FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

chap.IVPatient Relief Activity Records [Essays and Research Publications]FUKUSHIMA: Lives on the Line203April 15, 2011After shopping last weekend, I met one of the Gyouza Sisters on the bus. The Gyouza Sisters are not a religious order. Rather, this is a title I carry in my head for three sisters who were regular Sunday patrons of a venerable Fukushima institution: Gyouza Kaikan. Behind the counter, a long-married couple makes every dumpling by hand, in plain sight. They also serve ramen noodles and small side dishes. Gyouza Kaikan operates from 5 pm to 11 pm. The Gyouza Sisters and I favor the early hours. It’s a mixed crowd and, shoulder-to-shoulder, there is plenty of opportunity to mix. One may also choose to eat in solitude, but the Gyouza Sisters were glad in 2008 to welcome a “young” foreigner into their conversation. I am young for having been born after World War II. The Gyouza Sisters have seen a lot.It used to be that two of the three sisters would ride the same bus back to Hourai after their Sunday dinner. Most other times, I would just see the one who was hard of hearing. That, and my relatively clumsy Japanese, never prevented us from making conversation on the bus. Last year, Hard-of-Hearing was commuting to a downtown hospital. Next encounter, I learned that one of her sisters had passed away. Answers to health and welfare inquiries might be metered according to the relationship between speaker and listener, but we had known each other for a while. Japanese conversations are also about balance. No matter the depth of one’s own grief, the other person’s situation is considered. Hard-of-Hearing, mourning her own sister, wanted to know how my siblings, and my mother, were doing. It brought a genuine smile to her face to learn they were doing well, thank you.Last weekend’s conversation was naturally about the earthquake and everything since. My Gyouza Sister had been displaced from her home for about 10 days, and readily taken in by relatives while repairs were made. “But people on the coast, still in shelters, that’s a real problem.”How long we live, and even where we live, are matters of uncertainly. What remains is how we live. In Japan, I am learning this by example.April 18, 2011Hana-mi-yama, literally, flower-viewing-mountain, is a popular tourist destination in Fukushima City. Every spring, I have grown accustomed to seeing tour buses pour in with camera-toting visitors from around Japan, Korea, and even China. An oyaji gyagu (geezer gag) could be made by changing the kanji ideograph from hana=flower to hana=nose. On a busy day, hana-mi-yama might seem like nose-viewing-mountain. Crowded or not, good behavior prevails. Strangers readily exchange cameras so everyone in a group can be in the picture, and people do their best not to walk in front of a photograph in the making.Sunday morning found me at FMU, where my phone rang around 11. Nine-almost-Ten was calling, on behalf of her seven-year-old sister, wondering if work might finish up anytime soon. They wanted to visit Hanamiyama. These kids are remarkably patient language teachers. Quid pro quo. The bicycle was rolling from FMU at 11:25. Quod erat demonstrandum.First, we went to Takayama Soba to fortify ourselves with noodles and tempura. Next, to a Hashi Drug store for small bottles of tea and juice. I still marvel that places like Hashi Drug can have easy-to-carry items on display outside the store, and they don’t get ripped off. Managers will confide that some in-store goods with resale value are targeted from time to time, but it is not the norm. Hashi Drug was about 30 minutes’ walk from Hanamiyama, so we asked permission to stay parked, and enjoyed a nice hike.Was I worried about radiation? Yes, the ultraviolet