Learning Along the Way

Konbanwa from Japan!

I arrived in Hiroshima about a week ago. Being here and interning at the World Friendship Center (WFC) is a surreal experience. Hannah and I have spent our time so far learning the ropes of living here as foreigners who do not speak the language. We have definitely put our problem-solving skills to the test as we have had several trial-and-error experiences.

I flew from O’Hare to Tokyo on July 2nd, approximately one week ago. The flight was long and I was already struggling to communicate my needs and dietary preferences with the flight crew. I was able to do that, but that was just the beginning of my communication issues. I landed in Tokyo and had to make a connecting flight to Hiroshima. It seemed easy enough until I got to immigration. Immigration looked at my paperwork and told me that I needed a visa. I attempted to explain that I did not and gave them the contract explaining my internship. It took about an hour for someone to allow me to pass through. With my flight in another terminal and my baggage nowhere to be seen, I was in a time crunch. I ended up missing my flight, so I had to reschedule, but the airline employees struggled to get me on a new flight. After about two hours, I was put on a new flight that night. I had no difficulties landing in Hiroshima, getting on a bus, traveling to the station, and meeting up with Hannah and Satoko (the wonderful woman hosting Hannah and I for the first two weeks).

My first day at WFC was great. I enjoyed meeting all the staff and touring the facility. Hannah and I were allowed to explore more of the city that day, so we went to Peace Memorial Park and Hondori to look around. We were only at Peace Memorial Park briefly, but we will be getting a tour of it from the WFC Directors soon. In the park, is the Atomic Bomb Dome. The building mystically survived the bombing and had become a symbol of nuclear weapon abolition. I plan to talk more about it in my blog next week. After the park, we walked to Hondori, a large shopping center that has arcades, restaurants, cafes, and clothing stores. We were exhausted when we got home, but we knew we wanted to go back to Hondori in the future.

Our second day, we were assigned our first project from the WFC directors. Our first duty was to organize the library at the center and log all the books into the online catalog. This tedious project is one we are still continuing now. We also were able to meet other interns from the local university and learn about the history of the center. One of the directors gave a presentation on Barbara Reynolds, the founder the WFC. She was a peace activist that stood up for Hibakushas (survivors of the A-bomb) and attempted to amplify their stories to the world. It is important to note that she is also a somewhat controversial figure as her husband once worked for the ABCC- an American-ran organization that utilized Hibakushas for their data research without their permission. Nevertheless, she did play an integral role in displaying the Hibakusha’s stories to the whole world through her peace pilgrimages. After the presentation, we had an insightful discussion with the local interns about peace education in Hiroshima and contemporary, differing attitudes toward remembering the city’s history.

One important topic of discussion was that the bombing, because of the frequent education and memorials, has become a part of the locals’ everyday lives. It has become trivialized by some of the locals. This prompted another important conversation. We discussed how people feel about moving on from the past. To some, moving on from the past includes memorializing the violence, but to others, moving on may include forgetting the past completely and removing the symbols that commemorate the past.

In the following days, Hannah and I tested different methods of transportation to commute to the WFC. We tried biking, walking, and the bus. We came to a consensus that we will walk to the center unless the weather is bad. Then, we will use the bus. We constantly have issues with transportation. We typically are late and miss the bus or cannot find the bus stop. We also had issues with the IC cards. I was able to out money on an IC card on my phone in the United States, but I have not been able to put more money on the card since I have been in Japan. I was stressed out for a couple days about it because I did not bring much yen with me, thinking that I could put money on the IC card once I got here. One of the WFC employees was able to get me a physical IC card and I was able to exchange some USD for yen as well. I was able to mostly solve those issues.

We continued to organize the library in the following days and explore more of the city. One struggle for me has been finding meals that fit my dietary preferences. Being vegan is not a popular lifestyle here like it is in the US. Satoko has been very kind in making me meals twice a day that are vegan. She also helps me translate ingredients at supermarkets. I am very grateful for her generosity.

Outside of work, the past two days we have been able to go to Hondori and look around some more. One night we got food and the other night we went shopping.

Yesterday, Hannah and I formally introduced ourselves to the board of directors at WFC. It was brief- we talked about our hobbies, interests, and education.

Today was our day off, we spent time with our host family. We went shopping and got lunch with them. Later that night, we made them dinner. Hannah and I made soup and spring rolls with peanut sauce. Our host family seemed to really like the food we made.

That was my first week recapitulated. I want to end this week’s blog post by summarizing what I learned and what my plans are for the next 5 weeks.

I learned more about the public transportation system and became more familiar with using it. I learned to never forget an umbrella and wear shoes that are easier to slip on and off. On a more academic note, I learned about the founding of WFC and different perspectives on peacebuilding in Hiroshima. I learned more about my role and what is expected of me at my internship.

As for my plans, I plan to go to Kyoto at some point. I had planned on going next weekend for a festival, but my plans fell through. I also plan to get a local sim card for my phone because wifi has been a real issue for Hannah and I. It has caused us to be late and get lost a few times. I want to do a currency exchange as well when I have some free time and explore more parts of the city. Another one of my plans is to find some more places that can cater to my dietary preferences as that has been a bit of a struggle so far. More importantly, I want to start my research project. I plan to explore the younger generation’s perception of the bombing and compare that to the past mobilization efforts against nuclear proliferation.

That’s my blog post for this week. I can’t wait to give more updates. I’ll also be including some details in my daily journals, which I complete for my internship credit. I’ll check back in briefly tomorrow.

Mata later (a new Japanese-English phrase I love),


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