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December 21, 2006

Hanukah in Japan

M kindled the candles of Hanukah, as commanded, using a make-shift menorah placed in our window facing the street. L is in Boston on a business trip, so it felt very nice to do something familiar that reminded me of home while I am all alone here in this very foreign land. It's already the seventh night here in Japan, so the candles burned bright and beautiful. I sat and watched them until they burned out, one-by-one. They say it is a mitzvah (a good deed) just to notice the candles of Hanukah burning (one of the few positive mitzvot that do not involve any direct action, but instead recognition and appreciation). In honor of the holiday, I also had tempura for lunch (which is fried).

December 19, 2006

Holiday in the States

When most people think about this time of year, they think about the holidays. For us, it's time to think about AGU, the American Geophysical Union's annual conference. It is held in mid December in San Francisco every year. Over 13,000 people attended this year's conference, including Al Gore who gave a keynote speech. It's so big because "geophysics" is a very broad topic that includes just about all the science in the solar system. That means that BOTH L (who studiest the Sun) and M (who studies the Earth) attend this meeting as part of their work. So, it was an all-expenses paid trip back to the U.S. for us to both attend the conference and visit family.

The trip was very brief, so we're sorry if we didn't get a chance to everyone while we were in town. It was made even briefer by the fact that we had a terrible time adjusting to the time change and ended up sleeping for an unfortunate fraction of our precious visiting time.

L had to head to Boston to do some work, so she missed M's family decorating their holiday tree on the night before M returned to Japan. It was really nice to celebrate the holidays with family, even if it was a little bit early...

December 3, 2006

A visit to Ueno Park

This large park houses a partly natural pond filled with ducks floating among the reeds. The leaves are still turning, making this an excellent getaway from the towering city. Watching the leaves turn here is serious business, though, as the crowd of huge zoom lenses in the photo on the right attests.

Ueno was Tokyo's first public park, but it's now so big that it houses 4 or 5 museums. I started with the smallest among them, the Shitomachi museum (where the photo on the left was taken). It has great reconstructions of the inside of working-class houses from this neighborhood in the 1920's. The interactive exhibit on early 20th century Japanese wood toys was extremely successful at bringing out the kid in many 21st century museum goers. myself enthusiastically included.

There are a number shrines tucked into the corners of the park. This line of stone towers enticed me into one of them. In addition to the peaceful shrine experience I've come to expect in Japan, I got to enjoy beautiful leaf color, a five story pagoda, and the atom bomb memorial in the next post.

Hiroshima is still burning

This flame, housed inside the wing of a dove, is the actual remnant of fire started in Hiroshima by the atomic bomb blast.

According to the story, a man went to Hiroshima a while after the blast to find out the fate of his uncle. He did not locate his family, but found a small fire still smoldering in the ruins of his uncle's ruined house. He used that flame to light a torch, which he brought back to his home town and kept burning for several decades. In 1990, some of the flame was transferred to this shrine in Tokyo, along with a similar memorial flame from Nagasaki. The flame from Nagasaki was supposedly started by sparks caused as roof tiles flew past one another during the blast.

The memorial is housed in a very peaceful garden on the grounds of a shrine within Ueno Park, one of the largest and busiest parks in Tokyo that also houses the National Museum, Tokyo Zoo, and other active sites. The memorial represents one of the few places Tokyo's residents can honor the victims of the atom bombs (the controversial Yasakuni shrine is another, but it is unfortunately tainted by a very nationalist war museum and the enshrined remains of several convicted Class A war criminals). This shrine has committed to maintain the flame at least until all nuclear weapons are laid to rest in the world.

The memorial was not the focal point of the shrine, but many stopped to take notice of it. A nearby sign (in English and Japanese, like most signs in Japan) hardly mentions the war and completely omits mentioning the United States, let alone demonizing us or anybody for dropping the bomb. It only focuses on the tragedy of the event. People would approach the memorial (where I took this photo), stand there for a few moments, and then return to the main walkway.

We definitely plan to visit Hiroshima in person during our stay in Japan. We'll tell you about it when we do.