August 10, 2011 Osaka
Wrap-Up Session and Goodbyes
This morning we checked out of our hotel and took our taxi caravan to the Nagasaki Education and Culture Center, where we had our final wrap-up session. The group circled up and Natalie was elected to take notes on a whiteboard of what we discussed. We were supposed to discuss our most unforgettable moments, most important findings and how to improve next year’s tour. But we got stuck on the first category for a majority of the time.
It was as though all the emotions building for the past ten days came spilling out of everyone as soon as they spoke. As soon as I thought I was ready to speak, someone would say something poignant and moving and I would retreat back into my seat, choking back tears. Eventually, I was able to speak about my gratitude towards Koko. Her generosity of spirit was something that I didn’t anticipate. To receive thanks from a Hibakusha as a citizen of the country that perpetrated such atrocities is the most humbling experience I have ever experienced. Each of us had a profound response to something we heard or saw, whether it was the testimonies of the Hibakusha or, as Tyler worded it, the ‘obscenely intimate’ personal effects of the bomb victims. John pointed out that we each had a new challenge. How will we be able to channel the visceral emotions we experienced by being here and convey it to others at home? By the end of the three hours, I was emotionally exhausted. Dr. Kuznick jokingly said that he used to think we were the most intellectual group in recent years but now he would have to consider us the most emotional. I had to agree.
The group dispersed and not a few of us headed to the bathrooms to blow our noses. Once everyone was composed, we made our way to the train station. At the station, we bid adieu to the Japanese students in a flurry of hugs. We hopped the train to Hakata and I was able to catch up on some sleep. In Hakata, we were forced to say goodbye to Atsushi. Elisa hugged him so hard I was half-afraid he would crack a rib. But I couldn’t blame her. Throughout this trip, Atsushi has earned a special place in my heart. I will dearly miss his quick smile and endearing phrases. I feel that if I had that Snoopy flag to guide me through life I would never turn down a wrong path.
This goodbye was quickly followed by another. Halfway to Osaka, Koko left us. The remaining students all crowded into one of the cars hallways, each of us claiming one last hug. As the train pulled away from the platform, those of us closest to the windows waved until she was no longer in sight. For a moment we were a just a big group of sad kids. I must say that Koko is the heart of the study tour. At the end of our wrap-up session, Koko said that she may have never been able to have children but the universe gave us to her. The fact that someone with so much love in her heart was robbed of her ability to give birth is just one more tragedy that the proponents of the Atomic bomb have to answer for. If we are her adoptive brood, then she most certainly became our surrogate grandmother. And for that I am truly grateful.
We arrived in Osaka, checked into our hotel just in time for dinner. Tom, Allen, Andy, Tyler and I split off from the group and used our foolproof routine for finding great Japanese food: walk down a random, darkened alleyway and stop at the first restaurant sign that sparks your interest. The one we chose was a large wooden board painted with cheerful cartoon pigs and chickens. Andy (our expert on Japanese cuisine) ordered for the group and, needless to say, dinner was delicious.
Once we made our way back to the hotel we all, as if by unspoken agreement, settled in the hotel lobby. We chatted about everything and nothing, almost as though they were as reluctant as I for our trip to really end. But finally our convenience store snacks were consumed and everyone else had to wake up early. So we said our goodnights, I promised to send everyone off in the morning, and I settled in for my last night in Japan.
August 11, 2011 Goodbye and Arigato
I woke up early today so I could say goodbye to group flying to JFK. We exchanged hugs and promises to find each other on Facebook and they were gone. I genuinely liked the entire AU group and I’m so grateful that I got the chance to get to know some of the people I will be having classes with next semester.
After the group left, Tyler and I make plans to meet in the afternoon to catch the shuttle to the airport. Then I wander aimlessly, exploring the area near our hotel before I finally give in to my guilty pleasure. I have a secret tradition. Every country I visit, I try and eat at a McDonald’s. I’m convinced that I’m able to pick out a trait that is unique to each country. In London, they had a sweet chili sauce and in Florence the dollar menu had a little serving of fried tortellini. Here, the menu was the same but the layout of the restaurant was quite interesting. Like anywhere else in Japan, the floor was clean enough to eat off of. And instead of rows of cafeteria tables, there was individual, high set tables and stools that gave the restaurant the appearance of a chic café.
After some more exploring, I was content to camp out in the hotel lobby and read. Tyler and I eventually made it to Osaka Kansai, where we found a labyrinth of stores and restaurants that I had been completely oblivious to when I had originally flown in. The two of us made some last minute souvenir purchases before we headed through security. And the gods were truly smiling down on me because when we arrived at our gate I found a shop serving my newest love: green tea ice cream. I could not think of a better way to spend the rest of my yen coins.