Thursday, November 19, 2015

Encounter in Nagasaki

Two days ago I visited the atomic bomb memorials in Nagasaki; yesterday I walked around the city, thinking about what I had seen.

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I ended up in the late afternoon at the Glover Garden, which provide a panoramic view of the city and the harbor. Jet lag was starting to set in, and I plopped down on a bench under an arbor to drink a bottle of cold green tea from one of the ubiquitous drink vending machines.

Some little boys -- part of a school group -- were enjoying looking over the low hedge and shouting into the distance. From their sheepish glances over their shoulders, they seemed to know they were on the verge of violating some kind of behavior norm.

Then they caught site of me, and started to say, "Hello!" I wasn't really in the mood to talk, partly because I was tired, and partly because any gang of a dozen little kids can make you tired, but, I think, mainly because talking reminded me of my utter failure to do the work I had intended to do before this trip to recapture some of the Japanese language that I had learned 30 years ago. I nodded politely and hoped that they would go back to their group leader.

Then one little girl started to talk to me. "Where are you from?" she asked. And while she said this she looked at her classmates and gestured for them to back away, as much as to say, "Give me some space here or the subject is going to flee the interview."

"U.S." I said.

"Oh ... " she nodded. And I began to wonder, what can a child in Nagasaki think when they see a person from the US?

"When you come to Japan?" she asked. (More shooing of curious classmates.)

"Yesterday," I said.

"Oh! ... What time yesterday?"

"7:00 o'clock." Much discussion. One little boy couldn't resist holding up seven fingers and asking in amazement, "Shichi-ji?" Much discussion followed about how many hours it takes to get to Japan from the US, what the time difference is. Then our interpreter shushed them again.

"When you come to Nagasaki?" she asked.

"Yesterday," I said.

"Oh! ... What time yesterday?"

"9:30." More discussion.

"Where else you go? In Japan?"

"Hiroshima," I said.

"Hiroshima? Oh . . ." she said.

We were getting to the heart of the matter.

"Ashita . . . Hiroshima ni ikimasu . . . " A tiny bit of Japanese started to resurface in my memory.

"Why you come to Nagasaki?" she asked.

Paper cranes left at atomic bomb sites by school groups.
"To see the atom bomb museum," I said. And again I wondered, what can a child in Nagasaki think when they see a person from the US who has come here to see the atom bomb museum?

"We also went. To atom bomb museum," she said.

"Are you from Nagasaki?" I asked.

"No, from .... " and she named another city, also on the island of Kyushu. I realized that it was

"What did you think of it? The atom bomb museum?" I asked.

She thought for a bit, her head cocked to one side and eyes turned upward. Then, "There is a lot of history," she said.

I nodded. "It makes me very sad," I said.

Suddenly, their eyes turned to look behind me. Someone was calling.

"Now we go to our hotel," she said. "Goodbye!"

"Goodbye!" I said. And one phrase jumped to my mind.

"Yoku benkyo shimasyoo ne!"

I had meant to give a stock Japanese phrase -- an admonition from a typical grownup to typical children: "Study well!"

But the verb conjugation didn't come out the way I intended.

What came out was, I think, even better.

"Let's study well!"


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