Chad drives me to the eki (bus/train station) for the 7:30 bus to Sendai and I tell him I know now why the bus driver was annoyed when I got on two weeks ago for my ride into Ishinomaki. When the bus pulls up you're supposed to get out of line, open the outside luggage bin, throw your suitcase in and get back in line; nobody does it for you. Not knowing this when I arrived, I dragged my big old suitcase on the bus with me. Chad says, "actually I'm infamous for that very thing--three trips now I've forgotten my luggage in the bin underneath and had to choose: 'do I miss my flight waiting several hours for the bus to make another round trip, or just leave my bags behind?'" The bus loads up, all the seats are full as the last eight people get on the bus. In unison, they all reach below the armrests to their right and with a couple of magical flips, extra seats fold down into the aisle and they all sit down.
Leaving the bus, thankfully I remember to grab my suitcase before I walk up the steps onto the elevated walkways
Checking my bag at the KAL counter at Narita International, I use a little Japanese, so the agent asks me in Japanese to place my bag on the belt, and I ask her to say it again slowly so I can make out each of the words, but she says it again slowly in English, gently reminding me that "time is money," which is fair because she's not paid to be my tutor, and she also warns me that I'll have to claim my bag in LA and walk it through customs before rechecking it for SFO. After immigration, I'm confronted with what seemed like a mile of duty-free purses, watches, jewelry, cosmetics, fashions, liquor, tobacco, gifts, and souvenirs, and all I want is a ball-point pen and a package of dried fruit.
Waiting to board, I think about what Jonathan said yesterday, that you study your comparative religions, but then you don't accomplish much if you try to have a debate between religions, because it's not so much a Buddhist or whatever that you're having a conversation with, as it is a person who may believe this or that, or have a certain set of experiences or attitudes, and what you want to know is what they care about, and you hope that your example is (mostly) blameless and that you have something to share in winsome words that intrigue or challenge them about those things they care deeply about.
I'll finish with some random pictures: clusters of cemetery monuments found anywhere and everywhere--on hillsides, in the middle of rice fields, in the middle of the city.
Ahh, the trains. Local, express, bullet trains. All electric powered. Run like clockwork. Innumerable tunnels. More than the tollways or highways, they are what tie Japan together.
Can one tower support any more power lines? Japan is having a major national debate now over the possibility of continuing forward without nuclear power. Some new homes are being built with solar power installed.
In the Ibarazu neighborhood, a strange spectacle played out each workday. Hanging on cables, an unmanned yellow demolition tractor crawled down the face of a sheer cliff and began hammering away at the rock face, while a human (operator?) lowers himself on a rope above it.
Pictures of Kadonowaki Elementary School have become iconic images of the disaster in Ishinomaki. Located at the base of the hill below hiyoriyama park about a kilometer inland from the waterfront, it became an evacuation point during the tsunami.
I couldn't leave out a picture of the typical Japanese letter carrier delivering the mail by motorbike. I will leave you with a picture of one of the ubiquitous Japanese driving ranges and links to Boston Globe 3 month and 1 year before and after pictures: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/06/japan_three_months_after_the_q.html, http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/03/japan_tsunami_pictures_before.html