August 16, 2010

Top 11 Things I Love About Summers in Hiroshima

To those people who are hostile to high temperatures, a.k.a. heat haters and humidity humbugs, here are 11 reasons to get with the program and learn to love Hiroshima’s summer sizzle:

1. It’s hot because it’s summer, stupid. DAMN hot. And I LOVE the humidity and heat. (Try an Ottawa winter, and you’ll understand why.)

2. Chirping cicadas: the din of these singing bugs wakes me up in the morning and lulls me to sleep at night. The buzz, however, lasts all summer.
This little beauty can really bust out the insect jams

3. Fireworks: huge booming explosions and arcs of color lighting up the night sky. Picnics outside with the kids in tow--sold! I am delighted by the growing pleasure I see in my oldest daughter’s eyes as she learns how much fun it is to blow stuff up, or watch it being blown up.

4. Tranquility: average people are lounging on park benches, or in the shade of trees, and pondering the sky and clouds. Daydreaming! Very trivial, unproductive—thus wonderful to see. A short period of the manana mindset in Japan?

5. Gulping watermelon: a summer staple of our diet. Cheap, cold and refreshing. A constant supply of home-grown watermelon in August from my father-in-law brings us juicy, sticky joy.

6. Family pools: escaping the heat in the overflowing family pool complexes. A satisfying way to play all day long in the water. The kids seem to enjoy it, too.

7. Yukata and other summer clothing: it’s too hot for regular apparel, so you opt for light fabrics. Also, less coverage=bonus for middle-aged men.

8. The smell of burning mosquito coils: nothing else says summer like the familiar, acrid smell of a burning mosquito coil’s insect-repelling vapors.

9. Sitting on my balcony very early in the morning, sipping ice coffee, absorbing the humid stillness.

10. The red meatball. Ever wonder why the flag of Japan has a red circle in the center? It’s the sunset. Evening sunsets here are spectacular.

11. Summer is the planet’s sweet spot. The 11th thing I love about summers in Hiroshima is the hot brew of: a long vacation, going commando, camping, BBQs with friends and family, sweaty tropical nights, and the flavor of lime green popsicles and the ocean. Summer simply kicks the ass of the other three seasons.

August 6, 2010

Lady E’s First Peace Memorial Ceremony

View of the atomic bomb victim's cenotaph and the A-Bomb Dome in the background (credit: Reuters)

For the first time, the United States, France and Britain all sent their top envoys in Japan to Hiroshima’s annual Peace Memorial Ceremony, which commemorates the atomic bombing of the city on August 6, 1945. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was also there. We sent Lady E.

That said, I’m not going to crack wise on this contemplative day which marks a human tragedy of historic proportions. Elena is three-and-a-half years old, which is old enough to start learning about her hometown. The nuclear bombing left an indelible mark on the city of her birth and it is the reason the word ‘Hiroshima’ resonates globally. All politics aside, I think it’s important that she be conscious of the catastrophe that happened here and its impact: she is, after all, as much Japanese as she is Canadian.

So off went the Rising Daughter #1 and I to the ceremony, held in the Peace Memorial Park in downtown Hiroshima. The Peace Park is adjacent to the Aioi Bridge, which was the target for the Enola Gay’s bombardier on that fateful day. The ceremony starts promptly at 0800 every year and follows a strict protocol that I have come to know well…I have been to more than a few of them since I began living here.

The mayor of Hiroshima, the governor of the prefecture and the prime minister of Japan all give speeches on the theme of peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Two local school kids follow with their own peace declaration, representing children of the world, and a large school of doves are released over the assembled crowd. Ominous-sounding tolls of the Peace Bell commence at exactly 0815, the moment the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. This is followed by a minute of silence and solemn prayer for the souls of the bombing casualties. It’s a very somber ritual.

Elena, I must say, behaved herself far better than my expectations. Maybe the seriousness of the event somehow permeated her otherwise mischievous little girl’s brain? Here a few pics from this morning:

View of the crowd from our vantage point

Elena with the A-Bomb Dome in the background

The crowd disperses after the speeches (on Aioi Bridge) 

Democracy in action