Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 1

I wrote this post about my tent having toxic flame retardants. As I was writing the post, I was dimly aware that a lot of furniture in my home probably has toxic flame retardants too, and that objectively, the flame retardants in my home were probably harming much more than flame retardants in my tent. However, I had a mental block. Why? Because I’m not used to choosing furniture in my home.

Until now, I’ve basically never exercised any choice about furniture in my home (except maybe something on the scale of moving a chair). I currently live in my childhood home, which means that pretty much all of the furniture was chosen by my parents, not me. I’m used to having them make decisions about adding or removing furniture, not me. In Taiwan, I only lived in furnished apartments, which meant that my landlord chose the furniture in my home (which I liked because it saved me the bother and expense of having to buy and move furniture).

By contrast, I’ve generally picked out my own camping gear, so I am used to taking responsibility for whether the camping gear suits my needs and preferences.

Until very recently, my bed was literally five different mattresses piled one on top of the other, all on top of a metal bed frame. I did not even know how many mattresses there were until I removed them one by one. Those mattresses have been there ever since I returned to the United States in late 2014. Were they there before I left the United States? I don’t remember. I didn’t pay attention to what my parents did to my bed when I was absent.

When I returned home after my big trip this summer (2017), I noticed that the top mattress has springs which were poking through the fabric and thus poking me. This made it difficult to sleep. So I did the rational thing and … piled some extra sheets on top of the mattress to cushion it, and then pulled out my lightest sleeping bag to sleep inside it on top of the sheet pile. It was a decent kludge for when I wanted to go to sleep and didn’t have time/energy to do anything about the mattress. However, instead of trying to change the mattress, I just kept on using the kludge for more than two months.

I took this photo while I was in the process of paring down my old bed. The mattress which was poking me in the back is leaning against the wall on the left side. Inside that mattress protector in the back of the picture was the bad feather mattress. The red thing in the foreground is a quilt which I am still using now.

It eventually sunk in that, if I were concerned about exposing myself to toxic flame retardants, I could do a lot more to reduce my exposure by changing my bedroom than changing my tent. And it sunk in that changing mattresses would probably lead to better sleeping than just keeping the sheets piled on pokey bedsprings. So I finally decided to get rid of ALL of those mattresses I had been sleeping on and buy a brand new mattress.

Fortunately, I made this decision just in time for Black Friday. Thus, I was able to get a traditional Japanese futon mattress (also known as ‘shiki futon’) that was made purely from organic cotton grown in Texas for less than 300 USD (including taxes). If you have any idea how expensive organic cotton is, then you appreciate what a bargain this is. Specifically, I bought this futon (Twin XL size, 3 inch, organic cotton case).

Why organic cotton as opposed to ‘conventional’ cotton. This explains the difference in environmental impact. In addition to the general environmental reasons, if I’m trying to avoid toxins, it makes sense to avoid the toxins used in processing ‘conventional’ cotton. I’ve also noticed, when I compared organic cotton fabric to equivalent conventional cotton fabric, that the organic cotton fabric is higher quality and lasts longer. I think it’s worth paying triple the price to get organic cotton (I have seen a new conventional cotton shiki futon for sale for about 100 USD).

I was surprised to learn that this futon is made in San Francisco. I was even more surprised to find myself visiting their factory and showroom in order to buy the futon. I have since learned that there are several businesses with mattress factories which operate in San Francisco, not just this one. Like much of the United States, San Francisco, which once had a lot of manufacturing, has been deindustrialized. Though this was not the deciding factor, I think it’s cool that I now sleep on a mattress which was made in the very same city where I’m using it, which is also the city where I’ve spent most of my life.

The factory, of course, is in southeast San Francisco. I consider southeast San Francisco to be part of the rust belt. First of all, there is literally lots of rust – people who love rusty abandoned industrial buildings can have a great time in southeast San Francisco. Deindustralization has hit southeast San Francisco hard. When I hear or read about cities such as Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo, etc., I imagine them as being like southeast San Francisco but with more land area, cheaper housing, less gentrification, and worse infrastructure. My mother expressed concern about me going to the factory/showroom – especially since it’s just a block away from Potrero Terrace, one of San Francisco’s ‘most distressed’ public housing projects – but I wasn’t worried, especially since I’ve never had a problem when I’ve walked through Potrero Terrace before (you can see what Potrero Terrace looks like in this video). Like the rest of the rust belt, southeast San Francisco has a reputation for being full of poverty and crime.

Anyway, back to my new organic cotton shiki futon. Why that and not some other non-toxic mattress?

First of all, it was the second cheapest new non-toxic/organic mattress I was able to find (I will discuss the cheapest, and why I decided against it, in a future post in this series).

Second, it’s consistent with washitsu style. During my extensive travels in Japan, I slept in washitsu-style rooms many times and became rather fond of them. I don’t intend to converting my entire bedroom into an authentic washitsu room, but for years I’ve thought it would be nice to incorporate some of that aesthetic. And now I have.

This washitsu room is actually in Rueisui, Taiwan, not in Japan. However, this inn was built when Japan ruled Taiwan to serve Japanese guests, and the innkeepers have maintained its original Japanese style. I remember that I had to pull out a futon and blankets from the closet and lay them on the tatami floor myself.

Third, it did not have wool. A lot of the nontoxic mattresses use wool because it is naturally fire-resistant and a way to comply with federal fire safety laws without using toxic chemicals. However, I do not want wool because a) I do not want to exploit sheep that way and b) I don’t want a repeat of the moth infestation I experienced in my bedroom as a child.

Fourth, it does not contain latex. I am only allergic to synthetic latex (or more accurately, the chemicals which are sometimes mixed with synthetic latex), not natural latex, but I still feel more secure avoiding natural latex.

Fifth, I like the idea of having a portable bed. My new shiki futon only weighs about 30 pounds (14 kg) so I can easily move it without assistance. I’m going to discuss why portability is important to me in the third post in this series.

The next post? I’m going to talk about what the purpose of a bed actually is.

What the Shikoku 88 Temples Route and the Pacific Crest Trail Have in Common

I have read multiple books on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage and the Pacific Crest Trail. I have also walked short sections of both, and talked with people who were trying to complete one or the other.

Obviously, there are a lot of differences. The Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage tends to go through settled areas, whereas the Pacific Crest Trail tends to go through wilderness. Most people who do the temples pilgrimage have a roof over their heads most nights, whereas most people who do the Pacific Crest Trail for any length of time camp outside most nights. The temples pilgrimage is about 1,100 km (670 mi.) long whereas the Pacific Crest Trail is about 4,250 km (2650 mi.) long. The temples pilgrimage was created for religious reasons by grassroots level religious devotees, whereas the Pacific Crest Trail was created by the U.S. government because a group of dedicated citizens advocated for it.

However, for all of the differences, there are a lot of striking similarities, or at least parallels.

Both have their own associated culture and lore. For example, the Pacific Crest Trail has the tradition of ‘trail names’ – nicknames assigned to hikers by other people (supposedly, one is not supposed to pick one’s own trail name). The temples pilgrimage has many of its own traditions, such as the tradition of getting a stamp from every temple. Some of these traditions are very similar – for example, the Shikoku practice of settai (giving things to the pilgrims) is very similar to the Pacific Crest Trail practice of ‘trail magic’ (giving things to hikers – this tradition also lives on the Appalachian Trail and other long-distance trails in the United States).

Both have spawned memoirs of the loser woman who is a personal mess and totally unprepared for the long trek, yet they do it anyway and discover themselves. I am, of course, referring to the bestseller Wild by Cheryl Strayed about the Pacific Crest Trail, but also Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster about the temples pilgrimage.

Furthermore, both are treated as national trails – an experience which represents Japan / the United States. The Pacific Crest Trail is officially a National Scenic Trail. A lot of people attempt to complete the trails as a means of better connecting to their country. And these two routes do, in some way, represent the mythos of their respective nations. The temples pilgrimage represents a link with Japan’s cultural and historical past, in a region of Japan which supposedly has changed less over the past two centuries than the heavily populated metropolitan areas where most Japanese people live. The Pacific Crest Trail represents making forays into the ‘wilderness’, a pageant replaying the mythos of the United States of being a frontier nation where white people explore and settle areas which white people haven’t explored and settled before (yes, that is a colonialist view, but I am not going to unpack it right here). In short, I think it says something about Japan’s self-image that its great walk is centered on 500+ year old temples, and it says something about the United States’ self-image that all of it’s great walks, including the Pacific Crest Trail, center on great mountain ranges.

And though the Pacific Crest Trail is secular in nature, some people do use it for spiritual purposes, just as the temples pilgrimage is used for religious and/or spiritual purposes (I also would be unsurprised if people use the Pacific Crest Trail for religious purposes, but I do not have evidence of that).

I think the greatest thing in common between these two great walks is that many people use them to escape from ‘modern’ life. A lot of people who attempt both feel adrift – the ‘ordinary’ life of going to work every day is unfulfilling, or otherwise feel like their life is lacking in meaning – and they try to find this meaning by walking/hiking these routes. They go out to both learn about the world and to develop their own characters.

Of course, these are hardly the only two great walks in the world – actually, the most popular great walk nowadays in the Camino Santiago in Spain. I don’t know much about the Camino, but here is a comparison of the Shikoku Temple trail and the Camino and here is a comparison of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Camino.

I Was a Walker Who Put the Temples First

I recently read Making Pilgrimages: Meaning And Practice in Shikoku by Ian Reader, which is about Buddhist pilgrimage (specifically the 88-Temples pilgrimage) on the island of Shikoku. One of the observations he makes is that pilgrims who travel by motor vehicle (buses, cars, etc.) generally focus on the temples, whereas pilgrims who travel by foot generally focus on the journey.

I doubt I am ever going to return to Shikoku in my life, but the mode of pilgrimage which I am much more interested in is the walking kind, not the bus kind. However, as I said in one of my posts about my mini-pilgrimage, if I had lots of time to explore a rural area, I would probably choose a rural area other than the 88 Temples pilgrimage. Based on what little I saw, most of the 88 Temples pilgrimage consists of areas which have been built-up so much that, on the surface, they are indistinguishable from much of rural Japan (and as a pilgrim, I doubt I would get enough below the surface to learn about, say, local village traditions) and is not particularly scenic. Making Pilgrimages: Meaning And Practice in Shikoku also claims that, even though much of the media about the pilgrimage focuses on a serene trek through “nature”, only about 10% of the route could be considered scenic nowadays.

And before I went to Shikoku, I figured the pilgrimage would be more about the journey than the temples. It’s pretty clear from my own travel style that I care a lot about the ‘journey’ aspect of travel.

Then, on my own mini-pilgrimage, even though I insisted on walking the entire (short) route so because I felt that would be a more meaningful experience for myself, I ended up focusing on the temples. It certainly helped that I was not exhausted and the temples were close to each other.

Really, without the cultural/folk/religious traditions of the pilgrimage which, nowadays, are most readily accessed at the temples, what would be the point of walking in a circle around Shikoku instead of, say, Taiwan? Walking in a circle around Taiwan, I suspect, would have much better scenery. (And yes, walking by foot around Taiwan in a circle is becoming increasingly popular, though it is a pilgrimage inspired by patriotism rather than religion – though Ian Reader notes that some pilgrims on the 88 Temples circuit may also be motivated by patriotism rather than religion). And considering my own life history, walking in a circuit around Taiwan would probably also be more meaningful to me personally than walking in a circuit around Shikoku.

I was also struck by the comment from a temple priest, reported by Ian Reader, that doing the pilgrimage by bus was preferable to doing it on foot, since the bus pilgrims focus more on prayer and understanding the spiritual aspects, rather than always being in a hurry to walk to the next temple.

My point is that, due to my own circumstances, I was atypical of walking pilgrims in that the temples were the greatest point of interest to me, and I was atypical of the pilgrims who would focus on the temples in that I travelled between them on foot. Of course, the fact that I only did it for one day and only visited five temples also makes me atypical as well.

“I Did Not Know” (fiction), Part 9: Melting Snow

"Hikosan Jingu Omotesando 01" by STA3816 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons. This is the set of stairs which goes up to one of the Hikosan shrines.

Hikosan Jingu Omotesando 01” by STA3816Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
This is the set of stairs which goes up to one of the Hikosan shrines.

March 25, 2003

Ana was free the next day, so she took Myrna to Soeda, the town where her father grew up. None of her family still lived there, Ana explained to Myrna, so she took her to the best-known place in the township: Hikosan, a sacred mountain.

Myrna had already seen Shinto shrines in Kyoto, but this was different. First of all, it was on a rural mountain, not in a city. Second, there were a lot less people around.

The weather was good, so they decided to go on a hike around the mountain. As they were walking, Myrna asked herself, should she tell Ana about Sebastian?

Myrna knew that she had been different ever since Sebastian had done … what he did. She could not have imagined herself rushing off to the other side of the Pacific Ocean alone, camping alone, or sleeping in a train station before. She also knew she had not been emotionally reacting to things, both good and bad, the way she did before, and that she now had a persistent sense that, is she was not careful, she would be ambushed.

They walked through a cedar forest. Ana pointed out a cliff face which had water dripping from it. She said it was a sacred water source, and that they should drink from it.

When Myrna thought of the way Ana talked about how the survivors of the atomic bombings are hurt by the way other people use their stories, should could not help but think about Sandy in Beppu. Indeed, it was only after that, and after seeing Urakami, that what Ana said during her outburst in Mojiko began to make sense to Myrna.

Myrna felt viscerally that what Sandy did was wrong, and yet, to be entirely honest, part of why it stung her so is that she could not argue against Sandy’s logic, that `if she had not consented, then it was … she still wanted to stay away from the word ‘rape’, and yet now, there was a part of her which said that she no longer had permission to stay away from that word.

Ana pointed out a particularly old cedar tree, which was considered sacred.

From the story of the woman who was kicked out by her husband’s family, and also from Ana’s own story, Myrna understood there was a stigma to being the survivor of a horror. To be known as a survivor of the Kokura or Nagasaki bombing was to have everyone who learned that fact reduce you to that one tragedy, and to have them ignore what you were before, and what you were now.

This was something Myrna felt she could discuss with Ana, so she did.

“Yes,” said Ana. “And I even do it myself. What do I know about my grandmother? That she died a painful death and left my father an orphan? To me, she might as well just be that shot of her in Ghosts. What she liked, what her personality was like, anything. I don’t even know what she looked like before the bomb. Heck, I don’t even know her name. I get upset when people just reduce Kokura to the bombing, but I am sort of the same when it comes to my grandparents. My family doesn’t talk about them, so there’s not much I can do.”

Myrna was also aware that, if it became known that someone had been raped, then they would just be seen as a rape victim, and other things about them would be ignored. It would be a stain which blotted out everything else in other people’s eyes. Deep down, Myrna understood that because she knew that she herself saw rape victims that way. Was that why she was so resistant to calling it ‘rape’? Was she resisting being reduced to a ‘rape’ victim?

They reached the south peak, and looked at the view before them. Ana pointed out several notable mountains, including Aso-san, which Myrna had passed by three times on train. One time Myrna had even gotten off the train and taken the rope-way up.

Myrna knew it was a beautiful sight … and yet, once again, she felt that she was not responding emotionally to it. Or rather, she had emotionally responded to it, and then the response … stopped. She had thought that, after Nagasaki, she was feeling things again a bit more like she had before, but … maybe not? She felt that she had to perform an emotional response to the vista to fit with Ana’s enthusiasm.

As they (or rather, Ana) took in the landscape, Myrna went back to her thoughts. Kokura and Nagasaki were both more than atomic bomb victims, and she also was more than Sebastian’s victim. Just in the past few weeks, she seen many new places, made new friends, and survived a rainy island with vicious deer.

They went on to the middle peak, where the upper shrine was. Ana described all kinds of things about the shrine and the landscape. Myrna was satisfied with resting from all of the physical exertion.

After passing the north peak, they found that the trail was buried in wet snow.

“I thought it would be snow-free by now,” Ana said.

Neither Ana or Myrna had any experience with hiking through snow, and the fact that the trail was so steep did not help. Eventually, they ending up sliding rather than walking down the trail, gripping the chains as their clothes got covered with mud and the cold wetness reached their skins. The snow was slippery, and already being at ground level seemed safer than standing upright and risking a fall.

At first, Myrna had panicked when faced with the prospect of getting through the trail, but as she slid along, her body became numb. It occurred to her that this might be a metaphor for her life.

Eventually, the snow disappeared, and they were walking – cold, dirty, and wet – through a cedar forest once more.

As they moved on the stone path, Myrna asked herself – should she tell Ana about Sebastian, or not? Talking about these things was the proper thing for someone recovering from trauma to do. And Ana shared her story about her family – did Myrna owe her a sad story in return?

Myrna tried to imagine how Ana would react…

I did not know, Ana says. Now I feel even worse about what I said to you in Mojiko. A different Ana appears in Myrna’s mind, shouting “Sebastian is the worst! If I ever see him, I’ll make him pay for what he did to you!” A third Ana appears, and says “You think that is sexual assault? Ha! That was just a misunderstanding.” A fourth Ana appears, and says How dare you compare what Sebastian did to you to the Kokura bombing! Nobody died. Nobody even had to go to the hospital. You still have your family. You’re just a privileged, spoiled brat…. A fifth Ana appears, and says You are my friend, and always will be. I support you. And those magic words cure all of Myrna’s problems – she is just as she was emotionally before the relationship with Sebastian, she is no longer concerned about her economic situation when she returns to the United States, and she feels safe forever.

Myrna did not believe in this magic. And she was not going to tell Ana about Sebastian now.

Maybe, some day, Myrna would tell Ana after all. Or maybe she would never tell her. But Myrna felt that this was not the time.



As I said in the introduction, I am very interested in feedback.

I Did Not Know (fiction), Part 8: Return to Kokura

March 24, 2003

Myrna got off at Kokura station. She got on a tram heading to Ana’s neighborhood, which happened to pass by Kokura Castle and Kokura Peace Park. The tram was slow, and Myrna could not help but notice just how many foreign tourists there were in the park, and to some extent the train station, yet were to be found nowhere else in the city. Furthermore, the enclave of shops and restaurants around the peace park advertising in English seemed different from the rest of the city. It was really different from Urakami in Nagasaki.

Myrna found Ana at a café near her apartment. Ana waved at her, and Myrna went up to her, and they held each others hands.

“I am so happy to see you again,” Ana said. “The way we were when we last saw each other, it was…”

Myrna nodded.

“I have strong feelings about the atomic bombing and, ah, you stepped on them. I’m sorry that happened,” Ana said.

“I did not understand why you were reacting the way you did, but now, I think I might understand,” Myrna said.

Ana raised her eyebrows.

“I did go to Nagasaki, and you are right, there is a lot more to the city than the fact it was bombed,” Myrna said. “It’s weird to be back here, and see so many tourists around Kokura Peace Park, and only there. It was not like that in Nagasaki. It’s like they come here to be on the film set of The Ghosts of Kokura without listening to what is there.”

“That’s it!” Ana exclaimed. “Can I steal that line from you? The next time I have to explain this, I want to say ‘these tourists just want to be on the film set of The Ghosts of Kokura‘.”

“Go ahead,” Myrna replied.

“Now I feel worse for ah, what happened earlier,” Ana said.

“It’s alright,” Myrna said. “At that time, I did not get it, and I’m still not sure that I get it now, but I know that I hurt you. And I don’t think I would have got it if I hadn’t gone out and saw Kyushu for myself.”

Myrna described her travels to Ana, though she left out what happened at the onsen in Beppu.

“Wow, you went to Yakushima,” Ana said. “Lou has been telling me to go to Yakushima since forever. How is it?”


Ana laughed.

After they returned to Ana’s apartment, and Ana started cooking dinner, she asked Myrna “Do you know why I have such strong feelings about the atomic bombing?”

“You live here,” Myrna replied.

“And why do I live here?”

“Your job?” Myrna asked.

“Yes, but why did I look for a job here when I already had one in Kumamoto?”

“I don’t know,” Myrna said. Then she remembered something. “You said something about speaking with a Kokura accent, like your father, so…”

The realization hit Myrna’s tongue like an anvil. Why did she not think of this before? Myrna had even met Ana’s father once, so she knew he probably was born some time around World War II, and if he was from Kokura, that meant…

“Your father … was he…”

“He was five years old. He was with his sister and grandparents in the countryside when the bomb fell. About a week later, his aunt took him back to Kokura to look for his parents. His father was already dead. They found his mother, and when he first saw her, he screamed and ran away. She died about a week later.”

Myrna said “I did not know.”

“I didn’t know either,” Ana said. “I remember, I was twelve, we were studying World War II in school, and so I talked to my father about the atomic bombings. That is when he told me, and he also told me that, years later, when he finally saw The Ghosts of Kokura, he saw his mother in one of the shots. To this day, my mother still does not know.

“I told my class about it, and then, for the rest of the year, I was teased with names like ‘atom girl’ and ‘Kokura ghost’. Classmates kept on suggesting that I check for symptoms of leukemia, even though I explained that my father was not even there when Kokura was bombed. The bullying, combined with coming to terms with what my father had experienced … it was hard. I decided that I was not going to tell people about it anymore. In high school, nobody knew. In college, nobody knew. I haven’t told anybody about it since middle school … except you.”

Dinner – miso noodle soup – was just about ready, and Myrna helped Ana put it onto the table.

“How are you now?” Myrna asked.

“Living in Kokura has been good for me,” Ana said. “I knew that Kokura was not just a tragedy, and as I’ve said to you before, that manga meant so much to me because it showed Kyushu without mentioning the atom bomb at all – ah, I guess I didn’t say that part to you – but living here, it’s really helped me feel that Kokura is okay. That it is okay to be from Kokura. And I’ve become closer to my father’s family. They’re my family. If you’re staying another few days, I can probably introduce you to them.”

“I’d like that,” Myrna said.

They ate dinner.


Preview of the last part of this story, “Melting Snow”

As they moved on the stone path, Myrna asked herself – should she tell Ana about Sebastian, or not? Talking about these things was the proper thing for someone recovering from trauma to do. And Ana shared her story about her family – did Myrna owe her a sad story in return?

Myrna tried to imagine how Ana would react…

To be continued…

I Did Not Know (fiction), Part 7: Urakami

March 21, 2003

Myrna was surprised by how empty the plaza was.

Sure, there were a few people walking about. One looked like another tourist, but the others might have just been local people going about their business. The adjacent neighborhood also seemed to be … very typical for Japan. The liveliest spot was where a flock of pigeons had gathered. As pigeons, there was utterly nothing remarkable about them. Nothing about their behavior indicated that they were a place which had been hit by a plutonium bomb.

Before Myrna was the statue of a man with his right arm pointed up and his left arm pointed outward. She was in Nagasaki Peace Park, in Urakami, the predominantly Christian neighborhood in northern Nagasaki which had been ground zero.

She walked out of the park, and within a few minutes, she was before St. Mary’s Cathedral. Before it were some statues and other remains of the old cathedral. But what caught Myrna’s eye was not so much the physical remains of the bombed cathedral, but the sign which advised tourists not to enter the cathedral unless invited, in order to reserve the space inside as a place for parishioners to worship. Myrna did not see many tourists around at all. However, when she thought about it for a moment, she realized that even if it only happened once a day that a tourist barged in to gawk at the inside of the reconstruction of the cathedral which had been near the epicenter of the Nagasaki atomic bombing, it would be very tiresome to the people who went to the cathedral to practice their religion.

This was already Myrna’s third day in Nagasaki, and she had learned a little about the history of Nagasaki’s Christians and its martyrs. She knew that, even if the bomb had never been dropped on Nagasaki, St. Mary’s Cathedral, which had been for a time the largest Catholic church in all of East Asia, would be a historic place.

She was staying with a friend of Lou’s, Hana Miura. Myrna had been a bit nervous about it, since it was her first time staying in the home of an actual Japanese person, but Lou taught her the essential etiquette. It helped that Hana was one of the most gentle people Myrna had ever met.

“You speak English well,” Myrna observed during her first evening in Nagasaki.

“No, I don’t speak English well,” Hana replied.

Myrna learned that Hana was originally from an island called ‘Okinoerabujima’, which was even further south than Yakushima, and that Lou had been an English teacher on Okinoerabujima for two years. Hana had not been formally one of Lou’s students, but they became language exchange partners, and they still tried to meet each other once a month.

Myrna spent her first day in Nagasaki getting to know Hana and settling in, and went with her at night to the top of Mt. Inasa. The second day Myrna went to Glover Garden and wandered around the historic neighborhoods around it. It reminded her of Mojiko a little, but it was bigger than Mojiko Retro, and had buildings with even stronger European influences. Of course, the signs pointed out subtle features which gave away that these buildings were not entirely European. She also spent some time in the afternoon at Nagasaki Harbor, where she passed by the Mitsubishi shipyard, and saw a massive ship under construction. It looked like a giant steel skeleton with constant blue flashes of electric torches.

Myrna walked from the cathedral back to the park. There were certainly less people here than in Glover Garden. Of course, a lot of the visitors at Glover Garden were Japanese, and Hana had mentioned that, when her family visited, they all went to Glover Garden, but they did not go to Urakami at all.

As Myrna walked around the park again, she found a memorial to the Korean forced laborers who died and suffered. The memorial was sponsored by the ‘Nagasaki Society for Korean Human Rights’, and included an apology to the Koreans for forcing them to work in Japan.

As Myrna passed by the Peace Museum, she asked herself, should she go in? After all, she had already seen the Peace Museum in Kokura.

She decided to go in. A lot of the exhibits were similar to the ones in the Kokura peace museum, but they had a different meaning for Myrna. When she first arrived in Kokura, she had only be familiar with it as the victim of the atomic bomb, so photos of the ruins seemed natural However, she had gotten to know Nagasaki a little, and could even recognize a few of its landmarks. Seeing Nagasaki in ruins … felt different.

There was also a special temporary exhibit dedicated to Ghosts of Kokura. Myrna had seen it long ago – after all, it was one of the most famous films of the 20th century. A lot of people say that the documentary was why the United Nations banned the use and development of nuclear weapons in 1948. However, Myrna did not know much of the background of Ghosts of Kokura.

The U.S. military had sent in film crews to Kokura and Nagasaki to documents the effects of the atomic bombs, as a part of their large-scale experiment in how nuclear weapons worked. The film footage was classified, and was intended only for military use However, one of the members of the film crew felt it was his moral duty to reveal the nature of the atomic bombings to the world, so he smuggled footage to the Society of Friends, who in turn passed the footage to the Canadian filmmaker, Pierre Lafleur, who made Ghosts of Kokura. Pierre Lafleur was not familiar with Japan and its culture, nor did he understand many of the medical and scientific details of what was happening in the footage, which is why the documentary has a number of mistakes. For example, the film claims that the bomb destroyed Kokura castle, whereas in fact, Kokura castle had burned down much earlier and had been merely a stone foundation at the time of the bombing.

The U.S. government, which occupied Japan immediately after the war, had imposed a censorship regime which limited how much Japanese people could learn about what happened in Kokura and Nagasaki. Ghosts of Kokura, of course, was banned in Japan, even as it was seen by millions of people around the world. Multiple people managed to smuggle the film into Japan, and as more and more Japanese people saw it, it inspired protests against the U.S. occupation. One of the smugglers had dubbed the film in Japanese, but rather than translating the film, they created their own commentary on the footage, which was very different from the original. This version was still the best-known version in Japan.

Myrna pondered the improbable circumstances which led to the documentary’s creation, and wondered, what if it had never been made? Would U.S. military leaders still have been prosecuted in an international war crimes trial? Would there still be nuclear weapons? Would Myrna even be here, or would civilization have been destroyed?

After Myrna left the museum, she felt it was her duty – to Nagasaki – to go inside the Peace Memorial. It was a solemn space. She walked slowly. She went into the media room – which was empty of other people – and listened to seven stories (she read the subtitles). She heard the story of a student who had been working as a tram operator when he felt a light so strong that it ‘shone through’ him. She heard the story of a woman who married after the war, and was kicked out of her husband’s family immediately when they found out that she survived the Nagasaki bombing. She heard the story of a Korean who had been forced to work in the Mitsubishi shipyard at the time of the bombing. She heard the story of a man who lost his wife and two young children to the bomb. She heard the story of a woman who said that, when she saw her daughter graduate from junior high school, she felt happy, yet happiness was very rare in her life as a survivor. She heard the story of a senior high school student who described the rings of death – the people in Urakami died first, and every week, the people in the ring around the previous week’s zone of death died. She heard the story of a Dutch veteran who was imprisoned in a POW camp in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing.

She then walked into the innermost space of the memorial, where a zone of silence was enforced. Engraved on the tall stones inside were the names of everyone who was known to have been killed by the bomb in Nagasaki.

Myrna submitted to the zone of silence, and let the space, the meaning behind it, and the stories wash into her.

After about ten minutes, she got up, and left the memorial. As she was in the plaza again, she saw the pigeons once more, and thought, if she did not know what this place represented, it would be an ordinary and unremarkable park. And something about that felt right. It felt right that, even after the horror of the bomb, there had been enough healing in Urakami that it could lose some remarkableness.

To be continued…


Preview of Part 8: Return to Kokura

After they returned to Ana’s apartment, and Ana started cooking dinner, she asked Myrna “Do you know why I have such strong feelings about the atomic bombing?”

“You live here,” Myrna replied.

“And why do I live here?”

“Your job?” Myrna asked.

“Yes, but why did I look for a job here when I already had one in Kumamoto?”

“I don’t know,” Myrna said. Then she remembered something. “You said something about speaking with a Kokura accent, like your father, so…”

The realization hit Myrna’s tongue like an anvil.

I Did Not Know (fiction), Part 6: Consumed

CONTENT NOTE: This part of the story contains direct references to sexual assault, as well as non-consexual physical contact and an example of a harmful way of talking to a victim about their assault. It is possible to skip this section, and still follow the rest of the story.


March 17th, 2003

“There is a question I ask every foreigner I meet,” Sandy said, as she soaked nude in the indoor bath which was sculpted to look like a natural pool among rocks. “Why did you come to Beppu?”

“Someone I know said that I should try the hot springs here, or at least this one,” Myrna, also naked, answered. She was soaking in the same bath.

“Your friend has good taste,” Sandy replied. “Does your friend live in Japan, or is she just a very savvy traveler.”

“She lives in Kagoshima.”

“Well, I don’t think you live in Japan.”

“Why not?”

“You’re not used to hot springs.”

“It’s that obvious?”


When Myrna saw another non-Asian at the hot spring, she instantly gravitated towards her. Though this bath was, thankfully, not boiling hot like the one in Kagoshima, she still felt a bit uncomfortable with the Japanese hot spring experience, and she wanted someone who could help her out, point out the etiquette, or at least share the awkwardness with her.

“So what brought you to Japan?”

“I came to visit my friend.”

“The one in Kagoshima.”

“No, in Kokura.”

“So I take it you’re staying in Kokura tonight, not Beppu.”

“Ah, I’m planning to go back to Kagoshima.”

“But Kagoshima is so far away, and you would have to leave Beppu so soon!”

“My friend in Kokura … I’m not so comfortable with her now.”

“Oh, so you had a fight.” Before Myrna could deny this, Sandy continued by saying, “So you fell out with the friend you came all the way to Japan to see. You have another reason for being in Japan.”

“Well, of course there are other reasons to be in Japan…” Myrna replied.

“I sense it is a special reason,” Sandy said. She seemed a bit like a berry picker, judging with her eye which berries were yet unripe, and which ones were sweet, juicy, and ready for picking. “Does this reason have a boyfriend in it?”

Myrna did not respond.

“Ha, I am almost always right about this, there is a boyfriend. Does your friend in Kagoshima or Kokura know about him?”


“Where is he in Japan?”

“He’s not in Japan.”

“So is he going to come here and get you?”

If this were a public street, Myrna would have walked away at this point. However, she was just too self-conscious in the middle of this hot spring, with Japanese people occupying all of the other baths in the room, to make a getaway.


She sure hoped not. She had never consciously thought that Sebastian would follow her to Japan – she had been careful to set things up so that he would not even know she was in Japan. Of course, she had been careful in the first place because, on some subconscious level, she was scared that he would try to track her down.

At this point, Sandy got out of the bath. Myrna was relieved. She hope this was the end of this conversation.

Then Sandy said “You should get out of the bath. If you stay too long in one bath, it could be bad for you, especially since we were in the water above heart level.”

Myrna hesitantly got out of the bath. She saw Sandy exit the bathing area, so Myrna went towards a different door. She found herself at the outdoor bath, where only a couple of Japanese women were in the water. She decided to sit in a chair, which felt very awkward since she was naked, and there were Japanese people in the bath.

Myrna heard someone say “There you are.” She turned her head, and saw Sandy walk in.

“I thought you left,” Myrna said.

“Oh no, I just went out to drink some water.”

Sandy got into the bath. Myrna stayed in the chair.

Alas, Sandy just leaned on the edge of the pool, and looked up at Myrna. Myrna sat frozen there. Her instincts told her it was better to sit still than to try to flee and risk pursuit.

“So this boyfriend … you had a fight with him too, didn’t you. A big one.”

Myrna said nothing.

“He hurt you?”

Myrna said nothing.

“Did he make an asshole remark?”

Myrna said nothing.

“Did he step on one of your pet peeves?”

Myrna said nothing.

“Was he cheating on you?”

Myrna said nothing.

“My last boyfriend cheated on me,” Sandy said, a little sadly. “It made me wonder if I wasn’t good enough for him.”

Myrna did not respond to this at first. She did not have much empathy in her at the moment. However, she felt that, maybe, she should say something at this point, that perhaps saying something would make her less vulnerable that not speaking.”

“He did not cheat on me,” Myrna said.

“That’s good,” Sandy said.

Sandy did not say more. Oddly, now that Sandy had shut up, Myrna felt that she needed to say something more, if only to fill the silence.

“So … what are you doing in Beppu?”

“I’m a student at the university here.”

“Your Japanese must be really good.”

“Nah. My classes are in English. So anyway, what did you boyfriend do?”
“Ah, I’d rather talk about what I’ve seen in Japan…”

“Japan, pfff, I’ve seen Japan. I want to know what your boyfriend did to you.”

Myrna, weary of resistance, yielded. “I came home from work, I was tired, I lay down in bed, and he had sex with me.”

“That’s all?” asked Sandy, puzzled. Then, there was a shift in her eyes. “Did you consent to that?”

Myrna was quiet.

“Oh, I am so sorry.” Sandy got out of the bath, and hugged Myrna in her chair.

“I never said he raped me!” Myrna exclaimed, as she wriggled under Sandy’s hug. And there it was – the word she had been carefully avoiding, blurted out of her mouth.

Myrna became limp, and went back to that memory of what happened when she came home from work that day…

“That is so horrible. You were right to leave him. If he were here, I’d punch him in the face myself. Men like that make me so angry!””

Myrna was not really aware whether it was Sandy or Sebastian there.

Sandy got off Myrna. A moment later, Myrna became aware of her surroundings again, and ran out, nearly slipping on the wet floor. She felt unclean all over again, and she did not feel that this hot spring could do anything to purify her. She put her clothes on in a hurry, but not fast enough, for Sandy followed her and said “You really should talk about this with someone…”

Myrna did not sense genuine sympathy from Sandy. Rather, she got the sense that Sandy enjoyed be a spectator to drama – and right now, she was the drama that Sandy was enjoying. Look here, a real life sexual assault victim, and you don’t even have to pay for admission!

As Myrna made her way to the train station, she scared that Sandy was still following her. The train took far to long to come, for Myrna was in constant fear that Sandy – or even Sebastian – was going to catch up to her at any moment.

She spent the rest of the day on trains, not even getting off to buy food.

At night, she got off at a rural train station she had never heard of, and saw nobody in the station. She did find a telephone booth, and made a quick phone call to Lou, telling her that she was not coming back to Kagoshima that night. She then laid out the blankets which, thankfully, Lou had insisted she take with her, and found a place to lie down.

At first, she was scared of being alone in the station, of sleeping outside the formal rules of shelter for the first time. Then, as the desolation sank in, it calmed her down. She had claimed a space for herself, and no one, not even a deer, would take that from her tonight.

To be continued…


Preview of Part 7: Urakami

Myrna walked from the cathedral back to the park. There were certainly less people here than in Glover Garden. Of course, a lot of the visitors at Glover Garden were Japanese, and Hana had mentioned that, when her family visited, they all went to Glover Garden, but they did not go to Urakami at all.

As Myrna walked around the park again, she found a memorial to the Korean forced laborers who died and suffered. The memorial was sponsored by the ‘Nagasaki Society for Korean Human Rights’, and included an apology to the Koreans for forcing them to work in Japan.

As Myrna passed by the Peace Museum, she asked herself, should she go in? After all, she had already seen the Peace Museum in Kokura.