A maple tree exhibiting amazing shades of oranges and reds outside my window has me thinking about a previous autumn experience, in the Kansai district of Japan. It was an impressive autumn shared with a long-time Osaka photographer colleague. 81-year-old Tatsuro san is a brilliant photographer with a love of New Zealand. His exhibitions in Osaka’s Fuji Salon have attracted sponsorship from Tourism New Zealand.
We visited Kyoto temples with striking autumn colours and equally colourful kimono-clad women. I wandered, alone, through the grounds of Osaka Castle, a tall gaijin (foreigner) amongst throngs of people – all with black hair and few I could communicate with. With my Nikon in constant use, I was grateful for 16 GB SD cards.
A couple of days before returning to New Zealand I took a trip to Kobe, about a 45-minute train ride from Osaka, to see the how the city has emerged from the devastating earthquake of Tuesday January 17, 1995 when more than six thousand lives were lost. The financial loss was $US 160 billion.
Kobe, population 1.5 million, is these days arguably Japan’s most pleasant modern city. On an early-winter day with clear skies, I discovered sites reminding me of the tragedy we suffered in Christchurch a little more than two years ago. I spotted predictable clocks preserved with hands stopped at the moment, 5.46am, and reinstated fallen statues. In an underground facility, Cosmic Elements, were wreaths of colourful paper cranes draped across sombre memorial walls listing the names of casualties.
Nearby an eternal flame glowed. A fresh floral wreath had recently been placed on the pavement. Seventeen years on, people were still grieving. I visited a memorial park, where a small number of people were using a recreational running track surrounded by various exhibits including a children’s playground. I walked several kilometres on a walkway taking me high above the harbour before retracing my steps to central Sannomiya train station. A pavement plaque caught my attention. The Japanese inscription was lost on me but three English words told me it commemorated the Spirit of Friends. It got me thinking about my friends at home who have gained greater significance since Christchurch shook itself to pieces on February 22, 2011. Another memorial informed Kobe as the founding site, in 1909, for the marathon in Japan. A look-a-like tramcar with rubber tyres turned a corner, appearing a poor relation to our presently parked-up Christchurch trams. Excepting San Francisco’s famous heritage trams, Christchurch’s Tramway is up there with the best as a worthy attraction for visitors and locals. Maybe we need to work harder to raise their profile when they are back on track?
I wandered through a long, intriguing, arcade stopping for lunch at a worthy café called “Big kid.”
Returning to the principal thoroughfare, I wondered how Christchurch will make out in another decade or so. How will a memorial to our 182 earthquake casualties, some young Japanese language students, look? Will floral wreaths still be placed by caring citizens? Will we have re-built the people-friendly city with interesting architecture we wanted?
Will we be tolerant people embracing a multi-cultural society and welcoming visitors from all nations?