Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sweet Reunion In Himeji

For weeks before traveling to Japan I had tried to make contact with former friends I had taught and baptized during the missionary years of 1969-71. Unfortunately over the years I have not kept up communicating with those special people and finding them became nearly impossible.

One sweet exception was our meeting with Sister Saeko Harada
44 years later
In 1970, Saeko Harada was 18 years old joining other girlfriends for a trip to the Osaka World's Fair.  Though they were Buddhist, the group decided to tour the "Mormon Pavillion" and as they exited, they signed the guest register.  Not long after, Saeko's name and contact information was forwarded to my companion and I who were working in her home town of Himeji (about 45 minutes south of Osaka).  We found our way to her home to visit but she was gone.  Her parents told her of our visit and she was sure we would not return -- but we did, and soon began teaching her.  In time, she felt the things we taught were true and wanted to be baptized but was not quite ready before I left Japan to return home.  However, soon afterward the missionaries did baptize her and she began her saga of membership in Japan -- a very tricky place to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 In time, work commitments and caring for her aged and ill parents kept her away from church and eventually she quit going altogether.  Fortunately for us, after all these years she still lived in the same home and had the same phone number.  With the help of Bishop Ikegami and his wife, Yoko, we were able to meet her in her lovely home.
Her neatly kept garden
Beautiful furnishings
Bishop Ikegami translates for me and adds his own sweet testimony
The meeting was extraordinary.  She had become ill and relatively confined and lonely.  We spoke of our feelings all those years ago, what had happened since and assured her of our love and God's love for her, we also gave her a blessing. At one moment, she broke down in tears and said: "Now I know God remembers me."  Our visit made the whole trip to Japan more than worth it.

Of course, you can't go to Himeji without visiting the largest and most famed castle in all of Japan.  Just beautiful:

Inside the castle, we visited the "ladies quarters", a wing of the castle well protected and with numerous holes in the wall from which the warriors could shoot arrows  --  in fact, you can see those holes along the lower wall in the picture just above.
e.g. Shogun protecting his little Geisha
(Japanese men can't grow beards, but this little lady could!)

A real Samurai set of armor
Scary to think of encountering warriors dressed like this
Before we left Himeji, Bishop Ikegami and his wife took us out to the fanciest restaurant we've ever been in.  You checked your shoes into a private box with wooden key as you entered, then sat down to a cover price event of eating all you want of every imaginable fancy Japanese food -- much of which I never encountered before.  After paying, you have 2 hours to eat all you can and then must exit.  Judging by the number of bowls you see here, we enjoyed a lot!
Luke's classic comment was: "I wasn't hungry for the next 3 days!"
Our gracious hosts Hideyuki and Yoko Ikegami
The next morning Bishop Ikegami took us to a lovely mountain top set of Buddhist and Shinto shrines (often mixed in the same location).  This is where some of "The Last Samurai" movie was filmed and while we walked along a quiet path, Bishop Ikegami wistfully commented that "Movie stars walked this path".  His wife wanted to be clear, not just any movie star, but Tom Cruise!

The royal cemetery
Upon leaving Himeji, we headed for Osaka and our last two days in Japan.  On the way, we saw some classic rice fields in the process of harvest . . .

Next up - Osaka!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kobe & Hiroshima

A day of stark contrasts found us moving from the modern harbor city of Kobe to the beautiful and sad city of Hiroshima.  In Kobe, we visited the mission home which has been rebuilt and replaced the one of my days.  The senior couples working in the office were loving their time back in Japan.

Luke and I scored on the Hotel Okura in a last minute online deal.  Not sure what the normal charge is but likely in the many hundreds of dollars per night but we got it for about $100.  Our view of Kobe harbor from the 12th floor was stunning.

We rode that ferris wheel for another spectacular 360 view of the city and harbor

On the way to the train station, we found these sweet little ladies and couldn't resist buying their pastry
Pastry is largely an import idea in Japan, their versions with red bean paste are
terrible.  But this European style was fabulous!
Then it was off to Hiroshima on the Shinkansen - "bullet train" -  looks pretty sleek doesn't it!

After we arrived, Luke and I spent the night in a Ryokan - Japanese style home turned motel.  Slept on Tatami mats, futons, and were provided these nifty Yukata robes (highly tempted to go home with them in our bags!).
In the morning, it was off to see the tragic reminder of humanity at its worst - war.  How do people ever reconcile their histories when we've done such awful things to each other?  Memorial to tragedy is the famous Hewa Koen ("Peace Park) in the heart of Hiroshima near the epicenter of the A bomb blast.
The only building left standing after the bomb
This location offers a view down the park that includes the eternal flam
burning in hopes of peace, and the bombed building in the back

As a young girl lay dying from burns and radiation, she became
obsessed with folding origami cranes as a symbol of her wish
for the tragedy of war to never come again.  She is memorialized here and
thousands of paper cranes are sent to the memorial each year by
Japanese children
The cranes used to hang from the center of the memorial statue, but due to their
overwhelming numbers, are now housed in these little displays

Though faint from the years, you can see in these steps to the Hiroshima Bank a grey outline.
When the bomb struck there was a man sitting here waiting for the bank to open.  The
heat disintegrated his body and bleached the stones around him but his body shield
left in the stones his outline as it absorbed the heat.
In the park, we encountered this peaceful old man feeding sparrows - a sweet symbol of kindness and contemplation that we wish filled the whole world.

Another hope for peace monument as you leave the park
That afternoon we again boarded the Shinkansen and headed for Himeji, the last place I served during my mission years.  We'll catch you up on Himeji in the coming days.