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Excerpts from Diary One of “The Japan Diaries” by Marian Wolbers
September 22, 1970
Japan—with my first overall sight of your rolling hills, I did not feel disappointed that I had come. Since I had not known what to expect, the beauty of your countryside overwhelmed me. Everywhere I looked I saw mountains and gulleys, valleys and rice fields, cities and clusters of houses nestled in the hills and green pine forests. It does not appear barren in the least, but instead, a terrain well plenished with rainfall and blessed with sunshine. I find one of the most delightful pheomens of nature in you, Japan—the “genki ame” (I believe that’s the term)—at which time it is rainy and sunny at once. Rain is not quite so depressing if the sun is out to brighten your spirits!
September 25, 1970
Konnichi-wa! Kimie, Saeko and I walked to a little mission where English classes were being taught and one hour of Bible talk after that. A pretty missionary’s wife from Oregon, Mrs. Gibson, was in charge of classes that night for her husband who was in Kagoshima. It was interesting to talk with her and fun to joke around in English, for though Kimie and I have our little jokes, she does not understand American sarcasm, expressions such as “You’re putting me on,” etc. and the general gist of U.S. jokes. The pupils were grouped on tatami around a small green-board and were all out of school and working. Many Japanese wish to go to the U.S. but feel they do not have the language background. I am constantly being asked, “Why did you come to Japan?” Wow! The reason is pretty obvious—at least to me. The difference between East and West (i.e., Japan and U.S.) is so vast and such contrasting customs abound here. The West actually knows so little about this country which is quite technologically advanced. Indeed it is one of the world’s industrial giants. We tend to dismiss the Japanese as being inferior in every way; to a degree, many Americans regard Japanese as those people who gave us Pearl Harbor and picture them as still in a very post-war state, being indebted forever to us. Anyone who has been here knows that there are quite a few fallacies existing in the U.S. concerning Japan and her people—and that something must be done to bridge the gap. Naturally, I cannot expound on this subject, for the Japanese would be most offended (and justly) so I usually say that I’m trying to bridge whatever gaps I personally, as a youth, can.
October 16, 1970
I was exempt from classes for a trip to Nagasaki. The drive was long (about 2 1/2 hours) and I fell asleep on the way… Otsan took us to a Chinese restaurant knowing I’m crazy about sweet and sour pork. I’m starting to realize that I actually prefer chopstix to a fork, knife and spoon. Most Japanese are really terrible at using silverware. They have their own form of etiquette or something, and usually hold knife and fork in their hands for the whole meal. They pack rice with their knives onto the back of the fork (underside) and lift the fork that way.
(In Nagasaki) I chose to see the Peace Museum. In case you want to hear my personal evaluation of the whole place, I’ll tell you. This section of Nagasaki is a memorial to those who died in WWII when the United States dropped a 450-ton atom bomb on the city of Nagasaki. I followed the arrows and story of this unforgettable tragedy. Two large photographs are posted on the first mural—one is the city of Nagasaki when it was built up, and the other of the ruins after the bomb. A mangled, charred clock is preserved inside a glass case—its hands stopped forever at 11:02 a.m., the exact time of the explosion. Rows of glass cases reveal everyday objects affected by the tremendous heat—roof tiles with thick bubbles, timepieces—some at 11:00 a.m., others torn and with holes blown through them. One sake bottle had been wrapped in a reed mat and found near the epicenter, had imprints of straw charred on it. Rice was blackened and shriveled. Countless articles had been seared together by the intense heat. I saw the remains of three silver cups, obviously melted by the blaze for they were flat masses of silver about the thickness of a Coke bottle cap.
The photographs—blown up to reveal the tiniest details of destruction—were the most revealing and the most sickening part of the exhibition… I felt like I was suffocating and I was near tears. I was just torn apart by the terrible realization that this did indeed happen. And it’s still affecting people 25 years later as they die of blood cancer (caused by radiation), give birth to children not knowing if they will be normal or not.
November 8, 1970
We headed to Unzen National Park. My family has a place to stay there which is owned by an old woman and her daughter’s family. When we arrived, I discovered the house not to be small, but average size. There was no stove, only a beautiful marble hibachi with charcoal. Dinner came soon after our arrival—raw fish slices, octopus (which isn’t bad at all!), delicious tea, plenty of hot rice, and fish fried. The best part came after dinner. Unzen is, as you know, a famous health spa for it used to be a volcano. The hot springs are all over the one section of the mountain and are piped into the baths at resort hotels. Everywhere is the slightly foul odor of sulphur, which one gets used to quickly. The female members all went to the public bath located in the Yumei Hotel. Everyone on the mountain can be seen in yakatas and informal bath kimonos at night. The hotels often provide such wear, and they’re perfect for lounging, etc. The baths aren’t cold but they are big—two huge rooms separated by a nice stone wall (one for women, one for men). You can hear the men singing over the wall…
Pink basins are provided as is soap and running water outside the actual bath. First you sit outside just pouring hot springs water on you till you’re ready to broil in the bath. Let me tell you something…that water is HOT! But once you get semi-used to it, it’s great. Next you wash with soap outside the tub part and rinse off with the running water. Again, you enter the springs water and broil. It’s perfect for talking with a friend and relaxing. The steam continually rises to be blown by ventilating fans at the top. A constant fountain of water keeps the tub full. On my first night there were perhaps 10 other women there. One was the old woman of 82 who takes care of the Tanakamaru’s (my host family's) house here. Her skin is soft, devoid of blue veins, pink and whitish—healthy looking. She says it’s because she’s been taking these baths for so many years. It is indeed a health aid.