I Did Not Know (fiction), Part 3: Ships Passing in the Night

Sandan Gorge, Hiroshima, Japan.  Photo by Nobuyuki Kondo .  Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sandan Gorge, Hiroshima, Japan. Photo by Nobuyuki Kondo. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Once they got out of the Kanmon tunnel on the Mojiko side, they decided that they might as well walk back to the train station. Myrna wanted a conversation to fill the awkward silence between them, so she asked “Where else should I go in Japan?”

“I forgot how long you are staying…”

“One month. I already have a return ticket.”

Ana blinked.

It was not so much that Myrna wanted to spend a month in Japan, as that she wanted to spend a month away from town. She was aware that, in fact, she might not want to return to town at all. However, at the moment, a month of escape was as much planning as she could manage.

“If you want to save money, you could stay here in Kyushu. You could buy a JR Kyushu pass which would take care of most of your transportation, and I have friends in Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki who might host you.”

“I don’t think I’ll bother going to Nagasaki,” Myrna said. “It’d just be the same as Kokura.”

Ana stopped walking.

“Why do you say that?” Ana said.

“Well, of course you don’t live in Nagasaki, and that makes a big difference,” Myrna replied. “That’s all the more reason not to go to Nagasaki – you’re not there, and there’s nothing new for me to see there.”

Myrna could tell that, somehow, she had said the wrong thing.

“Have you heard of Hiroshima?” Ana finally asked.

“That sounds familiar,” Myrna said. She then recalled where she had encountered the name, and asked “Is Hiroshima the last stop before Kokura on the high-speed train?”

“On the express services, yes.”

“But isn’t Hiroshima on … Honshu?” Myrna finally remembered the name of Japan’s largest landmass.

“It is.”

“So, are you recommending I go there?”

“I’ve been to Hiroshima once, and I had a good time. I visited Itsukushima, a sacred island with good views, Shukkeien, a really nice traditional garden in Hiroshima’s historic district, and Sandan Gorge, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Japan. Oh, and Hiroshima has the best okonomiyaki. But that’s not why I bring it up. Have you ever heard or read Hiroshima being mentioned elsewhere?”

Myrna considered this for a moment, and replied “Nope.”

“Are you sure?” Ana asked.

“Is Hiroshima famous for something? I mean, Hiroshima isn’t like Kokura – nobody tried to drop an atomic bomb on it or anything.”

“Wrong. They did try to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.”

Myrna blinked.

“The U.S. military deliberately avoided fire-bombing certain Japanese cities, even though they were important military and industrial centers, so they could test the atom bomb on them. They had a list of cities and the order in which to target them. Don’t they explain this at the Peace Museum?”

“Probably, but I didn’t read everything there. It’s a lot to take in.”

“Kokura was the second city on the list. Nagasaki was the third. The first was Hiroshima.

“The Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima twice. On both days the weather was overcast, and the crew were ordered to drop the bomb visually. The first time, they gave up on Hiroshima, and moved on to Kokura. The second time, gave up again, and moved on to Nagasaki.

“There was a time when I thought, if only the sky had been overcast over Kokura like it was over Hiroshima … but that is wrong. The weather was not responsible for the atomic bomb. The military leadership of the United States was responsible.”

They continued walking towards Mojiko station. Ana was quiet, and Myrna could feel that she was still unhappy. The uneasiness was contagious, and for the first time since she had reunited with Ana, she felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety, as if Ana might lash out and attack at any moment. Yet Myrna was helpless, for not only was she spending the night at Ana’s apartment, she didn’t know her way around Mojiko or Kokura at all, and thus she could not leave Ana.

It was just a little like she could not leave her boyfriend, Sebastian. Until she did.

As they returned to the Mojiko Retro district, the attack that Myrna had been dreading finally began.

“I brought you here,” Ana said, “and to Kanmon, because I hoped, I hoped I could get you to see that Kokura and Kitakyushu is not just a city which had an atomic bomb dropped on it. But no. To you, the atomic bombing is the sum of Kitakyushu’s existence.”

“I never said that,” Myrna said.

“Oh yes, yes you did.” Ana exploded. “You said that Nagasaki would be just the same as Kokura – and why would you say that if you didn’t think that the atomic bomb is the only thing which matters!’

Myrna went into self-defense mode, which in this case was withdrawing, freezing up, and not speaking a word.

“I spent my first year in Japan in Kumamoto. Some of my mother’s relatives came to visit me.” Myrna recalled that Ana’s mother was Mexican, and thus that side of her family was not Japanese at all. “They were all excited about seeing Kokura, and the museum, and the memorial, and they folded paper cranes for Hiroko.” Hiroko was famous around the world as a little girl who was in Kokura during the atomic bombing, and who tried to fold a thousand cranes so she could be cured of the leukemia which ultimately killed her. “But when I suggested that they go to Nagasaki – my uncle loves historic architecture – they insisted that it’s a waste of time, because to them, Nagasaki is just another atomic bombing, and one atomic bombing was enough for their Japanese vacation.

“And they complained about how the exhibits at Kokura castle don’t mention the atomic bomb at all. I told them that the people of Kokura insist that the castle make no reference to the atomic bomb, and that there are protests whenever the tourist bureau tries to add signs, because we want the world to know that we have a history, that we are people, that we are not just some kind of symbol. And no matter what I said, my relatives still insisted that it was stupid that the ‘Atomic Castle’ did not have an exhibit about the atomic bombing.”

By this time, Ana was crying.

“There is great stigma around being survivors of the atomic bombing. Families try to hide that they were there. Kokura castle was rebuilt so quickly because its ruins were a constant reminder to the people of that horrible day, and they wanted to remove that reminder from their sight. They want to move on, but everyone, when they find out, they drag the survivors back there, ask for stories, exploit their trauma, and then refuse to see them any anything other than the victims of the atomic bomb, while they experienced again their painful memories all over again. The tourists want the museum, the memorial, the paper cranes, yet they do not care to know who the people of Kokura are.

“And if it had been Hiroshima, and not Kokura, then all of those millions of tourists would be going there, while they totally ignore what Hiroshima is, and Kokura would be an obscure place hardly any foreigner would have heard of, let alone bothered to visit.”

Myrna was taking very little of this in. She was too scared. For now, her focus was on getting through this, not trying to understand Ana.

They stood there, in silence. Eventually, Ana moved towards the train station, and Myrna followed. Ana pulled Myrna’s luggage out of the locker, bought train tickets, and they went back to Kokura.

To be continued…


Sneak Preview of Part 4: A Space for Oneself:

Myrna somehow got through her first night on the island without getting wet. This was undone as soon as a giant gash was suddenly torn out of her tent in the morning, and a bunch of water splashed inside. She shrieked.

After a few minutes, Myrna stopped being completely freaked out, and worked up the courage to see what had happened.

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