Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bix's Mémoires: Journey of Repentance, August 3rd (Morning in Hiroshima)

I will skip to the fifth day of our journey. We had flown from Tokyo into Hiroshima and were met at the airport by Fr. Juan Catret, S.J., an associate pastor of the Catholic Church in Hiroshima. He had provided two dormitory style rooms with air conditioning for the men and the women. Through clerical custom, Louis Vitale, a Franciscan Priest and I were given separate rooms, custom prevailed over protests.

Fr. Catret was amazing. He accompanied us where we went and was a companion, tour guide, translator and conflict resolution person all while we were there.

He invited any that wished to join him for mass on August 4th. I concelebrated with him and the Japanese pastor and co-pastor. While we were sitting during the readings the rain storm outside picked up force and became a deafening down pour. Through the open window I saw the down spout became a rising geyser with the water gushing high. As it continued I had the thought that God is still crying in Hiroshima.

After a breakfast that was prepared by Demetra Schweiger and her daughter, Allyson and Teresa Montes,O.P., we took off for Iwakuni. Iwakuni is the site of a U.S. Marine Base and air field. The people of the town have been protesting its presence for over 30 years. It is not only that they feel still occupied (U.S. occupation ended officially in 1952) but the constant landing and taking off of Marine and Navy air craft causes terrible noise pollution in the city and neighborhoods. At present the base is adding an extra runway to increase the air traffic potential. The Government of Japan pays 70% of the cost of maintaining the U.S. base and paying 70% for any additions or improvements.

The Iwakuni Marine Base and all the other military bases in Japan and Okinawa are a contradiction and a threat to Japans Article 9 of their constitution. Article 9 states:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace bases on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Though it is hailed as a model constitution, there is pressure from our government to change Article 9 to permit deterrent forces and there is pressure by some Japanese government officials to bow to the need to arm themselves against threat – e.g. North Korea.

The Iwakuni peace league arranged an outside tour of the base for all of us. We were joined in the town by Marc Milsten, a PLU graduate from Tacoma, WA who was teaching English at the Ohno Higashi Junior High School near Iwakuni. He had read about our journey on line and contacted us before we left the U.S. He was accompanied by the main instructor of English at the junior high, Kay Domen. She was born and raised in Hiroshima.

As it turned out she became our translator on the tour of the base.

We witnessed the new construction going on and the constant take offs of the marine air craft. Each air craft take off was a reminder that American might still prevails.

After the tour we gathered for a sumptuous luncheon prepared by the townspeople. We were feted and treated as royalty. After the meal there was the exchange of gifts. The gifts of our hosts were always valued, artistic and heart felt. Joan Staples was our main gift presenter throughout our Journey. She was assisted by Debra Covert-Boles and Denny Moore in making gifts of Dream Catchers, Ground Zero T Shirts, books and calendars brought by Leslie Klusmire.

Then song prevailed as Steve and Kristi Nebel sang from their repertoire. Some of the songs were familiar – some were new. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” sung by Kristi was new to our Japanese hosts where as “Blowing in the Wind” was known. The entire Iwakuni luncheon hosts joined in chorus for some songs of their history. An elderly man played the guitar and sang. We all joined together to sing, “We Shall Overcome.” We made our good byes and got on the train for Miyajima.

Miyajima is the most visited tourist spot in Japan. In the bay outside the city is the most famous Shinto Shrine & Emblem of Japan. We took a ferry to the island which borers on the bay inlet in which the shrine is built. It was a hasty trip on our part and we did not do the shrine and surroundings justice.

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