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Day 12: A Survivors Story & A Trip to the Volcano

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A real honour this morning courtesy of our Peace Centre hosts we were able to join a talk this morning being given by one of the last A-bomb survivors (hibukusha) who speaks English. A very engaging guy who has a passion for Guinness and a leprechaun for a key ring, he spent a very enlightening hour explaining just how it felt to be within a kilometer or so of the hyper-center on that fateful day.

It is remarkable the small details upon which so much of fate can hang and he attributes much of the reason that he is alive today to the fact that he was sitting on the south side of the school house when the blast came and was also in the fortunate position to leave Hiroshima shortly after the blast to get to his mothers village. Although he appears to have suffered radiation poisoning shortly after the blast, he quickly recovered and is a very sprightly 79 year old today.

Chillingly, he advised us that the representations of burned and swollen bodies that make for such gruesome viewing in the exhibition hall do not in any way convey the horrors he saw as hundreds of people shuffled zombie like out of the centre of the city to find a place to die that day.

One comment he made really struck me that as he walked away from the devestated city that evening he still had no feeling that he or his country would surrender. The teaching in schools and culture within the country was so firmly against the idea of surrender that even an event as horrific as this was just one more trial to endure. It somehow corroborates the US view that without the bombings the Japanese would have been much slower to surrender (indeed he also pointed out that over 100,000 died in a single night of firebombing in Tokyo - almost as many as died in the whole year after Hiroshima).

From Hiroshima we high tailed it as only you can on Japanese railways from the heart of Honshu all the way to the highlands of Kyushu in a matter of hours. Sanj and I decided to go local and treated ourselves to some bento boxes for the journey down south. The food came in the most exquisite and to be honest extravagant amount of packaging, so much so that Sanj wanted to bring her box home with her.

After whizzing through so much of the country on sparkling railways it was only a matter of time before we encountere the true hell of holiday travel - the local bus. And true to form, we spent the next two and half hours slowly meandering our way from Kumamoto towards the volcanoes of Aso-San. Kyushu is weirdly reminiscent of the US with lots of low rise buildings and shops and fast food joints dotted along the highway. Thankfully we didn't have to endure such sights for too long before we started winding our way up the mountains and into the heart of the Aso-San caldera. A highly active volcano region by all accounts (quite a few fatalities from incautious travellers in the last few years) and a hearty smell of sulphur in the air to remind us of who's boss.

Despite some initial concerns that our reservation in Kurakawa had not been acknowledged, we really should have known better and put our faith in Japanese hospitality. Not only were they expecting us but within moments a mini-bus was on its way to bring us from the station whisk us through checking and being ushered through to face a proper Japanese banquet.

I simply lost count of how many different dishes and pots were put in front of us but I can report back that cooking your own little piece of Japanese beef is a pleasure worth many many hours in a bus for. I am still a little undecided on my view of raw horse sashimi but have chalked it up to one of those things that should atleast be tried once.

The reason for our long trip to the volcano region was based upon the reputation the area has for hot springs (onsen) and after dinner we were ushered to our male and female outdoor baths for after dinner soaking. There are truly few more calming experiences than sitting as naked as the day you were born looking into the mountain night sky in a thermal bath. It will I doubt surprise no-one to know that we both slept without a murmur for 12 hours afterwards.


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