August 3, 2011 Kyoto: Still hot, still humid
Kyoto Seminar II
Our second Kyoto Seminar began with a presentation by Satoko Norimatsu. Satoko currently lives in Vancouver and since the March 11 earthquake has devoted her time to researching the subsequent nuclear crisis that has been unfolding in Fukushima. As someone who was involved in the anti-nuclear movement, she said that she was upset with herself for “letting this happen.” After witnessing the large scale information control and lies being circulated by the Japanese government, Satoko began translating important international articles and keeping a blog so this information would be accessible to the Japanese people. She presented to the class a diagram showing how the damage to the nuclear reactors in Fukushima had resulted in global radiation contamination within two weeks, illustrating that this crisis isn’t just Japan’s problem. It is now everyone’s problem.
Satoko then turned the presentation over to two students in our group who are currently attending the Fukushima Medical University. Sagara Wataru had his home destroyed and lost his grandfather in the earthquake. He was initially evacuated but has since returned to Fukushima and lives in constant anxiety. He says life goes on as usual even though radiation levels are 10-20 times higher than normal. Farmers have given up hope on their crops for the year and many families with small children have left the area. Yukiko Shiraishi spent the first two days after the quake desperately trying to get into contact with her sister. Luckily, both were unharmed and evacuated out of the city. Despite the reassurances made by the government, Yukiko researched on her own about the dangers from the unstable reactors before she ultimately decided to enroll in medical school. Even now she tries to limit her exposure to radiation as much as possible. Others are not so cautious and live a normal daily life. Even though she fears for her health, Yukiko has determined that it is her duty as a medical student to stay and help those who are still living within Fukushima.
After a short Q&A, we watched an episode from Dr. Kuznick’s ten part documentary series, “The Untold History of the United States,” which he developed with the film director, Oliver Stone. This is what I had been most looking forward to for the day, because when I had visited the university in March, Dr. Kuznick had been attending a screening of the first three episodes of the documentary in New York City. It did not disappoint. The episode we watched examined the dropping of the bomb and was especially driven to dispel certain myths that have been constructed by American history textbooks. Truman decided to drop the Atomic bomb in order to end the war in the Pacific and save countless American lives. Bit by bit, these myths are broken apart and the real motivations that prompted American leaders to be the first to use nuclear weapons are revealed. The episode is well written, compelling and extremely provocative. I look forward to seeing the rest of the episodes and especially look forward to seeing how people react to the series.
Following the documentary episode, Vinny (or Dr. Intondi) gave a short lecture on Dr. King and his anti-nuclear efforts. It was great to listen to one of Dr. Kuznick’s former PhD students present on his dissertation topic. Seeing someone so enthusiastic about a topic got me a bit more excited to find a direction of research that I can be passionate about as well. I was also particularly interested in his research topic because it related somewhat to my undergraduate senior research paper. Vinny asserted that civil rights leaders linked anti-nuclear efforts with the fight for black equality. The use of the bomb in Japan, and the threat of its use in Vietnam and Korea, was viewed as a way to impede the progress of non-white people throughout the world. Their criticism of nuclear weapons also became a platform to pursue civil rights and human rights. I had researched how the Dave Brubeck Quartet had used their visibility as they performed abroad for the State Department to call for civil rights in the United States as well. Vinny’s research makes me wonder if the jazz quartet also had any connections with the anti-nuclear movement.
Field Trip II: Togetsukyo Bridge and Sushi (At last!)
After lunch, we split once again into our Peace Families and headed to the Togetsukyo Bridge, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto. We spent about an hour snapping photos of the bridge and frolicking in the shallow river like kids. A few of us came upon a group of young boys, stripped to their shorts, who were jumping from a smaller, secondary bridge into a deep pool of water. After I fortified myself with a melon slushy, I caught up with my group and we hiked up to a bamboo grove. It was by far one of the most beautiful and serene locations I’ve ever been in. After strolling through the shops and playing the tourist for a bit, our family leaders herded us back onto the tram to head back to the city.
I was excited for dinner because I was finally going to get the chance to have real, Japanese sushi. We ate at a restaurant that served food on a conveyor belt contraption. We were able to pick plates from the moving belt and each person would be charged by how many plates they had eaten. The sushi was delicious, except for the natto. Natto is fermented soy beans and is apparently a delicacy in Japan. Personally, I think it was created as a prank for gullible tourists. Thom, having heard about natto’s foul taste, was determined to try it. Soon, our table was surrounded with students eager to witness this momentous occasion. Thom must have and iron stomach, because he ate an entire seaweed wrapped roll. I had the tiniest bite…and nearly lost my dinner. Thanks to Allen, the entire event has been posted on YouTube for posterity. After we had our fill, we sent our plates down this shute at the edge of the table. A small television screen above us counted how many plates we ate, a respectable 28 in total. It made a great fanfare and shot out a little plastic toy as a prize. However, the highlight of the meal must have been what we called the ‘Robot Bartender,’ a glorious machine that, when fed 500 yen, would lift up one’s glass, fill it with Kirin, shift, and add just enough head so that it trickled oh so delicately down the side of the mug.
Back at Seminar House, our reflection meeting took on a more serious note as we discussed President Obama’s Prague Speech. In the speech, Obama calls for global nuclear disarmament but also stipulates that the United States for the meantime will keep its weapons as a deterrent. After much discussion, our group ultimately decided that deterrence is ultimately and unreliable structure. It may have worked when there were two major powers (the United States and the Soviet Union), but now there are too many competing actors, and the theory cannot withstand such a level of complication. And once deterrence does stop working, because at some point one nation is going to call another’s bluff, the world is doomed. It is a terrifying and sobering thought.