Touring Japan with Jeff Alexander, Dispatch 4
Editor's Note: UW-Parkside History Professor Jeff Alexander and 11 students are in Japan through June 13. They are touring and learning in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. Dr. Alexander is tweeting updates and photos regularly and you can join his followers on Twitter at @jeffalexander99 and follow the tour through Ranger Today and the university web site.
Japan Dispatch 4: From Hiroshima City to the Home Plate
Our students continue to march across Japan. We have traveled over 2,300 kilometers by rail between five major cities in the last 10 days, plus countless shorter trips aboard local trains and subways. On Monday, we journeyed to Hiroshima to visit Peace Park and the A-Bomb Dome, which is a sobering reminder of the dangers posed by atomic weapons and by war in general. The museum features many surviving examples of burned, melted clothing worn by teams of junior high school students who were working to prepare urban firebreaks when the bomb exploded on August 6, 1945. Naturally, none of them survived. Since the war's end, each time that any nation conducts a nuclear test somewhere on earth, the mayor of Hiroshima writes a letter of protest to that nation's head of state. Many examples of such letters are on display.
After collecting ourselves, we returned to our base in Kyoto and spent an evening at a public bathhouse. Until the 1960s, few urban Japanese homes had a bathtub, and hot water was a luxury for most. Therefore, local, family-run baths called "sento" were frequented by neighborhood residents, and many good ones still survive. We visited one of Japan's most famous sento, called "Funaoka onsen," which opened in 1923. Famed for its hot pools, dark spring waters, and ornate period decorations, it offered us an ideal chance to unwind after a long day of traveling.
On Tuesday, after visiting the campus of Hannan University in Osaka, where we sat in on a tourism-management class taught by our host, Enokido-sensei, we went together with his students to the city's thriving center, Shinsaibashi. There, thousands of densely-packed shops, restaurants, and arcades stretch literally for miles and reach several stories up. That evening, we dined together at a modern Japanese tapas bar on the 8th floor overlooking the famous Dotonbori canal, where our group conversed in English with Enokido-sensei's students.
Finally, we spent yesterday morning touring Osaka Castle, the pride of the city and the site of the Summer War of 1615, when the Tokugawa shogun laid siege to the castle and ultimately defeated his chief rivals, the Toyotomi clan. Today, the castle keep is a modern reconstruction, and the interior is a museum featuring a vast collection of priceless artifacts, including letters and poems composed by modern Japan's unifier, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Next, we explored part of the "new world" fairgrounds district that was constructed in 1913 in the city's south end. Designed partly to resemble Paris, and partly Coney Island, it remains a colorful, if somewhat gritty destination for those looking to find lunch in a century-old fairgrounds atmosphere.
For the big finish, we capped off our last full day, and our course, with a Japanese baseball game at the Osaka Dome. Despite long odds, the Osaka Buffaloes put up a good fight against the league's top team, the Tokyo Giants. Fans on both sides beat drums, waved huge flags, clapped plastic bats, and sang endless fight songs as their two teams competed, and though the hometown Buffaloes lost 7-1, everyone still enjoyed the 7th-inning stretch, when, traditionally, fans simultaneously release long, whistling balloons featuring their teams' proud colors and logos.
Today, we are making our way back to Tokyo and Narita airport, having seen and done more in 10 days than anyone thought possible. Japan is a fast-paced land filled with new things to learn and experience, and we have certainly done our share.
Somewhere in Shizuoka13 June 2013