After our forum at Kansei University, it was time to head to our next destination: Kassui University in the city of Nagasaki. Now, this name is probably familiar to many of you as the site of a certain memorable WWII event. More on this later.
In order to get from Kobe to Nagasaki, we took the Shinkansen (perhaps better known to some of my readers as the bullet train). The Shinkansen doesn’t go quite all the way there, down to the very western coast of Japan, but it does go most of the way. To me, it’s just amazing how quiet and clean these Japanese trains are. They’re so much nicer to travel in than airplanes. Also interesting: the staff members passing through the car all bow to the passengers (who mostly aren’t paying any attention). All in all, they’re pretty good places to sleep.
After checking in at our hotel in Nagasaki (we had to take a trolley to get there!), we headed out again, walking to Kassui for our discussion on discrimination in different cultures. This time around, we actually had a fourth perspective: in addition to the American, Korean, and Japanese youth, Chinese exchange students also asked to participate, and of course we were happy to have them.
This was an especially enlightening afternoon for me; the presenters brought up many issues that I had no real awareness of. Deogil spoke about the challenges faced by multi-national families in modern Korea. Many Korean men import foreign brides from other Asian nations, women who then face discrimination because they don’t fit in to Korean culture or speak the Korean language well.
The Japanese student spoke about a couple of different groups that Japanese society discriminates against. First, the hidden Christians of the past. For many years, especially while Japan was run by the shogunate and was closed to the outside world, Christianity was considered an unacceptable religion, and people caught practicing it were executed. Suspected believers were ordered to defile Christian images known as humie, the logic being that a faithful Christian would be unable to do it. Second, the hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors. The 1945 attack on Nagasaki claimed over 100,000 lives, but there were those who lived through the experience, scarred both physically and emotionally. More often than not, these survivors were shunned by mainstream society, which found in them a frightening reminder of the horrors of war.
The Chinese presenter told us that there is a lot of discrimination in China against carriers of hepatitis B. About ten percent of the population has this blood-borne disease, and for those who carry it, it is pretty much impossible to get a job or to climb the social ladder. In fact, physical traits seem to be a pretty big deal generally. We were shown one sample advertisement put out by a company looking to fill a secretary/office worker-type position. The ad lists desired height and blood type, among other things. There is also quite a bit of regional discrimination. As you are aware, China is a huge country, and it encompasses many cultures and different ethnic groups – just like the U.S. has its own regional subcultures. Thus, stereotypes often arise about the people from this city or that province: “Oh, they’re all thieves,” “They’re dirty people,” etc.
That evening and the next day we had free time to take in the city and visit whatever we wanted to. So we took the trolley across town to Peace Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Places like this should be required viewing for anyone with the power to make policy. It is impossible to visit here without being strongly moved by our common human condition. Those of us who name ourselves Christians are, I believe, called to look hard at the past – at this event and other acts of violence – and ask ourselves if we really live in a country modeled on Christian values. (Keeping in mind that the U.S. tested a nuclear device as recently as September 15 of last year?) And if the answer is no, what are we first? Americans or Christians?
I took a lot of great photos in Nagasaki, which can be seen here. Part 3 will be about Kyoto!