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Hiro House
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.

Private good-byes

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.





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