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elderly couple with a story (ueno, tokyo)

Posted by
timothy sullivan (Tokyo, Japan) on 7 June 2008 in People & Portrait and Portfolio.

i meant to relate this story a month or so ago, but i suppose that now is better than never.

during cherry blossom season, i went to ueno park in tokyo-- one of the more famous places for cherry blossom viewing in the kanto area. while taking photos, i happened upon this elderly couple, sitting underneath some of the trees. the gentleman in the photo kept looking over at me--in that shy way people act when they want to talk with a stranger, but don't want to disturb them. picking up on this, i decided to smile and say a "konnichi wa".

immediately the man smiled energetically and came over to me, feeling invited. he asked a few shy questions-- whether i had enjoyed cherry blossom viewing before; how long i have been in Japan. then he asked where i am from.

when i replied that i was American, tears immediately came to his eyes; he took my hand and started speaking far more quickly than my mind could keep up with to translate.

the gist was that he was a teenager during world war two-- and that he remembers feeling an immense conflict of feelings when the american invaders finally took over Tokyo. the invaders turned out not to be monsters; many turned out to be very kind-- very different than what the government had said. though he had seen his village incinerated (and other horrors i cannot imagine), and though his family was poor for several years to come, he had thought that the Americans were doing an excellent job in trying to restore Japan.

for decades, he had wanted to thank an American for the kindness that his or her people had shown; however, none of the Americans that he had met could speak Japanese. finally, that day, he had his wish come true: he thanked me.

it was such a strange emotion for me, and still brings tears to my eyes-- because when i think about the war, i consider more the fact that it was my country that made the decision to detonate two atomic bombs and vaporize thousands of souls-- and end up poisoning through radiation countless others. that he could look at me with such kind eyes and words-- it was thoroughly difficult for me to comprehend. honestly, whenever i meet people who remember the war-- i am filled with a desire to learn about their experiences so that their memories are never forgotten, and that people remember that war is a tragedy for all. at the same time, i realize that my yearning to understand certainly has the capacity to stir up memories that certain people would rather not recall-- so i tend not to talk about the war unless others bring up the topic.

as we parted, we both acknowledged that we were happy our cultures could be together-- and at the same time noted how war was not the best way to resolve conflicts