Joe Japan - The return - final episode
Fran continues with his diary of his visit back to Japan whewre, this time, he was treated as a hero and not a POW.
Sunday 4th June
This morning we took a taxi to Eizen-Ji Temple to meet the Buddhist monk once again. He guided us round the temple where we saw the granite shrines of the local population. A specially commissioned monument for the POWs who had died at Hakodate camp was also there with the man who designed it and raised funds for its construction. There followed a fifteen minute service with the priest chanting and striking a large brass urn giving off the sound of a deep bell that resonated around the building. A wooden carved figure was also struck; as the service progressed we in turn said silent prayers and burnt incense. The film crew was there to report the event.
The service over, we looked around several parts of the temple before sipping the traditional tea in the adjoining house. It was now lunchtime so we made our way to a small French restaurant where we had an enjoyable meal of soup, bread and kebabs.
That afternoon I was to give a talk to 50 or 60 Japanese residents. In the hall I saw most were elderly; they listened in silence and with their impassive features I did wonder if I was making any impression on them. When I had finished speaking several people asked questions about life in the camp. I was surprised when I heard an Australian voice then later I met three who I learned were English teachers. The thought of Japanese students talking with an Aussie accent rather amused Angela. As I left the platform a Japanese man took over and started to speak, pinning up a very large sheet of paper covered in Japanese writing. I recognised him as Mr. Asari the man I assisted planting the tree and rose bush, he was telling them that it was time that Hakodate remembered the POWs who died there also the Japanese dead by erecting a city memorial.
Before leaving I was offered several thousand Yen for my visit. I refused to accept payment, telling them to use it to start their fund.
This engagement over we returned to the hotel to collect our cases, then boarded the airport bus which took us a short ride to the edge of the city to a very modern airport. The flight to Tokyo in the A.N.A. aircraft had the usual pilots view on the T.V screen which enables one to watch the take off and landing, switching to look down as it leaves and then approaching the runway, a journey of one hour ten minutes. We then boarded the Limousine Bus to its terminal in Tokyo where we hired a taxi to our hotel and unpacked. It was getting late now so we took a stroll to a fast food bar for a meal of rice, prawns and cold beer.
Monday 5th June
Angela and Bari went to Tokyo Central Station to book our seats on the Bullet Train for our journeys to and from Hiroshima. They also called in at the British Airways office to book our seats for the homeward flight. I had a relaxing morning and after lunch we decided to try the Tokyo underground train to the Asakusa district, the main shopping area. There were no problems at all. More tourists were noticeable, most of the shops were for tourists, all selling similar goods. Like everywhere else, there were some old streets, others modern. We did our shopping and then made our way back to the hotel before going out later for our evening meal.
Tuesday 6th June
Today we travelled without our companions. We boarded the Bullet Train for Okayama, then changed trains for the remaining journey to Hiroshima where we arrived five hours later. We disembarked and were met by Mr. Kobayashi, the representative of the Japanese POW Network. We then travelled by taxi to the Memorial Park, where we were met by a young lady interpreter., I was also introduced to a gentleman, Mr. Mori, who as a child of eight years had survived the atomic bomb. We entered a large hail where refreshments were being served and ordered coffee while Mr. Mori continued with his story. Apparently he was blown of his feet into a shallow river where the weeds and reeds had closed over him which had protected him from radiation. Two other boys with him died. I asked his views of the bomb. It was a terrible thing he said but it had saved lives by stopping the war. Meanwhile Mr. Kobayashi had taken Angela and Bari round the museum, a place which I had already visited on a previous trip. I met up with them outside the museum. Angela said she found the exhibits interesting but would have liked more time.
We returned to the station to catch a local train to Onomichi arriving at our hotel, the Green Hill, just after six o'clock. At six thirty we attended a formal dinner attended by invited guests at the same hotel which finished at nine pm.
Wednesday 7th June
The ferry from outside our hotel took us to Mukaishima where a monument to the POWs who worked and died there had been erected four years earlier. I was then taken to a park where the English oak tree, that bad originally been planted near the memorial, had been moved to when it had been realised that it would be too large to leave in the towns road. We then returned to the factory where the POWs had worked; this was now producing Japanese open toed socks. In the owners office, while being entertained with the traditional green tea, we were presented with three pair each.
Before boarding the Bullet Train for our return to Tokyo we were taken up the mountain that overlooks the town and the inlets of sea that interspersed this area. Another breath-taking view.
Yoshiko, Taeko and Fuyuko were waiting for us as the train pulled in to Tokyo station. It was our last meeting and time to thank them for all they had done to make this an enjoyable and unforgettable visit. There was a lot to talk about as we enjoyed our last meal together before saying goodbye.
Thursday 8th June
We made an early start to ensure there were no hiccups in getting to the airport. We left the hotel by taxi to Tokyo Central Air Terminal, from there to Narita Airport on the Limousine Bus. We touched down at Heathrow at 16.47 just three minutes before our scheduled arrival time of 16.50.
Frank Planton (Alias Joe Japan)