So today we visited the Jikei hospital in Kumamoto, where the only baby hatch in Japan is installed. A baby hatch is a small door in the hospital wall where parents who are unable to take care of their baby may anonymously leave their baby. Japan is still a country in which honor and family names matter a lot so sadly throughout history a lot of unwanted babies have been left in the wilderness. However, since Dr. Hasuda installed the hatch ten years ago hundreds of babies have been saved.
Our day started by watching a report from NKH World in the morning at the YMCA, our base of operation in Kumamoto. Even though the English dubbing of the Japanese was at some points quite questionable, everyone seemed intrigued. After the video followed a discussion. Some differing voices was raised, as of how about the children’s right to know their biological heritage, how is it even is possible to reconnect with the parent with the child and whether that would impact the anonymity of the parent. However, between talks about electrical gizmos and having the hospital acting as an information bank, we all seemed to agree that however sad it is that the need for the hatch exists, it is better that the hatch is there than not having it at all.
Later that day when we finally got to meet the doctor himself and saw the hatch, it all became very real and I started to think about all the lives saved by the door. Sadly though, it is the only hatch available in Japan so a lot of already exhausted people are forced to travel from as long away as Hokkaido to Kumamoto or choose a more tragic alternative. The reason we were given for the concept not spreading wider in Japan is that among other things, people in powerful positions believe that it would cause an increased number of abandoned children. But to me they seem quite misinformed since the statistics seems to suggest that there is no such correlation. And this is a topic where human life is at stake.
However, unrelated to the hospital visit, when we returned to the YMCA – where we started the day – we played both Ninja and Footzies. Ninja is a classic among WCI members but if you have not heard about Footzies or the foot game, just imagine an angry invisible cat with laser shooting eyes that just can’t avoid jumping between peoples feet. I think that would give you a clear picture of how it is played.
This was my last morning in Omura and time to say goodbye to my host family. The mayor of Omura came to greet us farewell and after a tearful goodbye, we left for Kumamoto.
My host family had prepared a traditional “bento” lunchbox for my trip, with lots of good food.
When we arrived in Kumamoto we visited 第一高校, a very nice high school. Here we met up with groups of English major students and got to talk with them. It was a fun and interesting experience; to share our culture, and hear the dreams of the students.
Later I met my awesome host mother, who came to pick me up. She is a programmer, assistant manga artist and in general a supermom. They had also prepared a really nice table with their names, nicknames, and a warm welcome for me. We went to Kendo training with the kids and their skills really amazed me. All of the kids also happened to play 囲碁 (Known as “Go” in the west), so me and the youngest boy played a game together.
A couple of days ago the World Campus – Japan participants went on to learn more about the Minamata disease. The Minamata disease is not actually a disease, but mercury poising from industry pollution. It was called a disease, because for decades people did not know the cause of the symptons and thought it was a regional disease.
Pizza. Pizza can be a wonderful food. First invented in Naples, Italy at the dawn of the 19th century, pizza has been considered a traditionally western food since its inception. Eaten gratuitously in the United States, pizza has thrived as an American delicacy, evolving into many different styles with more toppings than there are stars in the sky(citation needed).
Given that description, giving pizza to an American in a foreign country is sort of like giving a Japanese person sushi or (even more heinous) giving a Dane a Danish; you don’t expect it to be anything new or exciting. However, against seemingly insurmountable odds, the afternoon I spent at University of Kumamoto shoving yeast and flour in a bottle and preparing the very food I knew the best felt more foreign to me than anything else.
Now, dear reader, as you may be thinking, “what is this impossibly handsome author talking about? He just said that pizza was the most American thing he could think of!” First off, thank you for the compliment, secondly it wasn’t just the pizza that made the day great silly, it was the people making it!
I don’t believe that there is anything that brings unfamiliar or even estranged people together more effectively than activities. That’s why even that skinny guy who wore eyeliner and tight pants in high school got up when an impromptu game of dodgeball was announced by the neighborhood kids, the fun of doing something with others is an addiction impossible to escape.
Within the blink of an eye, the Japanese of Kumamoto and the World Campus members of American and northern Europe were no longer from anywhere but planet Earth. We were singing and playing music and eating delicious food, bound together by nothing more than a mutual love for all of the above. So, when I look back on my day cooking pizza with my newfound friends of Kumamoto, it won’t be the pizza I’m remembering, but who I was eating it with.