At the Table

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November 21, 2012

Pastor Ishiya met us at Fudoin station and we drove the ten minutes up the hills, through the back streets, until we arrived at a traditional Japanese house - Hiroshima Mennonite Church. Although only 9:15am, the sun was hot and bright on our necks, and with relief we stepped inside the cool building. 

Fans blew the breeze coming through the open windows through the main meeting area to full-length windows and into the backyard. Soft white curtains billowed, glowing with the morning sun.
We met Noriko, who was preparing for lunch after worship. Between my Japanese and Pastor Ishiya's English, we chatted and introduced ourselves.
Worshippers began gathering around the wooden table. One by one we were introduced. The pastor drew a diagram in the guestbook for us with the names of each person where they were sitting. We glanced at it frequently during the conversations.
Tachibana translated bits of the guest speaker's lecture. A high school teacher in Shanghai, the speaker demonstrated one of his lessons with us. He told the story of Joseph Hardy Neesima, a young Japanese man who went to the US in the 1880s because of his curiousity of Christianity. The speaker even asked us the comprehension questions on the handout he'd give his students.
After some singing, which was fun to follow along in hiragana script, lunch was brought out and the deeper fellowship began. We chatted with each of the brothers and sisters, with the help of Tachibana when it got too complicated for beginner Japanese.
As we finished the meal, Michiko turned to Hong Soek and said, "I have to tell you -- I really want to apologize to you on behalf of the Japanese people for what we did to the Korean people. I am so sorry." She bowed deeply.
We were a bit surprised, but Hong Soek responded gracefully with a thank you. We sat in awkward silence for a bit before she said, "I've always wanted to say that directly to someone from Korea. You're the first person that I've had the chance to talk to. Thank you."
It was a moving experience for everyone, particular as we had been struggling hearing the stories of the Hibaksha, survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, while knowing the evil that had been done by the military which dominated the city at the time.
Michiko's apology and Hong Soek's response seemed to shift something. Later that afternoon, we visited the Peace Memorial Museum. We were angry and dismayed at some of the language the museum used to talk about the past, and we were horrified at the stories of violence and suffering.
When it got difficult, though, we recalled Michiko's face, the tears on her cheeks, and the connection we felt in that sunlit tatami mat room.
After lunch, two church members played the traditional wooden whistle junae, we sang Korean and Canadian folk songs, and Pastor Ishiya played the saengshi from Okinawa. We laughed and sang and told stories for well over an hour before we said our goodbyes and the pastor took us back to the station.
It was a short visit among a small group of simple people powerless to change the forces of two nations' history. Yet it was the banquet of heaven.
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