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So last Saturday I had my first Japanese lesson at Junshin Girls’ High School. It was a lot different from lessons with Ide sensei back in Imari. There were close to twenty of us, I think, with mostly teachers or people at Mitsubishi. A girl from Denmark and I were the only exchange students. There were also eleven or twelve girls from Junshin University there because they were studying how to teach Japanese as a second language. We did group interviews with them to test out current level of Japanese. A few of us walked to the densha and took it into town together. It’ll be nice to see more native English speakers around!

I also bought my keitai (cell phone) that afternoon. It cost just over ¥9000, probably about $120. The main downside is that it doesn’t have an english setting. The manual (which is about an inch thick) does have a small English section though, which includes a table translating almost everything in the phone’s main menu. There are no explanations except for makin ga call and making phonebook entries, though, so there’s still a lot of guesswork. Discovering new functions is half the fun, though :)

I started sending messages to my friends in Japanese and trying to translate the replies. Most of the time I do surprisingly well, and reading all the hiragana and some kanji are helping me learn more Japanese, I think.

On Monday and Tuesday, all the exchange students came to Nagasaki for the big Okunchi festival (Pics 1, 2, 3). We got to watch the main attraction for three and a half hours. There were lots of traditional dances, including real geishas, and a few huge ships full of kids that are pushed around by two dozen men to the beat of drums, gongs, shouting, and so on. After most of the performances, everybody would yell “motte koi!” at the top of their lungs until they came back and did it again, and again, and again. The people with the ships, and then dragon dancing, would also throw tons of souvenier towels into the stands for people to catch. I got three in the end, which I thought was pretty lucky, but my host dad caught eight!

The best show by far (and therefore the last one) was dragon dancing. It barely resembled anything we do here in Kaisei! There were dozens of people playing the music, and three dragons. They moved amazingly smoothly and quickly, executing what I think are really hard moves seamlessly. They often had two dragons going around each other, and sometimes all three. It was really amazing.

The next night I went to walk through all the hundreds and hundreds of shops set up on almost every street in the Youmesaito area. Each one was selling something strange and Japanese – mostly food. I are a number of things on a stick that I couldn’t even describe to another Canadian, although one did resemble okinomiyaki. I turned down squid-on-a-stick, but I did eat udon, french fries, chicken, a cheese ball, friend caramel or some sort, rice-stuffed squid, ice cream, some gooey thing, nikuman (which has something to do with meat), and candy-pineapple (as in candy apple, but with pineapple). There’s probably more but I can’t remember it all. It was a really cool festival!

Yesterday I had my first visit to Peace Park and the atomic bomb museum. That was really heavy stuff. The part was really beautiful. It was built on the remains of a prison – the closest public facility to the epicenter. Everybody there would have been instantly incinerated. They say thousands of people suffered terrible burns and died begging for water. A fountain there runs now in the shape of wings representing the dove and the Japanese crane. There were also millions of paper cranes at the “Prayer for Peace” statue.

In the museum, there were all sorts of displays showing the after effects. Two pictures were especially moving – a before and after shot of the city near the epicenter. In the first, you could see houses and the chapel, then in the next photo it could have been a desert. Everything was absolutely cleared. There were also pictures of charred skeletons and bodies burned beyond recognition. One photograph showed a woman with many burns breast feeding her child – also with burns across his face. One of the Rotarians we were with told us that that child – a baby not even a year old – was a friend of his.

There were stories from kids as young as 3 or 4 years old at the time about what they saw. One boy described how his sister was trapped under a huge wooden beam that nobody was able to lift. Then, this woman ran up to them. She was naked, her hair a sickly red and her skin a strange purple colour. It was their mother. She had been picking eggplants for lunch. Singly handedly she lifted the beam off her daughter, then collapsed. The skin from her shoulder had ripped off and stuck to the wood, so now muscle lay exposed. She died that night.

I think the most disgusting thing, though, was a quote from the US president at the time who said he did it to save the lives of “thousands of young Americans”. But by using those two atomic bombs, thousands of Japanese people of all ages were killed – babies, children, the elderly, mothers, fathers… not just soldiers in an army. It’s hard to believe that thousands of bombs ten times more powerful than those exist today. Countries around the world kept developing stronger and more effective nuclear arms – like the neutron bomb that cuts down on the harmless radiation released – even after the horroes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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