Content note: This part contains a vague reference to sexual assault.
March 1, 2003
Myrna Romson arrived at Mojiko station in Kitakyushu City.
Before coming to Kitakyushu, she had been in Japan for about a week. She hoped that getting out of town and being in Japan would make her feel less anxious. It did, but she still felt … vulnerable. Exposed. Endangered. Hopefully, being with Ana would make her feel more at ease.
Her close friend in college, Ana Teranishi, lived in Kokura, the urban heart of Kitakyushu, but she asked to meet Myrna in the Moji district instead. Myrna could understand that. Ana must have already seen enough of the major tourist attractions in Kokura.
Myrna had never heard of Kitakyushu before coming to Japan, but she had known about Kokura. Of course she knew about Kokura. On August 6, 1945, Kokura became the first city to ever be bombed with a nuclear weapon.
Her morning had been spent at the Kokura War Memorial, Kokura Peace Museum, and Kokura Castle. Kokura Castle was less than 200 feet away from ground zero, the stone foundation was the only structure which had survived in that area, and it was known worldwide as the ‘Atomic Castle’, a name which came from the famous film The Ghosts of Kokura.
Myrna found it odd that there was no reference at all to the atomic bombing in the castle itself. Instead, the information displays were all about samurai, architecture, and the wars in which the wooden structures had burned down (none of those wars were World War II), and how Kokura Castle was the first Japanese castle to be rebuilt in the postwar era.
In fact, the entire area had not been quite what she expected – just outside the castle, the museum, the memorial, and the plaza which connected them, there was a plethora of restaurants featuring cuisines from around the world, signs for hostels, and lots of shops. Of course she knew that the atomic bombing had happened almost sixty years before, and it would have been silly to expect it to look like The Ghosts of Kokura, but she wasn’t expecting this.
Furthermore, Myrna had been concerned that the experience would be too overwhelmingly upsetting for her, but … she had hardly reacted. Emotionally, seeing the skin which had literally slipped off someone’s body was like seeing someone wearing a band-aid.
As soon as Myrna entered the waiting room of Mojiko station, she could see Ana’s smiling face. They approached each other, and squeezed each other’s hands.
“How do you like Japan so far?” Ana asked.
“Japan is great,” Myrna replied, in a level tone.
They put Myrna’s travel bag in a locker (Ana insisted on paying since she was Myrna’s host), and walked out of the station. Ana told Myrna to turn around.
“This looks European, not Japanese,” Myrna observed.
“It was based on some train station in Europe.”
Myrna and Ana leisurely strolled around ‘Mojiko Retro’, a historic district full of Meiji and Taisho era buildings. Eventually, they settled down at a café.
“I’d been asking you to come to Japan for almost two years, and less than two weeks ago, I find out you’re actually coming,” Ana said. “I am very happy to see you here, I’m just a bit surprised that it’s so sudden.”
“Even I didn’t know I was coming to Japan until about two weeks ago,” Ana said.
“So you finally got some serious vacation time at your job.”
The silence was an invitation for Myrna to explain. Myrna declined the invitation. She did not think of what Sebastian did to her as being sexual assault … but she had a feeling that Ana might interpret it that way. Regardless, Myrna did not want to discuss it.
They continued to drink coffee. Myrna, however, was not comfortable with the silence which continued to invite her to speak, so she said “There aren’t many tourists here.”
“Are you kidding?” asked Ana. “There are tourists all over the place.” To prove her point, Ana pointed at a black woman and white man on the other side of the street.
“There aren’t nearly as many tourists here as there are at Kokura Peace Plaza.”
“Of course not. 80% of the foreign tourists who bother coming to Kyushu at all just go to Kokura peace museum, war memorial, and castle, weep about the bombing, spend the night, then leave. And of the foreign tourists who do come to the Moji district, I bet 90% wouldn’t have bothered coming here it they weren’t in Kitakyushu anyway to see the ‘atomic’ city. They’re just here to kill time before they go back.”
“Well, there are way more tourists everywhere else I’ve been to in Japan so far.”
“And where have you been?”
“Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.”
“You mean the other places where practically all of the foreign tourists go.”
Myrna did not know many names of cities in Japan. “Where else is there to go?”
“Nagasaki, Aso-san, Beppu, Kagoshima, Arita, Kumamoto, and that’s just here in Kyushu.”
Myrna of course knew about Nagasaki – it was the only city other than Kokura which had even been bombed by a nuclear weapon – but none of the other names rang a bell with her.
A little while after both of their cups were dry, Ana said “There’s a place around here which has a lot of meaning for me.” She blushed. “I don’t know if you’ll like it, but I can show you.”
“I’d love to see it,” said Myrna.
They went back to the train station, and Ana hailed a taxi.
To be continued…
Preview of Part 2: Storytelling
“Remind me, what is ‘Honshu’ again?” Myrna asked.
“Honshu is the biggest island of Japan, where Tokyo and Osaka is. And Kyushu is the third biggest island. And right now I have one foot on Honshu, and one foot on Kyushu.”