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Precious time with guests

 Two Swiss students from Lausanne, Switzerland

  Two Swiss students paid a visit on us, the afternoon of the day a typhoon had attacked the previous night.  Obviously one of them looked an Asian, and he frankly told me his parents were Vietnamese but he was born in Switzerland.  The two guys, they told me, were students at a university in Lausanne. Being too much conscious of nationality, I am afraid, means he or she is not yet fully globalized.  Knowing that in mind, though, just to begin talking in a smooth way,  I often ask our international guests their nationality. I had a vague idea about Swiss geography, and could guess Lausanne was on a big lake located in the center of the country. 
   They told me smiling that they had an exciting experience of the typhoon.  How come you came to get interested in Japanese culture, I asked, and they said both of them had been learning Iaido, and in their city there were some Judo, Karate, and Aikido dojos.  How marvelous!  I myself had no idea of Iaido, so I dared to ask them whether they actually used real swords or not.  They used a similar sword but they were made of aluminum, they said.
   In the exhibition room of Rai Sanyo's life, standing before some hanging scrolls, I referred to vertical writing in Japanese culture and it being quite rare and uncommon in the world.  Then one of them told me that there're both vertical and horizontal writings in Egyptian papyruses.  Later I secretly checked web sites and found that Egyptian hieroglyphics had actually writing customs of both directions. Really well-informed students they were! 

An Aussie guy

  A middle-aged guy visited us.  I followed him into the exhibition room and offered guidance.  He told me he was from Australia, living in Melbourne, then Sydney, and now in the northern end of Australia. That must be very close to the Equator!  He was so amazed at Japanese public transportation system.  He referred to its convenient services, sharpness on time, especially that of the Shinkansen bullet train and subway in Tokyo.  He said he had to depend on automobiles all the time in his life, but gasoline was far more expensive compared to that many years ago.  After a while, I felt he needed someone to talk with during his trip in Japan. 

Milanese guys

   Two young casually dressed guys from Milan.  One of them told me they had found an interesting poster on the door of a traditional looking gate.   I made sure they surely took interest in Japanese swords.  One of them talked and made questions in English and it looked he delivered in Italian to his friend what he had understood through talking with me.  Since almost all foreign visitors spoke English here, just overhearing Italian actually spoken was really exciting.  It sounded so rhythmical.  I had had certain preconceived notion that all Italians talk so much and always so lively and active.  Now I knew I had been wrong.  These two guys were rather quiet and honest, I thought.  

A fabulous couple from Paris

Having a young fabulous couple from Paris, I had such a nice time with them. Both of them, I admit, are genuine yuppies and natty guys who looked like guys found in a fashion magazine.  Actually I felt so comfortable relaxed to be with them, and asked the same question on a sword as usual. "How much do you think these swords are on average?"  The guy replied, "Give me one minute. OK?"  Then he looked to be working hard on some calculation, and answered "What about eight million yen?"  "How come you got that answer?" I asked.  "Because you explained that it usually takes at least two weeks to complete one sword.  And the sword maker has got to make living on the money."  
  I am sure there must have been some simple but serious mistakes on both sides.  "Well, anyway I feel I would like to get my own sword some day in the future, if I could," he said.   We also agreed that you should need a safe firm place to keep a sword like these inside your house to own a sword.

 A young couple from Shanghai

  A young couple from Shanghai came in.  "How did you know our museum?" I asked.  "Following a map, we visited the Peace Memorial Park, The former building of Bank of Japan Hiroshima Branch, then we dropped in this museum."  Talking with them on various things, I knew they were a teacher on Chinese language and a banker.  "Do you have some similar type of swords in China?" The guy very quickly responded, "During the Son dynasty, there were very similar swords, but they were straight type swords." Our talk went on to that of the price of each sword, and I said, "I hear that average prices range from such to such depending on their sizes or some additional factors."  Then, they looked totally surprised saying that it should be almost as much as the average annual salary of our age in Shanghai.  The question went on to 'How much is it if you are to get a house in Japan?  How about a condominium?  And what should the payments on the loan be like?' and so on.   

 A couple from Holland

  A couple from Holland visited us, though soon I knew they had actually wanted to see a traditional Japanese cottage like those found in rural parts.  While walking around Rai Sanyo exhibition, the topic went on to that of Chinese poems.  The husband looked interested in the fact that Japanese language can be written vertically, and also horizontally.  It's a very simple custom in our country but to those in other cultures it should be one of those striking cultural differences.  I replied, concerning the horizontal approach, we used to write from right to left before the war, but now we write in the opposite direction.  "Well, in Arabic they do the same, I mean, they write and read from right to left, don't they?"  Apparently he seemed interested. 
   Later, I checked webpages to get some basic information on writing directions, and came across some technical phrases like text direction or text alignment.  Also I found that Chinese language originally adopted the vertical direction, and so was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  Getting new information is sheer serendipity for me.

Exchange students from Mexico

  Two young Mexican guys who had been studying at a college in Kyoto visited us.  This was the very first time I talked with Mexicans.  How they got interested in Japanese swords and why they decided to visit our museum, I forgot to ask them, but for sure they came to see Japanese swords.  The girl students, who said she had been staying in Japan six months shorter than the boy student, asked far more questions on the swords.  Almost every time, I find it really difficult to give a proper comment on the exhibitions.  When tempering the heated raw material, a sword maker repeats the process of cutting and folding the iron lump ten to fifteen times.  Then, if you repeat fifteen times, you get some thirty-three thousand layers inside the iron, the videotape tells us.  When you talk about how to calculate, it is a mathematical question.  '2 to the power of 15 is about 33,000' should be one answer, if you put it in English.  Probably the boy student seemed to have understood what I meant to say.   

A guy from Hong Kong

   A young guy, who I had thought to be Japanese when passing by in the hall, turned out a tourist from Hong Kong.  He was, he told me, a junior high school teacher who taught a few subjects.  He began to have an interest in Japanese culture through manga books, and chose to drop in our museum, attracted by the poster that was put up on the main gate door.  It was a simple answer but pleased me so much, for I myself had made the poster. 
 After watching the exhibition of swords, the topic of our talk shifted to some political issues, such as present Japanese government, a famous shrine in Tokyo, and some educational issues.  I wasn't upset a bit by those topics, and referred to TV news telling that big country had been making many natural gas plants very aggressively in the South China Sea.  He just said even that big country might be feeling threatened by other countries.
  In the end, both of us agreed that as and when circumstances permit, it would be very nice and fruitful if high school or college students from both countries could have discussions on many issues. 

 A family from Holland

  Around the end of July, we had a family of four from Holland visiting.  Like the other day, parents and a boy and a girl, seemingly of high school age.  I just asked how they knew of our museum and chose to visit us.  Then they mentioned a name of a hotel which didn't come to mind at once, but in a minute I knew it was the one I had visited to advertise the sword exhibition.  The fact made me so glad that tourists from overseas had noticed our small leaflets.
  Luckily enough, Mr. Mikami, a prominent sword-maker representing Japan, was in the museum for something to do.  Talking with the Holland people, I found they had come to watch the sword exhibition, the husband had a friend who was so rich and had a great interest in collecting Japanese swords, and the friend might fly to Japan soon depending on some unexpected happenings.  At least I felt so reassured because the most desirable specialist on sword-making was there with me.  I thought I could explain much to the point.
  I noticed this was the first time that I talked with people from Holland.

 A family from San Francisco

  The day fell on the third Sunday of July, when a big tea ceremony was to be held and over one hundred guests were coming.  In the morning, there was a phone call from one of the major hotels in the city.  The hotel staff told that they had a family visiting from America and they wanted to enjoy a tea ceremony in Japan, and he had found that our museum sometimes held tea ceremonies.  Then he placed a call to ask us if we could accept this family.  I, then, talked to the master of ceremony and he gave me a ready consent.
  When the family, parents and two boys, got to our museum, the hall was crowded with so many tea guests. I suggested showing them around the Rai Sanyo exhibition and also the sword exhibition.  They agreed to follow my advice.  While giving them some basic information on Rai Sanyo, they gave me very interesting questions. 'Does this museum have many materials that Ray Sanyo himself actually wrote?'  'What sort of history books did he collect as references to complete his works of history?'  'How did they know Rai Sanyo had escaped from Hiroshima?'  'How did he get arrested?'  And so on.  To some of the questions, though, I couldn't give a clear answer.
  Soon the time came to get in the tea room.  They sat on the tatami mat with other guests, and I advised them they could sit in their free style, not in the style sitting on their knees.  But it looked at least during the beginning they followed the proper manner like other Japanese guests and waited for tea to be served to each of them. Talking after they came back to the hall, I knew they were deeply impressed with their first experience.

 An A-bomb survivor

  On a Sunday morning, a senior guest, after looking around the exhibition, talked to me.  Apparently he had a lot to talk to some younger generation.  He told me that he had seen many places related to Rai Sanyo, like Choraku-ji temple in Kyoto, the museum in Takehara, and some other places.  He said he was born at the beginning of the 20th century.  I knew he was almost 90 years old.   
  Soon the topic went on to that of the A-bomb.  When he was young, the company he worked for was in the southern end of Hiroshima city, where a big hotel is now located.  About 160 members of his company had been working on some project at the center of the city, which was very close to the present Peace Memorial Park.  Consequently all of his coworkers were among the A-bomb victims.  This old man also got a blast pressure but fortunately was not so badly injured, although he witnessed so many people had lost their lives closeto him.  His workplace was rather far away from the hypocenter, but most of the buildings around were destroyed in an instant.
  In a few hours after the bombing on that morning, he was ordered to go to confirm the safety of his fellow workers and rescue them if possible.  His team somehow got to the bridge that was around the middle point to the city center. Across the river, however, the whole city was enveloped in flames.  There was no other way than giving up approaching by land. They returned to their company, which was on the shore, and got on a boat to go up the river through the city to their fellows' workplace.  They couldn't find any survivors and it took them many days since that day to find out every victim and carry them back to their company. Soon the company ground was filled with corpses, and they asked the victims' family to identify the bodies. In turn they had to cremate the dead.
  Many of his fellows and those who went through the same sufferings passed away in ten and some years after the war.  Since he himself had such a hard experience at a sensitive age, he still has very clear memories of many things concerning the A-bomb and aftermath.  He is now trying to collect in a book what he saw and went through.

 Visiting Fukuro-machi Elementary School Peace Museum

   On behalf of our museum, I paid my first visit to the neighboring small 'peace museum' attached to an elementary school. Contrary to what it looks from outside, the building rises two stories above the ground and one underground story.  It is known that when the school was being rebuilt and modernized in 2002, they found the old west wing building had a lot of desperate messages written by the A-bomb victims to their families and neighbors on the blackboards and other walls.
  When I got in, a senior museum director gave me an outline of the museum with its sad stories and that every year a lot of school students pay a visit to this museum from many places all over Japan ranging from elementary to high schools. 
  Just on that day, they had a large number of elementary school students visiting.  Amazing thing was that several students, maybe uppermost graders of the elementary school, led a group of eight to ten visiting students giving them some comments, in a crisp manner, on the history of the school.  Later I knew that the visiting school had asked the museum for the students guide around.  Just in my mind, I felt each student here played an important and active role in the peace education curriculum.