and she talks through a translator about what she remembers and hears from her family.     
     I am not positive how much she actually witnessed herself and the clarity of her memory.  She has given that same speech so many times that all her feelings are squeezed out of it, or perhaps, I am misinterpreting her intentions. It could be the way Japanese survivors relate to their past.
     In a soft, monotone voice she describes looking up at the bright cloud that rains ash down from the sky wondering what to make of it while she is on her school playground. She stays at the school building, partially damaged itself until evening, when the steam train is running again and she returns home.
     We tend to focus on the epic moments in history, and not the actual people who suffer sickness, death and hunger as a result. This lady is fortunate that she never has any lingering after affects from radiation like so many others.
     Looking into this survivor’s face, I see a life well lived for a 76 year old woman, one who has come to a thoughtful conclusion about her childhood.

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Kay Thomas’s new book, Shimmering Japanese Sunlight can be found on Amazon in paperback and e-version.