Author: Jared Oliva
I rested my head against the window of the Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train). Rice paddies and tiny mountain towns flashed before my eyes. Zipping through the countryside at speeds of over 100 mph seemed a bit surreal. The train attendants were selling us an assortment of terrifically vibrant candies. I felt as if I and the other exchange students were in a Harry Potter movie and we were riding the Hogwarts Express.
The train slowed to a stop at Hiroshima Station and I stepped out onto the platform to greet my host family. The atmosphere was hot and humid, I bowed to them and they brought me home. My host mother was ecstatic that I was taking Japanese at school, and we began to have a simple conversation. It was initially awkward because I was talking in a formal textbook tone and not in the casual vernacular. I’ve been learning the language for three years, yet I noticed I was sluggish at formulating sentences. My host sister was learning English, and I was learning Japanese, so during my stay we developed a way of practicing with one another that was mutually beneficial. She would talk to me in English, and I would respond in Japanese. That way we would both fully grasp the direction of the discussion, but neither one of us would dominate the conversation. Utilizing this system we could both practice our foreign languages and still have an easy time communicating.
Hiroshima was much more immense than I had originally imagined. During the evening downtown Hiroshima beamed with bright fluorescent neon signs and a seemingly never-ending flow of traffic. Skyscrapers and mountains protruded out of the landscape. The city was a sprawling beauty; buildings nestled by the foot of mountains, and winding roads set without a grid pattern. Hiroshima herself matured from a medieval “castle town” into a contemporary city bustling with life and business. It’s hard to imagine that over sixty-five years ago Hiroshima was obliterated by an atomic bomb.
My time at Fuzoku High School was brief, but it gave a bit more meaning to my life. During lunch, the guys in my class would invite me to sit them and they would practice their English with me. And in turn they would teach me some Japanese youth slang. In such a short time I felt so close to my new friends. We would hang out before school, during lunch, after school, during Archery Club, and sometimes even for dinner. I loved the company of my new friends, I loved learning subjects in Japanese, and I even loved the brisk congested air that surrounded the school. It breaks my heart to imagine that over sixty-five years ago Fuzoku and her students were maimed or killed by the atomic bomb.
At Hiroshima Peace Park stands a monument to all the children who perished from the inferno, radiation, or initial blast of the atomic bomb. The atmosphere around the monument was thick with a deep feeling of remorse for those innocent lives.
I rested my head against the window of the Shinkansen as I returned home. Contemplating the events of my trip quietly, I began to think that if more teens went abroad they would probably discover we’re not so different from each other after all. And hopefully those feelings of mutual understanding would construct a world in which there is no war between nations.
I would like to thank Mazda Corporation for paying for my entire trip, it has deeply impacted my life, and hopefully utilizing the experiences I gained I can impact the lives of others.