|My aunt, wife and mother-in-law
in front of their new house in Hiro.
Thursday, April 20
When I awoke again, the rain had stopped and the overcast
had begun to thin slightly. I asked my wife about the commotion
a few hours before and she told me it was the warning that is
always given when the dam is opened at an unscheduled time. Several
years before, the floodgates were opened to relieve pressure after
a rainstorm and somebody was caught by surprise in the riverbed
and drowned. For that reason, the alarms were installed.
We ate breakfast quickly and put away the last of our belongings.
I carefully carried our heavy suitcases down the narrow stairway
that my large, American feet had not yet gotten used to. I looked
back at our empty room, seeing if there was anything we might
have forgotten and felt the first of several pangs of sorrow.
Soon, our aunt arrived to drive us to Higashi (east) Hiroshima
station where we would take the bullet train to Shin Osaka. Kazz's
mother was coming along to see us off.
That is another very beautiful custom in Japan that I've heard
very little about, even in the books I've read on Japanese culture.
When we were first married, I was always a little surprised (and
perhaps slightly embarrassed) as my wife would quickly dress to
follow me out to my car and wave goodbye as I drove off to work.
Even two years later, she would always get up and come to the
door and watch and wave until I was out of sight. It wasn't until
this trip that I realized that this is how things were done here.
Simply saying goodbye and closing the door on your guests would
be unheard of. Departures for any reason other than the briefest
of errands were treated with honor, love and respect. The act
of seeing someone off is a very important custom in this culture.
We were all leaving together, but when I felt no one was looking,
I turned, offered a quick bow and quietly said sayonara
to our home of the past four days. It was as if the house itself
had done its best to make us feel welcome. We drove up to the
small highway and out of town. We passed by the family gravesite
and I turned to watch it recede into the distance. Soon, we were
surrounded by the hilly farmland of Hiroshima prefecture, looking
out on beautifully terraced rice paddies, farmhouses and small
villages. It was only time we had gone down this road and it ran
through some of the most beautiful countryside I had seen on the
entire journey. I gazed out the window, not wanting to miss a
single second of my last hours in Japan.
We arrived at Hirashi Hiroshima far more quickly than I wanted
to. We got our luggage out of the trunk said our good-byes . My
wife cried a little and, for once, I found myself crying even
harder than her. These weren't the kind of tears that appear mysteriously
for little or no reason. The sadness I was feeling was as deep
and profound as any I had ever known. The fact that our time in
Japan had come to an end came crashing down on me. I was simply
not yet ready to leave.
I regained my composure, at least temporarily. During our two-hour
journey to Osaka, I remained silent, knowing that if I said anything,
I would once again start to cry. We had a seat in one of the RailStar's
Silent Cars, so it was easy to keep my eyes glued out the window,
watching the beautiful countryside between Hiroshima and Osaka
that I had missed during our trip south.
In Osaka, we transferred to the Kansai Airport express for the
long loop around the city that I had only experienced at night.
I realized that the train passed through some of the city's best
and worst neighborhoods and was able to watch a broad, cross-section
of Japan's urban lifestyles pass by our window. On the outskirts
of the city, we passed by row upon row of giant apartment and
condominium buildings, standing tall and exposed next to the large
bay. The huge bridge to Kansai loomed in the distance and soon
we were speeding across the water. A few minutes later, the train
gently slowed to a stop and we stepped out into the well-polished,
cultural anonymity of the international airport.