The complimentary breakfast buffet was served at the sister hotel of the hotel we were staying at in Koriyama, Fukushima, Japan. It was only a short walk away. We all met in the hotel lobby at the appointed time and as we walked over to the other hotel, one of the men in the group stated that the birds we heard tweeting weren’t real. What?? After he returned from his morning run, he had mentioned to the hotel clerk how nice it was to hear birds singing as he ran in the city. The front desk clerk stated “they aren’t real birds. It is sound effects that are piped in to promote a tranquil feeling.” Wow!! That was a little freaky for me. Reminded me of Hunger Games and left me not feeling very tranquil.
After breakfast one of our guides/translators, Toshi, asked if we would like to make a brief stop at the Koriyama Fire Department that was right across the street from our hotel. We were warmly welcomed and were invited to review their equipment and watch a training exercise. We boarded our bus for the busiest day we would have during our time in Japan. We didn’t travel as far as we would in the coming days but we went from one event to another all day long.
First stop was the school of the deaf. We were welcomed by a poster that they had made for us. (note: President Obama, hamburger, hot dog, the flag and statue of liberty) After we took off our shoes and slipped into slippers, we were escorted through the school to an all-purpose type room and greeted with smiles and clapping. The principal told us about the school which is for preschoolers to high schoolers. The high school students were our hosts. After a few speeches that were translated not just into English but also into sign language, we were served tea and a pudding type dessert. We then broke into small groups and the students introduced themselves using pads of paper that had their names and what they enjoyed doing written in English. The first student said “he liked to read books.” I told him in English and pointing to myself, smiling and pretending to hold a book that “I liked to read books.” He smiled. Another student mentioned he liked comic books. One of my fellow travelers said “he liked to read Superman when he was young.” One of the kids outlined an “S” on his chest which caused laughter. Our time concluded with a group photo and the phrase “one more” was used for the first time and would continue to be used for the entire trip. 🙂
Our next stop was lunch at a Japanese Restaurant. Shoes off again but this time our shoes were handed in to a shoe (coat) check instead of being left by the door. Lunch was delicious. I ate most of it after questioning my fellow travelers as to “what was what.” I did eat with chopsticks. After lunch we walked across the street to Kaiseizan Park to see the Soaring Crane Memorial. This visit was so special on so many levels. Last October the group from the Tribute Center had delivered the crane, which is made out of WTC steel, to the people of Japan. The mayor of Koriyama and the press joined us at the memorial so there were many photos. Smile!! One more!! Also joining the group was the nephew of Sadako, who is the young girl whose vision of world peace is celebrated by the crane story. Worth reading if you aren’t familiar with her story – Sadako and the thousand cranes. The crane in the park is positioned to point towards New York. FYI: one of Sadako’s original cranes is at the Tribute Center in New York.
From the park we joined the mayor at a traditional tea house for a traditional tea ceremony. We all sat on the floor, each were served tea individually and then we admired the tea-cup, turned the tea-cup 3 times, took 3 sips and placed the cup back on floor with a bow and a thank you. From the tea house we traveled to the indoor playground. The children of Koriyama cannot currently play outside due to the radioactive contamination of the soil. A company in Koriyama donated the building and a company from Denmark has leased the equipment to the city for five years for free. All the people working there are city employees who volunteer their time. It was a wonderful, kid friendly place and all seemed to be having a great time. Radiation detectors can be seen all over Koriyama and are supposed to make people feel better because the readings are low. Not so sure how that would make me feel.
After the playground we made a quick stop at the hotel and then walked over to our staging area for the parade. We were dressed in our kimonos, practiced our dance and hit the streets to be part of the big parade. Similar to being in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade but it wasn’t New York and it was thanksgiving but really who gets to do stuff like this. Amazing. We didn’t win any awards for our dancing ability but it was an unforgettable experience.
Our day still had one more event – a formal dinner with the rotary club and local firefighters. After which some of us were invited to walk over to a local volunteer fire department to see their firehouse. So we headed out one more time. The firefighters were very proud of their fire engine and handed those of us who ventured that way a traditional Japanese fire dress uniform. Totally humbled by the kindness of everyone I had met on this very busy day.