Wednesday June 7, 2006
I woke up around 3 AM and after a couple hours of not being able to go back to sleep,
I decided to take a walk around Nagoya station. It seems the south side of the station,
where the hotel is located, has a lot more narrow buildings, little shops, restaurants,
soaplands, and the like, while the north side of the station borders the larger office
buildings of the central business district.
It's actually a little difficult for a
foreigner to tell the difference in the type of business from the outside and at 4 AM
when everything is closed, because the signage and artwork is all so consistently gaudy
and hyperactively over done, that without little details such as female silhouettes and
menu boards with portrait photos of female massage workers, it would be difficult to
tell the difference between an adult club business and a manga comic book store.
I packed up, checked out of the hotel, I had another miniature breakfast at Denny's
(it was the only thing I could find open at that early hour), and
headed for the station. I got on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima a little before 7 AM,
and the train ride took about three and a half hours.
The bullet train moved along at a
surprisingly smooth 178 MPH. I was concerned with the acceleration and deceleration
to and from such high speeds, and expected I would have to lash myself to the seat
with the seatbelt. I was surprised that the seats don't even have seat belts, and
the acceleration and deceleration is so gradual that only the initial break of inertia
has any bump or jostle.
The first half of the train ride was across what I guess would be the heartland of
Japan, also the only flat land in the country. The train passed a lot of large
buildings, skirting towns and cities, and there were some names I did recognize like
the Sanyo Solar Ark, and also factories and buildings for Coca Cola, and Max Factor.
After Okayama, the landscape changed and became much more mountainous, and the
train spent much of this section of travel in tunnels and underground, where the
train passing through the tunnel at high speed caused a lot of air turbulence and
the shaking was almost constant until we arrived in Hiroshima. Between the tunnels,
there were glimpses of deep valleys and then beaches and ocean front towns.
Arrival in Hiroshima
I arrived at the Hiroshima station and waited at the exit for quite some time
and had just gotten worried enough to walk over to the information desk and ask
for help, when Ms. Yumi Yokomizo walked around the corner, she had been waiting at
the other station exit.
I met Ms. Yokomizo on my 2002 trip to Japan on the Hato Bus tour, I was loose in Tokyo
on my own and Ms. Yokomizo was visiting friends and doing the tourist thing also. In
2002, she was a nursing student, we kept in touch since 2002, and she is now
a nurse at one of the larger hospitals in Hiroshima. She is a snowboard nut, which
seems odd for someone in the southern part of Japan, but I am told that there are
a lot of ski slopes in the area, and with the bullet train, many more slopes are
easily accessible within a couple hours. I can't say I am a winter sports fan.
I really hate cold weather and have spent much of my life building automobile parts
to make cars stick to the pavement like velcro. I freak out if I feel myself sliding,
and skiing and snow boarding just seem alien to me.
We loaded my luggage into Ms. Yokomizo's little Suzuki kei class mini car, I believe
it was a WagonR, and quickly found a little Italian restaurant to sit down and plan out
our day. I thought from the cartoon logo of the little Italian man with the big moustache
tasting his cooking from a ladle, that this might be a good chance to see the Japanese
take on Italian food. St. Louis is known for having some pretty good Italian restaurants,
and I've been to a few of them. I ordered the spaghetti with the "special" meat sauce
(red sauce). And it was a red sauce, but there was no hint of tomato in the taste.
We both agreed that it was the worst attempt at Italian food we had ever seen. Thank
goodness the salad and minestrone soup was pretty good, and it would have been hard for
them to mess up the ice cream desert.
Ms. Yokomizo asked me what I wanted to see in Hiroshima, and I got out my little printout
from one of the tourism websites, and said "It says here that Mazda has a museum here,
that might be interesting". OK, that had to be the understatement of the year, because I
was about to once again accidentally wander into another leg of the car nut's fantasy
vacation, because the "little museum" was actually a tour of the main Mazda assembly
plant, that just happens to be located on the Hiroshima harbor, and the museum part
covers the entire history of the company including antique Mazdas that were first
models offered by the maker all the way through the current concept cars and prototypes
that are on tour at the international auto shows, and every significant model and race
car in between.
So our next stop was the Mazda Museum.
We arrived at what looked like a big new car dealership. Current car models on display
to the right, seating to the left, some timeline displays on the walls, and a couple
racing video games in the corner. I'm thinking this is a pretty nice little museum, and
I am guessing there are more displays that a tour guide will lead us through in the back
of the building. We waited a little while, looked around, and then they called for the
tour group to gather in the front of the building. I was to go on the gaijin tour for
foreigners and non-Japanese speakers. After making fun of myself for a little while for
being a foreigner and not being good enough for the "local" tour group, they asked us
to board a tour bus parked in front of the building. The oversized dealership was not
the museum, it was the entryway of the Mazda Headquarters.
The bus drove down to the harbor industrial area, across what the tour guide described as
the largest privately owned bridges in the world, owned by Mazda and built specifically for
transportation between the various production facilities within the Mazda companies, and
directly into the heart of the car manufacturing plant (where we were cautioned not to
take any pictures until we entered the museum). Directly across from the museum entrance
was a six or seven story garage for storage of cars at the end of the assembly line, and it
looked like there were several thousand Miatas fresh off the line.
We entered the museum Entry Hall, the tour would begin and end here.
We were immediately led into the History Hall, with timelines and display vehicles from
the company's founding in 1920 through the current models, and special notes about the
significant models and technological innovations all along the way. I stepped back from
the group, listened to the guide's speech as best I could, and shot pictures of everything
within sight with my little digital camera.
The historical vehicle displays started with the
original Mazda three wheeled motorcycles, then three wheeled pickup trucks (looking
something like modern landscape carts), the R360 Coupe, Kyakoru 600, early
Familia and 300, Cosmo, and Roadster (Miata / MX5).
A second row of cars started with the
Capella, then the Sapenna GT, early RX7, Bongo Van, B360, later model Capella, Efini RX7,
and the AZ-1.
Then we were led into the Rotary Engine Hall, with displays of each significant
generational development and evolution of the rotary engine from it's first developmental
model through the current tri-rotor racing motor.
And as a bonus, half the room was
dedicated to the 787B racing car. Part of the speech that the tour guide was giving
touted the rotary engine was being the most advanced and technologically superior to
any other engine design that is currently in existence. I felt sorry for the tour guide,
but I had to ask a question I knew she couldn't answer: "So if the rotary engine is so
superior to the piston engine, why does Mazda sell cars that are equipped with piston
engines?". As I expected, the guide did not have an answer, and fell back on a
standard answer of "That is a corporate secret". But she did quietly ad that she had
asked her supervisor the same question, couldn't get an answer, and thought that maybe
the rotary was more suited for sporty models and less suited for fuel efficient models.
A pretty good answer, off the record, for a young lady who may not even be much of a car
From there, we were led into the Technology Hall, which showed design and manufacturing
developments and innovations currently used in the Mazda assembly plant, most specifically
about the RX-8 car. There were clay models and design concept drawings and illustrations
to show the development of the exterior form.
One of the better displays was an assembly
of the engine, drivetrain, backbone, and suspension, without the body. This allowed
an excellent view of the working parts of the vehicle. Next to the drivetrain and
suspension display, there was body without an interior or drivetrain, showing the
unibody structure of the car. And off to one side was a RX-8 that had been crash
tested into a solid concrete barrier.
Down both walls were displays that could only
be described as three dimensional exploded views of engines, transmission, interiors,
suspensions, and every other subsystem of the car. I joked that it looked like someone
had taken all the parts scattered on my garage floor and glued them onto the wall.
That brought some laughter from everyone within ear shot.
The hall ended with a display
of machining steps for the rotary within the Mazda engine and some pretty fancy paint and
plastic manufacturing details.
We were then led into the U1 Assembly Line display, a balcony walkway that overlooked one
side of the main assembly line at the Mazda plant, showing assembly of several subsystems
into already painted unibody chassis, and robots that carefully apply the sealant to the
windshields and then set the windshields perfectly into the frame of the vehicles, as they
travel down the line. The organization and automation was very impressive. It looked like
they were running Mazda 3 cars and CX-7 crossover vehicles on the day of our tour.
But I spotted
something interesting pushed off to the side of the line, under the balcony walkway.
Covered in at least three layers of car cover and tarpaulin, there was what appeared to be
a RX-8, with a spoiler on the trunk that stood higher than the roof of the car. This
immediately looked out of place, because Mazda offers no factory spoiler that is taller
than the roof of this vehicle. This was very obviously a factory prepared road racing or
endurance racing car for Super GT, Lemans, or another racing series. I had to torture the
poor tour guide with another question: "What is that car under all the covers with the
spoiler that is taller than the roof of the car, pushed off to the side of the assembly
line?". I got the answer that I expected, "That is a corporate secret". There was a
stop at little room overlooking the harbor with an explanation of the freighter boats
used to ship the cars from the assembly plant to the foreign chantries they are sold in.
Next came the Future Hall, with displays of concept vehicles and a hint at what future
Mazda vehicles might hold in store. Display vehicles included the FC-EV, HR-X, HR-X2,
ASV Advanced Safety Vehicle, ASV-2, Hydrogen RE hydrogen powered RX-*, and the Ibuki
Something interesting was that the tour guide swore the Ibuki had
never been seen outside of Japan, but I photographed this vehicle at the 2005 Chicago
International Auto Show.
Our final stop was a slide show and lecture back in the Entrance Hall, which recapped
the assembly process, highlighted the design and manufacturing innovations, and
also the environmentally friendly design and car making techniques. We were then
dismissed to peruse the gift shop area and look over some of the new cars on display
in the Entrance Hall.
I shot a couple pictures of Ms. Yokomizo in a Miata, and the
car looked good with her in it, but she said she likes something bigger and boxier,
that she can haul a couple snow boards in. Everyone has their priorities...
We were loaded back onto the bus and transported back to the Mazda Headquarters.
Our next task was to determine what would be the next stop. There was some
mention of a sake brewery tour in the Hiroshima tourism literature, but Ms. Yokomizo could
not find one that was open. We headed down town and parked her car at her apartment.
From there we walked to the city center.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
This stop was definitely not my idea, but I went along with it. We walked over
to the Peace Memorial, built on the site below the epicenter of the atomic bomb that
ended World War II.
I was acutely aware that the Japanese people profess a policy of peace and a united
condemnation of nuclear weapons testing. I had seen news stories of the protests
when the Enola Gay bomber airplane that delivered the atomic bomb to Hiroshima
went on display at the Smithsonian Air Museum in Washington DC. I understood that
there would be a difference in opinion between the people who won World War II (If
you can call pushing back aggressors a victory) and the people who lost the war.
I expected something along the lines of a tree hugging, anti war, American left wing
presentation, with several choruses of "Give peace a chance",
but I was more than a little unprepared for what I was exposed to.
The Peace Memorial is another one of those school field trip destinations for every
Japanese student, so there were school busses lined up outside and groups of school
children everywhere. I was the only Caucasian person within several square miles,
surrounded by Japanese students who were ripe for Japanese nationalist indoctrination.
The museum presented a somewhat slanted history leading up to World War II, starting out
with the Boxer Revolution in China, and the necessity of Japan sending its soldiers, in
greater and greater numbers, to China, to keep the peace and stabilize the region.
Nowhere was there any mention of the word "invasion". Nowhere was there any mention of
subjecting the conquered people of Japan to slave labor and exploiting them in work
camps. Nowhere was there any mention of abuses and war crimes in Manchuria or Nanking.
This was followed by an explanation of the Japanese spread through southeast Asia that
can only be explained by an attitude that Japan is entitled be divine providence to conquer
and rule all of Asia between the Arctic Circle and Indonesia, and possibly Australia too.
Apparently the Japanese needed to stabilize all of those governments as well.
The museum further asserted that World War II was over and the surrender by the Japanese
Emperor was eminent, but the US government wanted to test the atomic bomb on live people
and also conquer and occupy Japan before Russia could enter the war in the Pacific and
that the US generals did not want to leave the monarchy in Japan intact after the war.
There was a total denial that the Japanese military hierarchy was in fact aware of
atomic testing in the US, and that they were even aware of the transport of the atomic
bomb by ship from the US, as evident by the fact that they assigned a Japanese submarine
to sink the ship that carried the bomb from the US. There was further denial that both
the Japanese government and the Japanese people were notified that the atomic bomb would
be used if they did not surrender. There was a further revisionist claim that Hiroshima
was not a military target, though most of the stories of the individuals killed by
the atomic bomb blast cited the fact that they were members of the "Youth Corp", a
division of the Japanese military similar to the Hitler Youth, who were assigned to
clearing wider roadways through the city to facilitate transport of military units.
Further, there was a lack of the historical explanation that the people of Japan had a
"No Surrender" mindset, a total refusal to give up the idea the it is their pre ordained
right to rule all of Southeast Asia, and that the Japanese government had mobilized five
divisions of infantry and rallied the public to take up pitch forks and anything else to
repel the invading barbarians on the only usable landing area on the souther end of Japan.
The fact of the matter is that the use of the atomic bomb was a necessary evil that saved
the lives of hundreds of thousands of people on both sides, both American and Japanese,
by showing the futility of continued Japanese aggression.
I will admit that history is written by the winners and the faults and crimes of the
winners against the loosers are always forgotten, but there is a very different dynamic
to history and public opinion in the US within the last hundred years than has ever
existed previously. Previous societies have used the press and journalism as the
mouthpiece of the government, but in the US, journalism has taken the position that it
is a check-and-balance to the three branches of the US government, and any and all actions
by the US government are dissected and criticized everything. And the educators and writers
of the history texts take this same position. The result is a historical view that
everything the US has ever don has been wrong, and all US citizens should feel guilty
because of this, even for things that happened generations and hundreds of years ago.
Meanwhile, the Japanese have put a facade up to the rest of the world, claiming to be
peace loving and to abhor war at all costs, while a nationalist view of history is taught
in Japanese schools, that presents the view that Japan has never committed any wrongs
against the rest of the world, that Japan is entitled to rule the Pacific Rim, and the
injustice is that forces outside Asia prevented them from doing so.
I got about halfway through the tour of the museum, and I was looking around at the
faces of the Japanese school children, knowing full well that I was the only gaijin
within sight, and fully expecting the group to erupt into violence and tear me to
shreds for being an evil, foreign invader who wrought such a terrible fate upon the
people of Hiroshima.
The institutionalized teaching of guilt only works when it is evenly applied to both
I didn't take many pictures at the Peace Memorial or at the Dome, it was an
experience I would rather not remember.
A More Entertaining Evening
We left the Peace Memorial and headed for the touristy shopping district, a big, open
air shopping mall, covered by a three story tall glass roof, that was several blocks long.
The stores had wide open fronts without doors, and each little store had several stories
of floor space above the entry level. There were a lot of higher end fashion clothing
stores and electronics stores mixed in with 100 Yen discount stores and electronics
We had dinner of okinomiyaki or Hiroshima style yakisoba, a mixture of noodles, meat,
that is pan fried into a flat pan cake. The Japanese eat it (and many other things)
covered with mayonnaise, the Japanese equivalent to catsup. I preferred some soy sauce, and
it was very good. It did not fit the bitter-salty-fishy taste that typifies many Japanese
favorites. We talked about spicy foods and Ms. Yokomizo had never heard of Cajun food
like Gumbo and Jambalia. Everyone has to enjoy those two foods sometime.
I had to stop at a toy store and had the fortune of finding a boxed set of Isuzu Choro-Q
toys, along with some Choro-Q Geminis and a couple Tomy diecast cars for friends back in
the US. Choro-Q are a type of car model or toy made by the Takara toy company. They are
car caricature, with exaggerated features that are disproportionate and out of scale to
show the main styling elements of the design. They also have a little slot on the rear
bumper to put a coin so that they do a little wheelie when you pull them back and let
their little spring loaded mechanism propel them forward. In the US, they used to be
sold as "Penny Racers".
After that, Ms. Yokomizo took me to a bar called "Daishochu" and we had several cups
of shochu, followed by a few cups of lemon flavored chuhai, and then some peach flavored
Chinese wine. We talked late into the night about snow boarding, cars, what we had been
up to since 2002, and after Ms. Yokomizo turned pink, we staggered home.
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