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Monday, 1 October 2012

Two other quotes of special importance are provided by Blessed John Paul II, from his visit in 1981:

“God’s hope is one of peace, not one of pain.”

...and by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, from her visit in 1984:

“So that the terrible evil that brought so much suffering to Hiroshima may never happen again, let us pray together and remember – works of love and prayer are works of peace.”

   Unsurprisingly, the people of Hiroshima have been in the forefront of global efforts, set out in great detail by the museum, to ban the bomb. Yet, for all the tears i shed here, i believe this position of outright renunciation is untenable in practice. In 1891 Alfred Nobel, corresponding with Austrian countess Bertha von Suttner, it seems, was close to the mark:

"Perhaps my [dynamite] factories will put an end to war sooner than your congresses: on the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilised nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops."

Frauenkirche, Dresden, eastern Germany
   In his own immediate historical context Nobel was wrong, but surely an echo of this way of thinking is found in the concept of M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction), which appears to have had a positive impact on the course of human history since the invention of the bomb. In any case though, the ‘genie’ is unlikely to be enticed back into the bottle. And for this reason, while i would never question the honourable intentions of the museum’s commitment to the ideal of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, i would question the wisdom of being quite so explicit in describing how to make them! Meanwhile, the idea set out elsewhere in the museum, of promoting Hiroshima as a potential host of the Summer Olympic Games, is one that deserves backing from all across the globe. In the visitors’ book back at the hostel, where i’d left my luggage, i affixed another photograph of Dresden, this time the Frauenkirche, and expressed my honest opinion that Hiroshima could probably do a better job than London.     

Kitano Ijinkan district, Kobe
   Another exceedingly brisk (not cheap, but very fast) train-ride took me from Hiroshima to Kobe. Arriving just after 7pm, the station there was like a sort of ‘Disneyland’ for trainspotters, with at least three different kinds of 'racing' locomotive on show. One almost expected the engine-drivers to emerge from their cabins to thunderous applause, wearing helmets, and overalls plastered with company logos, before ascending a podium and firing champagne corks across the platform. I then had to take a local train to Sannomiya, from where, threading my way along streets thronged with Saturday night revellers, eventually i found the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit. It being closed however, i settled down to sleep on a fairly discreet ledge between a wall and a high-rise apartment block nearby.
Kobe and Osaka Bay
   On the morning of Sunday 17th July, on the notice board at the Church i spotted a reproduction of the icon of Stella Maris, ‘Our Lady, Star of the Sea’. I was due to meet up with my friend K, who had given me a lift to Ben Gurion airport, via Nazareth, on the last day of my visit to the Holy Land the year before. If i’d known that she was going to see it as her duty to represent Japan in showering the most regal hospitality upon me, i would have made sure to have more than a little box of chocolate-coated almonds to give to her, but there you are. Soon after her arrival we attended an English-language Mass, celebrated by a priest from North America, at the end of which it was customary for visitors to stand up and say a few words about themselves, so i mapped out my Mexican march. This meant that a few people came up to chat to us after the service, including a fellow from Tanzania, with whom my friend practised her Swahili, though he spoke good English as well as Japanese. With friends of his we were then driven through the Kitano Ijinkan district, remarkable for its ‘European’-style residences, dating mostly to the first years of the 20th century, to the foot of Mount Rokko. A cable car took us from there to the Rokko Garden Terrace, with nice shops and restaurants, commanding a magnificent view across Kobe and Osaka Bay. Lunch was from a buffet, the cost of which i wasn’t permitted to see, but suffice to say, it was the sort of fare one could imagine Hollywood executives doing deals over. We then descended the way we came, and made our way back to the church where i’d left my baggage. Having begun chatting with two English-speaking Japanese people, including a girl whose name translated as ‘Heart’, i nipped into the church to say a prayer that God’s will be done in the matter of my lodging for that night. When i came back, our other new acquaintance, a retired history teacher, offered to put me up in his spare room.
Pirate ship, harbourside, Kobe.
   After arranging a time to meet up with him later that evening, K and i went by a convoluted bus journey to Kobe’s harbourside, where part of the Roald Dahl-scripted 1967 classic Bond You Only Live Twice was filmed. It was intriguing to pass the entrance to Chinatown, though a cartoon panda advertising coke left me wondering how much it might really owe to the culture of the Middle Kingdom. There was also a tall ship with proper sails, and a life-sized, very theatrical replica of a pirate vessel. We sought out a travel agent in a giant shopping mall so that, although it meant queueing for quite a long time, i could arrange my onward journey to Fukuoka for the following evening, from where i hoped to do some walking to Nagasaki.

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