I am standing at the crosswalk to the Peace Park cussing myself. The HIWC’s cooking class is at the Hiroshima International House, which is not here. It is down by Hiroshima Station. Not the Peace Park. That building is also called the International House. I knew that, but my feet have brought me here.
Once the self-chastising ceases, I come back to the present. The A Bomb dome reflects the morning sun, tourists mix with the locals on the street and the river quietly continues to the Seto sea. The familiar sound of metal wheels meeting track inspire me. The streetcar station Genbaku Dome mae (mae means in front of) awaits its tram. I know that this line heads to Hiroshima Station. The cooking class is close to one of the last stops before this main station. I quickly text Yoko san to let her know I will be late. It is 9:50.
The streetcars have a relationship with the stoplights. When you get off, you have to follow the pedestrian crossing light. This can either save you time by allowing you to get on or on your way. Or you can’t walk and miss your tram because you can’t use the crosswalk. The tram and I arrive at the light the same time. I hold my breath hoping it will wait until the light lets me reach it. It does.
Without any trepidation I scurry across. Entering through the correct door in the middle of the tram, I scan my card and look for a place to stand. And a map. The car is not very crowded. The map I find has roman lettering but is so small I can barely read it. It’s confusing, using businesses instead of stations for stops. Casually looking around I spy a map at the back of the tram. This new tram’s ride is smooth, I think, making my way easily. As I look at the map, I take note that my ears are not ringing, my heart isn’t pounding. Instead I’m automatically deciphering where I am and where I am headed. Dinah Washington croons in my head “What a difference a day makes!” Today I am finding my way, following the map, reading the platform signs, and recognizing landmarks. I can feel I am going the right direction.
It seems like yesterday, that I made the same mistake going to the wrong International House. But on that day I went home, eyes full of tears, cheeks hot, and temper raging. It was the fall of 2014. On that day, Amy had tried to tell me how to find the real location, but I couldn’t listen. I just got on my bike and rode home in humiliation.
What a difference almost two years makes!
It is ten o’clock in the morning and still downtown Hiroshima is closed except for the convenient stores. So different from Idaho. I am unsure of the exact stop I want to take, but they are so close together there is no worry. I get off at the Matoba-cho station. I wait for the crosswalk this time. As I head west down the street, my gut lurches. It doesn’t feel right. “Get out your phone, dummy.” I think. I do, but all the streets are in Japanese and I don’t see the building I am looking for. So I type in Hiroshima International House. Where does it take me? Back to the Peace Park! I scoff. These people need to be more creative with their building names. This is wrong so I shut the phone off and put it back in my purse.
I stand, breathe and look around. I ride my bike through here once a month to get my haircut. My brain calmly takes in all the details. My heart pumps normally, no pounding in my ears. I think, “we drive by this place every weekend on our way to Costco. It’s just past the station but before the stadium”. I know I am headed the wrong way, so turn around and go back to the corner. The crossing light turns green. I cross the big street and head over the Kojinbashi Bridge. This river looks very different than mine in Ushitahonmachi. It is lined with huge buildings and big roads with tram rails in the middle. The sidewalk is old and narrow. I dodge the parasol carrying pedestrians.
As I come to the corner on the other side, I recognize the bend in the road. I can see Hiroshima station on my left, then I look right. I see a familiar sight but it still feels strange. It is the intersection where the end of a four-lane highway meets the city streets. It crosses a river so it isn’t flat. The sight of cars driving on the left side of the road still feels funny. But in an instant I know where I am. My destination is at the end of the street. I look at my watch-10:05. I am not that late!
What a difference almost two years makes.
Only this morning I had set out so easily. No fuss no muss. No discussions with Rich about how to get here or ruminating over which route would be the easiest. No angst at all. I joined the many people walking with a purpose- salary men as they are called here (evidence by their black suit, brief case), parents with children in tow, exercisers marching along, dogs walking their owners.
As I cross my bridge- Kohei Bashi. Its history is inescapable. The historic marker never lets me forget the part it played on August 6, 1945. This bridge is one of two that survived the blast. It was a passage to safety, away from fire. The river is high this morning. It makes a joyful sound passing underneath as I cross.
Hiroshima is a city of rivers. I am heading south and wanting to follow the river that flows past the Peace Park. Walking to Hakushima astram station allows me to skip the crossing lights. The astram starts underground in the center of downtown but it moves above the city as it heads north. I like the view here above. It gives me a good lay of the land, especially now that all the vegetation is filled out. So as I walk my normal route I realize that if I walk along the street, instead of to the river, I will save time and distance and get to the river path a more efficient way.
Savoring the freedom that knowledge and experience has given me, I take this risk because I know where I am and how to get unlost. So I head south walking under the astram track. Although I usually walk on the other side of this eight-lane road, I feel relaxed and calm. This is my neighborhood. I notice lots of adults with young backpack laden preschoolers. My brain automatically reads a sign in katakana. Funny what it can do when it’s not whirling. Although things aren’t familiar, there is no panic. The path along the river is on the other side of these buildings. My gut knows there are many entrances to my intended route.
The sound of laughing preschoolers in bright sun hats keeps me on this path. Usually I have the bird’s eye view of this institution, but today I stop and watch the goings on from the ground. Leaving early has given me the luxury of time. Time to follow my nose. But there is no place to stand that doesn’t hinder the morning drop off so I hurry down the street. One after another, I pass huge apartment complexes. Usually I see their rooftops from my balcony. These sights all fit together in my inner compass. I keep walking hoping to see a path to the river.
Anxiety is sprouting. Just before it blooms I recognize the supports for the railroad track. Relief bubbles up and out because this is a path to an entrance I have always been curious about. People continue to hurry by me. Housewife bikes with babes in front and back baskets cruise by. Briefcases swinging, men in black hustle past and cart pulling grandmas amble towards the grocery stores. This path along the river is even busier than the sidewalk. Bikes whiz by. The benches are full of elderly people chatting, animals waiting. The river is busy with boats and workmen fussing with the train supports. It’s all home to me.
Home. Its not one place anymore. I think about what is happening back in Idaho. These are challenging days for my teacher friends at Washington Elementary and elsewhere. My sons are back from college and settling into their summer routines. They text and skype me more these days. Thoughts of my garden, my friends, my past students fill my heart. I think about all the goodbyes said in the past and the future and the weight grows.
I come to another historical marker. Usually we are on our bikes zooming by, but time allows me to stop. Luckily there is English. This was the spot of a local hospital. The marker describes that it was here so the ill could get comfort from the cherry tree lined river view. As with all historical markers here photos provide after shots. With the hospital flattened, surviving citizens had scavenged tin for shelter to make a triage spot. Today a shrine comforts the dead and gives the living a place to pray. A gorgeous orange colored cat watches between the flower pots. I see a bench and sit down. With one big breath all that weight comes spilling out.
I love how the Japanese create this sense of privacy in public. A person can have a good cry and not worry that anyone will acknowledge it. Dignity in tact, I put myself back together and head toward the Peace Park. My watch tells me its time to get going. Passing the same elderly walkers I had passed earlier, I make it to the final leg of my journey (I think!). As I walk through the bike gate that caused such embarrassment, I bow respectfully.
What a difference two years makes!