Saturday, November 1, 2014

Museum Day with Suzanne

My friend Suzanne was here yesterday.  We got to know each other when I lived in Portland and we were both in Portland Plein Air and Studio Painters.  We also used to enjoy life drawing at Hip Bone Studio in Portland.  Suzanne and her husband Walter come to Washington two or three times a year and Suzanne and I always make time to go to art museums together while she is here.  Walter has sto amuse himself on that day.  

So I met Suzanne yesterday at the Freer Gallery and enjoyed some of the famous Whistler paintings that Mr. Freer had collected.   Most interesting, to me, is the Peacock Room.  You can read about it at this link:
The room is dominated by Whistler's painting, "The Princess from the Land of Porcelain," shown in the above photo.  Another painting in the room depicts peacocks fighting and was done by Whistler to document a fight he had with the original owner of the room, Mr Leyland.  As the story goes, Mr. Leyland had agreed to some minor changes to be made by Whistler in the rooom.  However, Whistler ended up make dramatic, expensive changes and that caused a major conflict.  Later, Freer acquired the Princess painting and eventually bought the entire room and had it moved from London to his home in Detroit, Michigan.  When Freer died in 1919, the Peacock Room was moved to the Freer Museum.
Suzanne and I also enjoyed a new exhibit, "Fine Impressions: Whistler, Freer, and Venice," which is a series of etchings done by Whistler when he was in Venice.  When Freer saw them, he bought them all as a set and that is what is exhibited.  Yes, Mr Freer had money.  He made his fortune producing railway cars.  I am grateful that he was an art appreciator because these things may not have been collected and then exhibited without his devotion to art.  

We then went to the Sackler Gallery which is connected to the Freer.  We saw lots of Asian art there, including the well-loved "Monkeys Reaching for the Moon."  It is a chain of word monkey in various languages made into links that reach from the top floor to a pond at the bottom and recalls monkeys seeing a reflection of the moon in a pond and trying to reach it.   

We then had a chance to reflect on the very contemporary exhibit "Perspectives: Chiharu Shiota."  It is shoes tied with red yarn and connected at a single point.  I can't effectively describe it.  Here is a picture:

Many of the shoes have notes explaining the significance of the shoe.  It is actually quite beautiful.

We then had a nice lunch at the Pavilion Cafe in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.

We were not done yet.  We went to the American Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery.  Those two museums are also connected.  Double Double Museum Day!!!  We began on the top floor where we saw an exhibit that I believe is permanent.  It is called "Bravo," and consists of of American entertainers by American artists.  Neither of us had been there before and so it was good to see.  I After that, I wanted to show Suzanne one of my favorites.  It is a portrait of Katherine Hepburn.

We went downstairs and found a new exhibit, "The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art," raising issues about extinct birds and the human/avian interaction. Very interesting.  

Still not done with art viewing, we went to an exhibit of works by the photorealist artist Richard Estes.  The work is very detailed and makes you wonder why doesn't he just do a photograph. However, really looking at them makes you realize that he is painting better than the camera (and maybe the human eye) sees.  Also, he takes some artistic liberties and puts in something like mountains when none are there.  It is fascinating, but I am not sure that I "get" it.  While we were there, Walter joined us which was fun.  

We closed with a wood-fired pizza dinner at Ella's and I went home in an Uber while Suzanne and Walter walked back to their hotel.  Nice art day!!!!  And good to spend time with friends.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

White House Garden Tour

Twice a year the White House gardens are open for tourists.  I went for the first time today.  I was glad I took the time, and it was free!   I did wait in line about 45 minutes for a ticket, but I think there was no wait later in the day.  The weather was very cool, so it wasn't as crowded as it might have been--though there was a good turnout.  Even though we didn't get to go into the White House, we still had to go through Secret Service security screening.

One of the most dramatic views was from the walk in front of the South Portico toward the Washington Monument.  This is the South Lawn, where the helicopter picks up the President and brings him back.

And this is the South Portico.  We were so close to it!   It was impressive.  Of course, there were many Secret Service guys between us and the front door.

One of the volunteers explained why the picture below is his favorite spot.  It is where the President "commutes" through this walkway from the residence part of the White House to the Oval Office.

Nice commute!!!  And those two roses in the picture were the only ones left.  Also in the rose garden was a podium set up like it would be for the news conferences that are held there.  Pretty small in this picture, but you can see it if you look.  Empty now, but it looked so familiar to me.

The next highlight was going by the oval office, which must have a lovely view of the Washington Monument.

I was amused to see a very tiny golf practice area....looks more like it is for the First Daughters than the President.

Final stop of the tour was the White House Kitchen Garden....still going pretty strong, with some fat tomatoes, though they don't show in this picture.  Today was so cold....I think things will slow down. It was interesting to see that the artichokes also seem to be doing very well.  I thought they only thrived on the Central California Coast, but now I realize that doesn't make any sense.

Something I knew grows in the South, but had never seen at harvest was peanuts.  I took this picture, but it doesn't seem to show them as well as we could see them.  It was fun.  They looked like you could pick them and eat them, but I guess this is after they are dug up. There were lots of them.  My picture just doesn't show it.

I finished off by going to the White House Visitor's Center.  I highly recommend it.  It appears to be very modest, but there is a lot there.   I loved the timeline that showed how the family leaving the White House moves out the same day the new President and his family move in.  The White House staff is amazing, and makes it all possible.

White House appreciation day for me!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Memorials I hadn't seen before....Hiking in the Rain

This morning, I went for a hike with the Capitol Hill Village hiking group.  The hike was originally planned for Saturday, but it was rainy it was postponed until today.  Guess what?  It was still rainy, but we did it.  There were 8 of us including Ed, the leader.  Ed was also the only guy!

I walked from my home to the park where we met to begin the hike.  I was unprepared for rain because the weather report said there was  only a 30% chance of rain and it would only bring sprinkles.  WRONG!  It rained almost immediately from the time I left my house until just before the end of the hike.

The highlights of the hike for me were two memorials that I had never seen before, the first being the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.  It was very interesting.  I didn't get great pictures because of the rain, but the one above shows what was a surprise to me.  When we arrived, there was no flame and while we were looking, it flared up.  It is in the middle of a star that has different branches of the service at the tips of the five points.

What I like the most about the memorial doesn't show up too well in this photo:

As I looked across the water feature, it appeared people were walking through water, not beside it....but I couldn't get the right angle.  I think I'll go back on a better day.  It is kind of an amazing effect.

We then walked the length of the Capitol Mall, passing by an art installation that is a face.  It is on flat ground, so we didn't have the right angle to see it.  Evidently the best view is from the Washington Monument, or from the air (which is not open to private planes over the Mall).  Here is what I could find on-line about  how it looks from higher up:

To us, on the reflecting pool side, it just looked like dirt, sand and gravel....with a little grass growing here and there.  The image is called "Out of Many One" and is a composite of young men of various nationalities..."e pluribis unum."

We next walked the bridge in the background of the above photograph to Arlington Cemetery.  It was heavy rain by then, so we didn't pause at Arlington.

We headed to another memorial that was new to me---the Pentagon Memorial.

It was quite interesting, but a little hard to understand.  I finally "googled" it and read to the group that the memorials are arranged from the memorial bench to the youngest to the oldest. The youngest was three years old, and the bench with her name also included her sister and her parents. There are other complicating factors in the arrangement, but it is a very moving sight to see.  The above picture is one I took today.  The weather improved a little.

Here is how the benches look up close.  Today, there was a carnation on each one.

Each has a reflecting pool under the bench.  The gravel seems to creep in to some of the small pools, so there might have to be some modifications for good maintenance.

At that point, we were close to the Pentagon Metro Station.  There is also a huge transit center for busses. Lots of people work at the Pentagon, but today was a holiday, so it wasn't very busy.  We took Metro back to the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Brave and Startling Truth

Today was a day to reflect back on the trip to Japan.  My fellow Heiwa pilgrims and I were part of the Sunday morning services.  We sang the song we sang in Hiroshima, "The Breathing Meditation."  The words are simple:  "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace, when I bring out, I breathe out love."  It is in three-part harmony and we sing it in Japanese as well as English.  It was special today to sing with the Jubilee Singers.  I took the picture above during the second service from the balcony.  I participated in the first service.

I was part of a group that read selections from a  poem by Maya Angelou, "A Brave and Startling Truth."  The full poem can be found at:
It is an amazing poem, and I think captures a lot of the complexity of feelings I and others have about visiting Japan--especially Hiroshima.

Several other peace pilgrims offered "postcards from Japan" to share some of the special experiences we had.  We also had a table after church so people could ask questions about the trip and see some of our mementos.  My contribution was a binder with entries from this blog and some of the things I picked up during the trip, such as local maps and paper cranes.

A few of us then went out to lunch at a very nice French restaurant, "Le Chat Noir."  We had a long, leisurely, delicious lunch and enjoyed further sharing memories of the trip.  I took this picture of my friends Josephine, Margaret, Armele, and Carol.

I wasn't in it, so Josephine took this one with me in it.

A nice Sunday!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Four Movies in Four Days

I suddenly had the leisure of a four-day weekend with no big commitments, so I decided to catch up on my movie-watching before the next meeting of my film group, The Cinephiles.  I went binge movie-watching.  I am posting this as a travel report because, unlike watching tv series, such as House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, I had to leave home and go to a theater and I couldn't push the pause button!   Oh, the trials of real movies.....but, of course, there are rewards!  No pictures here, but you can always google the trailers.

On Friday I saw Love is Strange.  It is a memorable movie, sweet and yet very sad.  For those who don't know, it begins with a wedding of two gay guys (played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molino) who have been together almost 40 years.  The movie is compelling because it is about a long-term relationship, but not really about sexual preference.  The wedding is joyous, as it should be, but the gay element comes in because Molino's character is fired from his job as a music teacher at a Catholic School.  The scene of the firing is very restrained and factual.  However, that leads to loss of their apartment and they end up temporarily living (with great difficulty) in two separate households while they look for an affordable apartment in New York City.  This movie is hard to watch because it is so sad.  It is very real, though, and the acting was excellent. I read an interview in which Molina credited Director Ira Sachs for letting them just play the roles naturally.  It is very understated.  There are a couple of times when things slow down and seem to drag, but then I realized what was happening was in what would have been real time.  The sound track is perfect....mostly Chopin, and nicely paced, too.  Good movie!

Saturday's movie was Magic in the Moonlight.  Yes, it is a Woody Allen movie, and I usually don't like those much---except for Midnight in Paris.  The plot involves a magician (played by Colin Firth) who is trying to show that a young woman clairvoyant (played by Emma Stone) is a fraud. Predictably, a romance develops.  The Colin Firth character is so boorish, negative and self-centered that I didn't find him credible.   I think we are supposed to find the conflict between the physical and metaphysical to be a central theme, and thought-provoking.  I found it over-worked, and the romance is simply not believable.   However, our young woman was also being vigorously pursued by a ukelele-playing rich kid who could only be described as a joke.  She chooses the Firth character.  These couldn't have been her only choices.   Firth did get in some good lines, and that was amusing.  He dominated the film, though, which I guess is also predictable.  Most of the action takes place in the South of France in between World War I and World War II and the cinematography is are the costumes and interiors.  However, I didn't like this movie very much, and the then, as I was leaving, I heard someone describe it as "cute."  Not cute to me, but cute would not have been what I was looking for anyway.

Get on Up! was my choice for Sunday.  I think this movie, about James Brown, was played pretty straight by lead actor Chadwick Boseman.  Brown had a very difficult childhood and the way out was through his music. The man who got him out of jail and into music was at his side almost all his adult life was Bobbie Byrd (played by Nelsan Ellis).  Byrd recognized Brown's genius.  That genius is demonstrated in the movie, especially in a scene where he instructs his back-up band how to use all the instruments (horns and string, for example) to support the rhythm.  The film seems at times to be hard to follow but it is divided into segments that are beautifully labeled.   I have to admit I don't remember those labels, but they dealt with different times in his life.  It was initially confusing because those segments included flashbacks.  James Brown came to be the "Hardest-Working Man in the Business" and the "Godfather of Soul," but this movie is clear in showing that he "took down" some people along the way.  He was egotistical, greedy, insensitive and abusive to women--even the women he loved.  It is an intense, but I think true, picture of who James Brown was.  I think that is what a biopic is supposed to be.

Today I saw The Hundred Foot Journey.   It is a "foodie" movie, but also a good story.  I think the critics panned it, but it is worth going just to see Helen Mirren.  She plays Madame Mallory, an established French restaurant-owner with a one-star Michelin rating.  Her goal is to get two stars. A family from Mombai buys a restaurant across the street from her and opens to serve Indian food.   "War" ensues between her and the father of the Indian family, played by Om Puri.  She is absolutely determined to get the new restaurant shut down.  Hasam Kadam (played by Manish Dayal), the son of the Indian father, is a gifted cook.  He had been taught by his mother, who died in a fire in a restaurant the family owned in India.  He is good at what he knows, and he wants to learn how to cook French cuisine.  He has coaching "on the sly" from Madame's sous-chef and eventually a romance between them will evolve.  A truce in the restaurant war is reached in which Madame Mallory admits that Hasam Kadam has a gift in the kitchen and hires him to work for her.  She furthers his training, and she also gets her two stars.  There is what I consider a charming relationship that develops between Madame and the Indian father, and so I enjoyed it.  Maybe, as a former mediator, I really liked the way the conflict moved from hatred to friendship.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 10 Nara, more temples, and celebration banquet

There was indeed the threat of heavy rains due to the typhoon, but we boarded the bus and headed for Nara. This is the the Todai, temple.  The main attraction is a huge bronze Buddha statue, Daibutsu, which is almost 50 feet high.

This picture doesn't do it justice.  The temple itself was very beautiful and we enjoyed the grounds....though it was raining because of the typhoon.

The group went to the Kasuga Shrine, but I have to admit that I passed it up and stayed in the bus.  It was still pouring rain.  The Kasuga shrine is famous for its many (maybe 3000) lanterns. Here's a picture anyway....admittedly retrieved from on-line sources...taken on a better day.

We had lunch at a food court and I was with a group that ate at a Chinese place.  It was good, but it might have been more interesting to look around for something more Japanese.  We just weren't sure we had enough time.  

We headed back to Kyoto, where we visited the Sanjusangendo Temple..  It is remarkable because there are 1001 Kannon statues.  One is big and is in the center,  It is surrounded by  1000 life-size Kannons.  All of these were formed in 1200-1300.  Kannons are forms of a Buddhist diety, but I will be in "over my head" if I try to explain the significance in this particular case.  Pictures are not permitted and I pulled this off the internet, too.  It really doesn't do it justice.  It was amazing.  This picture doesn't even show the central Kannon--just one part of the 1000 Kannon.    There also was a special incense, and I bought some of that because it was so beautiful and peaceful.

After that, we returned by bus to the hotel.  We had a little more time for shopping and exploring the neighborhood. That evening, we had a wonderful banquet, which included a dance by a maiko.  A maiko is a geisha in training.  The name is a little hard to understand unless you know that, in Kyoto, a geisha is known as a geiko.  The maikos are essentially their apprentices.  Ours was very beautiful and also was gracious enough to answer questions about her life.  it was very interesting.

This will be my last post for this trip.  We left the hotel the next morning and went by bus to Kyoto Station.  From there, we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo Narita.  A little shopping was possible at the airport in Narita and then we boarded the plane for for a long flight to Dulles (IAD).  It was a great trip, with amazing people and lots of adventures.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 9 Touring Kyoto

This is a view of our hotel, the Gion Maifukan.  It is a very small hotel and some of our group stayed at another hotel nearby.  Those of us at Gion Maifukan went to a nearby cafe called Medea for breakfast. The breakfast cafe was also small, and we had to eat in two shifts.  The coffee was terrific, ( though, like at RKK in Tokyo) we had to pay extra for it.  They call it European coffee and it is good either hot or cold.  I had no idea that good coffee was available in Japan.  The breakfast was good, too.

After such a peaceful day yesterday, I think I was kind of overloaded.  The activities of this day are kind of a blur for me!    We toured around Kyoto, a beautiful city, but I didn't make notes.  We went to a large shrine that is also an active religious community today.  I don't know the name of it, and I read that there are over 1600 temples and 400 temples in Kyoto.  I can't just do a google search!  It was raining, and I didn't take any pictures.

We also toured some small shops.  I especially enjoyed Mr. Saiki the fan-maker. He is a sixth-generation business man and explained the history of the folded fan, which was invented in Japan.  It was particularly interesting to see how the wooden fan spokes are inserted into the paper fan, which has already been decorated.

We also visited a tea shop and enjoyed a tea ceremony there before touring their beautiful shop. Afterward, we had lunch at a sandwich shop.

We then had a free afternoon.  I went back to our neighborhood and explored a little around there.  I found another Shinto Shrine that was very interesting to me, but I didn't get the name of it.  I was by myself, so I don't think anyone else would know either.  I reached it by taking a little path off a main street and then saw a mound with wishes on it.  I made one of my own for peace and love.

 This is how the mound looks and I have since learned that I should have crawled through it with my wish to make my wish come true.   I did find information on this shrine on the internet.  It is called Yasui-kompira-gu.  Be careful if you type that error might lead you to aJapanese pornography site!!!!
I actually went to this shrine because the approach was so pretty and the rain had stopped.  I had no idea that I would find something so interesting.

I did a little shopping, but seemed to be more focused on tourist attractions.  I saw a pedicab with a man and a woman in formal kimonos, but my picture was blurry.

Back at the hotel, we had a reflection and discussion about plans for the next day.  It was predicted to be rainy because of a typhoon. It was decided that we should buy some food for the morning breakfast and have it in our rooms in case it was too stormy to go out, but our bus trip to Nara was still "on."

Carol and I went to a Lawson's convenience store and got stuff for an evening casual meal as well as for breakfast.  We had a little time for a glass of wine and a visit, which was very nice.   I had another nice warm bath before bed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 8 to Kyoto!

We got up early, had a buffet breakfast (mostly American-style), and walked to the train station to take the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto.

In the afternoon, we went to the Myoshinji temple complex and were led in a meditation by a buddhist priest  It was a highlight of the trip for me.  It was so peaceful and beautiful.  We sat on tatami mats and looked out on a beautifully maintained garden at Shunko-in Temple.  Some of us had very comfortable stools so we didn't have to sit on the floor the whole time.  Part of the garden is shown in the picture above and the shoji screens were open, so  it was almost like being outside. As the meditation concluded, the rain started falling very softly.  It was refreshing.  We were given some information on the history of the temple, including a bell that has Jesuit origins.  Yes, there were Christians in Japan and this particular bell is identified as being cast in 1577.  We were all permitted to get a close look and ring it, if we wished to.  We also looked around at the hand-painted screens and altar of the temple.  It was beautiful.   Maybe the fact that this was a private visit contributed to the peacefulness.  When we visited the larger temples and shrines, they were crowded and beautiful...but not as conducive to contemplation.  It was just our group for this visit.

We were served tea and cookies before leaving and the rain had stopped by then.

Our next stop was also very peaceful and spiritual.  We went to the Ryoanji Temple, where we saw a famous rock garden.  It is said to have been created by a Zen monk, Tokuto Zenketsu, in about 1500.  I took this panoramic shot.  We had time to sit and peacefully meditate at this garden, which was a real treat and the rain held off.

I have seen pictures of this particular rock garden many times, and it was amazing to experience it in person.

This temple also has a beautiful green garden covered with moss.

That evening, we had special dinners with the youth in the group.  Each young person invited some adults to go with them and to encourage some inter-generational discussion.  My group went with Victoria, a beautiful young woman who was adopted (at about age 4) from Russia.  It was fun to have a traditional Japanese dinner (sitting on the floor) with her and learn about her experiences.  I didn't get a picture, though.

We settled into a hotel in the Gion District of Kyoto.  It was great fun to have a yukata (Japanese Summer robe) to relax in after my bath.  I had to take a mirror selfie.

Another great day with the Heiwa Peace Pilgramage in Japan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 7, Hiroshima and Miyajima

We returned to the Peace Memorial Park for a tour of the monuments and to explore the Museum.  The weather was much better.  My host family took me to meet the group and we began a tour of the monuments.  There are so many monuments that we couldn't possibly see all of them.  One of the first we saw kind of set the stage.  Because it was the day after August 6, many flowers and gifts had been left the day before.  This is an example.  The mound in the background is called the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound.  Sadly, a vault inside contains the ashes of victims who were unidentified or whose whole families perished.
The most most touching memorial for me was the Children's Peace Monument.  The figure atop the monument is a statue of Sadako Sasaki, whose story popularized the custom of folding 1,000 cranes.  She was two years old at the time of the atomic bomb and she was exposed to radiation, which caused her to develop radiation-induced leukemia.  She set the goal of folding 1,000 and reached it...though she died in 1955.

As a result of Sadako's story, people are inspired to bring origami crane strings to this memorial (as well as other places around Hiroshima).  This memorial, though, is especially popular and this structure was built so that people could hang those colorful strings of cranes.  It's a very impressive sight.

We got a better view of the Hiroshima Dome than the one we had yesterday:

We also presented a wreath in front of the cenotaph, a gift from All Souls Church Unitarian.  Reverend Rob Hardies and Judith Bauer laid the wreath while we sang our song,  "When I breathe in, I breath in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out love."  I didn't get a picture, but I did get a picture of our guide just before that little ceremony.

We then visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which is amazing.  It is hard to take it all in, but I learned a lot about why we need to work against any more nuclear weapons.  I did buy a t-shirt and some books.

We boarded the bus and were bound for Miyajima.  We had bento lunches on the bus.  Miyajima is the island where there is the very famous Shinto shrine, Itsukushima Shrine.  It is famous because the torii gate, and often the shrine, too, appear to be floating on water at high tide.

When we were there, the tide was pretty low and people were walking out to the gate, so my pictures aren't as good as the one above.  There are a lot of deer on the island, and they are very aggressive.  They are considered sacred because they are considered messengers of the gods.  I did get this picture of a "messenger" with a man on a bench:

The shrine really is on an island, and we got there and back by a ferry ride.  We got back on the bus to return to Hiroshima and stayed at the Hotel Granvia Hiroshima that night.  The hotel is right at the train station and we needed to be on the train early the next day for the trip to Kyoto.  That night, we had a banquet for our Hiroshima friends from RKK and from Honkawa School.  There were a lot of speeches and promises to meet again next year in Washington DC.  Here is one of our young people, Charlee Mize, sharing her thoughts and her proud dad, Greg.  He should be proud.  She gave one of the best speeches of the night.

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 6, the Anniversary of the First Dropping of an Atomic Bomb

It was raining hard as we set out for the Anniversary ceremony and it rained pretty much the whole day.  We were seated as foreign guests and, as we were making our way to our seats, we saw Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.  I didn't take any pictures at all, but went on the internet to get this one of the Mayor of Hiroshima laying a wreath.  Everyone was seemed to be wearing transparent raincoats.  Most people also had transparent umbrellas, though there were some colorful ones.  Each year, new names are added to the victims list, which is stored in a cenotaph that is centrally located in the monuments.  This one forms an arc and the Hiroshima Dome (one of the few buildings that was standing after the bomb) is visible through it.  By the way, later that day I learned that a cenotaph is a monument to the dead in which there are no actual remains.  In this case, it is just the names. It is a sobering thought to realize there are still victims as a result of radiation effects directly attributable to that bomb.  There is a full minute of silence at 8:15, the time the bomb exploded.  Prime Minister Abe and others spoke, including the Mayor of Hiroshima who issues an annual Peace Declaration.  A representative was there from the United Nations.

It was very crowded, even with the rain, and so we split into small teams and held ropes so we wouldn't get separated.  I felt kind of like a kindergartner but also was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sentiment for the many lives lost and the horrible way they died.

After the service, we returned to the RKK Dharma Center for a special memorial service there.  Again, the hospitality was very moving.  Our shoes were muddy from the Peace Park service and those who had sandals had dirty feet.  Our shoes and feet were washed by women of the Center.  We left the shoes to dry and went in for a memorial program, including the exchange of gifts and greetings.  We had lunch there, and those of us who had host families re-connected with them.   There was a nice program that included a tea ceremony, dancing, and a demonstration by a young man of a kind of top that is special to their area.  We all got those tops, called Japanese bilboquets.

We then convened for a learning session.  The highlight of this session was a talk by Mr. Steven Leeper, who made a strong argument for a world-wide ban on nuclear weapons. This talk made a very strong impression on me  The weapons that are in existence now are much more destructive than the bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The Red Cross has come out in support of eliminating all nuclear weapons because they (or any other relief agency) cannot help victims if even one more nuclear weapon is ever used.

We had a brief reflection time with our group, and then could go with the host families to their homes  This is when I got to know the Itos a little bit better.  They prepared a wonderful meal...including very exquisite sushi and some local dishes.  We exchanged gifts and I received a beautiful hand-made porcelain doll and a very special leather coin purse.  My gifts to them were more modest, but included a set of cards made from my paintings.  They were very well-received and, after dinner, we spent some time looking at my website on-line because they were interested in my art.  I spent the evening with the Itos, but some of the group returned to the Peace Park to place lanterns in the river.

Megumi Ito  is a young woman who is married and lives in another town (I think Osaka), but she was visiting her parents as part of the Bon observance.  During Bon, which is in August, adult children return to their homes and spend time with their parents..  Megumi speaks English and until recently she has been a ballet dancer with a European company and so has traveled a lot.  She is very pretty.  Her parents, Yosahikazu and Fumie, live in a very comfortable home and made me feel welcome into their family, though they do not speak English.  Yosahikazu-san can writ e in English, though, and he gave me a very touching letter welcoming me to his family. His mother also lives with them, but she has Alzeimer's and so she pretty much kept to herself.

I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know them and for the hospitality they showed me during my stay in Hiroshima.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 5 Tokyo to Hiroshima

We got up early on the morning of August 5 to board a bus for the train station.  We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) with a change of trains in Osaka.  I didn't take this picture, but pulled it off the internet.  I never saw the train other than in the station and it would whizz by too fast for a picture.  At Osaka, I met a very interesting English couple, David and Agnes Porter.  It was one of those chance encounters that clicked and I gave them my Japanese/English business card.  They were going to Nagasaki and then Hiroshima.  Since then, we have shared our impressions by email, which has been very rewarding to me.  The bullet train was very comfortable and fast.

When our group arrived in Hiroshima, we were met by a delegation and escorted to our bus, which seemed nice.  Little did I know that was just a prelude to an amazing welcome at the RKK Dharma Center in Hiroshima.  It was raining, and we had a canopy of umbrellas to walk through from the bus  into the Dharma Center.  When we were inside, we were escorted (after taking off our shoes, of course) into a big reception room with lots of clapping and cheers and a very warm welcome.  It was truly unbelievable.  I found myself crying a lot.  It was very emotional.  We had a little ceremony, led by Reverend Robert Hardies and Reverend Kataro Suzuki.  After that, we met our homestay families.  My family were the Itos, and they were so nice, and made me feel welcome.   I got a beautiful lei made of origami cranes at the luncheon.

We didn't have much time to visit then as the Pilgrimage Group was going to Honkawa School for a Memorial Ceremony there.   Before the ceremony, we had a bento box dinner in a classroom.

It was one of many bento meals we had and they all were good.  This one was especially tasty.
 Going to Honkawa School was another emotional experience.  The School was very close to the hypocenter of the a-bomb explosion.  The principal, ten teachers and about 400 students died there.   At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, the time of the explosion, the students were mostly on the playground.  The School reopened in February 1946, but the conditions were grim.  There were no windows, and just make-shift desks and chairs.  In the museum, there is a very touching picture of children playing in the schoolyard in 1947--it's the same schoolyard where so many children died.  Today, it is a vibrant place with lots of beautiful children.  Here is a picture of some of the children I saw:

These adorable girls were about 12...very "kawai," or cute.  This school has a special relationship with All Souls Church. Shortly after the School re-opened, members of All Souls Church sent school and art supplies to the children. In return, the children sent drawings to the church.  Those drawings were displayed, but then put away in a box and not discovered until many years later.  They were restored and a delegation from the church returned them to Honkawa School a few years ago, finding many of the people who recognized their childhood drawings.  The originals were displayed in the Peace Museum at the School.  All Souls Church retains copies of those drawings, which are marvelous.   The history of these drawings are documented in the movie, Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.  Just being in that school was comforting to me.  There were ceremonies and gifts.  All Souls Church gave 1,000 cranes and a carved wooden chalice with the inscription,
"Building a world in which all children will grow old surrounded by beauty, embraced by love, and cradled in the arms of peace."

There was a Bon festival, which is fun.  It is a celebration to honor ancesters, but was a very fitting way to bring some fun for the children (and others) after the solemnity of the memorial service.

We then returned by bus to the RKK Dharma Center and were re-united with our host families to go home with them.   I was very tired, and my family very thoughtfully understood that. We agreed that we would get to know each other better the next day, after the ceremonies at Hiroshima Peace Park and at the Dharma Center.  I was happy for a short shower, a comfortable bed and for staying in the home of a lovely family.